FALL SPELLS MORE ANTI-WORKER AND ANTI-UNION ATTACKS BY THE HARPER CONSERVATIVE GOVERNMENT

Today Sunday September 29, 2013.                 

Fall has officially arrived last week and the Canadian Parliament is set to resume on October 16, 2013 after having been formally prorogued by Governor General David Johnston on September 13, 2013 at the request of Stephen Harper, leader of the Conservative government.

The week of September 16-23 was declared Democracy Week by Elections Canada way before it was known that Harper would prorogue the session of Parliament originally scheduled to start on September 16, 2013.  This gave rise to the Canadian electorate condemning the Harper government for his decision to once again prorogue Parliament.

Just before that, Harper carried out a cabinet shuffle and has since been trying very hard to position himself and his government with a so-called “new agenda” for the upcoming parliamentary session when a new Speech from the Throne will be delivered.   In this way, the Harperites are trying to offset the many pressures they are facing from the electorate as a result of scandals which are plaguing them at this time.

Not a few labour leaders and political activists believe that the Harperites will be continuing on the same path of wrecking the nation and of attacking the rights of the workers and that of the trade-unions by openly attacking the Rand Formula.

THE HARPER GOVERNMENT IS AN ANTI-WORKER AND ANTI-UNION GOVERNMENT WHICH BLATANTLY SUPPORTS MONOPOLY RIGHT IN CANADA AT THE DETRIMENT OF THE WELL-BEING OF THE PEOPLE AND THE SOCIETY. 

Since the Conservatives took political power with a majority government, they have unleashed an unprecedented attack against the organized Canadian worker’s movement.  For the most part, labour disputes in the federal sector have ended with back-to-work legislation, thus denying workers the right to strike, to collective bargaining and by the same token, the right to association to defend its own interests.

Aside from that, it has introduced during the last parliamentary session, unprecedented anti-worker and anti-union legislations designed to make the organizing of workers into trade-unions impossible and to try to discredit the unions for the way it spends its money.

According to our National Union, the Conservatives have brought in “a steady stream of anti-union legislation in an attempt to entirely restructure the labour relations regime for federal workers, something which will impact on all Canadian workers’.

Bill C-377 brought about during the last Parliament would force trade-unions to publically disclose their finances to an extraordinary level of detail something which would not apply to any other dues-based organizations.  The Conservatives argue this would bring needed transparency to the labour movement.  However, they fail to mention the fact that most unions already disclose their finances to members in documents that are public.

The Union believes that this bill is far from being about transparency.  “It is about tipping the scales in favour of employers at bargaining time and creating political tension”, says the Union. This infamous bill may have been stopped in its tracks this summer by the Senate, but Harper has vowed to bring it back when Parliament reconvenes in October.

There was also bill C-60 which was passed and gave the government control over bargaining at Crown corporations.  With this bill, the government will not only sit at the bargaining table, but will also have the right to give direction to the employer-side negotiators.  This is a clear violation of the governing principle of Crown corporations that they must be at arms-length of the government.

Bill C-525 will make it much harder for the Canadian workers to join a union.  It will remove the “automatic card check” from the Canada Labour Code and will force a vote on whether or not to join a union, regardless of how many workers sign a union card.

This bill will effectively give employers the upper-hand in union drives and give them an opportunity to intimidate the work force when a certification vote is held.  Workers that do not vote will be automatically counted as “NO” votes.  The Union has correctly pointed out that if such a system were to be applied to federal elections there would not be a single sitting member of Parliament.

As mentioned above, many trade-union leaders and political activists believe that the Harperites will begin to openly attack the Rand Formula during the next parliamentary session.

Pierre Poilievre, the Federal Conservative MP for Nepean-Carleton has already launched a campaign in a letter to his constituents which was distributed in November 2012, to change the rules regarding the payment of union dues. Whenever the trade-unions take a different position than that of the government’s regarding political questions or issues of concern to the body politic then threats to get rid of the Rand Formula abound.  Poilievre is known for his anti-worker and anti-union stands as seen many times during debates in the House of Commons.

Poilievre’s federal campaign is also in lock-step with Ontario Conservative leader Tim Hudack’s White Paper on “Flexible Labour Markets” that pledged his party’s commitment to eliminating the mandatory collection of union dues.   The main trust of the Conservative campaign is to undermine union funding and silence workers’ collective voice in the fight for decent wages and working conditions.

They try to convince the workers that the Rand Formula is a violation of their rights and freedoms while nothing can be further from the truth.  In actual fact, the Rand Formula enshrines the rights of all the workers to associate into a union for the purpose of fighting for better wages and working conditions and guarantees the accomplishments of the union to all workers in the bargaining unit.

It is generally accepted by the enlightened population that when workers through their unions are able to bargain freely for decent wages, benefits and pensions, they engage in a process that benefits society as a whole.  For the Harperites anything which is of benefit to the working class and to the broad masses of the people should be thrown out the window so that monopoly right can flourish in this country while causing destruction for the society and untold hardships to the people.

WHAT IS THE RAND FORMULA AND WHERE DID THIS RIGHT COME FROM? 

(Download the Rand Award)

The CUPW writes in its August edition of Perspective: “The Rand Formula is the basis of modern-day labour relations in Canada.  It arises from a 1946 ruling by Justice Ivan Rand, which settled the Ford Strike in Windsor, Ontario.  After a collective majority decision to join a union, all workers in a bargaining unit are entitled to fair union representation and all workers must pay dues.  Ending the Rand Formula would have a disastrous impact on workers and the labour movement”.

