RALLY for CEP 52A Edmonton Catholic Support staff
Friday, September 21, 2012 at 10:30 AM
Edmonton Catholic Support Staff are well into their second week of their strike. Friday's rally will draw on supporters from Edmonton unions. David Coles, National President of CEP will be joining the picket line and will address both strikers and the media.
Affiliates are urged to join the picket line at 10:30 AM on Friday in a strong show of solidarity. Please arrange to meet with your banners and flags at the Catholic School Board District's head office at 9807 – 106 Street, Edmonton.
The local is also asking affiliates to alert CEP52A President Wilma Ellenberg at 780.945-1394 if they have any casual work for members who are on strike. This would be temporary work in addition to the work they do on the picket lines.
When: Friday, September 21st at 10:30 AM
Where: The Edmonton Catholic day and until Edmonton Catholic Schools support staff goes back to work.
This the first strike for the local, and issues on the table include: wages, cuts to work hours and what the local is calling "job erosion" (more work, fewer staff with fewer hours to do said work).
The only sector where you can't have a union is the only one with no health and safety rules? Explain, please…
Literally everybody – and that includes Alberta Premier Alison Redford – knows that permitting an industry to "voluntarily" self-regulate the health and safety of its own workers amounts to a load of a very common agricultural product frequently spread on the ground as fertilizer.
This includes, by the way, every one of those well-greased lobbyists and earnest spokespeople for Alberta's agricultural industry who presumably subjected Ms. Redford to the full court press to forget about her impetuous promise to cover farm workers under Alberta's health and safety legislation during last fall's Conservative leadership campaign.
As was no doubt quickly brought to Ms. Redford's attention upon taking the oath of office, Conservative premiers just don't do that sort of thing in Alberta – even when the countryside is seriously contemplating voting for the loony-right Wildrose Party. Maybe especially when the countryside is seriously contemplating voting for the loony-right Wildrose Party!
So, am I calling these people liars? You bet I am!
They know as you know and I know and Ms. Redford knows that not including agricultural workers under the province's health and safety laws costs lives now and will cost more lives in the future. They also know the principal reason they don't want to have to comply with this reasonable kind of regulation is because now and then it might shave a few dollars off their bottom line.
Don't ever let someone talk snottily about how life's cheap in some other part of the world. It can be pretty cheap in Alberta too. (And it's cheaper, take note, here than in any other part of Canada, because everywhere else in Canada, farm workers do come under health and safety legislation.)
Notwithstanding her broken promise, by the way, I'm not accusing Ms. Redford of lying. She's merely scrambling to avoid having to lie about the topic. Earlier this week, according to the Calgary Herald, the premier's media spokesthingies were referring reporters' questions to members of her cabinet. Her agriculture minister and her minister responsible for health and safety law, meanwhile, refused to be interviewed about it.
This topic is in the news because a report of something called the Farm Safety Advisory Council, which was set up by Ms. Redford's predecessor, Farmer Ed Stelmach, recommends that unlike every other civilized jurisdiction, Alberta farm workers continue to be excluded from the protection of health and safety law.
This being Alberta, they're also excluded from laws governing hours of work, overtime pay, statutory holidays, vacation pay, the right to refuse unsafe work, compensation if they're injured on the job or even the right to be told if they work they're being instructed to do is dangerous!
Ms. Redford's ministers have been studying this and studying it and studying it – presumably while they try to come up with a way to pass off what they plan to do as concern for farm worker safety. Then some anonymous and inconsiderate person leaked the scheme to the media, whereupon reporters lobbed a few questions for the premier and her ministers to evade answering.
Now, the recommendation of the Farm Safety Advisory Council comes as no surprise, as Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan pointed out in a letter to the premier, because the advisory council is packed with representatives of agricultural corporations.
The advisory council, by the way, thinks the workers should be "educated" about safety. That's a good one, considering the advantage bosses have anywhere – even if you happen to speak English and know a good lawyer or two. Temporary foreign workers, frightened, far from home and unable to speak the local lingo? Good luck to them!
