The Harper government versus organized labour

The government once again threatens back-to-work legislation and this time the Labour Minister muses vaguely of amending the Canadian Labour Code.

There’s something wrong in this case, and does that mean there’s something wrong in the code?” she said. “And if there is, what do we do about it? But the beginning part is analyzing the facts at hand to see if it’s a one-off … or is it a case where the code, which is 100 years old, has to be taken a look at.” Raitt said there are no changes planned, but that she is starting a process to see whether adjustments might be needed in the future.

“If we do have a problem and maybe it is a flaw in the system, we should discover it now and if we need to make changes we can make changes,” the minister said.

See previously: The right to strike




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The Harper government versus organized labour

  1. Kneecapping big unions would admittedly do a lot more good for the economy and the country at large than blustery IP reform and creating new, faintly ridiculous drug offences.

    • No matter what you think of unions, they involve massive amounts of Canadians, and it’s never wise to promote the ’kneecapping’ of large groups of organized voters.

      • They involve a minority of the workforce whose cushy, unsustainable benefits, unaccountability, and attitudes of entitlement are resented to some degree by most of the rest of us, especially when striking would massively inconvenience everyone. 

        The hard-core labour types – the ones who don’t care about inconveniencing the public, because By God, they deserve an extra 0.00025% in pension contributions, or what have you – are already voting NDP and loathe Harper with every fibre of their beings. So yes, I don’t see a major downside in attacking the power of Big Labour.

        • See, this is the problem living in pre-industrial Alberta…you have no understanding of unions or their function.

          They involve a huge number of workers, and in vital fields…..they don’t have ‘cushy unsustainable benefits’ either….it’s called a living wage.

          Yes, they can inconvenience everyone….and no they don’t ‘loathe Harper’….people vote on more than one issue you know, and Harper hasn’t been particularly anti-union before now.

          You are running on ideology, not reality.

          • Downtown Ottawa, dear. I deal with union members all the time, many of them surly public servants. And I remember just how hated by the public the ATU was during the transit strike a few winters ago, to draw an analogy to the Air Canada situation.

          • Well the sneering contempt for other workers is purely Albertan…and yes, people get angry at unions for the inconvenience they cause.

            I always cross picket lines myself, but until you can figure out a better way to handle labour situations, we have to deal with unions.

            However bashing them, and deliberately provoking them won’t get you anywhere.

          • Yeah, but there is a bit of a difference between public service unions and other unions.  I think they (unions) ARE often demanding more than conditions give them the ‘right’ to, but then again I think unions are often just trying not to fall further behind.  A bit of a nuanced thing–not all good and not all bad.

          • Albertan? No, it’s purely me. I observe how union members behave towards the public and non-union workforce, and return their contempt and indifference with equal contempt and indifference.

            I think the start of a better way to deal with them is, as the government has been doing, threatening to immediately legislate them back to work. If it’s no longer viable to try for a long strike that intends to hurt management and the public/consumers as much as possible, they might accept more reasonable offers.

          • “the sneering contempt for other workers is purely Albertan”

            That’s Emily burnishing her “champion of national unity” credentials . . .

          • @865444ea1a3aec1b5f1890dd40359673:disqus 

            I was unaware I was supposed to be fostering ‘national unity’, much less ‘burnishing’ it.  LOL

            I’m more an Ontario separatist.

        • They involve a minority of the workforce whose cushy, unsustainable benefits, unaccountability, and attitudes of entitlement are resented to some degree by most of the rest of us, especially when striking would massively inconvenience everyone.

          Until you got to that bit about striking, I thought you were talking about the corporate elite.

          • Bazinga.

            The difference is that, if the elites make demands just too ridiculous for the company to survive, they can be typically be fired more easily than an entire union workforce can be. And if they take the company down with them, they’re often forced to take responsibility for it in a way that a demanding union isn’t.

          • That’s why the heads of GM, Chrysler and major US banks are out living on the streets today eh?

          • They all managed to cut bailout deals that left the companies standing, which shouldn’t have happened – both execs and unions should have been left to drown in the festering hole of a completely unsustainable and unprofitable industry they jointly created.

            (But, can’t let those unions and cronies down, y’know. Think those bailouts would have happened for carmakers with primarily non-union employees, or companies not reliable Democratic donors?)

    • Just a hunch AVR, or do you actually have some reasoning beyond this position?

