Labor unions under attack-The Numbers of unemployed go up every time you take a swipe at the unions
On Saturday, the House of Commons led by Stephen Harper and his
Conservative Party passed back-to-work legislation in order to force
urban postal workers to return to work. I’m not opposed to back-to-work
laws in general; virtually all unionized public workers are susceptible
to these types of laws when there is a prolonged failure to reach a
bargaining agreement. However, I am a little bitter at the speed and
manner with which it was imposed this time around.
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers started rotating strikes a
couple weeks ago culminating in a one day strike in Montreal and Toronto
last week. Canadians in effect had to wait an extra day for their mail.
The Canada Post Corporation then decided to lockout all 54,000 urban
postal workers (effectively locking out the 21,000 rural workers who
were not on strike and still getting paid) in hopes the government would
force them back to work. Sure enough within 48 hours the Conservative
government tabled legislation to do just that. Given the prospect of a
back-to-work bill, Canada Post had no incentive to cut a deal with its
workers. For this reason, back-to-work laws are passed only as a last
“It’s an indication of what’s to come for other public service
workers who are unionized,” said Deputy NDP leader Thomas Mulcair. “But
it’s also a signal from the Conservatives to all employers in a union
setting or otherwise that it’s an open bar. They can start going after
the acquired rights of their workers.”
A poll of Canadians showed that 70% favoured the back-to-work law;
many of these same people were not at all clear on the facts, thanks in
large part to the mainstream media. Safety and pensions of new employees
were the main sticking points, not wages. Letter carrier wages are in
fact on par with those of private companies (UPS, FedEx, etc.). Canada
Post can afford it; they have posted profits for the last 15 years even
through the most recent recession. Most importantly, the main work
stoppage was due to Canada post locking out its employees, not the
letter carriers refusing to deliver the mail.
The recent attacks on unions in Canada, Wisconsin and elsewhere by
conservative governments come as no surprise; for conservatives, unions
are represented by their opposition and are a direct threat to their
power. The “Winter of Discontent” in the United Kingdom set up the
modern dissatisfaction with unions and led to the election of the most
anti-union conservative on record, Margaret Thatcher.
When Margaret Thatcher came to power in the U.K. in 1979 there were
approximately twelve million unionized workers in the public and private
sector. In only a few years of Thatcher’s reign that number was cut in
half to six million, reducing the base of the opposition Labour Party
and letting the Tories run away with the 1983 election. Economic Nobel
laureate Milton Friedman once said that unions keep down the number of
jobs, but as Thatcher worked to revamp the union laws unemployment
doubled in the country from 1.5 million to 3 million, a figure that
dogged Mrs. Thatcher the rest of her time in office.
Unions, public or private, seem to have all the normal traits of
human beings. They can be weak, strong, passive or aggressive even
sneaky and stupid, but that’s for the union organizations to decide not
the government. It only takes one man (or woman) in power to erase
decades of progress, the citizens of Wisconsin realized that quickly and
revolted almost to the point where the government plan backfired.
We as a people have to open our eyes and pay close attention to our
government’s intentions. What may seem to be a quick easy fix from the
outside can sometimes hinder our democratic freedoms, and nothing is
more important in a democracy than the right to organize.
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