By Laura Penny
This reactionary and authoritarian attitude is pretty depressing when you recall that, a few short decades ago, Nova Scotians like Lisa Raitt’s dad fought long and hard for workers’ rights.
It is hardly surprising that the Harper government was quick to propose back-to-work legislation to resolve the Air Canada strike and the Canada Post lockout. Even though neither is technically an essential service, and neither operates on the taxpayer’s dime, both provided the opportunity for the Harperites to make a political point: workers bad, bosses good.
Now, of course, I can already hear some of you object, using your favourite justification for any dubious Harper decision: "The Liberals did it too!" The Chretien Liberals did indeed end the 1997 postal strike by passing back-to-work legislation. However, there is one significant difference between the 1997 strike and this one. This is a lockout.
Canada Post executives decided your Pa shouldn’t get his Father’s Day card. Canada Post executives are holding your eBay goodies hostage. If your small business is suffering thanks to this lockout, don’t waste your breath chastising your local postie. You should yell at the people responsible for your plight, the CEO and management of Canada Post.
This particular piece of back-to-work legislation rewards management for being unable or unwilling to resolve this dispute. Moreover, by undercutting Canada Post’s wage offer, the government is making it clear that they are willing to do management’s dirty work for them. Just as Environment Minister now means Head Cheerleader for the Tar Sands, Labour Minister now means Head Cheerleader for Management.
The Globe and Mail recently ran a very flattering puff piece about Labour Minister Lisa Raitt, complete with a photo of her nuzzling a kitten, the preferred prop for Harperites striking a sympathetic pose. The article made much of Raitt’s Cape Breton roots: she’s from the Pier, dear, and her dad was a labour organizer. She recalled knocking on doors with him during union membership drives and said, "it’s in the blood."
I guess that blood is not making it to the minister’s head anymore. It’s probably pooled in the poor thing’s feet, staging a wildcat strike and singing We Shall Overcome or Working Man. It is red, after all.
Raitt claimed that she was introducing back to work legislation because the government is "concerned about the effect this strike is having on Canada’s economic recovery and on Canadians."
This means the government is backing management because Canadians cannot afford a disruption of service. However, this also means the government is contradicting the very same managers they are supporting, insofar as Canada Post executives are arguing that they cannot meet union demands because snail mail is going the way of the Pony Express.
So, which is it? Essential economic infrastructure, or dodo bird? I suppose it doesn’t really matter. People voted for Harper because they wanted him to make decisions, not sense. Sense is for nerds. Decisions are for bosses. And workers, apparently, are not supposed to question those decisions. Nope, they should shut up, suck it up, and be grateful that they have a boss at all.
This reactionary and authoritarian attitude is pretty depressing when you recall that, a few short decades ago, Nova Scotians like Lisa Raitt’s dad fought long and hard for workers’ rights. Now, we seem to think that trading our blue noses for brown ones is the key to economic success. But this suck it up and be glad you have a job attitude does nothing but enable management to be incompetent and inequitable.
The Canada Post back-to-work legislation is part of a much broader trend. From the micro level of HRM city council, to the macro level of the global economic meltdown, it is clear that being the boss means never having to be accountable. A sizable salary and executive title are like unto papal infallibility, because anyone who criticizes management is just a whiner, someone who needs to learn to shut up.
The Harperites are consistent in framing every issue, including these labour disputes, as a threat to our fragile economy.
But they are very inconsistent when it comes to managing the economy.
They’re in favour of fiscal restraint, except when they’re racking up massive structural deficits and festooning Muskoka with gazebos. They’re in favour of free trade, except when they’re waxing protectionist about Saskatchewan potash. They’re in favour of free markets, except when they’re micromanaging negotiations between management and workers to ensure that the bosses are always right.
Laura Penny is a professor at Mount Saint Vincent University and the author of More Money Than Brains.
This article was published by the Chronicle Herald on Sunday, June 26, 2011.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE