For Your Information
Statements on Nova Scotia anti strike legislation and related matters
(Excerpts from statements, press releases and news articles)
For our readers' information, Shunpiking Online is reprinting material on issues surrounding the proposed anti-strike legislation, combined with articles on other anti-strike initiatives in Canada (i.e., the Magna-CAW Pact, and recent legislation by the Alberta Labour Relations Board) and on the "Atlantica" scheme. We hope that these pieces will cumulatively offer some desperately needed context on MacDonald's scheme and its national significance.
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Attack on Workers' Rights is Misplaced
NSGEU Statement on Proposed Anti-Strike Legislation, 15 May 2007
The Nova Scotia Government and General Employees says the MacDonald Government's move to take away the right to strike for 32,000 healthcare workers has more to do with government incompetence than with public safety and access to needed services. The Union was responding today to the Premier's announcement of public consultation preceding legislation this fall to prevent service disruptions in healthcare and related sectors.
NSGEU President Joan Jessome said: "We strongly disagree with the government's move to take away the fundamental right of workers to withdraw their services. Considering how rarely healthcare workers go on strike and how many steps they and their unions take to prevent job action in any round of bargaining, the government's initiative is completely misplaced."
"Where was the Premier if his government was so concerned about service disruptions at the IWK when we were resumed negotiations a week and a half before the strike took place or in the mediation talks on the weekend before the strike? It was the NSGEU that came up with the binding mediation process that ended the strike and it was the NSGEU that initiated the process of negotiating an emergency services agreement well before the government and the employer were willing to do so.
Jessome continued: "MacDonald spoke about the difficulty in dealing with multiple healthcare negotiations. Premiers managed this task for decades before him. This indicates that this Premier is not up to the job."
"If the government was truly concerned about service disruptions why aren't they taking seriously the health human resource shortages and wait list management problems that are taking place every day? It is not the possibility of job action that undermines our healthcare system but continuing government incompetence to take action across the whole system."
Jessome concluded: "What the government is offering is not genuine consultation but to accept without question that the right to strike is gone and some other biased dispute resolution mechanism approach is needed. In other words, we are being told we can design our poison. This will not be fair and free collective bargaining."
For more information, please contact: Paul Cormier, NSGEU Communications Officer (902) 497-6761 (cell)
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NOVA SCOTIA UNION OF PUBLIC & PRIVATE EMPLOYEES 6309 Chebucto Road Affiliated to: Halifax, NS B3L 1K9 Confederation of Canadian Unions (CCU) Tel: (902) 422-6055 Atlantic Council of the CCU Fax: (902) 429-7655 Atlantic Labour Action Council E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
June 8, 2007
The Honourable Rodney MacDonald
Office of the Premier
PO Box 726
Halifax, NS B3J 2T3
Dear Premier MacDonald:
Re: Proposed legislation limiting strikes
The Nova Scotia Union of Public & Private Employees (NSUPE) received your letter requesting our participation in collaborative discussions with the provincial government directed at the eventual enactment of legislation that will ban or limit strikes in the health care sector. NSUPE is opposed to any legislation that will remove the right to strike for health care workers. We believe that government should focus on improving the system, especially in addressing staff shortages. Once that defect is addressed, wait times and service delivery improvement will follow.
In our view, blaming workers for the shortcomings of the health care system avoids the real causes of our problems. We believe that Nova Scotians know that the problems in the health care system have been caused by years of government cuts, under funding and the lack of successful recruitment and retention strategies for health care professionals and support staff. These are the root problems of the system. These are the issues the government should be seeking to address.
The type of legislation you propose does not work. It serves only to encourage confrontation and worsen the labour relations climate in a system that already suffers chronic staff shortages due to working conditions. Any legislation that seeks to rob health care employees of their bargaining power will only serve to worsen problems that already exist and further damage the province's health care system.
NSUPE is a strong supporter of the right to strike for workers in the public sector. We believe the right to strike is a basic principle of free collective bargaining and that it is required for collective bargaining to function properly.
We ask that, in its legislative agenda for health care, the government turn its mind to addressing the real problems of the system and refrain from short term responses that further jeopardize those vulnerable Nova Scotians who require a working health care system.
We ask to be kept informed of the process the government has undertaken, and that we be afforded the opportunity to make presentations at consultation meetings and at the law amendments committee.
