Tuesday, January 18, 2005
Business Unions Sell-out B.C. General Strike Summer 2004
"When the working class unites, there will be a lot of jobless labor leaders." Eugene Debs, 1905 speech
Prepare the General Strike Against Capital and its State Because the Unions Won’t
Suppose they called a General Strike and we all came? What would they do?
Introduction: Grabbing Defeat from the Jaws of Victory
The Unions Betray Workers (again) by Eugene Plawiuk
B.C. returns to normalcy after hospitals workers' strike, but anger lingers Greg Joyce, Canadian Press
B.C. Workers' were not adequately represented by their union.
Thanks for Nothing, Jim Sinclair
Jesse Winfrey, Secretary-Treasurer,Cowichan Valley Local, HEU
Union leaders sabotage action, Socialist Alternative
Lessons from the B.C. Healthcare Workers' Strike
Barbara Biley – CPC-ML
General Strike Betrayed by Union Bosses
Union Leaders Darkest Hours Page
Members for Democracy (MFD)
Unions Narrowly Avert General Strike in B.C.
Wage Slave X, Class Struggle Bulletin
NDP Governments in British Columbia-Strikebreakers Page
Solidarity Caucus, B.C.
Fightback - Solidarity Caucus formed in B.C.
New Socialist Magazine Sept/Oct 2004
Preamble to the Constitution of the IWW
The Principles of Revolutionary Unionism
International Workers’ Association (IWA)
Also See These Online Articles:
What Happened in British Columbia? By Kimball Cariou July / August 2004 Canadian Dimension
Trades Unions work well as centers of resistance against the encroachments of capital. They fail partially from an injudicious use of their power. They fail generally from limiting themselves to a guerilla war against the effects of the existing system, instead of simultaneously trying to change it, instead of using their organized forces as a lever for the final emancipation of the working class that is to say the ultimate abolition of the wages system.
Karl Marx, Value, Price and Profit, Addressed to Working Men, The First International Working Men's Association, 1865.
Grabbing Defeat from the Jaws of Victory
The Unions Betray Workers (again)
As the bell tolled the eleventh hour on Sunday May 2, health care union leaders in BC trembled in fear that workers in the province would shut it down in a General Strike. The fear was palatable as they rushed to settle a deal with the Provincial government no matter the cost to their members. Indeed their fear was rational, though of course not reasonable, as they faced jail time and fines if the workers continued to strike. Yes once again like the businessmen they are, the trade union leaders looked at the bottom line and sold out their members for a bowl of pottage.
The betrayal of the health care workers tells a story that has been going on in Canada since 1995, when these same unions sold out the laundry workers in Calgary who went on a wildcat strike, which almost sparked a General Strike in Alberta. (See my article TEN DAYS THAT SHOOK ALBERTA ).
Four years later in 1999 the political party of the labour movement, the NDP in Saskatchewan betrayed its health care workers, by legislating them back to work, which is illegal under the ILO agreement Canada is a signatory to. That strike was divided as well between competing unions, which failed to unify and create a general strike. In this case it was because of the close relations between the unions and ‘their’ political party, that thwarted the possibility of a General Strike. (See my article THE HOT SPRING OF 1999 IN CANADA ).
The fact is that the “workers party” in Canada has betrayed workers in many provinces when it has gained state power. It did so in Ontario and in B.C., (which the Solidarity Caucus documents below) even before Campbell’s Liberals came to power. But workers in B.C. who have experienced this, were once again cajoled by their union bosses to give up the General Strike for yet more of the same, support for the B.C. NDP in the next election. When faced with workers power, the unions run back to the arms of the NDP and electoral politics. This is the only politics they know or are willing to embrace; parlimentarianism (the lowest form of politics).
Given any opportunity to lead, the unions mobilize their members raise their expectations and then either declare it a one day strike, or head in the opposite direction of where the enemy is . In 1974 Joe Morris and the CLC threatened the Trudeau government with a national General Strike over their wage and price control legislation. This quickly ended up being a one day National Day of Protest. In the 1990s Buzz Hargrove of CAW and Syd Ryan of CUPE were vociferous in their calls for a General Strike against the Harris government. But that only ended in a series of one day rotating strikes shutting down select cities. And as they effectively began to lead to a province wide General Strike, they where stopped. And again the labour leaders pushed for electoral politics to replace the Tories with the NDP.
And when it comes to running in the opposite direction that was the case in Quebec city at the FTAA meetings, when the federal government built a wall around the city to keep protestors out. The protest was at the wall, and on the token protest day that labour bring out its members did it go to the wall No it went in the opposite direction to hold a one day protest picnic against Globalization. The action was at the wall.
This is a special issue of Le Revue Gauche, as it contains more than my own writings on the matter of the B.C. General Strike that almost was. There are a wide variety of perspectives but all are from rank and file militants. There are Anarchist, Trotskyist (Le Humanitae and Socialist Alternative), Class Struggle Bulletin, New Socialist Group, Marxist-Leninist, the Solidarity Caucus that emerged after the sellout, and from Members For Democracy a rank and file group, and shop floor perspectives.
We end with two classic declarations of syndicalism; the Preamble to the Constitution of the IWW and the Principles of Revolutionary Unionism of the IW
I would be remiss not to mention that while workers in B.C. were being sold out, in New Foundland public sector workers staged a mass strike, and were sold out once again, by the supposedly left wing social union CUPE.
After having taken their members out for a month, and failing to defeat the government in its plans, they returned to the table with the taste of ash in their mouths. Of course this should be expected when the Head of your union plays golf with the millionaire Premier.
It would have been depressing indeed if the workers at an Alcan factory in Quebec had not seized their factory, in protest of the companies plan to close it. Despite pleas and begging from their union, the left wing CAW, to return the factory and go back to the bargaining table, these workers took direct action and occupied the factory for a month. During that time they continued producing and increased productivity and output under workers control.
CAW, that militant bad boy union of Buzz (the mouth) Hargrove, did as all unions do and condemned the workers and demanded they ‘bargain in good faith’, bargain what, the loss of their jobs.
CAW made a further mistake when bargaining for its rail unions in CN. The usual auto business bluff and bluster at the bargaining table was then to be supplemented by a one day show strike by the union. But the workers would not return to the table. CAW thought the issue was wages, and failed to listen to their members who said that like all other workers at CN the issue wasn’t wages but harassment and bullying by the employer. That was personal, and every worker had a story about the oppressive working conditions under the Privatized management of the corporation. This is why the workers refused to accept the CAW contract, which gave them a raise. It failed to protect them on the job from the shit heaped on them daily by the bosses. Instead of a one-day show strike, the rank and file forced CAW into a two month strike.
This mistake arose from the merger of a variety of craft unions and running trades into the CAW. And the CAW Inc. failed in its acquisition of new members to really listen and learn their issues. Hey Buzz knows best.
So workers can resist the leadership of their unions and take matters into their own hands. How far will they go without militant rank and file organization? The articles here all show that without militant organization of rank and file activists, then the workers will continue to be led down the road of sell out and concessions.
Even those who would normally call for ‘changing leadership’ in the unions, running leftists for executive positions, concluded
“Our position would have been to call for the creation of extended strike committees based on hospitals with representatives from local work places and community groups to spread the strike and provide democratic leadership, thereby preventing the betrayal.“ (Le Humanitae page 14.)
Exactly, the only way to spread the general strike is through autonomous worker committees, not union committees. The militant call for worker self activity leads to opportunities not only to propagandize for a General Strike, but on the eve of that strike call for the creation of workers committees. The next step; workers and community councils.
And while the Fightback Solidarity Committee and the Members for Democracy arise from these struggles, they still reflect, as do the political activists in the union, a failure to understand what is really needed in Canada for an effective mobilization of the working class; One Big Union. Not a mergers and acquisitions formula for bringing all the existing unions in Canada together, but an OBU of militants.
Rank and file militants in unions, working class radicals, and political leftists need to quit their sectarian labour caucus approach to organizing in the unions and adopt a OBU strategy. To create a militant layer of class conscious class struggle workers ready for every picket line, to create revolutionary situations out of every struggle. In other words syndicalism, creating a broad-based working class revolutionary union recognizes that every strike is a battle in the Class War.
There is a revolutionary union that is dedicated solely to this purpose that will celebrate its 100th anniversary, in 2005, as the only existing class struggle union in North America; The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).
And it is the only organization that can combine organizing the unorganized along with organizing the unorganized militants. This is the dialectic needed to succeed in creating a working class opposition to the trade union and social democratic leadership in the workers movement in Canada. It is the only organization that recognizes we are all workers regardless of our place in the hierarchy of capitalism. And it is the only organization to recognize that dialectic: “The employing class and the working class have nothing in common.” Let’s hear Buzz, Georgetti, Sinclair or the rest of Landlords of the House of Labour say that. And of course it is the only union that still has as its revolutionary watchword: Abolish the Wages System.
So why aren’t all our militants joining the IWW rather than forming sectarian political caucuses of leftists in unions? This has been tried before and the result is CUPW. And while the best of a bad bunch, it is still an industrial union with a syndicalist structure it is not a revolutionary union.
Before we can build an OBU of workers in Canada we need and OBU of the militants.
The history of the unsuccessful General Strikes is the history of the betrayal not only by unions but by political parties of the left as well. In Germany after WWI the SPD in Germany called a General Strike, and workers massed aimlessly due to the fact the SPD leadership had no plan of what to do after they called the strike, in fact they were surprised by its success. They could have overthrown the government of Weimar at the time, but failed to take advantage of the dual power situation the General Strike had created.
And that is the problem of the General Strikes in Latin America, and Europe they fail to take the next step. They mass people on the streets to protest, not to seize power from the State and Capital. And by seizing power it would mean creating our own power through mass democracy, mass meetings, and the creation of from below mass strike committees.
As Rosa Luxemburg states it is not enough for a General Strike of workers, that strike must expand to all of society to become a mass strike.
“The mass strike is the first natural, impulsive form of every great revolutionary struggle of the proletariat and the more highly developed the antagonism is between capital and labour, the more effective and decisive must mass strikes become.”
(The Mass Strike 1906)
The power created by this mass strike, is the refusal to accept the conditions of society dominated by capital and its state. The proletariat creates their own organizations, organic mass democratic organizations of councils, workers councils in the work place and community councils in the neighborhood. This was the case in Argentina when its economy collapsed. But even this is not enough if their focus is merely to ameliorate the crisis rather than confronting the origins of that crisis, the domination of capitalism.
This is the real purpose of the OBU to fight now for workers rights but to always push towards the General Strike, to broaden it to the Mass Strike and ultimately the creation of a dual power situation, social revolution. Without the development of an organic militant rank and file movement in the working class, not merely a union but a class struggle organization, all our political movements will be for naught. We remain small sectarian grouplets, of little interest to anyone but aficionados. The historic lessons of class struggle will be lost. And the leadership of the workers movement will fall back to the union bosses and their political party the NDP, to be betrayed again an again.
Build the OBU of worker militants against the bosses unions.
 Canadian Union of Postal Workers. In the 1970’s a wide variety of left groups in Canada sent their rank and file cadres into the factories to join the working class. The most successful intervention of the Left was in the Canadian Post Office, and resulted in two postal unions merging to form the militant CUPW, which is in effect the only mass syndicalist union in North America. Today every left wing sect has members and caucuses in CUPW. Previous executives have included members of CPC_ML, CP and Trotskyitsts.
"The workers movement has been integrated into official society; its institutions (parties, unions) have become those of official society. Moreover, labouring people have in fact abandoned all political and sometimes even trade union activity. This privatization of the working class and even all other social strata is the combined result of two factors: on the one hand the beauracratization of parties and unions distances these organizations from the mass of labouring people; on the other rising living standards and the massive proliferation of new types of consumer objects and new consumer life-styles provide them with the substitute for and the simulacrum of reasons for living. If the term 'barbarism' has any meaning today, it is neither fascism nor poverty nor a return to the Stone Age. It is precisely this "air conditioned nightmare”, consumption for the sake of consumption in private life, organization for the sake of organization in collective life, as well as their corollaries; privatization, withdrawal and apathy as regards matters shared in common, and dehumanization of social relationships." Cornelius Castoriadis (Pierre Cardin) from Recommencing Revolution, Socialism or Barbarism, France/Solidarity UK 1964.