In essence, the Rand Formula also referred to as “automatic dues check-off” is a situation where the payment of trade-union dues is mandatory regardless of the worker’s union status.  It is guided by the lofty principle of all for one and one for all which means that all what is accomplished by the collective as a result of its strivings to improve the wages and working conditions of the collective is shared by every single member of the collective.

For many trade-unions, the Rand Formula is the template of Canadian Labour Relations since the Second World War.  In 1945, a bitter struggle for union recognition was fought by the United Auto Workers, Local 200, against Ford in Canada at a main production facility in Windsor, Ontario.  The Union demands included recognition, dues check-offs and mandatory membership for bargaining unit employees.

At that time, the Union spent a lot of time and effort collecting union dues from each member individually.  The fight by these workers was for union security.  At that time, many employers wished to use the end of the war as an excuse to return to conditions as they existed prior to the war when workers were not allowed to form unions.  In order to ensure that this did not happen, Local 200 demanded that the company agree to a union shop as well as automatic dues check-off.

As the strike started, World War II was just coming to an end.  During the strike, the workers closed the company’s powerhouse down, shutting off the heating system for the plant.  Hundreds of OPP and RCMP officers were sent in.  Over 8,000 workers from 25 plants organized by Local 195 walked off the job in solidarity with the 11,000 Ford Motor workers who were on strike.  They stayed out for one month with no strike pay.  The union then formed a blockade of cars and trucks stretching 20 blocks around the Ford facility.  Not long after the blockade, the Federal Government tabled a proposal to end the strike.  The proposal included binding arbitration on the union shop and dues check-off issues.  The proposal was ratified by the membership on the condition that the arbitrator to be appointed was someone sympathetic to the union.  This ended a 99-day strike by 11,000 workers and a blockade at the Ford Motor Co. in Windsor, in 1945.

The arbitration process was chaired by Justice Ivan Rand who rendered his decision on January 29, 1946.  The Rand decision provided for the union dues check-off, but not for the union shop.

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The Rand Formula rapidly became a pattern for union security in collective bargaining, not only in United Auto Workers plants, but for unions throughout the country.  By 1949, the UAW had 40 plants in Canada covered by the Rand Formula.

The Rand Formula was a compromise and not everyone was happy with the outcome.  The decision also outlined the union’s obligation to maintain discipline among the membership and responsibility for preventing wildcat strikes.  It established penalties for the union if wildcat strikes occurred.

At the time, Justice Rand was reinforcing the Canadian wartime regulations that outlawed wildcat strikes.  This was one way that Canadian labor legislation differed from the U.S. labor legislation.  In the U.S, as a result of the 1935 Wagner Act, workers had the right to strike during the life of an agreement over unresolved issues such as health and safety or production standards.  Wildcats were illegal for Canadians workers under any conditions.

It took until the late 1970s for the Rand Formula to become law in Ontario and Quebec.

Today most Canadian jurisdictions require mandatory dues check-off to be part of all collective agreements, or require that employers accept the demand if sought by the union.  In all provinces, workers are free to negotiate the Rand Formula.

The legal protections that now exist have been important for stabilizing and extending unionization.  Monopoly corporations are seeking to bring in right-to-work laws to Canada and this is not merely about removing these existing protections, but rather, they aim to make it illegal to even negotiate the Rand Formula.

For the workers and their unions, prohibiting this basic form of union security and reaching so deeply into the right to collectively bargain would clearly mark a return to the 1930s, if not earlier.  Many say that in some respects, making it illegal for workers to negotiate dues check-off and ultimately making it illegal for them to back up their demands with strike actions brings us back to the 1870s when workers could be charged for conspiracy and illegally “combining” their labor.

CONCLUSION

Today the monopoly corporations and their paid lackeys in government are seeking to roll back over a century-and-a-half of social progress.  It is most important to keep in mind that each and every advance in the rights of workers came after a wave of struggle from the nine-hour movement, to the enactment of the 1872 Trade Union Act and other important victories.

Our rights were not given or granted to us by anyone.  They were won in fierce battles for the rights of the working class to its dignity.   During the 1942-43 period that is just three years before the Rand decision, they were 760 strikes involving 1 in 3 union members and resulting in more than 1 million strike days in 1943 alone.

Once again, advances in workers’ rights would only come as government stepped-in to contain disruptions and militancy by enacting, in this particular situation, the Privy Council Order 1003 in 1944.  This new directive essentially brought the Wagner Act to Canada, with the requirements that employers recognize and negotiate with unions—but only for the duration of the war.

In 1946-47 strikes for improved wages and conditions, union recognition and dues check-off affected entire industries, including auto, steel, rubber, electrical, forestry, textiles, newspaper among others as workers pushed to solidify wartime gains.  More than 120,000 workers hit the picket lines across the country in this period, resulting in over 7 million strike days.

The struggle to achieve union security was at the heart of several strikes in that era for the Rand Formula to become law across the country and for it to obtain legal protection.

Basic trade-union rights in this country such as the freedom to association, democratic representation in the workplace and collective bargaining were not gifts from employers.  They came from hard-won struggles and were fought for by the generations of working men and women who came before us.

The CUPW points out “that these attacks from the Conservative government are not simply individual events, but are all connected to a broader process.  They come at a time when the global economy is in a state of chaos.  Governments around the world are enforcing austerity and stripping away workers’ rights at every opportunity.  In the face of these attacks, we have seen mass public revolts in one country after another.  We cannot simply wait until the next election and hope the Conservatives will be sent packing.  We must actively resist these attacks now.”

Also for your information, I am forwarding to you a copy of the Rand decision of 1946 which came to be known as the Rand Formula.

In Solidarity,

Danielle Desormeaux       (hoffddesormeaux@gmail.com)

*With reference material from the Canadian Auto Workers. Pictures from the IAMAW district 250.

Feel free to add to the discussion.