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Strike ban means less warning of health care system failures - new CCPA study
Press Release from the Nova Scotia Office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
HALIFAX - The Nova Scotia government's proposal to ban strikes in health care and community services would remove one of the key mechanisms workers have to warn of system failures, according to a study released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. "Health Care Strikes: Pulling the Red Cord" looks at the impact of strikes and strike threats on health care and concludes that they are far from intolerable or unmanageable.
According to the report's authors Judy and Larry Haiven, (associate professors at the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary's University), "Strikes in health care are not the unacceptable events that government and employers portray them to be. Strikes and strike threats are part of the continuum of human resource management"
According to Larry Haiven, "This study shows that the proposal to ban strikes in health care and community services could make matters worse in an already stretched system. Front-line workers know best when the system is being pushed beyond tolerable limits and they can signal this by threatening a legal strike. If they don't have the strike option the rest of us may not find out about the strained system until it is too late."
Government and health employers claim that the health care system has such "tight tolerances" that strikes are unacceptable. "Running a system this way," the authors state, is "'management by stress,' an approach that jeopardizes our ability to effectively manage health care and cope with the uncertainties that are an inevitable part of health care delivery."
Proponents of the strike ban assume that strikes are total withdrawals of labour. But, in fact, counters Judy Haiven, "all strikes include the provision of emergency services by the unions involved as was the case in the IWK dispute last April. When a strike is illegal, the two sides often do not cooperate on critical issues that ensure the provision of emergency services, protocols that are clearly outlined during a legal strike."
The report questions how disruptive labour disputes are to the health care system. Says Larry Haiven, "It's far better for governments to acknowledge that strikes in health care are a fact of life and to use that as a basis for cooperation between unions and employers. This will help ensure that these events are not only manageable but well-managed and limit disruptions for patients."
The authors recommend that Nova Scotia treat the problem of labour relations in health care with the patience it deserves. "In a province where health care resources are stretched," say Larry Haiven, "there is no quick fix. There is no better alternative to free collective bargaining. And in the end, it contributes to less conflict and better outcomes."
The study is the second of three reports. The first report, "A Tale of Two Provinces" (October 18) compared Nova Scotia (where acute health care strikes are still legal) to Alberta (where they have been banned) over the past 24 years, and showed that Alberta had fifteen times as much strike activity. The third report (forthcoming) evaluates binding arbitration as a solution.
For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact CCPA-NS Director Christine Saulnier at 902-477-1252. "Health Care Strikes: Pulling the Red Cord" is available at www.policyalternatives.ca.
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Premier "resorting to distortion" to try and win support for strike ban law
HALIFAX (27 November 2007) CNW - Premier Rodney MacDonald has now stooped to distorting the facts to try and win support for his proposed ban on health care strikes.
Rick Clarke of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour says, "The premier is trying to mislead the public by suggesting in the media that eight provinces have banned health care strikes. This is simply false. Only three provinces have done so and for him to suggest otherwise is a desperate attempt to distort the facts.
"Seven provinces in Canada continue to allow health care workers to strike. The eight provinces the premier is talking about have so-called 'essential services' legislation, which is nowhere near the same thing. It's also something his own government has ruled out for Nova Scotia.
Says Clarke, "What is particularly galling, is that this same distortion is being used in TV ads being paid for with taxpayers' dollars and run by the NSAHO - the employer group. Those ads ask, 'Isn't it time Nova Scotians had the same protection as eight other provinces?' Again, this is a total distortion of the facts."
Clarke says Nova Scotians deserve to have the facts presented accurately to them, from both sides in this dispute.
"No province has taken away the right to strike from health care workers in 25 years. Shame on the premier for not being honest with Nova Scotians," says Clarke.
The coalition consists of seven unions, including the NSGEU (Nova Scotia Government Employees Union), CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees), NSNU (Nova Scotia Nurses Union), CAW (Canadian Auto Workers Union), IUOE (International Union of Operating Engineers), SEIU (Service Employees
International Union) and CUPW (Canadian Union of Postal Workers).
For further information: Rick Clarke (NSFL), (902) 454-6735; Danny
Cavanagh, CUPE, (902) 957-0822; Joan Jessome, NSGEU, (902) 471-4566; Janet Hazelton, NSNU, (902) 456-2084; Shauna Wilcox, CAW, 1-800-591-7523; Gerard Higgins, SEIU, (902) 455-1095; Dwayne Fitzgerald, IUOE, (902) 539 5438; Fred Furlong, CUPW, (902) 454-5812
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Note to our readers: The following article does not directly address Nova Scotia's proposed anti-strike legislation. However, given Premier MacDonald's stated concerns for public safety, coupled with his aforementioned statements alluding to Saskatchewan's health care system, this article shows that the right to strike among Saskatchewan's health care workers has not resulted in the kind of public safety nightmare that the premier and his PR specialists have tried to conjure up in the minds of the public in Nova Scotia. In fact, if hospital mortality rates are taken as any indication of the performance of health care systems, Saskatchewan ranks quite high in relation to the country as a whole. Just as importantly, while many of Nova Scotia's hospitals rank poorly for mortality rates, Saskatchewan's performance demonstrates that the right to strike cannot be used to explain Nova Scotia's poor performance. This reality, in turn, lends further credence to the claims of the NSGEU and others that the problems afflicting Nova Scotia's health care system are the result of ill-conceived public policy and not of the activities of labour. The contrary insinuations of the provincial government serve only to divide health care workers and patients, pitting the rights of one against the other in a classic but despicable "divide and conquer" tactic.
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Experts hope report helps cut hospital mortality
Updated Thursday, 29 November 2007, 9:10 PM ET
CTV.ca News Staff
Hospitals in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia have some of the highest death rates in the country, finds a new report that, for the first time, compares mortality rates at hospitals across the country.
Saskatchewan, on the other hand, has some of the lowest hospital death rates, according to the report released Thursday by the Canadian Institute for Health Information.
The information comes from a calculation tool being used for the first time in Canada, called the Hospital Standardized Mortality Ratio (HSMR). The tool compares the death rates of patients treated at 92 larger acute care hospitals and 42 health regions in Canada, outside Quebec.
(Quebec results are not available due to historical differences in hospital data collection. And seven of the larger hospitals chose not to have their results published this year, because of concerns over their own data collection methods.)
The number of deaths in a hospital or region are compared with the average Canadian experience, after adjusting for several factors, such as the age of the patient, their health status upon admission and their gender.
An HSMR of 100 is the overall average rate. So a hospital or region with an overall HSMR greater than 100 has a mortality rate that is higher than the average; if it's less than 100, that suggests that its mortality rate is lower than the average.
The Cape Breton Healthcare Complex, in Nova Scotia, for example, had the worst score of any hospital that chose to have its results included on the list, with an overall HSMR of 137 -- though its ratio has dropped from 143 in 2004-05, to 129 in 2006-07.
The Regina General Hospital in Saskatchewan had one of the best overall HSMR in Canada, at 71.
Other hospitals with poor scores were:
* Grand River Hospital, KW Health Centre, in Kitchener, Ont. HSMR: 130 * Scarborough Hospital General site, in Toronto, Ont. HSMR: 129 * St. Catharines General Niagara Health System, in St. Catharines, Ont. HSMR: 129
Other hospitals with good scores were: * St. Mary's General Hospital, in Kitchener, Ont. HSMR: 81 * Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, in Thunder Bay, Ont. HSMR: 81
* Moncton Hospital, in Moncton, N.B. HSMR: 83
On a region-by-region basis -- which included all hospitals in a jurisdiction, not just the larger health centres -- the five hospitals of the Cape Breton District Health Authority reported the poorest score with the highest overall HSMRs.
The nine hospitals in the Newfoundland and Labrador Central Regional Integrated Health Authority also reported a high average mortality rate.
The seven hospitals in Saskatchewan's Sunrise Regional Health Authority had some of the best scores. Second best was the province's Regina Qu'Appelle Regional Health Authority.
Aim is to see death rates fall
The hope is that the data from this report can be used to cut the number of preventable "adverse events" -- those hospital errors that can sometimes lead to unexpected death.
A recent study in 2004 found that 7.5 per cent of adult medical or surgical patients had adverse events in hospital -- about one-third of which were deemed preventable.
Most patients recover from these errors, but each year, between 9,250 and 23,750 Canadian adults experience a "preventable" adverse event in hospital and later die, according to the study, which was funded in part by CIHI.
Phil Hassen, CEO of the Canadian Patient Safety Institute says the HSMR will be an important new measure of patient outcomes.