B.C. returns to normalcy after hospitals workers' strike, but anger lingers
Mon May 3, 7:11 PM ET
VANCOUVER (CP) - The chaos of a strike involving thousands of public sector workers was averted, but health centres were faced Monday with catching up on missed surgeries and some union leaders faced an angry membership.
The labour dispute, which would have amounted to a near general strike in B.C., was averted late Sunday night in an agreement involving the Hospital Employees Union and the government. Despite the settlement, there was sporadic job action as some pickets lingered in front of some hospitals in Kelowna, Nanaimo and Victoria.
Some union leaders bore the brunt of their members' anger in the wake of the settlement.
The government defended its imposition last week of Bill 37 - the back-to-work legislation - and in reaching the agreement Sunday night.
Premier Gordon Campbell said the HEU "wasn't interested in negotiating so we brought in Bill 37 to protect patients and create a flexible framework to allow us to reach a resolution with an arbitrator."
Finance Minister Gary Collins said health support workers still have a sweet deal under the new contract which reduces their wages and benefits by 14 per cent over two years.
"If you look at the collective agreement that's there, the package that they have with up to nine weeks vacation, 18 sick days, previously a 36-hour work week, the agreement is way more generous that you'll find pretty much in the public sector let alone the private sector."
The union represents a broad range of skilled and unskilled workers, from cafeteria and cleaning staff to licensed practical nurses and technicians.
The dispute renewed debate in some circles about whether to ban strikes in the health sector.
Labour Minister Graham Bruce said outlawing strikes in the health sector is not the answer, but he's considering making changes to public sector bargaining in British Columbia.
"I believe there is a better way to resolve public sector disputes," he said. "The industrial labour relations model around public sector negotiations doesn't work. We've seen that it hasn't worked and maybe it needs some adjusting."
In a related development, arguments opened Monday in B.C. Appeal Court over government legislation two years ago that broke union contracts.
Four B.C. unions covering health workers, nurses and government employees are asking the province's highest court to declare Bill 29 unconstitutional.
The union's lawyer, Joe Arvay, wants the court to recognize that there are constitutionally protected aspects of the collective bargaining process.
Although the lingering pickets Monday at some locations sputtered, union anger in some areas didn't.
HEU spokesman Darryl Pinkney in Nanaimo, where pickets were up at a transit yard, expressed anger at the settlement.
"Most of our members feel that it's not over. Most of our members feel that it's unfair and there's nothing that changed."
Susan Barron, a lab technician at Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria, said she and her co-workers had been sold out by their own union.
"All I can say is we have the ability to bring in new leadership this fall and that's what we will be doing. We've been sold out."
Sandra Giesbrecht, a member of the union's local executive in Victoria, also directed her invective at the union's executive.
"You know what, they didn't consult us. They were incommunicado. I understand they were sequestered but we're tired of them making decisions without feeling the pulse of the membership."
At a small rally outside Vancouver Hospital, another HEU member who didn't want to be named said the dispute was about "saving public health care, not about rollbacks."
She refused to believe that HEU members were paid more than their counterparts elsewhere.
"I don't believe those statistics," she said. "The cost of living is higher in B.C."
The HEU's secretary-business manager, Chris Allnutt, tried to assuage some of his members' anger.
"All of our members shouldn't be happy with what has happened in Victoria," said Allnutt. "The imposition of the legislation is absolutely abhorrent and our union said No when we were in free collective bargaining.
"There's no question that workers have been done in by this government."
Allnutt said he didn't support pickets remaining up in the face of an agreement.
"In terms of members still being on the picket line, we directed our members to go back to work and most members are accepting the union direction."
Other sporadic picketing went up at public transit yards in Victoria and at two ferry terminals - Swartz Bay and Departure Bay - but both terminals were soon cleared of pickets and ferry loadings resumed. Sailings were delayed, however.
The deal also averted a widespread shutdown of B.C. schools by unions supporting the health-care workers.
Since the dispute began last Sunday, about 6,000 surgeries have been cancelled as well as tens of thousands of diagnostic tests such as X-rays, CT scans and MRIs.
Louise Simard, president and CEO of the Health Employers Association of B.C., said the surgeries were primarily non-urgent surgeries.
"But the impact is enormous because it makes the waiting list longer and takes us months to get back to where we were."
It could easily take up to a year and perhaps longer to catch up, she said.
Viviana Zanocco, a spokeswoman for the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, said that people who were bumped by the job action won't necessarily be first in line when surgeries resume Tuesday.
It depends on the doctor and his operating time schedule, and the seriousness of the medical problem compared to others.
"Doctors can bump down the line or reassess now, or wait," she said.
The number of surgeries missed in the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, the largest, numbered almost 1,300, including almost 3,800 diagnostic procedures.
The deal caps the number of full-time union jobs local health authorities could contract out to 300 in each of the next two years.
The premier said the cap was offered last week, but the union membership refused to discuss it.
The deal provides for a $25-million severance package for workers laid off between 2002 and 2006.
The union will also exercise its right to ask an arbitrator to sit down with both sides to negotiate exactly how a 10 per cent rollback in members' wages and benefits would be worked out.
Another four per cent in savings will be realized in extending the work week from 36 to 37.5 hours.
B.C. Workers' were not adequately represented by their union.
by Aaron Wednesday May 05, 2004 at 06:37 AM
I wanted to publish this article that I found on Yahoo! as it includes many lessons that are not brought to the surface. The day following May Day, the real labour day, an international celebration of labour, the 'union representatives' of the B.C. health workers' silently ended the strike. It should be noted that the strike was just gaining momentum as many other unions, and other folk, pledged to endorse the strike. On monday, a general strike was slated to take place. This strike had the makings of a firm stance against the bosses of British Columbia, and the potential to act as a catalyst for a widespread stance. Unfortunately, the non-revolutionary business union, that are often kept in the pocket of the bosses, dictated the people back to work, against many of the strikers' desires. Many of the B.C. workers' are dissatisfied with the outcome. The important lesson here is that unions often do not represent the workers they purport to help. Until we begin to organize for ourselves, in a democratic, non-hierarchical fashion, the potential of the struggles of working people against their bosses will continually be flanked by the business unions. I hope you read the following article to get an idea of how upset many of these workers really are, and the crummy deal that was shoved down their throats by their 'representatives', just as momentum was beginning to build.
Thanks for Nothing, Jim Sinclair
by Jesse Winfrey [Repost by Grey Tigers] • Monday May 03, 2004 at 09:15 AM
Thank you for selling me and my 43,000 sisters and brothers out tonight. You couldn't get off the band wagon fast enough either. I want you to tell me and the rest of your sacrificial lambs exactly what you personally gained by agreeing to this complete and utter betrayal.
Thank you for selling me and my 43,000 sisters and brothers out tonight. You couldn't get off the band wagon fast enough either. I want you to tell me and the rest of your sacrificial lambs exactly what you personally gained by agreeing to this complete and utter betrayal. We have seen big labour in the form of Dave Haggard taking deep draughts from the trough of late, but I had no idea the rest of BC's labour movement was as greedy and spineless. Obviously, all the press about pocket lining by the big boys is true, why else would you cave in to this outrageous agreement after so much rhetoric by Alnutt, O'Neill and Sinclair. You had no intention of carrying out any form of General Strike, ever, you simply got all of your memberships revved up on the false pretense of global job action that was never intended to occur. I am sickened by your complete lack of any kind of testicular material.
We have suspected for some time, especially since catching our own health authority in a lie about signing dates, that all the multi-national deals were signed some time ago. You have simply been going through the motions, as they did, of stringing the workforce along to continue providing the best level of health care on the planet while you secretly set yourselves up for career change, retirement or pay-off until all the preordained start dates for contracting out could be reached. I'll bet the threat of law suits by Compass, Sodexho, Aramark et al was the true incentive for the government to ram legislation through that you simply rubber stamped on my behalf after leading us down the garden path of defiant political protest.
The extra turn of the screw will come when the "I told you so" from the media darlings start and I have to walk the halls of my workplace looking into the eyes of the public and management. Thank you so much for adding to the humiliation and degradation your self serving act has wrought on us. You have fulfilled Campbell's mandate to crush a full percent of the provincial population in spirit and dignity. Thank you also for handing us further into the arms of fascism by allowing Bill 37 to remove any last remaining vestige of impartiality in the mediation process. I need now only look to the Labour minister appointed arbitrator for streamlined decisions that will solidify the end of collective bargaining forever.
On a personal note, I have beat my head senseless for two and a half years educating and mobilizing members for this day of retribution for working people, only to have the day that Mr. Sinclair would never even name evaporate in a puff of smoke. You have brought the end of solidarity to the very people you expected it from, and I don't doubt that the subsequent self destruction of the HEU from within as demoralized local executives crumble will surely satisfy Mr. Campbell's sociopathic blood lust to crush me simply because I am represented by a now very apparently toothless union. He is laughing his ass off right now and all his sycophant minions are joining in for a good round, again at my expense. You may have bolstered support for his political demise, but by next May, most of us with any fight will be contracted out and will never benefit by any turnaround in law.
I hope you are truly proud of your gutless achievement today, and please don't hesitate to expound at length at meetings and conventions about how labour in BC will rise to fight again, just as you nearly rose and fought for me for the better part of an afternoon today. I am nauseous with rage and anger for you and will not be placated with a pat on the shoulder in your forthcoming tearless apologies. You are puppets of the regime and I expose you to the light.
In complete and total solidarity with the people you just screwed to the wall,
Chief Shop Steward, Secretary-Treasurer
Cowichan Valley Local, HEU
Escalating industrial action threatened general strike in British Columbia
Union leaders sabotage action
Socialist Alternative, Toronto
In a period of seven days, a strike involving 43,000 health support workers
- cleaners, orderlies, cooks, licensed practical nurses, accountants and
others - escalated to what was to be a general strike in the Canadian
province of British Columbia. But the magnificent action was sabotaged last
Sunday night by leaders of the Health Employees Union (HEU) and the British
Columbia Federation of Labour.
The strike began Monday April 26 over government demands that the workers
accept the government's plan to reopen the existing collective agreement in
order to impose layoffs and wage and benefit concessions, amounting to over
C$900 million worth, including a wage cut of up to 17%. Over 85% of the
union is female and many of them are immigrants or women of colour making
them some of the most vulnerable workers in the public sector. The strike
escalated as the BC nurses' union vowed not to cross picket lines
The neo-liberal government of Gordon Campbell has become increasingly
unpopular among workers due to privatisation, cutbacks, and attacks on
workers rights over its three years in office. Anger at the government, and
outrage at its treatment of workers, led to universal sympathy with HEU
strikers, and a growing solidarity, first by other public sector workers,
and then by workers in the private sector.
Incredible sign of working class unity
Workers in the province were outraged when, last Thursday, the government
passed 'back to work' legislation which implemented a 15% pay cut,
retroactive to 1 April. Not only did the strike remain solid as workers
defied the law to continue what was now an illegal strike, but many other
public workers across the province walked off the job in solidarity,
including ferry workers and many teachers. Private sector workers shut down
a pulp and paper mill in Prince George and the Teamsters' union announced
they would not cross picket lines. Many individual Teamsters left work and
joined the HEU pickets. Building trade workers and other members of
supposedly "conservative" craft unions were also preparing to walk off the
job in an incredible sign of working class unity.
Over the weekend, the movement escalated into what became a wider action
with 100,000 workers, including transit workers and teachers prepared to
walk off the job on Monday. It was anticipated that by mid-week the action
would escalate to a full scale general strike, of not only public but
private sector workers that would force the government to back down or even
push them out of power.
On Sunday, the courts ruled the continued walkout illegal and threatened to
impose heavy fines against the unions and jail union leaders. As workers
prepared to shut down the province their leaders met with the government to
sell them out. The HEU union tops, in consultation with the head of the
province's Federation of Labour, agreed to a "settlement", in which the
workers would accept a 10% wage cut and work 2.5 more hours a week, in
exchange for the number of positions contracted out being limited to 300.
Picketers, and indeed workers as a whole, were outraged when they woke up
Monday morning to the deal and to demands by their leaders that they go back
to work. A number refused. Picket lines remained in places and workplace
closures occurred sporadically around the province. But, without a fighting
organisation of socialists in the union, there was no structural backbone in
place for an organised defiance of this betrayal.
The past week's events have reminded the working class of two important
lessons. First, that workers consciousness and solidarity can crystallise
very rapidly into a militant movement that few would have thought possible.
The supposed divisions within the working class that separate private sector
and public sector, white collar and blue collar, can quickly evaporate, as
workers instinctively recognise that they have more in common with each
other than with their bosses.
Second, that the union bureaucracy cannot be trusted and workers must build
grassroots socialist movements in their unions. These movements can fight
for militant action and also provide leadership during struggles when union
bureaucrats try to sell out workers.
Lessons from the B.C. Healthcare Workers' Strike
A New Beginning: Tackling the Issue of Who Decides
- Barbara Biley* -
The Marxist-Leninist Daily Website: http://www.cpcml.ca/
The anger felt by healthcare workers when they were ordered back to work at midnight on Sunday May 2 by their union was equal to or greater than the anger that they felt when they were declared criminals by the Campbell government before dawn on April 29. This anger was shared by thousands of school board workers, ferry workers, teachers, mill workers and others who had supported the healthcare workers all week and had made all the necessary preparations to begin walking off their jobs just hours later. Already workers in several cities had walked out: city workers in Kelowna, Hydro workers in Prince George, Vancouver, Comox and other cities, along with registered nurses at St. Joseph's Hospital in Comox and several other facilities and millworkers in several cities. These actions were taken in solidarity with healthcare workers and for the purpose of forcing the government to back down on its anti-labour Bill 37, the bill that imposed a contract including a 15 per cent wage rollback and other indignities on healthcare workers while flaunting the Campbell Liberals' determination to continue privatizing healthcare and laying off and blacklisting Hospital Employees' Union (HEU) workers.
In the week following the end of the strike and political protest by healthcare workers, workers demanded to know what took place, why their leaders took the actions that they did, and why the workers themselves were not the ones to decide. The leaders described the irascibility of the employers, who demanded massive concessions in "bargaining" and refused to accede to the union's demand to put a freeze on contracting out during negotiations and to come to an agreement providing job security. They described the heavy-handed, anti-democratic, arbitrary and anti-worker actions of the government which rammed Bill 37 through the legislature overnight, the Labour Board ruling that ordered the union to direct the workers to comply with the legislation, the Sunday morning session of the B.C. Supreme Court which found the union in contempt for refusing to order the members back to work. They explained that their assessment was that the battle could not be won by the healthcare workers alone so they called in the officers of the B.C. Federation of Labour, who participated with them in discussions with the government which resulted in a softening of the blow -- a cap on layoffs for the next two years of 600 full-time equivalents or approximately 900 workers, and an agreement that the workers would not have to pay back the "extra" 15 per cent that they earned from April 1 to May 1. They said that had they not agreed to this "deal" they would have lost the support of the leaders of the other unions. They said that the "offer" was on the table for only an hour. They said it was the hardest decision they had ever made. They said that they assessed the situation and determined that although there were workers taking their own decisions all over the province to walk out in opposition to the government's attacks on healthcare workers, there would not be a general strike to bring down the government. They said that the issue of submitting their decision to the members does not arise because this was not bargaining and the union constitution only requires that the members vote on (a) a negotiated settlement or (b) a decision to take a bargaining dispute to arbitration.
Workers feel greatly dissatisfied with these answers since they beg the question of the need to oppose the bid by governments to act with impunity and call it the rule of law. It is clear that the unions had set up no apparatus to back up the workers across the province who were ready to back up their demands with job action. It is not merely a question of whether or not union leaders were ready to face fines and prison but of the infrastructure required to defend locally fired workers both in terms of putting legal collectives in place and independent news media which would smash the silence on local activities.
There is one further twist to the story. Bill 37 gives the workers two options on the reduction in compensation. Besides a legislated 4 per cent decrease in wages resulting from the increase in the work week from 36 hours to 37.5 hours, there is a choice regarding the remaining cut. There is to be either an 11 per cent decrease in the hourly rate or the union can agree to apply for binding arbitration in which case an arbitrator who will be appointed by the government will cut the compensation package by 10 per cent. This 10 per cent cut can come from health and welfare benefits, leave of absence provisions, vacations, statutory holidays, on-call, shift and trades premiums, overtime and wages. The leaders of the union will leave this decision, whether to take the 11 per cent cut or go to arbitration, to the members, and have said that they will make no recommendation one way or the other.
This struggle of healthcare workers, like the strike of the ferry workers in December, has once again brought to the fore the issue of who sets the agenda in Canada and, ultimately, who decides. Who decides social and economic policy at the federal and provincial level? Who decides what wages and working conditions are acceptable to workers and how the workers will fight to defend them? The events in B.C. show how governments are putting everything at the disposal of the rich. It must not pass.
The Campbell government, like the federal Liberals and provincial governments across the country, are stepping up the anti-social offensive by restructuring the state to make it all "lawful." On the one hand they are handing over everything that belongs to the people, including the healthcare system, to the monopolies, and privatizing everything from the ground up in healthcare. The smashing of the defence organizations of the workers is an integral part of the anti-social offensive. Since their election in May 2000, the Campbell government has interfered directly in contract negotiations at least seven times, imposing contracts on registered nurses, medical technicians and teachers and forcing ferry workers and woodworkers into compulsory arbitration.
As a result of the wages and working conditions that they had negotiated over many years, healthcare workers, mainly women, have remained at their jobs for years. The healthcare system has benefited from a stable, well-trained workforce which is critical to the work that they do. In the past two years, since the passage of Bill 29 by the Campbell government in January 2002, which stripped collective agreements of language that prohibited contracting out, housekeeping, laundry, food services and patient care have been contracted out. Thousands of healthcare workers have lost their jobs. All but a handful have been blacklisted. They have been replaced by modern-day slaves supplied by the modern-day slave-traders, Sodexho, Compass and Aramark. These modern slaves are fewer in number than the workers they are replacing. They receive the bare minimum training, little more than minimum wage and work under constant threat of dismissal. Their health and safety and the health and safety of the patients and residents in the facilities in which they work are endangered. They leave as soon as they are able to find better jobs.
The workers of B.C. are stepping up their resistance to the Campbell government's attacks. The strike struggle of the ferry workers in December 2003 aroused widespread support. The strike struggle of healthcare workers brought out thousands of organized workers and massive public support. Registered nurses are negotiating now and the teachers' contract and that of CUPE school board workers will be negotiated soon.
In just under one year there will be a provincial election. Should the workers bide their time, knuckle under to what the government is imposing and hope that the Liberals will be defeated and replaced by the NDP? This option is more and more being rejected as a false solution. Discussion is increasing on how to renew the democracy so that it is the workers and people who make the decisions that affect their lives and put in place the kind of infrastructure they require so that they can put the full weight of their numbers and organization behind their decisions. The issue they face is that the right to fight for their rights is criminalized. This is what they have to challenge. Only by defending their own interests and involving the entire polity in setting the agenda for society and renewing their organizations so that they can adequately address these concerns can the workers defeat the anti-social offensive. Far from looking for saviours in this or that union or political party, the workers will see that new leadership emerges from those who come forward to effectively wage the struggle for democratic renewal of the society and their own defence organizations. The recent experience of the healthcare workers' struggle has brought this issue to the fore.
* Barbara Biley is a healthcare worker in Comox, British Columbia and the Marxist-Leninist Party candidate in the B.C. riding of Nanaimo-Alberni.
CANADA: General Strike Betrayed By Union Bosses
Workers vow to continue illegal strike
L’Humanité Editorial Board
43,000 hospital workers in British Columbia have been sold-out by their union leaders. Despite the workers defying the government in an illegal strike, mass wildcat strikes by other unions, and significant support from the public, the labour bureaucracy has signed a deal containing a 15% wage cut. This was done behind the backs of the workers and currently reports are coming in of strikers vowing to stay on the lines in defiance of the government and their "leaders".
Hospital ancillary workers, mainly women and members of immigrant communities, represented by the Hospital Employees Union (HEU) have faced the brunt of the attacks by the BC Liberal government. Their demands were no contracting out and no wage cuts. However, under modern capitalism even asking for the status-quo is a revolutionary act.
Upon coming into power the BC Liberals, led by Gordon Campbell, instituted a $2 billion tax cut with the majority going to the rich and corporations. To finance this tax cut the workers were asked to sacrifice, and if asking did not do the job then conditions would be imposed. The Liberals passed legislation that ripped up the HEU’s collective agreement by removing any protection from contracting out ancillary hospital work to non-union firms. This was despite the fact that Gordon Campbell had promised not to do this in the HEU’s own newsletter prior to the election. This act prompted mass demonstrations, chants of "Liar, Liar!" and the call for illegal job action.
The leaders however vacillated and did nothing despite the fact that the very existence of the union was in jeopardy if all its work was contracted out. One year ago the HEU leadership attempted to broker a deal outside the normal contract cycle in order to lessen the effect of contracting out. They recommended to the membership a contract with a 15% wage cut and a cap of "only" 5000 jobs contracted out. The workers correctly rejected this deal by 57% due to opposition to the wage cut and the belief that it was impossible to believe anything this government said. Having been defeated in their attempt at moderation the HEU leadership was forced to take the road of militancy. The HEU’s contract expired April 1, 2004, setting the stage for a confrontation with the government.
Canadian capitalism is at a crossroads. Federal, Provincial, and Municipal governments are all following the dictates of their corporate masters and are attempting to cut back on public expenditure (read: jobs and services). In Canada 17.5% of the population are public employees, compared with 14.6% in the USA and 12.6% in Britain (down 7% in a decade). Assuming relatively constant wages, this puts the Canadian capitalists at a disadvantage when it comes to keeping their profits. They are faced with the choice of attacking public sector workers or seeing their international market share shrink. It is the capitalist system that forces the government to act this way – if they try to keep people happy the economy suffers; if they attempt to improve competitiveness they incite revolt. The BC Liberals have chosen class war and the health workers have answered their challenge.
The strike begins
On April 24, the HEU pulled its workers and set up pickets at all of the hospitals in British Columbia. Essential service workers were allowed to cross, however elective surgeries and diagnostic tests were cancelled as nurses respected the picket lines. The employer was insisting on a contract with 100 pages of roll-backs including a 15% wage cut and no barriers to contracting out. At this point 6000 jobs had been lost to multinational firms such as Sodexo and Aramark which pay their workers $10/hr compared with the union wage of $18. They justified this by saying, "Why should a hospital cleaner get any more than other cleaners on minimum wage?", the union members asked back, "Have you ever tried to clean a SARS ward?"
Everybody was expecting the workers to be legislated back to work. Despite its "progressive" reputation and labour laws, Canadian governments have been resorting to a nasty little tactic. When the workers are on strike in a key industry, and the resolve of the workers is such that it is only a matter of time until they win, governments have passed emergency legislation to remove the right to strike and enforce a contract or arbitration on the workers. Unions that defy the legislation face fines and imprisonment.
The Campbell Liberal government has used back-to-work legislation more often than any government in history and has even earned a rebuke from the ILO for its undemocratic behaviour. This tactic is especially useful when a government wants to impose cutbacks. We recently saw 20,000 Newfoundland public employees legislated back after over 3 weeks on strike in the largest strike in the history of the province. Even though this act prompted the largest demonstration ever in Newfoundland, the leaders hung their heads and said "we must respect the law". We wonder where we would be today if the pioneers of the labour movement had held the same position when even forming a union was illegal. This time the movement had learnt that legislation can be defied. The first to defy legislation were workers at the University of British Columbia who went on 2 days of illegal strike in March 2003 and gained concessions. Next the ferry workers illegally shut down the system and forced the government to compromise. Both sides knew that the HEU strike would be make or break for both sides.
Workers defy legislation
As expected the BC Liberals legislated the workers on April 28. After an all-night sitting Bill 37 was passed at 5am the following morning. The bill passed was pure spite aimed at teaching the workers a lesson for rejecting the previous deal. It removed the right to strike and imposed a contract on the workers. The contract contained a 15% wage rollback, no limits on contracting out. The wage cut was retroactive to April 1, so the workers would also have to pay back the money they were "overpaid"! In response Chris Allnutt for the HEU declared the workers would stay out until they had a fair settlement. Finally a lead had been given and the workers answered the call enthusiastically. Spontaneously, 800 hydroelectric dam workers walked off the job in sympathy. Workers across the province had been waiting for the opportunity to oppose the Liberals and this was it. Barry O’Neill of CUPE BC declared that CUPE’s planned one-day walkout (see previous article: Canada: CUPE BC One-Day Walkout - Full marks for effort - method has problems. ) would be called for Monday, May 3. Many CUPE locals could not wait for Monday and 20,000 workers struck Friday, April 30 closing down some schools and municipal services. Other wildcats were reported in CEP and IWA pulp, paper, and saw mills – for the first time spreading the strike to the private sector. Even the flow of beer was endangered as Molson and Labatt distribution centres were picketed! "GENERAL STRIKE! GENERAL STRIKE!" was the popular chant on the pickets. The stage was set for a massive May Day demonstration.
Vancouver has no real tradition of May Day which is normally put on by immigrant groups and the left. Last weekend 6000 marched in a very militant parade. While this may sound small by European standards, one must take into consideration the fact that most of the workers were still on picket lines. Jim Sinclair of the BC Federation of Labour (BC Fed) attempted to walk a fine line between denouncing the Liberals and not getting people too riled up. He spoke of the need for discipline, workers must follow the leaders. While most workers were enthused by the spontaneous walkouts the labour bureaucracy was clearly afraid of losing control. Every time a chant of "General Strike" was begun the speakers attempted to drown it out and discourage it. An acceptable chant initiated from the stage was "We wont back down!".
In the event of no deal a mass walkout was being planned for Monday, May 3 with escalating action throughout the week. In addition to 43,000 HEU strikers, 70,000 CUPE municipal, schools and university workers were to go out, plus 40,000 teachers, Stelco Steelworkers, and the recently privatized BC Rail amongst others. In total this would represent over 30% of unionized workers in the province – the revolution would start Monday morning, 6 o’clock. All the right wing pundits (both outside and within the labour movement) continuously warned, "Don’t go too far or you’ll scare away public support" and they said this before the strike, before the illegal strike, before the solidarity strikes, and before the general strike. But the best the corporate press could do was print the complaints of a right wing couple living across the street from the hospital who said they were sick of hearing car horns honking in support of the workers at all times of the day. The workers were solid.
The anatomy of a sell-out
With the chants of "We wont back down" ringing in their ears the labour bureaucracy started working on a compromise that would avoid the confrontation that they feared so much. The first evidence of the betrayal came from the Provincial New Democratic Party’s new leader Carole James (see article for background: British Columbia NDP: Bureaucracy maintains stranglehold - Left builds support for future battles ). She said that while she wanted Bill 37 to be repealed the government should "at least address the issues of retroactivity and a cap on contracting out". The right wing of the movement feared that a general strike would hurt them electorally so they wanted it nipped in the bud with a face saving formula. Secret talks began between the government and the union bosses with there being 2 main barriers – the right wing of the BC Liberals who want to teach the workers a lesson, and secondly the workers themselves not keen on being sacrificed at the altar of electoral expediency and reverence for the bourgeois state. One can be sure that the threat of $470,000 per day fines for illegal strikes weighed heavily on the minds of the labour leaders when they eyed their $100,000+ paycheques, expense accounts, and courtesy cars.
The hotheads in cabinet were won over to the reality of what could be a historic working class movement and eventually the deal was presented by a dishevelled looking Jim Sinclair at 11pm Sunday, May 2. All he could say was that it was a good deal for patients! The strike was called off by the leaders of the BC Fed, HEU and CUPE without a vote or any form of consultation with the workers. The new deal removes the retroactivity component and caps contracting out to an additional 600 workers over 2 years (in addition to the 6000 already fired). The imposed contract saves $200,000 for the government off 43,000 workers – the same amount as the tax cut given to the 8000 richest British Columbians.The 15% wage cut remains so this deal is in fact worse than the one the workers rejected by 57% which would have had a cap of 5000 fired. The response from the workers was swift; the following scene played out on TV:
Sandra Giesbrecht, picket captain Royal Jubilee Hospital, speaking to picketers,
"So I have to know what my members want to do,"
(Response from crowd, "STAY-OUT! STAY-OUT! GENERAL-STRIKE! GENERAL-STRIKE!")
"I don’t think we want to be sold down the river by anybody like Jim Sinclair who sat on a fence for 2 years and did nothing for us. And I say this to the BC Fed, the HEU, and any other union leaders who are listening – we have the fortitude to stay out as long as it takes"
We are hearing reports of similar statements from hospitals across the province and strikers are fanning out to contact each other to bolster the lines. When HEU president Fred Muzin told Surrey hospital workers to remove the pickets he was apparently told to "f--- off".
Crisis of leadership
Leon Trotsky explained that the crisis of modern society has been reduced to the crisis of working class leadership. Carole James, Jim Sinclair, and the other parliamentary cretinists in the leadership of the NDP and the Unions fear the workers far more than they fear the capitalists. In fact, even on a narrow electoral scheme a movement like the health workers can galvanize the working class and give the NDP a massive election victory. This is only on the condition that the NDP backs the workers 110% and adopts a socialist program that can solve the crisis in healthcare.
Over the course of one week we saw a revolution in the class-consciousness of workers in British Columbia. Imagine the impact of 40,000 health workers campaigning to defeat the Liberal government they hate. The logic of this movement was a general strike that would bring down the government. Pundits were already talking of a snap election to decide the issue; this happened after the British miners strike in 1974 and Labour kicked out the Tories.
It is not clear that the bureaucrats have the intelligence to think this far, but the last thing they would want is to be brought to power under conditions of working class mobilization. As soon as you accept capitalism you accept defeat. Under conditions of capitalist crisis all governments are forced to attack the workers, be they social-democratic or neo-liberal. A mobilized labour movement would not let their leaders betray them so easily and would prepare the way for new convulsions. A "leader" like Carole James would not last long under such conditions. Our position would have been to call for the creation of extended strike committees based on hospitals with representatives from local work places and community groups to spread the strike and provide democratic leadership, thereby preventing the betrayal.
Capitalism is demonstrably incapable of guaranteeing the status quo for workers, even in an apparently rich country like Canada. If workers want to improve their standing they must break with capitalism and join the fight for socialism. The last few days have shown how important leadership is to success or failure, so we cannot leave the movement at the mercy of class betrayers. Over the last week the workers put in enough sacrifice and courage to overthrow this rotten government and make the first steps on the road to overthrow capitalism. The battle is set back but not yet over and the workers may even turn this around despite the betrayal. The small forces of Marxism in Canada, around the paper L’Humanité, are working to ensure the movement has the leadership it needs to achieve victory. We call on all those who burn at the betrayal and want justice for working people to join us.
May 2, 2004
Union Leaders Darkest Hours
- Are the dawn of a new age for people who work for a living
Members For Democracy --- http://www.ufcw.net/
By MfD contributors
remote_viewer & weiser. May 22, 2004
Those of you trying to figure out what the hell got into BC Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair during the recent HEU strike crisis, might want to dig through your recycling bin and dig out Michael McCullough's September 2, 2003 article in the Vancouver Sun in which Mr. Sinclair talked about the labour movement's greatest challenges.
What Jim Sinclair said on Labour Day, 2003 was classic union leader fare dished up like an over-boiled hot dog at the Labour Day picnic.
"There are difficult challenges we're facing this year, probably the biggest challenges we've faced," Sinclair said in a special Labour Day interview with The Vancouver Sun.
Chief among them are the erosion of collective bargaining, privatization, poverty and stalled economic growth, Sinclair said. Virtually all these perils he blames on the provincial government of Gordon Campbell.
Sinclair said the Campbell Liberals have undermined free collective bargaining by "tearing up" public-sector contracts and taking away workers' right to strike. Private-sector workers also face a more employer-friendly Labour Code.
Sinclair called privatization and contracting out "the cancer eating away at living standards in this province."
Sinclair lamented that "unions were living in their darkest hours". He would have been more accurate had he said, "Unions are living in the dark."
Flash forward to May 2004: 43,000 members of BC's Hospital Employees Union walk out on strike against "the privatization cancer". Within days they are legislated back to work by the much-reviled Campbell administration with a 15% retroactive reduction in wages top add insult to injury. The government's hamfistedness prompted widespread outrage in communities across the province. A province-wide general strike was only hours away.
What did Sinclair's BC Fed do? The "Fed" helped broker a deal that got the workers back to work...with a 15% wage rollback and an agreement that allows for the loss of up to 600 jobs!
In the days and weeks that followed this bold capitulation, the Fed and its various affiliates have been busily spinning the deal as a good thing - something that limits privatization and protects jobs.
"The Fed" and the Fed Up
Judging from the comments posted by HEU and CUPE members on the official CUPE web site, the spin isn't doing much except making the members nauseous. It's this kind of intelligence-insulting bluster that continues to turn a lot of working people off of unions. Working people just aren't that stupid. It's not globalization that's turning them away from unions. It's union leaders' chronic bullshitting about what they're doing about it.
Jim Sinclair blames mainstream unions' low lumens on the evil neo-liberals and the shadows cast by capitalism's global agenda. For sure, globalization and its neoliberal enablers have working people by the throat but that's not the reason for workers' lack of enthusiasm for what passes for unions these days. Simply stating and restating the obvious isn't going to impress the millions who are being throttled by the capitalists. It doesn't take a social scientist to understand that poverty is bad for humanity.
What the lords of labour are doing - or not doing - about the corporate fat cats who are behind the globalization project, is what has brought the labour movement to its darkest hours. Workers are realizing that while the capitalists have them by throat with one hand, with the other hand they're patting their union leaders on their empty heads and throwing them a bone.
Yes Jim, aren't those corporate fat cats a blight on society?! Amid all his rhetoric Sinclair - like all the other lords of labour - keeps chasing the capitalists' bones and does a marvelous job of straddling the ideological picket fence without singing a high note.
With one foot planted firmly in the socialists' yard, he calls for massive government intervention in the economy. Meanwhile, his other foot sinks deep in the neoliberals' flower patch as he calls for more economic growth which will, according to a theory that almost nobody believes anymore, create more jobs, which will create more union members which will create...a better world...or something.
How do the lords of labour do this ideological high jump and avoid grievous injury? The theory-that-almost-nobody-believes-anymore is what's driving their love-hate relationship with the capitalists and it's driving their own demise as well. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone in a North American workplace today who believes that corporations want to create more than the bare minimum number of jobs that are absolutely essential under any circumstances or that there is some kind of causal connection between increased profitability and job creation. Three decades of corporate behavior tell us that it just isn't so. But as long as the lords of labour are busy chasing the capitalists' bone, they are able to conform their being to get the privilege of conformity. Unpleasant realities are not nearly as visible from the corner office or the luxury hotel suite anyway.
Breathtaking Feats of Fence-Jumping
As the winds of globalization help the capitalists chart a constantly changing course to bigger piles of profit, union leaders like Sinclair bluster about the poop deck yelling confused and conflicting orders. Out of one corner of their mouths they deplore the capitalists and their global conquest. Out of the other corner they laud them as job creationists who need labour's cooperation.
Witness these feats of fence-jumping by Sinclair and another Canadian labour luminary, Canadian Labour Congress President Ken Georgetti:
Jim Sinclair, head of the BC Fed on Labour Day 2003:
"There is a tendency [in today's economy] to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. The question is whether the government is going to act to try to stem that or encourage it. We have a government that encourages that gap's getting bigger through tax cuts, through wage loss, through tearing up collective agreements, through cutting welfare benefits. Our government is leading the charge to make it bigger, not fighting to make it better."
Jim Sinclair in a letter to the editor of the Vancouver Sun earlier this year:
"It's refreshing to see Sun editorial writers validate a point that the labour movement has been making for a long time: Building a truly modern economy only really happens when governments regard labour as a partner rather than an obstacle to be overcome."
"A truly modern economy" is, of course, the one we have. The "government" that Sinclair is referring to is the one headed by BC Premier Gordon Campbell.
Here's Ken Georgetti in a letter to the Editor published earlier this week in the Globe and Mail: "Late last month, the B.C. Liberals legislatively forced the province's 43,000 health workers to take a 15-per-cent wage cut, longer work weeks and continued layoffs. Across Canada, from British Columbia to Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador, working people -- in particular, those who work in the public sector -- are being asked to carry the can for other peoples' poor decision-making. Those at the top make the decisions, but those at the bottom bear the burden."
Here's Ken Georgetti on "those at the top" back in 1988:
"It's just the old tired attitude that if you believe in labour or social democracy, you have to be against capital and profits. We can use pension income to create jobs, union jobs that pay a fair rate and get a fair return. We can make a profit...but...without exploiting people." Canadian Labour Congress President (and Concert Properties Director) Ken Georgetti, quoted in "The Hard-Hat Capitalists", Vancouver Sun, Valerie Casselton, May 14, 1988
That was a long time ago, you may be thinking. Surely Georgetti's wisened up since then. Not a chance. Here's Ken Georgetti in a January 26, 2004 letter to the Editor of the Financial Post, wherein the one we call "Bro_Ken" takes issue with a columnist who was critical of labour-management collaboration in a recent commentary.
"According to [the columnist], it's wrong if unions work with employers to save jobs in adverse market conditions. Wow! Would he feel better if those unions refused to dialogue with management? If they refused to help Canadian companies remain competitive in an increasingly unregulated and unprotected market he and his ideological ilk have long championed?"
Bro Ken seems blissfully ignorant of the fact that this awkward statement puts him right in the ideological ilk that he accuses his critic (incorrectly) of championing:
Unions must do their part to help corporations rake it in.
Whose ideological ilk is that?
Of course, Bro Ken's fondness for job creationism and dialoguing with management and helping companies remain competitive can be understood when we consider that, as head of the Canadian labour movement, he's been thrown an awful lot of bones by the capitalists over the years. And he's been kept quite busy chasing them all. Brother Ken has been connected to the capitalists by an umbilical chord made of money for a long time. Thanks to his tireless efforts to fund free enterprise with workers' money, numerous labour leaders now sit beside greedy corporate bastards on corporate boards and hang out at conferences with them preaching the gospel of collaboration.
People who work for a living are becoming more and more disenchanted with labour's ship of fools.
Here's what a HEU Shop Steward had to say about Jim Sinclair's recent achievement:
I hope you are truly proud of your gutless achievement today, and please don't hesitate to expound at length at meetings and conventions about how labour in BC will rise to fight again, just as you nearly rose and fought for me for the better part of an afternoon today. I am nauseous with rage and anger for you and will not be placated with a pat on the shoulder in your forthcoming tearless apologies. You are puppets of the regime and I expose you to the light.
Read the rest of this straight up letter which was posted on Indymedia Victoria under the heading "Thanks for Nothing, Jim Sinclair."
Jim Sinclair wants us to believe that privatization and contracting out are "the cancer eating away at living standards in this province." If that's the case, then Sinclair is acknowledging that mainstream unions have become powerless and are of little use to people who work for a living. Unions are supposed to protect jobs and get working people more (rather than less) economic security. If privatization and contracting out have reached a cancerous stage, then mainstream unions are flat-lining - effective only in squeezing dollars from their members and political favors from their government handlers.
There's more truth to this than your average union honcho wants to believe: If it weren't for the unionization of the Canadian public sector our mainstream unions would be history already. It's our big heavily unionized public sector institutions that account for over 70% of Canada's 32.5% rate of unionization. In the private sector, decades of labour-management partnering have left unions floundering around barely able to hold on to existing bargaining units and unable to organize a piss up at a brewery.
If Mr. Sinclair and his pals would step out into the light (before they are dragged out into it by their angry members), they would see the puzzling paradox that confronts people who work for a living across North America: Living standards have indeed increased for some workers without the help of any six-figure union bosses. But for those who are represented by the six-figure lords of labour, things haven't been so good.
Globalization has made it easier for traditional union work to run away to Mexico and China and mainstream unions have proven impotent in stopping it. The concessions they bargained to make thousands of their employer partners more competitive have been used to finance off-shore operations or to line the pockets of multi-millionaire executives or to invest in non-union operations or for just about anything except job creation. Round after round of wage and benefit concessions that were supposed to protect jobs have done just the opposite. The members - whose working lives keep getting bleaker - are fed a steady diet of absurd bullshit about "bitter pills" and bad deals that are "good deals in the circumstances". Some of North America's largest unions behave more like corporate human resources departments - keeping workers' quiet and them selling concessionary deals to maximize profit.
It's not all that surprising then, that survey after survey shows that unions are shunned by the vast majority of people who work for a living - especially in the private sector. That's because many workers perceive unions and their fat-salaried leaders to be more concerned with their own well-being than with the betterment of life for people who work for a living. They view unions as being focused on broad social issues - that their porky leaders don't really understand and have no particular vision about - than shop-floor or office-cubical issues. The porky leaders seem unaware that the shop-floor/office cubical issues in which they have no interest are connected to the broad social issues that they don't understand. But people who work for a living understand this connection on an intuitive level and they're not going to follow anyone who doesn't get it.
But Mr. Sinclair and the other denizens of labour's darkness blindly bump about knocking into any worker or employer who steps into their paths. These union leaders are living in the darkness of their own making. Fifty years ago they agreed to become partners in a labour relations system designed to crush any move that would seriously disrupt government or commerce. In doing so, they set the clock ticking toward the time of their demise. That time is now.
We Know What We Want - Let's Go Out and Get It
Workplace activism and fair treatment for all employees are vital components of a healthy and vibrant society. If we want a healthy and vibrant society - and a hell of a lot of us do - we might as well treat that as a priority above the interests of corporations and their appendages. Therefore, people who work for a living must be allowed to meaningfully participate in the labour-relations system. Their voices - our voices - must be heard - not just filtered - through self-interested union fat cats who spend their days living the six-figure, all-expenses-paid lifestyle.
Allowing workers' voices to be heard is not in the best interests of the union, corporate or government porkers who put their heads together at their favorite scratching posts in ongoing efforts to protect the existing order - the advisory committees, task forces, industry councils and, of course, the Labour Boards. There, the injustices of the 21st century workplace can be washed away with buckets full of 19th century values. The world is a much less confusing place if you divide up the humans into masters and servants - especially if you're the master. We must stop thinking like servants.
Isn't it really odd that our workplace technology leaps forward at a staggering pace but the values that underpin workplace relations are now three hundred years old? The powerful guys who bring us the labour relations system want things to stay that way and, for a long time, have been prepared to stroke their union appendages in their ongoing efforts to keep millions of working people silent and sidelined. As for the union appendages, from their perspective it feels nicer to be stroked by the master than out in the streets going to bat for people and risking arrest like some kind of latter day Eugene Debs and those crazies from the early days of unionism. We are entitled to our own values.
The sad reality is that guys like Sinclair are drawn into the backrooms where the interests of thousands of working people are dealt away because they are a part of the machinery of domination. They're part of the machine and so they do their part for the machine. They publicly criticize the capitalists because that's part of their schtick. But deep down inside, they like the capitalists and they're like the capitalists. They can't imagine a world without 'em - if they could, they'd be talking about it. But they don't. Instead they talk about the need for workers to kiss the capitalists' asses so that they can be more competitive and to accept all the unpleasantness that goes along with this as their lot in life. Hey, there will always be have's and have not's, right? How many times have we heard this lame logic from mainstream union leaders? Too many. We don't have to believe that we are inferior...
So, it's not all that hard to understand how Jim Sinclair, head of the Fed, can diss the capitalists on Labour Day and kiss them in the backroom a few months later when the serfs are getting agitated and can't seem to see the silver lining behind as 15% wage cut.
Breaking up the exploitative triad of government/business/labour-leaders may be difficult but it's not impossible. That it must be done is not really an issue anymore - it must be done. What people who work for a living need to think about is how they would like to do it. Do we want to get invited to the private club? Once there, what to do? Disrupt? Redecorate? Demolish and rebuild? Or do we want to build something new, ourselves, on an entirely different foundation? The choice is up to us collective and individually and bearing in mind that many different actions can further the same cause.
Change is accomplished by thousands of seemingly inconsequential actions" - the forum signature of MfD contributor verity tango.
We don't all have to agree on some grand plan or pick our own potentates to make it happen. That's their model. They use it because it suits their needs and meets their objectives. Other models are possible - maybe even better for us.
Those who would rather get into the private club should go there. Keep in mind though, that to get invited into a private club, you may have to make lots of noise on the outside. When you start to disturb the neighbors, the gates might just open and you will be invited in. Once you're in, what you do is up to you. You can join the party or trash the party or decide that the celebration will be about something else now that you've arrived. Whatever you do, keep your objective in front of you. Those who want to start something new should start something new. Create your own scene away from the private club. If you think that the existing order is toxic, why build something on its foundation? Whichever you favour, the first step to getting there is to start thinking about it and talking about it.
The fat cats might want to open the gates sooner than later because if people who work for a living find that they like life on the outside, they may refuse to come in. Then the fat cats will have to come out into the light where the real action is. They won't want to do that because no one will be looking up to them or deferring to their better judgment anymore. Most likely they will run away and be history while the rest of us make history. Their darkest hours are still ahead. Ours can be behind us.
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Taking back our unions and engaging the future...
We are people-who-work helping other people-who-work take back their unions. We started out as a reform movement within the Canadian UFCW but have expanded our focus to the broader community of workers. We believe that fully democratic unions are essential to improving the lives of working people today and in the future.
The world is changing. The knowledge age is here. The places where we work are changing. Workers can influence the course of change and build a better, more humane world and better more humane workplaces. To this end we need to know - to understand - what's going on. When we understand our environment, we can change it. We can analyze it, assess it, and decide what we want and how to achieve it. To facilitate change that is good for workers, we need unions that are good for workers. Unions that are good for workers will be able to engage the future.
Many of today's mainstream unions are not equipped to engage the future. Many are trying hard to hang on to the past. Some have long since ceased being union's altogether. This has to change or workers will be left as high and dry in the knowledge age as they were in the industrial age. Workers know this. Many are working hard to take back their unions.
Knowledge is power. Through this interactive web site we seek to empower workers involved in union reform by providing information, advice and support so that you can think for yourselves. We seek to break the silence about mainstream union practices that disempower workers so that you will know what really goes on and see with your own eyes. We provide a place where you can meet, talk, share information on a wide range of subjects related to unions, the workplace and the labour movement so you can decide for yourselves. Understanding what's really going on and linking up with like-minded others can help build an empowered worker community.
We are virtual. We have no structure, no officers or directors, no bureaucracy - that's old, from the other age. We are ideas, thoughts, information, and communication. We are this web site and all who come here. It doesn't matter who you are, where you live, what kind of work you do, or what kind of formal role you have been assigned in your workplace, if you care about the future of workers you are welcome here. Share your views, tell us what's happening where you work and at your union. Engage others and engage the future.
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Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.
Martin Luther King
UNIONS NARROWLY AVERT GENERAL STRIKE
IN B.C., CANADA
In the week from April 25 to May 2, 2004, what began as a legal strike by 43,000 hospital workers in British Columbia (B.C.), Canada nearly developed into an illegal 'general strike' by upwards of 200,000 workers against the provincial government (which funds the hospitals and the health-care system generally), and potentially involving perhaps another 100,000 to 150,000 unionized workers. This in a province of approximately 4 million people: B.C., Canada’s western-most province. In the Canadian ‘federal’ state system, the ten provinces have various powers and responsibilities that would be held by the central national government in a non-federal state system. Responsibility for the provision of health-care is one of the most important of these functions.
