Sunday, June 26, 2011

Why does the CUPW dispute matter for teachers and public education?

It is a sad day today, as postal workers are forced back to work, forced to take concessionary wage increases, and forced to participate in final offer arbitration. Their democratic right to negotiate a collective agreement in a free democracy has been stolen from them.

There was no reason for this legislation. The strike was limited, and had barely started. The back to work legislation was an aggressive, pro-management tactic. It shows that our current government is taking sides - the side of management.

The issues involved mirror similar labour/management disputes across the world these days. Pensions, two-tiered settlements, and blaming public sector workers.

It is a classic divide and conquer strategy.

Back in the thirties, after the Great Depression, and a-midst wave after wave of industrial action, governments turned to other forms of divisions within unions and worker organizations. The most powerful division at that time was race - black workers versus white, in the US, for example. Or everyone against Jews in Germany.

Race is a more challenging card to play in 2011, after the Great Recession. A century of anti-racist activism, and a world with much higher integration and multi-ethnicity is a world where the race card is less believable. Although some anti-immigrant sentiment is definitely being used (eg. the laws in Arizona), it can not so easily distract the vast majority of workers who are organizing to keep jobs with decent wages, decent pensions, and with a middle class standard of living.

Instead of "blame the immigrant", "blame the unionized workers" is the new mantra for the media and management. With most in the private sector no longer unionized, public sector unions are the primary target. We still have high rates of unionization. We still have relatively decent wages. We still have good pension plans.

The challenge for everyone who is not part of the corporate elite or the banking class will be to expose this false division for what it is - a distraction from those who are actually stealing the wealth and redistributing income so that fewer and fewer have more and more.

US businesses alone are sitting on $1.84 TRILLION in cash, says the Federal Reserve. They are not hiring, investing, or providing fair wage increases to keep pace with inflation. And a handful of individuals have become insanely wealthy (see:

The legislation against CUPW should be a warning and a wake up call not just to organized labour but to everyone who thinks it is reasonable and fair for every citizen to have an opportunity for a fulfilling life - to buy a home, have a decent job with decent wages, and a good education.

It will be up to all of us to stand up and reject this race to the bottom while a few horde the wealth.

Here is a quote from former teacher Jinny Sims speaking during the filibuster of the back to work bill in Parliament:

"As we debate this very important issue, I want to take a minute to recap.
What is it that we are talking about here today? We are talking about a
crown corporation, not some entity that is off on another planet, but a
crown corporation of a Canadian government, a crown corporation that makes a
profit each year and last year made a very hefty profit of hundreds of
millions of dollars that went back to support Canadians in other work. That
is okay.

This same crown corporation went into negotiations with its employees as if
it was taking a loss. That is what I find hard to understand. That company
is making a profit and doing very well, but for the very people who help
make that profit, who work 24-7 in shift work, who have given years of
service, and who deliver mail to some of the remotest communities and keep
our businesses going, what the corporation says when the parties get to the
table is, “By the way, we are going to pay new people who start to work here
18% less”. Is that the respect we have for the next generation?

Are we saying to the next generation of workers that they are not going to
get jobs with decent pay, that they are going to have to make do with a lot
less, that they are not going to be able to afford to own a house, and that
they are not going to be able to afford a decent living?

At the same time, that corporation turns to its workers and makes a direct
attack on something that is dear to every Canadian: their old age security.
It goes after their pensions, and not only theirs, but those of the next
generation coming in.

When I was growing up, and I have been growing up for a long time and I'm
still waiting to grow up, what I used to hear all the time was that with
each generation things get better. That is what our parents worked very hard
for. My parents immigrated to the U.K. They arrived there with a very young
family. My father worked two or three jobs in order to give us an education
and the kind of life that he thought would be better than the life he had
had. He belonged to unions, absolutely, and instilled in us the importance
of the collective: that when workers stick together, they make gains not
only for themselves individually, but they make gains for everybody in

1 comment:

  1. It is sad and scary.
    The Globe and Mail, Friday June 24th issue, cited that there are 11 million millionaires on this planet and 'that this tiny percentage of the world's population controls $42.7-trillion of global resources - $2 trillion more than before the crash in 2008.'
    There are people all over the world standing up for their freedom and rights. I agree that we need to unite and stand up for ours and our fellow unions and take action to win back and maintain our autonomy.