"What we want to do is have hospitals pay attention to this and begin to do work to reduce the number of... unnecessary deaths," he told CTV. "HSMR is an indicator that will focus people's attention This will then allow us to see a reduction in lives lost that should not have happened."
Already, the overall average HSMR in Canada has fallen by six per cent since the data began to be collected three years ago. This translates to just over 2,500 fewer in-hospital deaths.
But trends vary by patient group. For example, death rates for patients with heart attacks fell faster than those for patients with pneumonia. The five illnesses that had the highest numbers of deaths were:
* heart attack,
* heart failure,
* chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
* septicemia (whole body infection)
Those patients who had higher odds of dying in hospital were:
* Those with chronic health problems (such as kidney disease or AIDS) in addition to their main diagnosis
* Those who came in as urgent/emergency admissions
These factors were all taken into account in calculating the results.
The HSMR is calculated based on the illness groups that account for 80 per cent of all deaths in acute care hospitals. The death rates are then adjusted for other factors that would affect mortality, such as advanced age, having multiple illnesses at once, and whether or not patients were transferred between hospitals.
The hospitals and health regions included in Thursday's report are already aware of how their facility or region compares to others across the country. Some have already begun to make changes.
For example, the Saskatoon Health Region has begun introducing rapid response teams to prevent deaths in patients who find themselves in trauma outside of intensive care settings. They are also adopting practices to prevent ventilator-associated pneumonia, to reduce medication problems and infections and to standardize wound and skin care.
Yet some hospitals have seen their numbers rise in the last three years. Windsor Regional Hospital has seen its HSMR go from 118 in 2004-05, to 109 the next year, to 133 in 2006-07.
The hospital chose not to have its results published in the report but did decide to hold its own news conference to explain what it says were mitigating factors that explain their numbers. The hospital says, for example, that its high death rate is become it often accepts transfers of the sickest patients across the region to its health centre.
Hospital CEO Martin Girash says the hospital is not content with its mortality rates and will strike a committee to review the numbers and will work to improve its score.
History of the HSMR
The HSMR has been used by hospitals in several countries throughout the world as part of efforts to track mortality rates over time and target areas for improvement.
Every country uses similar data and calculation methods, but each country's results are based on their own national mortality experience, not compared to one another.
The HSMR tool was developed by Sir Brian Jarman at the Imperial College in the United Kingdom. He says that since Britain started tracking its hospitals' death rates, numbers have fallen across the board.
"I think it's been very successful, because about 80 per cent of hospitals in England now use the data on a monthly basis," he told CTV News.
"You can pick out problems to do with mortality and monitor the changes you implement and then look at how you're getting on with that."
Hospitals can use the data to identify which departments of their hospitals have unusually high death rates compared to other hospitals' similar departments, he says. Hospitals can then begin to make changes by reviewing patient charts and organizing teams to review their hospital's clinical practices.
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Protesters greet jogging premiers
MONCTON (9 August 2007) CP - Three premiers who braved wind and rain to promote healthy living through jogging ran into some hardy protesters delivering their messages of concern to the Council of the Federation.
After a night of fine dining and socializing, only three of the 13 premiers attending the annual council meeting in Moncton, N.B., made it out for some exercise before starting a long day of discussions on such issues as climate change and labour mobility.
Premier Shawn Graham of New Brunswick, Rodney MacDonald of Nova Scotia and Gary Doer of Manitoba sprinted ahead of protesters who are unhappy about a proposed Atlantic trade alliance to be known as Atlantica.
But Doer waded into a throng of nurses sporting medicare caps, saying he is happy to support their cause and wear the same hat.
Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, says the nurses want to make sure health issues remain front and centre in political deliberations in Canada.
Silas says the nurses delivered a video to each of the premiers, recording the thoughts of nurses across the country who say they are overworked in hospitals that are critically understaffed.
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What the business elite is not telling you about Atlantica: Atlantica and the Coy Agenda for Continental Integration
THE Atlantica concept is an enigma for most people in the Atlantic Provinces. It is an agenda that has brought elites in the region to a consensus that Atlantic Canada and eastern Quebec needs to economically, socially and politically integrate with Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Upstate New York to form a single coherent entity. The chief proponents of this concept are Brian Lee Crowley, President of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS), and Jim Quigley, President of the Atlantic Provinces Chambers of Commerce (APCC) and Vice-President of the Bank of Montreal. They have been promoting the "Atlantica" concept to Business and political leaders in the region. Most have not been made aware of the designs they are drawing, and would abhor their Neo-conservative prescriptions for the future of Atlantic Canada.
Mr. Crowley and AIMS have been the chief architect of the Atlantica concept. AIMS is a well funded big business think tank, with Atlantica Canada's wealthiest families represented on it's Board of Directors, that is based out of Halifax.
In a speech to an APCC meeting in Montague PEI on May 29th of 2004, Crowley laid out his vision of "Atlantica" which contained three central ideas. The first of which is to turn the Atlantic Provinces and New England into a "transport intensive economy". To accomplish this would mean doing two things. Firstly, building a highway from St. Stephen, NB through New England to Cornwall ON, and Montreal. Secondly, upgrading the Halifax port to accommodate Post-Panamax sized cargo ships. Crowley doesn't take into account the fact that the world is running out Oil. Also the trade routes he wants to create by-pass Newfoundland and the Francophone regions of New Brunswick.
The second and most alarming central idea to "Atlantica" is Continental Integration. This follows from a report called "Building a North American Community" written by the "Task Force for the Future of North America" which is an ad hoc coalition of the Canadian Council of Chief Executes, the US Council on Foreign Relations and their Mexican counterparts the Consejo Mexicano de Asuntos Internationals. The document makes 41 sweeping recommendations that read like a Christmas list for the Neo-Conservative hawks that are now in power south of the border. The recommendations centre around, first, creating an integrated North American Military and Law Enforcement Security apparatus that would transcend national boundaries and building a common North American security perimeter. Secondly, they call for an expansion of the NAFTA agreement to include Non-Tariff barriers to Trade (i.e. Public Services and cultural protections) and the harmonisation of Government regulations between Canada, the US and Mexico.
Many of the recommendations of the report are already being implemented such as the "Smart Regs" initiative of the Martin Government which took the first steps towards regulatory harmonisation. The recommendations, if implemented, would decimate Canadian sovereignty. Canada would no longer be able set it's own regulation around food safety, health, the environment and slew of other jurisdictions. By far the most frightening recommendations are around defence and boarder security which would expand NORAD into a "Multi-service Defence Command" or one central military command for all of North America.
The other recommendations around energy, the creation of new tri-national institutions and immigration are just as draconian and would be met with disgust by the average Canadian. The Continental Integration agenda being lobbied for by the nation's business elites would be the end of Canada as a sovereign nation and the consolidation of US power over North America.
The third central idea of the "Atlantica" concept is "Regional Coherence Building". This means integrating energy infrastructure and creating new cross border institutions that would replace previous structures and deepen the geo-political relationship between Atlantic Canada and the New England States. Much of the impetus for this has come from the Federal government which directed the Policy Research Initiative (PRI) to study "Cross Border Economic regions" through the North American linkages research project. PRI has set up five regional roundtables dream up cross border economic regions from coast to coast.
What is carefully omitted from this Vision of Atlantica are the implications it carries for the standard of living of working people. The phrase "non-tariff barriers to trade" is glossy terminology for removing any public institution, act of legislation or government regulation that inhibits the ability of business to make profit. The APCC is hosting a conference in Saint John from June 8-10th called "Reaching Atlantica: Business Without Boundaries". This kind of language leads one to wonder how far they will take this and if anything is sacred? Proponents of Atlantica, such as Crowley, Jim Quigley and Dennis Savoie are already talking about scrapping minimum wage legislation, privatising health care, restricting access to employment insurance, decertifying unions and closing rural communities. The Conference's largest sponsors are the Bank of Montreal and Irving Oil.
What is more unsettling is that the Atlantica Concept does not offer any ideas for the basic resource industries that have been the traditional economic activity of Atlantic Canada for centuries. Not a word of mention for farming, forestry and the fishery, all industries which have experienced major closures and economic setbacks in recent years causing untold hardship for working people. Also, Atlantica offers no solutions to the major challenges that are confronting our collective future in Atlantic Canada including the out-migration of young people and the acute aging of the population, the challenges posed by climate change, and the precipitous decline in the standard of living for the majority of Atlantic Canadians.