One advantage of this approach from the employer's perspective, of course, is that if something does go terribly wrong, God forbid, they can blame the dead or injured worker.
It's also important to remember, while we're talking about "farm workers," that Alberta doesn't just use that term to describe the hired hand on a run-down family farm – which I'm sure is the image they'd like you to think of when you hear the expression – but also for employees of giant industrial operations run by multinational corporations, including hog farms, massive feedlots and hay processing factories that ship stuff overseas.
In other words, in many cases here in Alberta, it's a significant class of industrial workers that has been excluded from the right to a safe and healthy workplace by this lamentable situation.
Meanwhile, according to the director of the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research, a government funded operation at the University of Alberta, the Advisory Council had no interest in his group's advice, which was to include the farm workers under the health and safety umbrella.
"Our input was based on the science but it wasn't listened to," epidemiologist Don Voaklander, the U of A Centre's director, told the Herald. He added: "These corporate farms, large feedlots and custom haying operations are no different than businesses that are drilling for oil or fixing your car. The agrarian myth of the rugged family farm just doesn't apply."
Think about this sort of thing when you hear those kindly souls from the anti-union Merit Contractors, the extreme-right Tax Exempt Fraser Institute for Market Fundamentalist Propaganda (TEFIMFP) and the further reaches of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's backbenches explaining that we don't need unions any more because we have all this great health and safety legislation, labour laws and the like.
Well, you may wonder, why don't Alberta's farm workers just join a union and start the long march to better labour conditions?
That would be the ticket, eh? Just one thing about that plan, though: it's also illegal in Alberta for "farm workers" to be represented by a union!
Sure, the law's unconstitutional, but someone who had suffered because of it would have to take it all the way to the Supreme Court.
So think about this the next time you're serenaded about the need for "worker choice" and the "right to work" – meaning laws to make unions ineffective or outright illegal – by one of these "friends of the working person."
If not having unions is so great because we already have such wonderful safety laws, labor laws and rules against children working in industrial plants, how come the only sector without this protection just happens to be the only sector where you're not allowed to join a union? Just wondering.
In the meantime, let's call a spade an agricultural implement. The fact Alberta farm workers are still not covered by basic health and safety law, and the fact Premier Redford has broken her promise to make sure they are protected, is a disgrace.
Rabble.ca Wednesday Sept 19 2012
Byline: David Climenhaga
The benefits to the oil industry of Enbridge Inc.'s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline may be exaggerated and its costs to the economy and environment underestimated, hearings into the project have been told.
The $6-billion pipeline project has been touted as a way to link burgeoning production from Alberta's oil sands to growing markets in Asia, which would allow Canadian producers to improve profits by reaping higher prices for crude overseas.
But a lawyer for the Haisla First Nation, which claims much of the land through which the pipeline would travel, said on Tuesday that projections of nearly $1.5-billion a year in increased revenue by 2018 are inflated.
Hana Boye said the estimate Enbridge is presenting at the National Energy Board hearings was developed with figures from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers that suggest oil supply in Western Canada will grow by 6.5 per cent per year between 2011 and 2020.
That's different than what Enbridge is telling its investors, Ms. Boye said. The company's own estimate is 4.4 per cent growth – a difference of 500,000 barrels a day by 2020 that would lead to a corresponding drop in revenues earned by producers.
"Have you given a different supply forecast to your shareholders than that provided to the panel?" Ms. Boye asked Enbridge's Gateway manager, John Carruthers, on Tuesday.
Mr. Carruthers acknowledged that different figures have been used at different times. Estimates can vary depending on assumptions of what the mix of varying crudes would be, he said.
"There would be times when we would see differences."
But the variances aren't big enough to change the project's economics, Mr. Carruthers said.
"The minor changes over time don't change the project need."
Ms. Boye added that the project could discourage the upgrading of oil sands bitumen in Alberta and that its cost to the environment hasn't been fully evaluated.
