Labour Day 2013: Time To Reflect On The Struggles And The Victories

By Andrew Phillip Chernoff, WKLC Executive: Member-At-Large for Trail

August 7, 2013

“History is a great teacher. Now everyone knows that the labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it. By raising the living standards of millions, labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed of levels of production. Those who attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them.

Martin Luther King speaking in 1961

As we in the West Kootenay area approach Labour Day 2013, unions in Canada are facing unrelenting challenges. Governments, both provincial and federal, along with corporations, are increasingly challenging the right of unions to exist and represent working people.

But we must not lose heart, or give up the good fight, because unions have given us much and this Labour Day, all workers—union and non-union—should take time to reflect, not only on the present labour struggles but the victories.

Even though, the Harper government is encouraging anti-union sentiment and anti-union legislation through the tabling of federal Bills such as:

  • Bill C-377-An Act to amend the Income Tax Act )requirements for labour organizations), “….would require labour unions or any group involved in collective bargaining with an employer to provide Canada Revenue Agency with information annually on nearly all financial affairs, with the reports to be published on CRA’s website.
  • Required information includes every transaction or disbursement over $5,000 for conferences, collective bargaining activities, training, lobbying, political activity and payments to union officers and members. The same reporting requirement applies to all investment trusts and funds operated by unions on behalf of their members. The name and address of each person involved in any of these transactions would have to be reported to CRA and would be made public.” (http://www.thestar.com)
  • Bill C-525-Employees’ Voting Rights Act: An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code, the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act and the Public Service Labour Relations Act (certification and revocation — bargaining agent). It proposes to eliminate card check in the federal sector; changes how votes would occur: 45 per-cent of a bargaining unit would be required to trigger a vote; union would have to win a majority of all members in the bargaining unit (not ballots cast); and a decertification vote can be triggered by 45 per-cent signatures, the union must receive support from the majority of the bargaining unit.
  • Not yet law.
  • Bill C-60-An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 21, 2013 and other measures.A small section of the 128-page law allows the federal government to substantially interfere in the collective bargaining between federal Crown corporations and their employees.
  • There are currently 48 Crown corporations in Canada providing services to various sectors of the Canadian economy including transportation, energy, agriculture, fisheries, financial services and government services. They employ about 88,000 workers, most of whom are represented by unions. While these Crown Corporations are wholly owned by the government, they are distinct legal entities and operate, to a large extent, like private or independent enterprises.
  • While the federal government sets a mandate and an overall framework for collective bargaining by Crown corporations, Crown corporations have traditionally negotiated with their respective unions, without government interference.
  • Bill C-60, however, contained a small section which gives the federal Cabinet the right to direct a Crown corporation to have its negotiating mandate approved by the Treasury Board. Crown corporations can only agree to a new a collective agreement that has been first approved by Treasury Board. The provisions also give the Treasury Board the power to directly set wages, working conditions and all other employment terms of non-union employees of Crown Corporations.” (http://www.nupge.ca)
  • Made law on June 3, 2013.

Even though, the provinces of Quebec and Nova Scotia, disgraced the collective bargaining process, denying union members fair and good faith bargaining.

Quebec used legislation to end the Quebec construction strike, this “…piece of restrictive labour law was passed in an ‘extraordinary’ Sunday sitting of the Quebec National Assembly on June 30 forcing an end to a two-week construction strike. Bill 54, An Act respecting the resumption of work in the construction industry, forced 77,000 construction employees and their employers to resume work by July 2nd or face fines from $100 for an individual offender to $125,000 for a union or an employers’ association.

