Business Interests Trump Democratic and Union Rights, Fairness and Social Justice

by Errol Black

On March 9, my blog post described actions by the federal government that show contempt for Canadian workers. I stated concern that ordering Canada Post and Air Canada workers back-to-work sent a message to employers that they need not worry about negotiating in good faith with workers, because the federal government has signaled that it will not tolerate long strikes in the federal public sector.

This trend continues. On May 23, 4,800 members of the Teamster Union (workers in the running trades and yards) shut down freight service on the C.P.R. The C.P.R. was demanding major concessions, including a 40 per cent reduction in earned pension benefits, and reduced post-retirement health benefits. As well, the company was seeking to increase the working day on some runs to 12 hours, a change that would adversely affect the health and safety of workers. The workers were very upset with these demands, coming as they were from a company that generated a profit of $570 million in 2011 (a profit that will increase much more in upcoming months as a result of major increases in the price charged for moving grain) and guarantees its CEO an annual pension at age 65 of $1.12 million.

The freight cars had barely come to a halt, when Labour Minister Lisa Raitt announced that the parties should negotiate an agreement by May 28 or face back-to-work legislation. Her announcement might be characterized as a “hold (for the company) or fold (for union) caution.” True to her word, Raitt introduced legislation on May 28. The bill passed and operations resumed at 6:00 a.m. June 1. The dispute now goes to a government appointed arbitrator who has 90 days to bring forward an award.

This action was cheered by oil, mining and manufacturing companies, and even many farmers (a result, as one agricultural analyst pointed out, that is a bit paradoxical given that when the government moved to eliminate the Wheat Board farmers called on labour to support them in their opposition).

As has already been documented in media accounts and on other blog sites, this government has yet again demonstrated that it is anti-worker and anti-union.

Nevertheless, there are, as the example of my home city demonstrates, some lessons that we can learn from it. Local workers from other unions and delegates to the Brandon and District Labour Council joined some 120 Teamster members in the Brandon area on the picket line. Union members provided the local media with accurate information regarding the issues, and also poignant anecdotes on how it feels to be disenfranchised by a government that is supposed to protect collective bargaining rights.

This demonstration of solidarity was likely replicated in many other cities across the country. It surely won’t be the last as the attack on labour ramps up.

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