Since the right-wing Liberal Party government’s accession to power three years previously, one of its apparent goals has been to wreak havoc on an already crisis-ridden, publicly funded, universally accessible health-care system. Another, more widely known goal of this government has been to brutally attack the share of social wealth in the province held by the working class and the marginalized, and at the same time to attack the power of the trade unions (which had been supported by the previous New Democratic Party government). One of the first things the new government did was to tear up previously negotiated, binding contracts between both nurses (actually, the B.C. Nurses Union) and hospital and other health-care workers (actually, the Hospital Employees Union (HEU)) and their government-funded employers. These were replaced by new, government-dictated contracts, which contained significant concessions for those employees concerned, concessions especially in the area of job security. This proved telling of the government’s plans: to permanently eliminate thousands of health-care workers’ jobs in B.C. In fact, the real plan was to radically lower the labour costs of the health-care system generally and to bring in private delivery of various ‘peripheral’ services in the health-care system, such as ‘housekeeping’ or cleaning, landscaping, and food services in order to facilitate this reduction.
In the process, in the guise of “fighting rising health-care costs” so as to prevent taxes from rising further, the health-care system is being gutted, so much so that in a few years it will be in such bad shape that there will undoubtedly be widespread public demand for the option of private (i.e. corporate) provision of health-care, right up to the establishment of fully private hospitals. The result would be a two-tier system, the degraded public one for the unprivileged masses, and a much superior one for the wealthy minority.
The privatization of delivery of the above-mentioned ‘peripheral’ services to the health-care system has involved the mass firing of thousands of workers, and their replacement (in fewer numbers) by new workers earning between 55 and 60% of those they are replacing, along with significantly reduced benefits. In fact, the contract stipulating these severely reduced levels of remuneration was agreed to by both the new employers and a different union from the one which has until now represented the workers holding those jobs. (This ‘sweetheart’ deal between a well known, large union (IWA -- previously the International Woodworkers of America, now the Industrial, Wood and Allied Workers) has, needless to say, thrown the ‘labour movement’ in B.C into turmoil.) The result of this is thousands of workers working for new private employers and represented by a new union earning $9+ an hour doing work that previously paid $17+ an hour, and with significantly reduced benefits.
All of this has been part of the Liberal government’s agenda since coming to power in 2001. While the hospital workers’ employers are officially known as the Health Employers Association (HEA) of B.C., in reality, this organization is a puppet of the provincial government, as the latter appoints all of the officials that comprise it, and dictates to them their general strategy for “fighting escalating expenses” as well as what the financial ‘bottom line’ is as far as collective agreements with their employees is concerned. In the negotiations between the HEA and the HEU preceding the strike, the HEA refused to retreat from its demand for a general 15% wage reduction for all HEU members and for no limit on the number of jobs to be privatized. Naturally, the HEU membership let the union’s leadership know in no uncertain terms that they would have nothing to do with any such contract. So, when the legally acceptable time for strike action arose, there was no agreement in the offing, making strike action inevitable. The union leadership knew that the membership were ready for an all-out fight against the government, so the call was for a full-scale strike, with only “essential” staffing levels (as agreed upon by the HEU and HEA) maintained.
The strike began on Sunday, April 25, and ran for four days legally, before the provincial government passed legislation making it illegal. The legislation also unilaterally imposed a contract on the hospital workers which was even more draconian than the HEA’s ‘final offer’ to the HEU, as it not only forced on them the same 15% across the board wage cut and no limits on outsourcing jobs to private employers. This legislation – not the criminalizing of the strike, but the terms of the contract – was widely condemned by the mass media in B.C. as either a “serious miscalculation” or “sheer political stupidity”; the reason being that it sent a bolt of anger through much of the working class and certainly the whole of the ‘labour movement’ in the province. In effect, the legislation galvanized large numbers of workers into a mood of not only mass anger, but also into a mood to fight back, to engage in solidarity action with the embattled health care workers. Suddenly ‘public opinion’ swung sharply in favour of the workers, and against the government.
In response to the government’s “back-to-work” legislation and concomitant imposition of an intolerable contract, the HEU leadership chose to defy the legislation, risking both criminal charges for contempt of court and potential fines (as have occurred in previous strikes legislated to an end). It can certainly be argued, however, that the HEU leadership chose this ‘radical’ option only in order to maintain its control over the strike, by maintaining its credibility with the general membership of the union, who were obviously in no mood to end the strike. The HEU chose to rename the strike a “protest” and the picket lines became “protest lines”. HEU spokesman Chris Allnut, addressing a strikers’ rally at Vancouver General Hospital was quoted as saying “You are to respect the protest lines until we decide that you should go back to work” (Vancouver Sun, April 30, 2004, p. A1); needless to say, the “we” here referred to the HEU leadership.
It was in this context that the B.C. Federation of Labour (the umbrella group comprising most of the major trade unions in the province) came up with a plan to escalate the hospital workers’ strike to a mass strike involving workers in a myriad of different sectors of the economy. The day after the legislation, as many as 20,000 public sector workers belonging to the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) walked off the job and picketed their workplaces, affecting a range of public services, including municipal halls, libraries, schools, recreation facilities, garbage services, airports, water treatment plants, public works yards, and, in one city, bus service. As well, at least 800 B.C. Hydro (electricity) workers across the province staged a wildcat strike in solidarity with the hospital workers; in fact, the wildcat began on Thursday when a number of Hydro workers at dams in northern B.C. got the ball rolling.
The B.C. F.L.’s ‘action plan’, which was conveniently leaked to the media, described how the escalation of job action would develop to most all public sector workers, as well as significant numbers of workers in the wood and paper products industries, and tourism (hotels and cruise ship facilities). The leaked document outlining this plan of escalating strike action was published in the Vancouver Sun newspaper on Saturday, May 1 – May Day. Obviously the plan was to scare the government into backing off and killing the legislation passed on Thursday. But the plan was a miscalculation, as the government was hell bent on seeing its agenda through to its conclusion come hell or high water. Instead, news of this plan of action for the ‘labour movement’ emboldened thousands of rank and file workers, who genuinely believed that their union leaders were going to lead a mass, ‘general’ strike in a no-holds barred showdown with the provincial government, something many of them had been looking forward to for a long time. Here was the perfect opportunity for it, as ‘public opinion’ was solidly on ‘our’ side.
Saturday’s May Day parade and rally in Vancouver was the largest in decades, as upwards of 10,000 people joined in, even though the BCFL steered the events clear of focusing on the hospital workers strike or their own ‘action plan’ for mass strike for the coming week. Rumours circulated at the rally amongst certain militant union members that the BCFL leadership was looking to quash the strike by setting up secret ‘closed door’ meetings with the government. The rumours proved fatefully true, as late Sunday news began to appear that the HEU, with the help of the BCFL leadership, had reached a deal with the government to end the strike. And when workers woke up Monday morning looking forward to a week (or more) of militant industrial action and political protest against the government, there was shock and disgust felt just as widely and just as deeply as their had been anger on Thursday and Friday. Only this time the object of that disgust was not the government, but the union leadership, which had signed a deal giving the government everything it had passed in its “back-to-work” legislation, except for one small concession: the 15% wage cut would not be retroactive to April 1, but would rather take effect May 1, the day before what came quickly to be known as “Black Sunday”.
This ‘betrayal’ by the union bosses was so blatant that it probably did more to disillusion workers about unions than anything else that has happened in B.C. for a long, long time. (I use the word “betrayal” in “scare quotes” because only someone who was once your ally in a fight can betray you, whereas the historical evidence clearly establishes that, when the stakes are sufficiently high, the unions and their functionaries – the ones who manage the unions – are not allies of the rank and file membership.) Not only were hospital workers given a deal by their union leaders virtually identical with the one the government forced on them by way of legislation, but the union membership affected by the deal were not even offered the opportunity to vote on this ‘agreement’. While there apparently was sporadic unwillingness to return to work on Monday by some HEU and CUPE members, this writer is unaware of any self-organized wildcat actions. Apparently the shock workers felt was stronger than the anger, as there was a surprising lack of resistance to the union-government screwing over they had endured. However, a group of a few dozen HEU members did stage an ongoing protest outside HEU headquarters for the following week. Further, a grassroots-organized protest against the union’s ‘betrayal’ was held on the following Saturday, where several hundred angry hospital workers and their supporters marched and spoke out against their ‘leaders’ in the HEU and BCFL. This writer attended that rally and distributed the following leaflet (slightly modified).
LESSONS OF THE BLACK SUNDAY SELLOUT
Wage Slave X
Over the May Day weekend, many thousands of working class people around B.C. were confident that something truly wonderful, yet something also deadly serious, was going to flower in the coming week, beginning Monday, the 3rd. Behind it all, what it was all about was what has been sometimes called the ‘social question’. But what was at the forefront of this burgeoning movement was the question of the provincial government’s treatment of hospital workers particularly and of the public health care system in B.C. more generally. Yet these two issues, which combine the government’s ‘labour relations policy’ with its public health care policy, just so happen to be the two most important for the majority of working class people in B.C. today. So when the Campbell government made a huge miscalculation in both legislating the striking HEU workers back to work AND at the same time directly imposing a contract on those workers involving more concessions and reductions than the Health Employers Association had been demanding during previous negotiations with the HEU, there was a tremendous surge of both anger at the government and solidarity with the viciously attacked workers in the HEU across the province, a surge which I dare say surprised everyone in B.C. The anger was truly palpable from Thursday (April 29) on, but so was the sense of solidarity, especially from Friday on. The difference was that while the anger remained more or less constant, the sense of solidarity was growing rapidly throughout Friday, Saturday (May Day) and Sunday, until … that fateful moment when most involved learned that the planned escalating general strike was called off as the HEU with the help of the B.C. Federation of Labour had agreed to a deal with the government.
But that moment on what some are now calling Black Sunday was only fateful in that it spelled the death of the particular general strike planned to unfold this past week. The determination to fight the Campbell government must still be there in hundreds of thousands of working people and their families, and we now know that there exists within this sector of the population a sense of solidarity far stronger than anything the B.C. Fed. or any union leader in the province has led us to believe. It is true that an extremely favourable opportunity for launching an all-out class war against a viciously anti-working class government has been lost. And it is true that if only two or three days of the planned escalating mass strike had been allowed to develop, that a massive surge forward in class consciousness and in the political maturation of the entire working class in B.C. would have undoubtedly occurred. Fundamental social-political truths about this society and the forces that, confronting one another, comprise it, truths which have been well hidden for most working class people for 20 years now, would have been clearly exposed not only for the 200,000 to 300,000 workers who would have been directly involved in the strike, but also for the rest of the roughly 2 million working class people in B.C. Most important of these would have been the enormous power that the working class is capable of wielding when it is united in active, defiant class solidarity against the treachery of the ruling class. The new generation of workers which has arisen within the past 20 years has not had direct experience of that power, and thus, for the most part, is not convinced that it really exists. They would have been irreversibly convinced of the reality of that power had even just a couple of days of the expected general strike taken place. They would have learned quite well where the class lines are that separate the working class, the middle class, and the ruling capitalist class, and that the basic interests of the working class are not compatible with those of either the ruling class or the middle class. All of this was so close to being achieved, and it was lost, and that is truly unfortunate. But I for one don’t feel like mourning, and I think there many others who feel the same way.
I think there are many others who feel confident that just a few days of the general strike that had been planned to develop would have won the HEU workers far, far more than what the union leadership and the ‘help’ of B.C. Fed. got for them (really, forced on them, since they have no say in it). I think there are many who feel very emboldened as working class militants as a result of the experience of the surge of solidarity around the province. And the beyond palpable sense of disgust and rage at the betrayal of the struggle by the leadership of the HEU and the B.C. Fed., while negative in itself, can only confirm and strengthen that conviction that we really are all together in this, that the ongoing HEU workers’ struggle is OUR struggle, and that we need to now look forward to, to plan and organize for the general strike we were all hoping to bring about this past week.