She pressed Enbridge over the use of diluent – lightweight solvents mixed with bitumen or other heavy crudes to make them flow through a pipe. Although the mix varies, about one-third of what would flow through the Gateway line would be diluent. The Gateway project includes a second pipeline that would bring diluent from the B.C. coast to Alberta. Ms. Boye suggested the cost of that diluent has not been factored into calculations of producer benefit.
Ignoring the cost of diluent exaggerates the case for shipping raw bitumen outside Alberta for upgrading or refining, said Robyn Allan, an analyst for the Alberta Federation of Labour who is advising the Haisla.
"There is no economic analysis ... that's been supplied to the hearings [of the impact] to the Canadian economy when we import condensate instead of upgrading in Alberta," she said outside the hearing.
Ms. Boye also questioned environmental economist Mark Anielski about his dollar-value calculation of the project's environmental impact. She pointed out that his analysis included only the 50-metre pipeline right of way and ignored possible effects outside that corridor.
Mr. Anielski responded that those effects could exist, but there's no credible method of putting a monetary value on them. He also acknowledged his report didn't put a value on a wide array of ecological effects from forests that would be disturbed by the pipeline – everything from erosion control to genetic diversity to pollination.
The Canadian Press, Tuesday Sept 18 2012
Byline: Bob Weber
The Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) will consider withdrawing from the world's largest trade union confederation and joining another organization, when the union gathers this week for two separate conferences in Vancouver and Burnaby.
"We will be discussing our membership in the International Trade Union Confederation (UTIC) at our annual convention this year," said CLAC executive director Dick Heinen.
"The World Organization of Workers' Congress is a response to our suspension from the ITUC. It's an international affiliation of labour unions that shares our values and we feel more comfortable dealing with."
CLAC is holding its national stewards conference and national union convention on Sept. 12-14 at the Hyatt Regency in Vancouver.
The event will also provide CLAC with an opportunity to celebrate its 60th anniversary.
In addition to this conference and convention in Vancouver, CLAC is also the Canadian host for the World Organization of Workers' (WOW) Congress being held concurrently at the Executive Inn in Burnaby.
At the request of the Canadian Labour Council (CLC), CLAC's membership in the ITUC was suspended in September 2011.
CLC President Ken Georgetti has accused CLAC of publishing policies and being involved in activities that undermine the conditions of workers in Canada and hinder the organizing activities of CLC affiliated unions.
In response, Heinen said the request by the CLC to suspend CLAC's membership in the ITUC was based on a number of false allegations.
"Georgetti orchestrated an anti-CLAC drive to have us expelled and he came up with a bunch of allegations at a kangaroo court, where a decision had already been made," he said.
"We have not had a reasonable hearing with the general council or the executive of the ITUC. They did not read our defence and they haven't acknowledged whether or not there is a process for reexamination of the decision. "
Heinen said the allegations being made by Georgetti are similar to what the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) is saying on their website, TheTruthAboutCLAC.ca.
For example, the AFL claims CLAC is a company union, which accepts invitations by employers to enter into voluntary recognition agreements.
The result is the negotiation of collective agreements that are inferior compared to those obtained by traditional unions and undermines their organizing efforts.
According to Heinen, the truth is that CLAC probably has a higher percentage of certification than any union in the building trades.
"I think within the minds of the ideological trade unions to be a company union is a bad thing," he said.
"We think it is okay to co-operate with a company to grow the business,' he said.
"This is recognition of a legitimate partnership with employers, which is also the stated goal of the Alberta Building Trades."
Heinen said CLAC is an alternative to the adversarial relationship of traditional trade unions with employers.
For this reason, CLAC has a more co-operative approach to labour-management relations.
He said Georgetti is in a clear conflict of interest because he sits as vice-president on the ITUC's executive board.
The ITUC was formed in 2006 in a merger between the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions with the World Confederation of Labour (WCL).
As a member of the WCL, CLAC automatically became a member of the ITUC.
"We decided to join, even though we were hesitant with the ideology of the ITUC," said Heinen.
"We believe in a partnership approach and the ITUC is too militant. The group of unions that decided not to join the ITUC formed WOW."
CLAC is experiencing fierce competition from traditional trade unions as it expands in BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
"CLAC has been involved in the construction industry since the old days of the union and we have certainly had an important presence, especially with specific crafts in the 1960s and 1970s," said Heinen.
"We currently have about 50 per cent of our business in construction and we intend to grow that side."
Established on Feb. 20, 1952 by Dutch immigrants, CLAC is based on the European model of Christian labour unions, which stress the principles of social justice and charity as taught in the Bible.
WOW is the new name of the former World Federation of Clerical Workers (WFCW) founded in September 1921 in Luxemburg.
WOW was founded as a Social Christian trade union and finds inspiration in the spiritual belief that man and universe were created by God.
The ITUC is the world's largest labour union confederation representing 175 million workers in 155 countries.
Journal of Commerce, Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Byline: Richard Gilbert
Support staff at Edmonton Catholic have overwhelmingly rejected the offer made by their employers, the Edmonton Catholic School Board. The employer refuses to negotiate the second year of wages on a two-year contract and instead wants to put into place a wage re-opener provision. Not only was staff firmly in favour of rejecting the deal, but 91% of those eligible to vote showed up to make their voice heard. This is the first time the local has been on strike and a show of support is essential today.
Affiliates are urged to join the picket line at noon today in a show of solidarity. Please arrange to meet at the picket line at noon at the district's head office at 9807 – 106 Street.
September 13 at noon (9807 – 106 Street, Edmonton)Support staff at Edmonton Catholic has overwhelmingly rejected the offer; please support them on the picket line
This is the local's first strike and workers are fighting to ensure better support for all students, including those with exceptional learning needs. Support staff have had their hours decline while workload has steadily increased leaving them in an impossible bind where students can't be given the time and attention they need. Please support this picket and show solidarity with the education workers that ensure our schools work.
EDMONTON, Alberta (Reuters) - Enbridge Inc's proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline to Canada's Pacific Coast could cost thousands of high-paying refining jobs in Alberta, a labor group warned on Tuesday as the company faced its first day of grilling at public hearings into the contentious project.
Alberta Federation of Labour contends the C$6 billion ($6.1 billion) line, which would ship 525,000 barrels a day of oil sands-derived crude to tankers bound for Asia, would mean 5 percent less refinery throughput at home and the loss of 8,000 jobs.
Enbridge and the oil industry say it would open up lucrative new markets for growing volumes of Canadian crude in regions overseas where the producers can escape the deep price discounts their oil now sees in the North American market.
"China is in the midst of a building boom in terms of refineries and refining capacity, so our fear is that if our policymakers allow this pipeline to be built we'll end up in a situation where our own homegrown refineries are no longer economic and they'll close down," federation President Gil McGowan said during a break in the hearings.
"We'll end up in a situation where we're sending our raw bitumen oil to China and then buying back the refined product."
Enbridge's evidence shows the project creating 907,067 direct and indirect jobs across the country through 2048.
The current phase of the hearing into the 1,177 km (731 mile) pipeline across the Rockies is examining its financial need and economic benefits to the industry and Canada. Enbridge's numbers show a benefit to the industry of at least C$24 billion through 2035.
It is the first time since proceedings began in January before a federal review panel that Enbridge has had the chance to make its own case for the development, a key part of a strategy to diversify oil markets and forge greater energy trade ties with China and other Asian countries.
The other portion is inviting more Asian investment into the country, as shown by CNOOC Ltd's $15.1 billion bid for Calgary-based Nexen Inc, an oil sands producer.
Until now, the company has watched as many aboriginal communities and environmental groups harshly criticized the proposal, saying it would bring unnecessary risks of oil spills, both along the rugged route and in coastal waters.
Enbridge's case has been undermined by oil spills on other parts of its system and a highly critical report by U.S. regulators into a 20,500 barrel leak in Michigan in 2010.
Enbridge Northern Gateway President John Carruthers acknowledged the opposition in his opening statement, saying that the company has taken note of public concerns.
He compared Northern Gateway pipeline to others major infrastructure projects that have brought large economic rewards to Canada, including the Canadian Pacific Railway, St. Lawrence Seaway and TransCanada pipeline.
He said it was possible to highlight its major economic benefits while noting Embridge was taking its environmental responsibilities seriously.
"It involves assessing, in the same objective fashion, and according to the same standards, the information or evidence that has been presented by those who are opposed to the development of our project," he told the panel. "And it culminates in approving the project under a framework of conditions that will promote reconciliation over division, and fact over rhetoric."
Alberta Federation of Labour was first to grill Enbridge's witness panel, made up of authors if its financial and economic reports, and its lawyer took most of the opening afternoon questioning them on the reliability of long-term forecasting.
The federation has been front and center calling for more plants to extract and refine bitumen oil from Alberta's vast oil sands in order to create jobs, rather than shipping raw materials overseas. The industry has said the market should decide if processing plants are required and that there is enough oil to go around. ($1= $0.99 Canadian)
Rueters Canada, Tuesday September 4, 2012
Byline: Jeffrey Jones
This Labour Day, working Albertans have a lot to be thankful for.
We have the highest wages, the best job prospects and the highest standard of living in Canada.
So, it's entirely appropriate for Albertans to be smiling as they fire up their barbecues for the last long weekend of the summer: life here in the land of oil is pretty good.
But before we get too comfortable, it's important to recognize that not everyone is pleased with how well ordinary working people are doing.
In fact, recently disclosed documents show that some of our country's most influential CEOs and business lobbyists are asking the federal Conservative government to help them suppress wages.
This revelation comes from a Department of Finance briefing note that summarizes the proceedings of an economic policy retreat organized by federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.
The retreat was held last summer and attended by a long list of business leaders and representatives from right-wing think-tanks - all eager to advise members of the Harper government on how they should take advantage of their long-sought-after majority.
The assembled business audience told the finance minister that Canadian workers are overpriced and that Canada could only become truly competitive if governments and businesses addressed the "wage differential in labour markets between countries."
In order to drive down wages, participants advocated the introduction of American-style anti-union labour laws.
For good measure, they also called for deep cuts to public services and the introduction of two-tier health care - while at the same time asking for more corporate tax cuts.
There are at least three reasons why working Canadians should be concerned about this meeting.
First, there is no evidence that the federal government challenged the notion that Canadians are overpaid.
This is troubling because, after adjusting for inflation, wages for average Canadian workers have stagnated over the past 30 years. In fact, the share of national economy going to wages for Canada's middle class has been dropping, while the share being gobbled up by corporate profits and incomes for the wealthy has been increasing.
Even here in prosperous Alberta, nearly a quarter of all working people earn $15 per hour or less. And the average hourly wage earned by permanent, full-time workers is $27. That's the best in the country, but barely enough to afford a decent home in either Calgary or Edmonton.
If there is a problem with wages, it's not that Canadians are overpaid - it's that a growing number are not paid enough to maintain to a secure, middle-class lifestyle.
Second, working Canadians should be concerned, because the wage-suppression wish list outlined by business leaders last summer has quietly, but clearly, become a central part the federal government's agenda.
How else can we interpret the Harper government's decision to allow employers to use more temporary foreign workers and to pay them as much as 15 per cent less than Canadians?
Or rule changes that force many unemployed Canadians to take any available work after six weeks on EI, even if it pays up to 30 per cent less than their previous job?
There's also the Harper government's decision to raise the retirement age to 67 (which is obviously designed to force older workers of modest means to keep toiling away in lower-wage jobs) and their ongoing attacks on unions and collective bargaining (which are designed to undermine the ability of workers to have a say in their own wages and conditions of work).
Taken together, these policy initiatives amount to what is essentially a low wage strategy.
The third reason why working people should be concerned about Flaherty's previously secret meeting with business leaders is that it is not an isolated case.
The truth is that representatives from groups like the Fraser Institute, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the Merit Contractor's Association (representing non-union construction companies) have dramatically ramped up their lobbying efforts in Ottawa and provincial capitals over the past year.