      From my perspective, I’m not sure how you think reducing the average worker’s access to collective bargaining is really good for an economy in which more than 60% of our GDP is based on consumer spending.

      • They’re free to look for better jobs, if the ones they’re in don’t pay enough. Yes, that’s cold – but it’s the reality for everyone else. 

        Unions live in a bubble isolated from reality, where a “living wage” is just something that management can obviously afford to pay, and has no effect on the profitability or survival of the business at large. In the real world, employers aren’t forced to run up insurmountable debts – e.g., as in the auto industry – solely due to concerted and sustained labour demands. And they’re accordingly free to succeed or fail on their merits, not bailouts.

        Granted, AC is a basket case and not a particularly shining paragon of of the free market in any event. But I don’t mind the idea of setting a high-profile example pour encourager les autres.

        • Of course, the reality is, everyone else is free to look for a union job if theirs don’t pay enough.

          • Since the unionized portion of the workforce has been shrinking for decades, no, not really.

          • Oh, they’re not? Yeesh. Get back to me when you’re not angry and blinkered.

          • So what you’ve really got is a case of sour grapes?

    • Why do you hate the middle class?

  2. I always find this issue an interesting one.

    While certainly it can be argued that unions add a level of complexity and difficulty to running an organization that otherwise would not exist, and one that decreases the ability of managment to take certain actions that may benefit the organization, it seems to me that the lack of unions could be equally problematic if not more so.

    Simply put, without the ability to bargain collectively, including the ability to hold out on labour ie strike, employers would always win out. Always.

    We already know what kind of society we would have without collective bargaining, and it is exemplified by the past, in which we had a massive class system of which most people belonged to the “poor” class.

    The middle class exists because people stood together and forced the richer class to pay fair wages and maintain a safer work environment.

    I’ve seen no evidence that the need for collective bargaining has lessened at all. If anything, with the tendency of firms to take advantage of the weak negotiating position of populations in developing nations, I’d say the need has increased.

  3. Translation: “Kneecapping unions” – ensuring that a continued race to the bottom for wages and working conditions of Canadians allows the wealthiest 5% of the population to continue to extract an even greater share of the wealth from our Economy.  Also, handicapping the functioning of said economy by ensuring that nobody has disposable income to spend.

    Freaking brilliant!!

  4. Well I hope Raitt follows through with this, she has the right qualifications. 

    The FAs got 80% of their demands met, which seems to me ‘collective bargaining’ was utilized, but no, lets resort to a strike so they get 100%.  

  5. It’s like we are going back to the coal mines of Kentucky and Northern England between a hundred and two hundred years ago. The mine owners shouting: “If you don’t to work here then just go and find a job somewhere else. I have lots of people willing to do these jobs 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, and for less than I’m paying you.” I heard some profs and think tank pundits saying exactly that on talk shows today (2011). We’re on a reverse escalator heading back in time. 

    • Yes, the sky is fallling.

      • For the government to step in it must be.

    • And yet, unionization is at historic lows. I wonder why that is?

      • I’d wager it’s because employers know that employees could unionize and wield a lot of power over their organization unless they keep the employees happy in the first place.

        A balance that isn’t helped by the government continually acting like a “nanny state” as you like to put it, and legislating people away from conducting bargaining as they’d like to do.

        • As an example, Thwim, let us look at Magna. Incredibly well run, non-union company which keeps employees happy with good wages, profit sharing and productivity bonuses. And Frank Stronach knows that if he treats his employees like crap, they unionize.

          AVR?

          • Westjet would be another example.

  6. I’m secretly happy that Harper would be foolish enough to declare war on the unions. I hope he even goes about changing the labour code. Maybe then will people take their civic responsiblities seriously and remember this nonsense the next time they are tempted to think that their votes don’t matter.

    Welcome to Harper’s Canada. And we haven’t seen anything yet. We’ve got four more years of this endure.

    It took Americans 8 years to realize what a mistake they had made in allowing Bush to gain power and stay there for two mandates. Let’s see how long it takes Canadians to wake up and take their civic duties seriously.

    • What on earth makes you think they realized it? He couldn’t run for a third term so it’s hard to say what would have happened had he been allowed to do so. After all, at least a part of Obama’s win has to be credited to McCain’s lackluster performance on the campaign trail.

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