January 29, 2009

[Comparison] The Good ol' Union Bust!

Yet again I am realizing how we have it all wrong here in Canada. The attitude towards unions has gotten so bad that a large number of employees who acquire union jobs do not realize that this is a position of privilege (and of responsibility) which has been won for them by their predecessors. Most Canadians just don't understand basic labor relations: They are almost always ready to side with authority and power (the employer) and have an antipathetic response towards worker exploitation. At a union meeting for my CUPE local of TAs at Carleton University some weeks ago, I watched as one member expressed his indifference at the thought that future TAs in his position (international students) would have a negative take home pay if we didn't stand up for a tuition indexation clause that the administration was trying to purge from our contract. He didn't care - the issue was about him, here and now. Short term, self interest is the ruling ideology of the day here in Canada. There is no such thing as solidarity in this cold-hearted country.

Thus it is no surprise (though it is disappointing) that our media is gleefully reporting two big union busting operations here in Ontario this week. After 12 weeks on the picket, the TA union at York University is being legislated back to work by the provincial parliament. Meanwhile, after 50 days on strike, the Amalgamated Transit Union in Ottawa is being threatened by the Federal Minister of Labour, Rona Ambrose, to get back to work. These types of union busts show a clear and tight nit relationship between government and capital. The city of Ottawa, the Ontario government, the federal government are very clear in demonstrating their distaste for (and blame upon) workers. Certainly, the executive management at OC transpo and York's administration can not possibly be at fault for causing a strike! That would simply be preposterous - it must be greedy workers wanting higher pay, as the media purports (and yet both unions have rejected offers of increased wages, clearly indicating that that is not what is at stake).

Now, if we have it wrong in Canada, who has it right? One look at the BBC's world news site today gives an indication: France. Today across the country, some one million public employees and sympathizers are engaging in massive nation-wide strike action, called by eight of the country's biggest unions. Much of the country is in a total standstill. Airports, buses, train systems, schools, post offices, banks, hospitals and courts are either shut down or slowed down. And the reason? Workers are angry with the federal government for their failure to deal with the economic crisis. They are tired of crappy working conditions, privatizations, and the Sarkozy's bailing out of big private banks while leaving the people out to dry. And the public reaction? Overwhelming support (69% of the populace supports the strike)! Here is a country where more than two thirds of the population can come together in solidarity to demand fair and reasonable worker-friendly action from the government.

Meanwhile back in Canada our friggin' Minister of Labour is rallying MPs to vote for her stupid union busting plan which will ultimately fail to resolve the heart of the problem. Yet another reason why I want to move to Europe... (don't even get me started on public transportation and environmental policy).


  1. Ryan!
    there's good people all over
    and you are here
    I would be pissed if you took off to the e.u.

  2. I wouldn't be pissed, but they're going to be up shit creek if Russia keeps cutting off oil. Plus their economies are so intertwined due to their unhinged embrace of gloablization (not that Canada's isn't) that they are going to be negatively affected by economic downturn as it spreads throughout the virus. I'm shooting from the hip here, but there may be one good thing about being so closely related to an American economy: we can still be free riders - that is if we accept neoliberalism and continentalism as the most efficient mode of production.


    I watched some Fox news a couple of months ago before Obama went after the fat CEOs. It's interesting how they were bashing the health packages that Labour gets in the big three's auto plants. As if Labour were to blame for the uncompetitiveness of domestic vehicles in the face of expanding asian car makers. As you point out, government's tightly knit relationship with capital is to blame. At least Obama went after those figurehead CEOs. Even if they were sitting ducks, they were symbolical.

    Did you know Obama hasn't criticized Israel for it's actions in Gaza?

    I heard Obama was heading north and thought of you in that glorious, winter-shrouded city, hopefully not too cold in your student villa. Hopefully the big O keeps his promise to renegotiate NAFTA, seeing as Chretien never did.

    peace out.

  3. that's "throughout the world like a virus". jesus, i should have learned to proofread in university.

  4. I'm not going to Europe just yet... though Norway would be high on the list. Have you ever met a Norwegian you didn't like?

    Seriously though, clearly some things have been done right in Canada, given that we're not in the same dire straights as most European countries. It's just frustrating to note how clueless/vitriolic Canadians are towards unions without any genuine understanding of them.