In the same pattern as the negotiations for NAFTA, the WTO and the FTAA, civil society groups are not at the table nor are they invited to the Atlantica negotiations. On the official promotional website for the "Reaching Atlantica: Business Without Boundaries" conference those invited are: "small business owners, CEO's, managers and executives, as well as Government representatives from the four Atlantic Provinces and the US Northeast". What is more astounding is how discrete the planning for this conference has been. There has been no mention in the print or broadcast media. The secretive nature should set off warning bells in civil society. If they don't want you at the table then they are likely planning something that you won't like.
The Atlantica concept needs to be exposed for what it really is, an attack on our social programs and rights for working people and the environment, a big business free for all and the annexation of Atlantic Canada by the United States.
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Labour condemns CAW deal
Toronto Star, 27 November 2007
The broader labour movement has condemned the controversial deal between the Canadian Auto Workers and Magna International Inc. that removes the right to strike from the union.
"Labour will not give up the right to strike," declared a resolution passed unanimously yesterday at the annual convention of the Ontario Federation of Labour, the umbrella organization representing 700,000 organized workers. The resolution made direct reference to the "framework of fairness agreement" signed last month by the CAW and auto-parts maker Magna.
Debate was quite heated.
OFL president Wayne Samuelson urged the convention delegates to "send a clear message" to other employers not to follow Magna's lead and demand similar deals.
"If you do, we're going to tell you to stick it where the sun don't shine," said Samuelson to loud applause from the 1,000 delegates attending the convention at a downtown Toronto hotel.
Other labour leaders described the CAW/Magna deal as a sham, a cancer and a sweetheart deal.
Sid Ryan, Ontario president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, accused CAW president Buzz Hargrove of "playing footsie in the backroom with the boss."
No one spoke in favour of the deal.
Hargrove, whose union does not belong to the OFL, was not present to defend himself.
"It's very, very easy to be critical of someone who is not there," Hargrove said afterward in a telephone interview. "The reality is much different than the rhetoric."
The Magna deal is still to be debated at the CAW's national council meeting next week, but Hargrove expressed confidence the pact would be approved.
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DEMOCRACY, SOLIDARITY AND THE 'FRAMEWORK OF FAIRNESS'
Canadian Dimension, 3 December 2007
While democratic unionism may seem outdated in an age where labour bosses in finely tailored suits hobnob with the wealthy and influential, democracy nonetheless remains the foundation upon which the working class achieved the gains it enjoys today. Moreover, unions - insofar as they emerged as institutions governed by laws the workers lay down for themselves - stand in contrast to an authoritarian economic system which they neither created nor controlled. It was only through this conscious and self-determined activity that workers achieved the solidarity to challenge the power of the capitalist system. Unions exist as a concrete example of what solidarity can achieve and what participatory democracy can be.
It is in contrast to this model of what unions can and ought to be that the recently announced Framework of Fairness Agreement (FFA) between the Canadian Auto Workers union and auto parts giant Magna International is most odious; not so much in that it directly threatens to undo past gains (which it might), rather, it is objectionable on the grounds that it undermines the very basis upon which unions achieved those gains. While the public scrutiny of the FFA has focused on the renunciation of the right to strike and the undemocratic structure of the proposed CAW Magna Local, what is more disturbing is the unwillingness and inability of the union to address concerns about the undemocratic process by which the leadership negotiated and is implementing the agreement with Magna.
Indeed, despite a commitment made at last year's Constitution Convention to "involve all levels of the union in discussions about targets, methods, strategies and goals", the latest attempt to gain a toehold in Magna hinged on the relationship between CAW President Buzz Hargrove and Magna founder Frank Stronach. Aside from senior union staff, the exclusion of the membership and the bulk of the local union leadership is an explicit rejection of the participatory model of organisation endorsed by the Constitutional Convention in favour of elite decision-making. Apparently, the rank-and-file are not important enough to even be passive participants in the largest and most crucial unionization drive undertaken by the CAW in recent memory.
In the wake of the uproar that ensued following the joint Stronach/Hargrove op-ed in the Globe and Mail, the union leadership responded to the growing opposition with a dismissive and contradictory message. On the one hand, they branded opponents as disaffected "retirees", "armchair quarterbacks" and "academics", intent on intervening in a matter that is no one's concern but the workers of Magna. Ironically enough, the union leadership has been quick to draw attention to support from retired CAW President Bob White and former government bureaucrat Tim Armstrong, both of whom apparently have an interest in Magna that critics of the deal do not.
