Your editorial regarding Labour Day is based on an erroneous reading of the recent history and current state of trade unions in Manitoba.
While it is true that the labour movement in Canada is currently facing difficulties associated with a prolonged economic crisis, the trade union movement remains strong in most provinces and industries. In 2011, 35 per cent of Manitoba workers were union members, behind only Newfoundland/ Labrador and Quebec, which had higher rates of 39.9 and 39.8 per cent, respectively.
Citing Tom Brodbeck from the Winnipeg Sun as a source (not a good choice), you say that the labour movement has been propped up by a pro-union NDP government: “one of the NDP’s first order of business was to usher in one of the most drastic pro-union omnibus bills in the province’s history. Bill 44 gutted secret-ballot votes, brought in forced binding arbitration and gave unions a wide range of new powers.”
This is bad history. Prior to 1992, unions were certified in situations with either a 55 per cent card sign up of employees in a bargaining unit or on the basis of a majority vote. There were also restrictions on the opportunities for employers to intrude in the certification process to try and influence the outcome. In 1992, the Filmon government raised the threshold for automatic certification based on cards to 65 per cent.
Vic Toews was Labour Minister in 1996 when the Filmon government brought forward Bill 26, which was clearly intended to undermine trade union rights in Manitoba.
Amongst other things, this bill did away with card-based certifications, imposed new reporting requirements on unions and expanded opportunities for employers to intervene in the certification process. These changes were made to reward businesses large and small for their loyal support of the Filmon government.
The NDP government’s Bill 44 partially rolled back the most objectionable features of Bill 26. Brodbeck apparently didn’t list all the drastic changes made by Bill 44. That’s because there weren’t any. The fact of the matter is that Bill 44 didn’t go far enough. Nor does Brodbeck explain how workers “are forced into unionization against their will.” The reason, we assume, is that he can’t.
Turning to the issue of right-to-work laws, it is important to note that unionization rates in the United States and Canada were about the same 50 years ago. They started to diverge because of a relentless campaign by big and small businesses and right-wing governments in former slave states in the south and agrarian states in the midwest. The overriding objective of this campaign was (and is) to secure the passage of right-to-work laws which prohibit clauses in collective agreements that require individuals to become members of unions or, if they do not want to become members, to pay union dues. As most Canadians will recognize, a more accurate characterization of such laws is as “free rider laws,” for people who want the union benefits, but don’t want to pay their share of the freight.
In Canada, it was not until the 1980s that businesses and some political parties started to turn against unions and their members. Their efforts to curb the rights and powers of the labour movement have intensified in recent years. The results of these efforts are reflected in growing inequality in the distribution of income at the top, a shrinking middle class and a greater deprivation at the bottom. This outcome contributes to growing instability in the economy, growing unemployment, poverty and a weakening of the glue (trust, reciprocity, etc.) that binds society together.
The labour movement has always been at the forefront to protect the interests of all working people against the ravages of pro-business governments and giant corporations plundering the wealth of this society. We expect this will be true in the months and years ahead. We would appreciate it if you would tell your readers that they can find our article at www.policyfix.ca — “The Threat of Right-to-Work Laws and the Need for Social Solidarity.”
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 7, 2012