With the most ideologically conservative prime minister in Canadian history holding the reins of a majority government, they see this as their political moment.
Unfortunately for working Canadians, these lobbyists have been disturbingly effective. In addition to influencing the federal government, they've won allies at the provincial level.
For example, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and Tom Hudak, leader of Ontario's official Opposition, have both been advocating U.S.-style union-busting laws.
Some people may shrug and say "who needs unions anyway?"
But as Nobel-prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has said, unions - as imperfect as they may be - are the only counterbalance we have to unbridled corporate power. They also provide one of the only mechanisms we have for ensuring the more equitable distribution of income necessary for the creation of a vibrant middle class.
So as working Albertans enjoy the Labour Day long weekend, it's important for them to understand that a battle of world views is raging around them.
Will the low-wage advocates who attended Finance Minister Flaherty's private policy summit win the day? Or will Canadians reassert their traditional preference for a more progressive approach - characterized by fair taxation, investment in quality education and infra-structure, and policies that see unions as vital partners in the economy?
For the sake of Canada's middle class, let's hope that the high-road vision prevails. Because if it doesn't, more of us may end up flip-ping burgers at McDonald's on Labour Day instead of flipping burgers at the lake.
Gil McGowan is president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
The Calgary Herald, Monday September 3 2012
Op-Ed, Gil McGowan
This Labour Day, working Albertans have a lot to be thankful for. We have the highest wages, the best job prospects and the highest standard of living in Canada.
Life here in the land of oil is pretty good.
But before we get too comfortable, it's important to recognize that not everyone is pleased with how well working people are doing.
In fact, recently disclosed documents show that some of our country's most influential chief executives are asking the federal Conservative government to help them suppress wages.
This revelation comes from a Department of Finance briefing note that summarizes an economic policy retreat organized by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty last summer.
The retreat was attended by a long list of business leaders and representatives from right-wing think-tanks - all eager to advise members of the Harper Conservatives on how they should use their majority in Parliament.
The business audience told Flaherty that Canadian workers are overpriced and that Canada could only become truly competitive if the government addressed the "wage differential in labour markets between countries."
In order to drive down wages, participants pushed for American-style anti-union labour laws. They also called for deep cuts to public services and two-tiered health care - while asking for even more corporate tax cuts.
There are reasons why working Canadians should be concerned about this meeting.
First, there is no evidence that the government challenged the notion that Canadians are overpaid.
This is troubling because, after adjusting for inflation, wages for average Canadian workers have stagnated over the past 30 years, while corporate profits and incomes for the wealthy have increased. Even here in prosperous Alberta, nearly a quarter of all working people earn $15 an hour or less, not nearly enough for a decent home in Edmonton or Calgary.
Second, Canadians should be concerned because the wage suppression wish list outlined by business leaders has quietly, but clearly, become a central part the federal government's low-wage agenda. How else can we interpret the Harper government's decision to allow employers to use more temporary foreign workers and to pay them as much as 15 per cent less than Canadians?
Or rule changes that force many unemployed Canadians to take any available work even if it pays up to 30 per cent less than their previous job?
There's also the Harper government's decision to raise the retirement age to 67 and its ongoing attacks on unions designed to undermine the ability of workers to have a say in their own wages and working conditions.
Finally, working people should be concerned that Flaherty's secret meeting with business leaders is not an isolated case. The truth is that business leaders and groups like Merit Contractors (representing non-union construction companies) have ramped up their lobbying across Canada. With the most ideologically conservative prime minister in Canadian history leading a majority government, they see this as their political moment.
Some people may shrug and say "who needs unions anyway?"
But as Nobel-Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has said, unions are the only counterbalance we have to unbridled corporate power. They provide one of the only mechanisms we have to build and maintain a vibrant middle class.
So as working Albertans enjoy the Labour Day long weekend, it's important for them to understand that a battle rages around them.
Will the low-wage advocates who attended Flaherty's private policy summit win the day?
