Monday, June 27, 2011

Conservatives Should Not Mistake This For Victory

Back-to-work legislation for locked out workers signals a lawless attitude toward labour

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party won a majority government in the May 2 election, many Canadians were wondering what to expect out of a government that could basically do as it wishes.

The mission for the Conservatives needed to be to do the right thing. To govern conservatively, but not to use the power of the government to conduct ideological warfare against the political opposition.

Ever since 2006 there have been accusations against the Conservatives that they have done the latter, and not the former. The cutting of funding to various far-left groups that had no business receiving public funds in the first place was treated as an outrage by the far-left. It wasn't.

The passage of back-to-work legislation sending Canada Post workers back to work is another matter entirely. It would be one thing if CUPW had ever gone on a full-scale strike. A comparatively small-scale rotating strike had been underway by members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.

But in reality, postal workers in Canada have not been working because they were locked out.

The NDP attempted to filibuster the legislation vigorously. They were actually right to do so on this occasion. In introducing back-to-work legislation, the government is forcing postal workers Canada Post itself locked out to return back to work without satisfying their right to bargain.

Canadian law allows workers the right to organize, if they choose, and bargain collectively. The government's actions in frustrating the bargaining rights of CUPW signals an adversarial attitude toward labour unions -- not a good idea -- and a generally lawless attitude toward collective bargaining rights.

Some have tried to argue that the government is not responsible for the actions of Canada Post management. Considering that the operations of Canada Post fall under the authority of the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities (currently Denis Lebel), the government had the authority to order Canada Post to end the lockout and allow negotiations to proceed.

They declined, and proceeded with back-to-work legislation nonetheless.

Perhaps a relentlessly-adversarial attitude toward labour unions has fooled some conservatives into believing that anything that frustrates a union's ability to function is a good thing.

There may be a litany of political activities -- coercively funded by union membership, and directed toward the pet causes of union leaders -- to object to. But that doesn't justify attacking the basest rights unions possess, and that union leaders were attempting to exercise in this case.

This may be a victory for the Conservatives -- who very much seem to have gone looking for this fight -- but it is not a victory for conservatives.

Anyone who thinks differently is fooling themselves.

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