The legislation extended the current expired contract for one year and gave the workers the same annual pay increase of two per cent this year that was agreed to by the 98,000 construction workers who negotiated an end to their strike the week before. The legislation forbids strikes and lockouts during the period of the contract extension. Only Québec Solidaire, the left-leaning party with two Assembly seats, opposed a legislated end to the strike. (http://www.nupge.ca)

On July 5, 2013, the Nova Scotia legislature removed the right to strike for ambulance workers, when they passed “…its first ever restrictive labour law to avert a pending strike by ambulance workers. Bill 86, the Ambulance Services Continuation Act, takes away the right to strike of ambulance workers during their current round of bargaining. The legislation forces the dispute to final selection offer arbitration. Both the union and the employer will now have to submit their final offers to a mutually agreed upon arbitrator who will choose one option within 90 days. (http://www.nupge.ca)

Even though, “the uniquely regressive nature of U.S. labour and social policies.” as Jim Stanford, Canadian Auto Workers economist has put it, besides strongly affecting current anti-union sentiment and anti-union legislation in Canada, has also led to corporations and multinational companies to take actions with workers of a regressive nature.

CAW National President Ken Lewenza, explained the affect of corporations on Canadian workers this way:

“Corporations are multinational, located throughout the world, they can go anywhere and exploit workers to increase their bottom line,” Lewenza says. “Capital can move from one province to another country, from one state to another state, chasing lower wages. And what we’re seeing is, they’re whipsawing workers from one end of the map to the other. You’re getting whipsawed.” (http://www.alternet.org)

On August 31, 2011, Keith Reynolds, in his article, “On Labour Day, think about unions as an equalizing force”, states:

“Most people will acknowledge some of the legacy we have from unions. Unionized workplace pioneered the eight hour day and the five day week. They introduced health and safety rules and the ending of child labour. An Australian video encapsulated it rather well here.

But unions do much more. They help level the playing field both in the workplace and in society as a whole. In fact, as Dr. King suggested above, the argument can be made that since the end of WWII it was unions that were responsible for us having a prosperous middle class.

At the workplace level there is an enormous power imbalance between an individual employee and the boss. Acting with other workers through a union, that employee has a say on issues like wages, hours of work, schedules and working conditions.

Unions have promoted the rights of women and opposed racial discrimination. In unionized workplaces, the gap in pay between these groups and white men is smaller than is true for society as a whole. There are grievance procedures to protect their rights.

While some would stoutly deny it, many employers benefit from unions. Union employers tend to be more productive. Most union contracts contain education and training provisions. Better compensation and more respectful workplaces reduce the cost of employee turnover.

The benefits of unions reach beyond union workplaces. Non-union employers will often raise wages either to keep unions out or to compete with union shops for employees.

In society as a whole unions have played an important role in promoting social and economic equality.”

Reynolds continues with reminding us that:

“Unions have exercised an influence that goes beyond the economics of the workplace. Historically, unions were among the strongest advocates for Medicare and the Canada Pension Plan. The Canadian Labour Congress and its affiliates continue to be the most powerful voice for better public pensions for everyone. More recently, and closer to home, it was the unremitting campaign of the BC Federation of Labour that finally forced the government to end its 10 year freeze of the minimum wage.

Politically, unions have provided a balance to the power of money. This is something that the moneyed powerful cannot stand. That is why in the United States Republicans are working to destroy collective bargaining rights for unions. That is why in Canada grandees like Catherine Swift call for the elimination of public sector unions.

So this Labour Day spend a minute to think about what Canada would look like today if unions had not been there. And spend a minute thinking about what our future would look like with no balance at all to the power of money.”

So, what has the union movement done for us?

Anti-discrimination rules at work
Overtime pay
Occupational health and safety
40 hour work week
Worker’s compensation
Employment Insurance
Pensions
Public education
Collective bargaining rights for employees
Wrongful termination laws
Whistleblower protection laws
Anti-sexual harassment laws
Holiday pay
The right to strike
Weekends
Paid vacations
The 8-hour work day
Ending child labour
Work breaks, including paid lunch breaks
Equal pay for equal work for women
Abolition of sweatshops
Sick leave
Canada Pension Plan
Universal health care
The minimum wage
Pregnancy and parental Leave
Employer dental, life, and vision insurance
http://www.ppwc.ca/what-have-unions-done-for-us/
Thanks to Keith Reynolds for inspiring this commentary for Labour Day 2013.
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