Or will Canadians reassert a traditional, progressive approach - fair taxation, investment in quality education and infrastructure, and policies that see unions as vital partners in the economy?
For the sake of Canada's middle class, let's hope that the high road vision prevails. Because if it doesn't, more of us may end up flipping burgers at McDonald's on Labour Day instead of flipping burgers at the lake.
Gil McGowan is president of the Alberta Federation of Labour
The Edmonton Journal, Mon Sept 3 2012
Byline: Gil McGowan
Some of my younger readers may not realize this, but when I was a kid growing up in British Columbia in the 1950s, there was a holiday at the end of the summer called "Labour Day" on which Canadians celebrated the vast contribution of working people to the past, present and future of our great country.
Unions, groups of working people who pooled their modest individual strength to bargain collectively and ensure that a fair share of the great wealth they created ended up in the hands of ordinary families, would sometimes gather for picnics on this holiday, which was tinged with true patriotism, and sing songs.
One of those songs, a particular favourite in those long-ago days, went like this: "It is we who plowed the prairies; built the cities where they trade; Dug the mines and built the workshops, endless miles of railroad laid; Now we stand outcast and starving midst the wonders we have made; But the union makes us strong...."
Well, those days are gone -- the part about "but the union makes us strong," anyway -- and I can almost hear many of you, dear readers, silently mouthing "Thank God!"
Today, our Tea Party of Canada government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper is dedicated to signing "trade agreements" that ensure high-paying Canadian jobs are exported as quickly as possible to more efficient foreign jurisdictions, such as China, the role of public education is well on its way to being outsourced to corporate shills, and the final long weekend of our short Canadian summer is devoted to what might be called the Twenty-four Hour Hate, a day-long frenzy of official and media sponsored loathing for the weakened vestiges of the labour movement.
Oddly enough, though, this occasion is still known as "Labour Day."
And so it is that, here in Alberta, today we celebrate Labour Day 2012 (the year that, ironically under the circumstances, marks the centenary of the foundation of the Alberta Federation of Labour) not only with the traditional publication in the media of "studies" by right-wing think tanks that "prove" how we'd all be better off if there were no unions, no pensions and no public health care, but with a new poll that purports to show everyone is in agreement that unions are at best an irrelevant anachronism, at worst a menace.
OK, enough sarcasm... You may have seen a reference to this poll in the media, though. Indeed, if you are one of the few Albertans remaining who still gets your news from the print media or its online offshoots, you could hardly avoid it. The opinion survey was conducted by Leger Marketing for a group called the Merit Contractors Association, which describes itself as "the voice of open shop construction in Alberta."
The poll purports to show, in the words of Merit President Stephen Kushner, that "today's workers want ... more flexibility and freedom of choice in whether they should be part of a union and compelled to financially contribute to all union activities."
These answers were elicited from Leger's self-selected online sample of 501 respondents by asking questions clearly designed to make unions look bad, thereby leading respondents to the obvious "correct" conclusions about how to deal with that badness. In this regard, it would be fair to call Leger's misleading conclusions the results of a push-poll, designed to produce the desired responses, and not a legitimate measure of pubic opinion.
It is easy, for example, to get poll respondents to say they support "transparency" of union finances -- a position for which an argument can be made.
Likewise, though, I can guarantee you that it would be similarly easy to get like results in a poll asking about the benefits of financial transparency for governments, private corporations doing business with the public, public and private employers during negotiations, far-right "think tanks" and, just for one more example, non-union construction employers' lobby groups. A good argument can be made for these points as well -- one that would naturally prompt a certain degree of disagreement from all of these groups.
Similarly, I could use push-poll questions like Leger's to elicit responses that would let me confidently state that a majority of Canadians, including members of management, support a ban on corporate political donations and an end to charitable status for corporate think tanks that engage in constant political advocacy. Yadda-yadda.
Be that as it may, the Merit Contractors are virulently anti-union smaller construction firms that get together to pool their strength and lobby collectively (you know, like a union) for laws that would make it much more difficult for unions to organize Merit employees and represent union members effectively, and as a necessary sideline to persuade the public that this is a good idea.