At the same time, the union has publicly conceded that the CAW-Magna model has union-wide implications. Hargrove himself made this point in a recent speech where he emphasised that it is not about choosing between the CAW/Magna model and the union agreements that we currently enjoy, rather, it is choice between the two-tier wage "UAW model that was just signed in Detroit and the CAW/Magna model".
Despite this acknowledgment, the closest Hargrove has come to engaging with the membership involved an unscheduled, hastily called National Executive Board meeting and schmoozing sessions with Auto Council and auto parts leaders after the deal was signed, sealed and delivered. Even if one were to concede that it is impractical to consult with the rank-and-file members of the union on such matters, it still leaves the question of why the union is going ahead with an agreement prior to consulting with the elected delegates of our so-called parliament, the CAW Council. What does it say about the National Office's belief in democracy or their trust in the Council delegates if they are not worthy of being brought into the loop until after the decision is made for them?
Although the union leadership is quick to support the right of its members to criticise their decisions, their hostility to public declarations of dissent is equally obvious. For the leadership, solidarity is not the outcome of debate and collective decision-making on issues that affect us; instead, they use it as the means to enforce obedience through the threat of isolating those who fail to show the required degree of 'solidarity'. This reality is not lost on the rank-and-file. When Mike Shields, a senior national representative with the union, openly declared his opposition to the CAW-Magna model at the most recent meeting of Local 222 in Oshawa, members who spoke following Shields were unanimous in recognising that by taking such a position, he effectively sacrificed any prospect of advancement under the current regime at the National Office.
What disappoints me the most about this whole sordid mess is that the CAW has a history of genuinely looking upon the rank-and-file as active participants in the union's decision-making process. Based upon our own history, I am truly baffled that the leadership has even bothered to defend this process as democratic. Every time Hargrove declares his support for participatory democracy, I feel like Inigo Montoya from the film The Princess Bride: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."
If the leadership were truly interested in walking the walk when it comes to democratic principles, they would seize the opportunity afforded them by resistance to the CAW-Magna Agreement and launch a genuine and open debate about rejuvenating both the CAW and the broader labour movement through a sustained and genuine drive to organize the unorganized. After all, if they are so convinced of the justness of their cause, how can discussion do anything but win over those with doubts? If the consensus of the rank-and-file is that we must embrace the CAW/Magna model to move forward, so be it. Undoubtedly, such a course would not be easy, but democracy never is.
Solidarity and democracy have to be more than just slogans. For them to have any real meaning, they must be backed by principles and individuals actively committed to living those principles. Not so long ago, on an episode of TVO's The Agenda, Hargrove was clear on whether it was better to be 'right' or to be 'in'.
For me I'd rather be right the argument wasn't 'can we get in', the argument was, 'what are the issues, what do we stand for?' I was at Tommy Douglas' last speech and he said "If I could flick a switch tonight and bring two million new members into our party if they didn't stand for what we stand for in terms of equality I'd never flick the switch" I believe Tommy Douglas was right.
Apparently, our President has a different set of standards when to comes to democracy within our union. Woe be anyone foolish enough to cling to the archaic notion that a union's legitimacy is based solely on the ability of its members to govern and be governed by laws they give to themselves. In an age where union bosses believe that challenging the status quo means that they must stand above and outside the institutions which raised them from the shop-floor, being 'right' is apparently no different than being 'in'.
Wayne Dealy is member of CAW Local 385 working with the group CAW Members for Real Fairness.
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Labour Law Once Again Stomps on Workers Rights
Alberta Federation of Labour, 7 September 2007
The decision rendered this morning by the Alberta Labour Relations Board (LRB) declaring the strike notice filed by the carpenters union invalid is the latest example of how Alberta's labour laws illegitimately restrict fundamental rights for Alberta workers.
"The LRB decision this morning is an outrage," says AFL President Gil McGowan, "but the main culprit in this injustice is Alberta's horrible labour laws."
"The carpenters acted appropriately and democratically in their efforts to stand up for their members," observes McGowan. "In any jurisdiction with truly free and open collective bargaining, they would be in a legal position to strike today. However, we live in Alberta, where workers are not afforded even the most basic of rights."
