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article imageOp-Ed: On Labor Day another bad year for Canadian unions

By Ken Hanly     Sep 3, 2012 in World
Ottawa - Labor Day is intended to celebrate workers, their contribution to the economy, and their achievement in terms of worker's rights. However as in other countries, in Canada unions and workers' rights are being continually challenged.
As different countries fight to control deficits, unions, their pensions, benefits, and organizing rights have often become targets. While the move against unions is quite evident in the U.S. in states such as Wisconsin attacks are also common in Europe especially in countries such as Greece where up until now unions were able to achieve considerable benefits for workers. Now pensions are being slashed and state workers let go in large numbers. Even in Canada unions and workers have often lost ground.
Public sector unions in particular have been forced to make concessions. For example in British Columbia teachers had to accept what was in effect a zero wage increase as the Liberal Christy Clark government argued that economic times were tough. The Ontario Liberal government went one step further in negotiations with the English Catholic Teacher's Association in an agreement that not only freezes wages but requires teachers to take off three days each year without any pay. The Ontario Liberal government led by Dalton McGuinty has also taken aim at the number of sick days police officers and firefighters can bank and is considering wage freezes for the public sector as a whole.
In Toronto thousands of Ontario teachers protested outside Queen’s Park last week over legislation that would eliminate the banking of sick days and also removes teachers’ right to strike. Unions have vowed to take the government to court over the bill. They with many other workers were out to take part in Toronto's huge labor day parade.
Often labor trouble follows immediately upon a company takeover. After a Caterpillar plant in London Ontario was taken over by Electro Motive Diesel(EMD) 465 workers were locked out. EMD sought to slash wages by up to 50 per cent.
The federal Conservative government has also joined in cutting back union workers. As part of the austerity package Harper intends to cut 29,600 union jobs in the public sector by 2015. However, Harper has also intervened in disputes within the private sector. He legislated Canadian Pacific Rail workers back to work after intervening in Air Canada disputes in 2011.
The Canadian Auto Workers(CAW) plans to merge with the Communications, Energy, and Paperworkers Union (CEP). However this will do nothing to stop the declining membership in the private sector unions as a whole. In contrast to the private sector where only 17 per cent are unionized almost 75 per of public sector workers are in unions.
The larger merged private union may give strikers access to a larger strike fund and a bit more strength in bargaining, but it will take more than that to turn the union movement around. Many forces that are weakening unions may be difficult if not impossible for unions to change. Almost all modern unions are business unions. The main aim of business unions is to obtain better wages and working conditions for their members. In Canada unions have often been associated with larger issues through their political connections to the NDP (New Democratic Party) but still the prime aim is to help their own members. There is no attempt to challenge the capitalist system itself. As a result even union workers are tied to the demands of the system.
With the growth of competition from labor in emerging markets and the globalization of capital over time the benefits that labor unions had fought for and won over decades became in the language of capital "unaffordable entitlements". Labor unions which had negotiated good wages, benefits, and pensions were criticized as making unionized companies uncompetitive. Many lower paid workers thought that union members had an undeserved advantage over them.
If a company does well and brings in huge profits for its shareholders it is regarded as good but if a union does well and brings good wages and benefits for its worker members it is apparently bad. Other companies seek to imitate the successful company and shareholders rush out to buy into it. However a successful union is bad and the benefits to workers should be removed. Other workers do not rush out to join a union and seek similar benefits but in many cases are envious and seek to ensure that well-paid unionized workers are brought down to the same low wage levels they receive. Capital with the help of media, many think tanks, and academics is evidently expert at creating false consciousness among its other achievements.
In many countries May 1st is celebrated rather than Labor Day. Although International Worker's day originated in the United States it is not celebrated either there or in Canada except by a few leftist organizations.In the United States and Canada, however, the official holiday for workers is Labor Day in September. This day was promoted by the Central Labor Union and the Knights of Labor, who organized the first parade in New York City. After the Haymarket Massacre, US President Grover Cleveland feared that commemorating Labor Day on May 1 could become an opportunity to commemorate the riots. Thus he moved in 1887 to support the Labor Day that the Knights supported. In the U.S. May 1 is now called Loyalty Day! International Worker's Day became associated with the Soviet Union and communist countries in spite of the fact numerous non-communist countries continued to set May 1 as the labor day holiday.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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