Labour unions under attack

canadapoststrike

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 resort.

“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.

The Baroness 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.

Which side are you on – Dropkick Murphy’s

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6 comments

  • Mike,

    Attacks on unions are as old as unions themselves. Now I’m old, yes, but not that old.

    Anyhow, since you dragged me into it, I decided to ring up Brian. Haven’t seen him in person since Ronnie’s funeral, but we still chat via Skype now and then. According to him postal workers are paid $40,000 to $60,000, the average being about $50,000 (letter carriers and sorters, eh? … only in Canada! I said). Connections are a plus, and educational requirements are minimal.

    Well, as you can imagine, I immediately put in a word for little Sebastian — that’s my daughter Laetitia’s son. Not even a driver’s licence needed, says Brian — which is perfect because Sebastian could never be trusted with the Bentley anyhow. Wages are actually about the same as those of bus drivers in most Canadian cities and only marginally less that Canadian teachers (40 to 70 thousand for a full time position at elementary and high school levels).

    As it turns out, Sebastian has been hugely enthusiastic… wants to ‘get involved’ and is positively devouring books on labour activism and that sort of thing. He even had our milliner fashion a hat modelled on yours (I still think it suits you far better than Sebastian). “The postal workers deserve more,” he says. He apparently has plans to launch a campaign to have postal workers accorded titles in the peerage.

    Oh well, I should be grateful for all of this, Mike. If you happen to have a driver’s licence, let me know. Sebastian needs someone to chauffeur the Bentley.

    Maggie

  • Hey Maggie, that’s the best comment I’ve ever seen. nice.

  • Labour Unions should be under attack. It is about time that we ordinary people without the advantages offered by Unions and their exorbitant wages, health benefits, pensions, take back our Country from the Unions that are controlling our every move. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am sick and tired of being treated like a piece of crap, by these overpaid Government Service, unionized morons, whether it be, when you apply for EI benefits or Social Assistance, or Veterans Benefits, or waiting for that needed cheque in the mail, etc ,etc.
    You are made to feel like the lowest beggar on the street, when you try to utilize Government services. Fire all the lazy YOYOS and let them experience what it is like to be talked to and treated like, the way they treat us, in the so called Lower income class. They can shove their so called middle class which is instead the Upper class, because that is the way they all act.

    • You talk as though you are or about to be a beggar on the street. Get an education and stop crying about the perks for those who have an education.
      You are pissed off becuae you didn’t acquire marketable skills? You cry because you shit on opportunities to better yourself; and now you want everyone else to brought down to where you are? Screw you and the garbage can you rode in on.

  • Mr. Edwards, Contrary to popular opinion unionized workers are not over paid, the main reason they pay into unions is so they can play on a level playing field. If you’re tired of being treated like crap or are jealous of the advantages unionized workers have then may I suggest you get a job where a union is present. In my experience with unions most of my co-workers were very hard working, even risking injury to get the job done. Those lazy “YOYOS” exist at every type of employment, even my present one. If you’re a lazy worker in a union or otherwise, you won’t get very far in your career.

  • I find it disturbing that unions are under attack, by the general public. Unions are there to protect their workers. If you can’t find a decent job, it is not the unions fault, but the governments, as they’re the ones who let all the good paying jobs go to Mexico or Asia. Exactly what unions predicted 20 years ago.

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