There is one crucial lesson that we all need to draw from this latest defeat, and the way the events unfolded, it shouldn’t be too difficult to do so. What happened this time that we want to make sure we avoid next time? Clearly, it is the sell-out by the HEU and B.C. Fed. leaders. How can we make sure that doesn’t happen again? Why do we allow these leaderships to do this to us, to even be in a position to do this to us? Why don’t we, the rank and file, have any control over them at the most crucial of moments? It is the power structure and the mode of functioning of the trade unions as they are today that allows these betrayals by the leaderships to occur. So if we want to make sure that such betrayals can’t possibly occur again, we need to either change the power structure and mode of functioning of the trade unions we are in OR we need to simply bypass those structures, their rules and laws, to organize ourselves in our own general assemblies and committees, with directly elected, mandated, and revocable delegates, in other words, to take the struggle directly into our own (collective) hands. Dedicated union activists have tried for decades to reform the power structures and mode of functioning of their unions, all to little if any effect. The second alternative, which unfortunately didn’t take shape amongst the bulk of the HEU and CUPE membership on Monday (and when it has happened in other places at other times it has appeared spontaneously), is in reality the only way for rank and file unionized workers to take control of their workplace struggles away from the union bosses and bureaucrats. Class struggles around the world for decades have clearly shown this to be so. The unions everywhere stand in the way of workers’ self-determination. But this strategy requires a far greater level of involvement and commitment on the part of the membership, of those involved in the struggle, than working through the existing channels of reforming the unions. In any case, what occurred on Black Sunday should have put to rest all strategies for bringing about a general strike (or strikes) and beyond it a renewed militant working class movement based on pressuring the union leaderships from below. We all should be able to see now that that road is a dead end.
Wage Slave X
May 7, 2004
Contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
"Every single New Democratic Party (NDP) government in the history of British Columbia has brought in strikebreaking legislation during its term of office."
(From the Solidarity Caucus, a rank and file group of trade union militants)
Every single New Democratic Party (NDP) government in the history of British Columbia has brought in strikebreaking legislation during its term of office.
On August 9, 1974, Dave Barrett's NDP government passed the Essential Services Continuation Act, which prevented firefighters from striking.
On November 26, 1974, Barrett brought in the Elevator Construction Industry Labour Disputes Act, described by Labour Minister Bill King as "a rather innocuous little bill" which ordered elevator construction workers to end their strike.
On October 7, 1975, Barrett's labour minister Bill King, introduced Bill 146, the Collective Bargaining Continuation Act, a sweeping back-to-work law that outlawed strikes then going on involving the IWA's forest workers, the pulp and paper workers, propane and butane truckers and workers in B.C.'s largest grocery chains, as well as nipping in the bud a pending strike involving BC Rail employees. Speaking for the NDP government during the debate, King stated that "the rights of private citizens in this province are being harmed" by the strikes in question, and "we are not prepared to stand idly by and watch disputes of this nature wreak unjustified hardship on those directly involved as well as those indirectly involved." King made it clear that his government supported the right to strike ("this government has said consistently that we believe in free collective bargaining"), but not to the point where it became effective - "we have never stated, although we adhere to collective bargaining principles, that there is an absolute right to indulge in economic warfare which, in many cases, threatens and jeopardizes the basic safety, comfort and health of citizens of this province."
King also made it clear that "government...is elected to represent the interests of all citizens of this province".
Attorney General Alex MacDonald spelled out the consequences of this philosophy as far as the right to strike is concerned: "we have to remember that our rights are founded upon duties; that the exercise of power without responsibility is tyranny; that the cost we must pay for our freedom in a social democracy is a certain measure of social discipline and respect for the rights of the other person" - in other words, put down your picket sign and button your lip. Forty thousand workers were ordered back to work by the NDP. Many of them evidently wondered why they had even bothered to vote NDP in the first place if it was going to act like a bosses' government, because they didn't bother to show up and vote for the NDP in the provincial election two months later, and the Barrett government fell.
On May 30, 1993, Mike Harcourt's NDP government passed the Educational Programs Continuation Act, ordering Vancouver teachers back to work.
On April 26, 1996, the Harcourt government passed the Educational and Health Collective Bargaining Assistance Act, which neutralized potential teachers' and hospital strikes four days prior to the calling of the 1996 provincial election.
On July 30, 1998, the NDP government of Glen Clark passed the Public Education Collective Agreement Act, which imposed a collective agreement on teachers.
On April 2, 2000, Ujjal Dosanjh's (NDP) government passed the Public Education Support Staff Collective Bargaining Assistance Act, which ordered striking CUPE school support staff back to work.
FIGHTBACK: It's time to start changing our unions
New Socialist http://www.newsocialist.org/
A new grouping of union activists, the Solidarity Caucus, has been formed in British Columbia. The Caucus was organized in response to the failures of the leadership of the BC Federation of Labour and their role in the deal which ended this spring's Hospital Employees Union strike. Although the caucus and the context out of which it arose is specific to BC, it is an important example of how union activists can organize against bureaucratic leaderships that fail to advance labour struggles. It is thus relevant for union activists in other provinces experiencing similar issues. Below we print the Solidarity Caucus Statement of Purpose . It's time to start changing our unions into fighting organizations that can meet the escalating attacks that have been coming our way for many years now. Doing that will require more than voting out one set of leaders and voting in another. This text intends to kick off the necessary discussion about what has been wrong for too long and what some real alternatives are.
British Columbia's labour movement has been crippled by a lack of vision, a lack of analysis, and bad internal and external politics. This was proved once again by the tragically unnecessary May 2 defeat of 43,000 courageous and defiant health workers along with tens of thousands of other workers who were poised to strike (or already striking) to give them effective support IN ACTION. But it wasn't just a defeat. It was a sell-out by leaders committed to an inadequate and therefore failing strategy.
The stakes in this fight were merely the Medicare system, the public sector's right to strike, thousands of union jobs and large-scale union-busting. Oh yes, and looking beyond the immediate battle, there was also the continuing unimpeded ability of right-wing corporate and government attackers to further ravage health care, crown corporations, union rights, social services, public education, the elderly, children at risk, women, the poor, Native people, etc., etc., etc.
On May 3, most British Columbian workers awoke asking why the fight had been called off. How could we NOT stand and fight with such a clear-cut battle and such widespread - and growing - solidarity?
The how and why of this retreat - and of many less dramatic failures to fight back in recent years - are contained in the analysis, vision and internal/external politics which have governed the leaderships and infrastructure of BC trade unions for decades. It runs like this:
1. The political pendulum swings back and forth from left to right. It is currently swinging right, but it will swing left again sometime in the future.
2. Labour's job is to keep the trade union movement together organizationally and hang on until the pendulum swings back our way.
3. The only way to (gradually) change the pendulum's direction and give it momentum once it has changed is through electoral politics - elect the New Democratic Party (NDP) and progressive municipal slates.
4. Small-scale, infrequent actions can be used to keep people involved, but large, coordinated, militant fightbacks - especially involving strike action - are to be avoided because they might alienate middle-of-the-road voters from unions and their NDP allies, thus weakening electoral chances.
5. If the members vote in convention or in local meetings for effective militant action, the leadership must ignore that and steer a moderate, ballot-box-oriented course - because the leaders understand these things, and the members don't.
6. Making alliances with progressive non-union social groups and organizations is necessary. But those forces must always be guided by the dictates of labour leaders and never be treated as real partners. They must accept electoralism as the primary strategy. And they must NEVER be allowed to influence significant numbers of trade union members with other strategic options.
The problems with this analysis/vision/strategy are many, serious and becoming increasingly evident
1. The pendulum is no longer swinging freely. On international, national, regional, and local levels, the corporate agenda is holding sway. Profiteers and their governments have blocked the return swing using international trade rules, massive transfers of public wealth to private hands through privatization and tax-shifting, coordinated threats of capital strikes against any jurisdiction that gets out of line and, if nothing else works, legislated gutting of democratic rights backed by police and military repression.
2. Preserving trade union organizations becomes increasingly problematic with escalating defeats. Union membership is reduced not just because of contract-shredding, massive layoffs in favour of low-wage contractors and right-to-work initiatives. It is also falling because, as former Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) President Dennis McDermott said a generation ago, "You don't need a union to negotiate concessions." Multiplying defeats bring anger, demoralization, disunity and a feeling that unions are irrelevant. And this is even before we worry about the New Zealand experience of having a (Labour) government virtually abolish union collective bargaining rights.
3. The NDP in government is not the working class in power. The power still resides in the corporate boardrooms and Wall Street bond-rating agencies. This is why past NDP governments have focused on debt and deficit reduction, broken strikes legislatively and cut welfare benefits. Not only that, but electing the NDP in 2005, even if that were certain and we could count on them entirely, would be too late to fight off the attacks since 2001 and those still to come before voting day.
4. Without a militant and mobilized union movement leading all workers in an effective fightback, any NDP government elected will continue to implement the corporate agenda, possibly at a slower pace with a "more human face." Only real counter-pressure from working people can stop and reverse that dynamic.
5. After a generation of escalating defeats, union members who vote for militant action DO understand the stakes and strategic implications. They have witnessed the inadequacy of electoralism as a sole, over-riding strategy. Of course much more needs to be learned, and it can be learned through education, preparation and through struggle itself. Working people have proved this in many times and places. But this requires democracy, because democracy works. It works by bringing all of our intelligence, talents, skills, experiences and courage into the decision-making process. But where democracy really excels is when mistakes are made and must be corrected. The more involved everyone is in making decisions, the more easily we can see what went wrong and what new directions need to be taken.
6. Real, equitable alliances with social groups and organizations must be forged to avoid the isolation of unions and a growing sentiment among non-union workers that unions are only out for themselves. As well, the struggles of those groups are truly our struggles. They are about the communities union workers live in alongside non-union workers. Equally crucial is the fact that large-scale, militant job action requires community participation in planning and execution so we can minimize the harm done to those who are our true allies. This does not mean giving non-union groups the power to tell union members when, how and why they go on strike. That is a red herring.
To move toward a labour movement that is genuinely militant, democratic and accountable to its members we must seek to implement a new set of strategies - from the BC Federation of Labour through each of the affiliated unions down to the level of local unions. The essential first step is to organize a broad grassroots opposition within our unions based on putting forward and continually improving new fightback tactics and strategies, on developing new modes of organizational functioning and electing leaders who will be accountable to the democratic decisions of the members.
As an absolutely necessary part of rearming our labour movement for the fights to come, we must challenge and replace the leadership. This must not be done on the basis of likes or dislikes. It must be done on the basis of an analysis that is more accurate, a vision that is more combative, strategies that are more effective and successful and modes of functioning that can mobilize and unite our members and our non-union allies.
What we saw in early May was a failure as significant as the 1983 sellout of the Solidarity movement. While it was Premier Gordon Campbell who ordered HEU (Hospital Employees Union) back to work, it was the leadership of the BC Federation of Labour and its major affiliates who enforced that return to work without even a murmur about giving those brave workers the right to vote on the so-called deal. And it was those leaders' totally deficient politics, outlined above, that have allowed them to justify this betrayal to themselves and to us.
An effective and durable general strike may or may not have been a real possibility, but that's not the issue. It was possible to inflict a resounding defeat on the Campbell Liberals and their corporate backers. On May 2 we were on the brink of BC labour's biggest struggle in decades - a massive strike wave that could have driven a stake through the heart of the Liberals' privatization of health care services. We had the biggest chance in three years to defeat Campbell, and it was torn from our fingers by the capitulation of our own leaders.
The sell-out of HEU was only the most spectacular of the leadership's betrayal, but there's no shortage of other examples. What about the silent complicity in the IWA (Industrial Wood & Allied Workers) raid on HEU? For over a year the leadership of the Fed stood by in utter silence while a rat union allied itself with the provincial Liberals, Aramark, Sodexho and the Compass Group. This was not just a raid - it was an act of sheer class betrayal, where the IWA teamed up with the Liberals as active accomplices in union-busting, and our leadership almost unanimously stood by, said nothing, and let them do it. And while we're at it, what about the IWA leadership's invitation to the government to legislate their own members back to work after a hard-fought strike against stiff concessions.
Struggles of Youth
Meanwhile the labour movement gave scant support beyond lip service to the struggles of youth against the six-dollar "starting" wage, to anti-poverty activists fighting welfare cuts and housing shortages, or to women fighting the closure of women's centres across BC. Since May 2002, union leaders have maintained their staunch commitment to NOT mobilizing massive unitary protests of members and non-members against Campbell and the corporate agenda.
Simultaneous with these betrayals has been another disturbing development. Over the last ten years, some BC union leaders have increasingly become a network of junior capitalists. Using billions from their members' pension plans and retirement investments, they have created a corporate empire. They control the largest venture capital firm in western Canada (Working Opportunity Fund), the largest developer of residential rental properties in BC (Concert Properties) and a network of companies involved in insurance, travel, investments and other activities. How many union members were shocked to learn recently of the $16,000 donation Concert Properties gave to Gordon Campbell's Liberals?