Merit's website shows a weird picture of a guy wearing a construction helmet with a baby strapped to his chest, possibly a hint of some upcoming Merit campaign against child labour laws. Who knows? It is to be hoped profoundly that the guy in the picture is related to the baby, and that he's not holding a hammer in his hand.
At any rate, for all their rhetoric about "choice," "freedom" and "mandatory union dues," not to mention their alleged concern for the rights of working people, I think it's fair to say that Merit members' principal interests in this are avoiding the inconvenience of dealing with unions generally and more specifically finding a way to compete with larger, often more successful unionized contractors.
If they can recast their competitive struggles as a fight for "worker rights," and see the imposition of legislation that also makes it harder for their chief competitors to operate as they do now, perhaps they can increase they market share.
So there is little merit, as it were, it complaining about Merit's constant anti-union yammering. This would be an effort akin to politely asking your dog to stop yapping when the postman comes to the door.
Likewise, there's not much to gain in attacking the Fraser (so-called) Institute's preposterous faith-based claims everything's better with anti-union cotton-belt-style "right to work" legislation in place when, as Antonia Zerbisias put it in an excellent Toronto Star column yesterday, "the evidence is just about bulletproof: When union membership thrives, so does the middle class."
On the other hand, Leger's role in conducting this push poll and its assistance with Merit's efforts to publicize it is more troubling since, at least up to now, the company had a reputation as a serious polling firm.
I wonder if Leger would be interested in doing a parallel -- and methodologically similar -- poll on how many Albertans (including, say, management employees) support the full disclosure of company financial information, especially during union negotiations? They might also ask how many Albertans want their tax dollars to subsidize excessive contracts with private companies, large executive bonuses and severance payments, or any advertising, including glossy corporate and government brochures.
You get the idea. Probably almost all of Leger's respondents would agree with the conclusions suggested by my questions too -- assuming they're worded much like those in the Merit push poll.
Of course, it might be little harder to generate all the nice uncritical publicity enjoyed by the Merit Contractors in the Calgary Herald if you were publishing a dubious push-poll that didn't mesh so nicely with the Herald's decision-makers' own opinions and their recent history of ugly labour relations.
Oh well, never mind. Later today, from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., the Edmonton and District Labour Council will hold its annual Labour Day picnic at Giovanni Caboto Park. Rain or shine, this popular event will attract a huge throng of Edmonton's many unemployed and working poor citizens, hardship that stubbornly persists despite Alberta's seeming economic prosperity.
My guess is that most Canadians, polled about this informal annual charitable effort by unions and their members, would strongly approve.
I wonder what they would say if they knew the proposals pushed by the Merit Contractors and their ilk would make it illegal?
Happy Labour Day!
Rabble.ca, Mon Sept 3 2012
Byline: David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.
The People Who Built Alberta: A Centennial for Alberta Workers examines labour's role in the growth and prosperity of the province. Beginning with First Nations social economies, it traces working life through the periods of agricultural settlement, railway building and the coal economy, to the present.
The People Who Built Alberta was designed for the archives by the Alberta Labour History Institute, as part of Project 2012, the centennial celebration of the Alberta Federation of Labour. Artifacts accompanying display panels have been provided by the Royal Alberta Museum.
Project 2012 also includes a series of history booklets for schools and the general public, a series of short workers' history videos, a new Alberta labour history published by Athabasca University Press and a provincial tour by Alberta folk-singer Maria Dunn.
The public is welcome to celebrate the opening of the exhibit on Wednesday, September 5, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Provincial Archives of Alberta. Seating is limited; please RSVP by calling 780-427-1750 (dial 310-000 for toll-free access within Alberta) or emailing email@example.com
The Provincial Archives of Alberta is owned and operated by Alberta Culture and is located at 8555 Roper Road (corner of 86 street and 51 avenue) in Edmonton. It is open Tuesday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with extended hours on Wednesday to 9 p.m. Admission is free.
Ourhome.ca, Saturdau, September 1, 2012