McGowan states the decision takes an unnecessarily narrow interpretation of the sections of the Labour Code at question in the case. However, he suggests, the primary problem is the convoluted and restrictive rules governing bargaining and the right to strike in the construction sector.
"You need a masters degree in mathematics to understand all the numerical requirements in the construction part of the Code," notes McGowan. "The multitude of roadblocks, hoops and hurdles in the law are designed explicitly and intentionally to prevent workers from expressing their democratic right to strike."
"And that," says McGowan, "leads us straight to the doors of the Legislature and the Alberta government. They created a bad law that must be changed."
"I take my hat off to the thousands of carpenters in Alberta for trying to exercise their democratic right to strike," says McGowan. "And I say to the rest of Albertans that it is time to force the Conservatives to change the labour laws."
For further information: Gil McGowan, AFL President, (780) 218-9888 (cell).
* * *
Alberta Labour Code and Strikes in the Construction Industry
Peggy Morton*, TML Daily
In 1988, the Alberta government enacted a new Labour Relations Code following a Legislative Review in 1987. Among the changes to the Labour Relations Code was what was called a consolidation of construction bargaining into a system of province-wide, trade-by-trade bargaining subject to co-ordinated strike or lockout action. Before a strike would be considered legal, a complex series of double majority votes are required. The legislation arbitrarily defines a majority as 60 per cent, so a strike requires a double 60 per cent majority (the union and the consolidated unit.) All unions in the consolidated group are required to vote and no union can legally strike once 75 per cent of all the unions representing building trades have settled.
This legislation was introduced to further restrict workers and their unions in the construction trades from exercising their right to collective action. Earlier legislation had already provided for the government to declare "special project status" for an oilsands or other large project (see TML Daily April 13, 2005 - No. 59). This legislation was a further violation of the right to association as the ALRB unilaterally declares which unions will be "consolidated" in groups and subject as a group to the strike and lockout provisions of the Act. This is not a labour peace in which the workers give up their freedom of action in return for security or stability. It is part of a "labour peace" imposed to provide the monopolies a free hand in the oil sands and other major projects and which deprives the workers of any say-so.
At that time, the ALRB went so far as to argue that the legislation was enacted out of profound concern for the workers who might be affected by another union taking strike action. Such an argument is a fine example of speaking out of both sides of one's mouth. In the name of concern for the workers, unions are deemed to be part of a consolidated unit even though they are bargaining and voting separately, and barred from striking based on what another collective decides. It is not freedom of association by any stretch of the imagination. The unions and workers themselves must decide who will form a part of the consolidated unit, not the Labour Relations Board. The Labour Board counters that the workers still can bargain collectively and that this preserves a "reasonable opportunity to the parties to exercise their strike and lockout options" and that the remaining trades can submit their demands to arbitration and presumably the arbitrator would use other settlements as a guide. It makes no sense whatsoever to say that this is protection of the workers' rights or consistent with the right to association and the right to collective bargaining. One's yes only has meaning if one's no has meaning. It is only when workers can say no to wages and working conditions which they decide are not acceptable that their yes, their right to decide has any meaning. Once the door to collective action is legally shut, then the right to collective bargaining is not recognized and the law itself is in violation of fundamental justice.
The ALRB panel describes this as a "balancing act." According to the ALRB, overly onerous restrictions will lead to workers defying the law and conducting wildcat strikes, while on the employer's side it can lead to attempts to have work done by persons outside the scope of registration bargaining. This Goldilocks view of the world conveniently removes the argument from the real world into the fairy tale world where the workers and the powerful monopolies need to be "balanced." It ignores that in this world, governments are facilitating a modern day slave trade to create a class of workers deprived of their rights and indentured to the employer. The employers making arrangements with organizations which call themselves unions such as the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) in which the workers themselves have no representation. In the mythical world of the ALRB, it is not a fact that employers violate the law with impunity while unions receive huge fines and other penalties. Alberta's labour law has been rewritten to allow the contractors to establish as many paper companies as they like and force the unions to re-certify what is really the same company over and over again. And there is not the slightest consideration why those who actually produce the wealth should not have first claim to that wealth which they have created.
Only in this fairy tale world is the issue one of "balance." For the workers and their collectives, the issue is one of defense of the rights of all, including their rights as producers of the wealth.
* Peggy Morton is the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada Candidate for Edmonton Centre.
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