"Unfair," they say, "the Concert executives did that behind our backs." Well, what the hell do you expect when you pick Liberal corporate honchos like Jack Poole and David Podmore to manage your members' money? And how do you explain the directors' decision to join Canada's biggest P3 lobby group (alongside Aramark, Compass and Sodexho)?
In summary, the present BC union leadership has exposed its own political bankruptcy and democratic deficiencies. Our movement may not be able to long survive a continuation of their short-sighted vision and demonstrably inadequate strategies. It's time for the rank-and-file to start making changes within organized labour so we can effectively fight back against greedy bosses, privatizing governments and corporate globalization. If we don't, we will simply have to go through all this again. And again.
We need a militant movement. In the face of our attackers we will get nothing and defend nothing except through educated, intelligent, prepared, coordinated and courageous militancy. Globalization means everything is under attack, even the very existence of our communities. Refusing to fight back is surrender. Refusal to get ready for the inevitable battles is suicidal.
We need a democratic movement with a leadership and members committed to fostering debate within the labour movement, not stifling it. Membership decisions must be carried out, not ignored as with the action program adopted unanimously at the 2002 BC Fed Convention. And members must ALWAYS have the right to vote on contracts, regardless of leadership opinions OR strike-breaking legislation. Internal union democracy and membership control is one of the strongest weapons in our arsenal.
We need a movement that mobilizes solidarity. "An injury to one is an injury to all" is not just a slick slogan. It is what "union" means in concrete practice - our united strength against our enemies. No group of workers should stand alone and suffer defeats while the rest of us go along as usual.
We need a movement that builds alliances. Unions fighting alone to confront the attacks on our rights will lose. Community groups fighting alone will lose. We need to reject all the tired old habits of control and domination, and seek to build coalitions where labour and community organizations come together as partners and allies working together. We need to build open coalitions, and reject the past policies of exclusion, manipulation and control.
We need an independent union movement. We will need to be prepared to fight against cuts, to preserve social services and to resist return-to-work laws under a future NDP government too. Defeating Gordon Campbell will not mean our work is done, not by any means. This does not mean no involvement with progressive candidates or parties during elections. It does mean that electoralism is not labour's sole strategy and that electoral support is critical support, based on the actions of the elected.
Right to Strike
We need a movement committed to reclaiming the unrestricted right to strike, by whatever means are necessary. At present, for all practical purposes BC's public sector workers have no legal right to strike. Ask HEU, the nurses, the teachers, the ferry workers. And now this de facto ban is starting to extend to private sector unions as well. Ask the IWA. The right to strike was only won by labour's willingness to defy unjust laws. It will only be preserved by our willingness to use our right to strike, legally if possible, illegally if necessary, whether the government in power is Liberal or NDP.
Such a labour movement is not beyond our grasp. We can see it in the HEU members who organized to defend their own jobs and the right of all of us to public health care. We can see it in the ferry workers' courage in the face of government and the courts. We can see it in those principled IWA activists who have publicly condemned and organized against their own union's raid on HEU. We can see it in all those hospital workers and teachers and electricians and transit workers who stood up against Bill 37, and all those longshore workers and city employees and millworkers and ferry workers who were ready to walk out and join in.
And we've also seen the beginnings of such a movement in conventions and local meetings where members are starting to demand that trade unions fulfill their historical role of fighting for ourselves and for all working people.
Building such a movement will not be the work of a moment. It will take time, commitment, creativity, some tolerance/patience with each other and enduring courage. We can and will put the fighting spirit back into our movement, along with the necessary changes that go along with that - in strategy, in modes of internal/external functioning and in leadership. The alternative is too grim to accept.
The individuals whose names appear below are supporting the views contained in this statement of purpose in a personal capacity. Organizations and unions are listed for identification purposes only
member,CEP 468; community activist, Vancouver
executive officer, BCGEU component 5, local 503;
Vancouver and District
Labour Council delegate; member Vancouver GMB IWW,
former president, Malaspina Faculty Association
member, Telecommunication Workers Union, local 30,
vice-chair, HEU/CUPE Childrens and Womens Hospital
local 6010; VDLC
VDLC executive, Vancouver
executive member, BCGEU local 603; VDLC delegate;
solidarity and grassroots activist, Vancouver
union activist, Vancouver
shop steward and trustee, HEU Royal Jubilee Hospital
member, International Longshore and Warehouse Union,
shop steward and executive member at large, BCGEU
member, Ironworkers local 712, New Westminster
member, IWA local 1-3567, New Westminster
2nd vice president, CEP local 298, Kitimat
editor, The Pulper, CEP local 1129, Vancouver, chair
member, HEU, Richmond Hospital
B.C. Nurses Union member and activist, Vancouver
member, IWA local 1-3567; president, Woodworkers for a
HEU chairperson and representative, HEU Equity
chairperson, HEU Broadway Pentecostal Lodge local;
member of HEU
Provincial bargaining committee; former member of
member, IWA Canada local 1-85; elected official and
Improvement District, a local public corporation, Port
member, CEP 514 and CUPE local 873, Port Alice
member, United Food and Commercial Workers Union;
founding member, Members for Democracy (MfD), Mission
editor, "New Routes", CAW local 111, Vancouver
shop steward, HEU Royal Jubilee Hospital local,
Victoria; solidarity and grassroots activist, Victoria
member, Teamsters local 155, Vancouver
member CUPE 382, Greater Victoria School Board
former chairperson, BCGEU local 503, Vancouver
member and trustee, CEP local 468; delegate to
Victoria Labour Council
member, HEU, St. Vincent's Hospital local, Vancouver
LESSONS FROM THE PAST
Preamble to the Constitution of the Industrial Workers of the World
The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.
Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth.
We find that the centering of the management of industries into fewer and fewer hands makes the trade unions unable to cope with the ever growing power of the employing class. The trade unions foster a state of affairs which allows one set of workers to be pitted against another set of workers in the same industry, thereby helping defeat one another in wage wars. Moreover, thetrade unions aid the employing class to mislead the workers into the belief that the working class have interests in common with
These conditions can be changed and the interest of the working class upheld only by an organization formed in such a way that all its members in any one industry, or in all industries if necessary, cease work whenever a strike or lockout is on in any department thereof, thus making an injury to one an injury to all.
Instead of the conservative motto, "A fair day's wage for a fair day's work," we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, "Abolition of the wage system."
It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism. The army of production must be organized, not only for everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown. By organizing industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.
THE PRINCIPLES OF REVOLUTIONARY UNIONISM
International Workers’ Association
1.- Revolutionary unionism, basing itself on the class struggle, aims to unite all workers in combative economic organizations, that fight to free themselves from the double yoke of capital and the State. Its goal is the reorganization of social life on the basis of Libertarian Communism via the revolutionary action of the working class. Since only the economic organizations of the proletariat are capable of achieving this objective, revolutionary unionism addresses itself to workers in their capacity as producers, creators of social wealth, to take root and develop amongst them, in opposition to the modern workers’ parties, which it declares are incapable of the economic reorganization of society.
2.- Revolutionary unionism is the staunch enemy of all social and economic monopoly, and aims at its abolition by the establishment of economic communities and administrative organs run by the workers in the field and factories, forming a system of free councils without subordination to any authority or political party, bar none. As an alternative to the politics of State and parties, revolutionary unionism posits the economic reorganization of production, replacing the rule of man over man with the administrative management of things. Consequently, the goal of revolutionary unionism is not the conquest of political power, but the abolition of all state functions in the life of society. Revolutionary unionism considers that along with the disappearance of the monopoly of property, must come the disappearance of the monopoly of domination; and that no form of State, however camouflaged, can ever be an instrument for human liberation, but that on the contrary, it will always be the creator of new monopolies and new privileges.
3.- Revolutionary unionism has a two-fold function: to carry on the day-to-day revolutionary struggle for the economic, social and intellectual advancement of the working class within the limits of present-day society, and to educate the masses so that they will be ready to independently manage the processes of production and distribution when the time comes to take possession of all the elements of social life. Revolutionary unionism does not accept the idea that the organization of a social system based exclusively on the producing class can be ordered by simple governmental decrees and maintains that it can only be obtained through the common action of all manual and intellectual workers, in every branch of industry, by self-management of the workers, such that every group, factory or branch of industry is an autonomous member of the greater economic organism and sistematically runs the production and distribution processes according to the interests of the comunity, on an agreed upon plan and on the basis of mutual accord.
4.- Revolutionary unionism is opposed to all organizational tendencies inspired by the centralism of State and Church, because these can only serve to prolong the survival of the State and authority and to sistematically stifle the spirit of initiative and the independence of thought. Centralism is and artificial organization that subjects the so-called lower classes to those who claim to be superior, and that leaves in the hands of the few the affairs of the whole comunity -the individual being turned into a robot with controlled gestures and movements. In the centralized organization, society’s good is subordinated to the interests of the few, variety is replaced by uniformity and personal responsability is replaced by rigid discipline. Consequently, revolutionary unionism bases its social vision on a broad federalist organization; i.e., an organization organised from the botttom up, the uniting of all forces in the defense of common ideas and interests.
5.- Revolutionary unionism rejects all parliamentary activity and all collaboration with legislative bodies; because it knows that even the freest voting system cannot bring about the disappearance of the clear contradictions at the core of present-day society and because the parliamentary system has only one goal: to lend a pretense of legitimacy to the reign of falsehood and social injustice.
6.- Revolutionary Unionism rejects all political and national frontiers, which are arbitrarily created, and declares that so-called nationalism is just the religion of the modern state, behind which is concealed the material interests of the propertied classes. Revolutionary unionism recognizes only economic differences, whether regional or national, that produce hierarchies, privileges and every kind of oppressions (because of race, sex and any false or real difference), and in the spirit of solidarity claims the right to self-determination for all economic groups.
7.- For the identical reason, revolutionary unionism fights against militarism and war. Revolutionary unionism advocates anti-war propaganda and the replacement of standing armies, which are only the instruments of counter-revolution at the service of the capitalism, by workers’ militias, which, during the revolution, will be controlled by the workers’ unions; it demands, as well, the boycott and embargo of all raw materials and products necessary to war, with the exception of a country where the workers are in the midst of social revolution, in which case we should help them defend the revolution. Finally, revolutionary unionism advocates the preventive and revolutionary general strike as a means of opposing war and militarism.
8.- Revolutionary unionism recognizes the need of a production that does not damage the environment, and that tries to minimize the use of non-renewable resources and uses, whenever possible, renewable alternatives. It does not admit the ignorance as the origin of the present-day environmental crisis, but the thirst for earnings. Capitalist production always seeks to minimize the costs in order to get more earnings to survive, and it is unable to protect the environment. To sum up, the world debt crisis has speeded up the tendency to commercial harvest to the detriment of the subsistence agriculture. This fact has produced the destruction of the tropical forest, starvation and disease. The fight for saving our planet and the fight for destroying capitalism must be joint or both of them will fail.
9.- Revolutionary unionism asserts itself to be a supporter of the method of direct action, and aids and encourages all struggles that are not in contradiction to its own goals. Its methods of struggle are: strikes, boycotts, sabotage, etc. Direct action reaches its deepest expression in the general strike, which should also be, from the point of view of revolutionary unionism, the prelude to the social revolution.
10.- While revolutionary unionism is opposed to all organised violence regardless of the kind of government, it realizes that there will be extremely violence clashes during the decisive struggles between the capitalism of today and the free communism of tomorrow. Consequently, it recognizes as valid that violence that may be used as a means of defense against the violent methods used by the ruling classes during the struggles that lead up to the revolutionary populace expropiating the lands and means of production. As this expropiation can only be carried out and brought to a successful conclusion by the direct intervention of the workers’ revolutionary economic organizations, defense of the revolution must also be the task of these economic organizations and not of a military or quasi-military body developing independently of them.
11.- Only in the economic and revolutionary organizations of the working class are there forces capable of bringing about its liberation and the necessary creative energy for the reorganization of society on the basis of libertarian communism.