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).