Saturday, 8 December 2012

Canadian Labour History Timeline


While hardly a year goes by without important developments occurring in the Canadian labour movement, some years carry with them developments so profound as to have permanently reshaped the history of the labour movement. Listed below are some of the events that brought those very developments.
 1900

Conciliation Act. This marks the first legal framework for federal government intervention in labour disputes. The Act both established the Department of Labour and empowered the government to investigate any dispute and meet with the parties. The process established was non-binding and, in general, proved to be ineffective.

1907

Industrial Disputes Investigations Act is enacted. In order to respond to a series of acrimonious strikes, the IDIA established tripartite conciliation boards that were mandatory for public utilities. These conciliation boards were also available to other sectors, but were voluntary. Industrial action was prohibited while a board investigation was ongoing. The framework was unable to gain legitimacy among employer and unions.

1919


The International Labour Organization (ILO) is founded. Formed as part of the League of Nations, the ILO - an international tripartite organization (jointly run by employers, unions and states) - had a mandate to promote international labour standards.


Also occurring in 1919 was the Winnipeg General Strike. Soldiers facing unemployment, poverty and poor economic conditions upon their return home from WWI led to a great deal of worker unrest and militancy across Canada. General strikes were held in many cities and culminated in the Winnipeg General Strike. Police and military were used to put down the strikes with violent force. 

1930's

The Great Depression leads to substantial labour unrest. Workers’ movements, such as the Workers’ Unity League, broaden to include the unemployed.

1935

In the U.S., the Wagner Act is enacted. Officially titled the National Labor Relations Act, it was a response in the U.S. to worker unrest due to the Depression. It established the modern labour relations legal framework, often called“Wagnerism”, by formalizing certification, restricting employer interference and creating the National Labor Relations Board.

1944

Occurrence of Privy Council Order 1003, which was a wartime federal act that loosely duplicated the U.S. Wagner Act, establishing a modern labour relations regime for Canada. Following the war it was replaced by the federal Industrial Relations and Disputes Investigation Act in 1948. Provinces later established their own, largely parallel, legislation.

1945

Windsor Ford Plant Strike. A 99-day strike settled by an arbitration decision by Justice Ivan C. Rand, which created the “Rand Formula”, where stipulates that since all workers benefit from unions, union dues are to be automatically deducted from all workers’ paycheques to support union representation.

1950's

The 1950's saw rapid expansion of trade unions in the private sector. Under the construct of Wagnerism, private sector unionism expanded and grew as the economy prospered. Much of the organizing too place in industrial sectors. Many goups of workers were excluded from organizing, including minorities and women.

1965

 
 
National Postal Workers Strike occurs. This was an illegal strike of all postal workers in Canada that ultimately led to legal recognition of trade unions and of the right to strike in the public sector. These new recognitions were officially entrenched in 1967. The strikers received great public support and won a large victory, receiving wage increases and much improved working conditions.

1975

 
In 1975, Prime Minister Trudeau brought in his Anti-Inflation Program. In response to a crisis of inflation, this policy of the federal Liberal government suspended free collective bargaining for all workers in Canada, established an Anti-Inflation Board to rollback wage increases that were found to be too high, and restricted future wage increases. The Anti-Inflation Program is generally considered to be the first act in a new period of anti-union policies by government and marked the beginning of “permanent exceptionalism”.

1978

The National Postal Worker Strike happens. This strike was ended by a government back-to-work order. Union President J.C. Parrot defies the back-to-work order, leading to his imprisonment. J.C. Parrot's imprisonment is the first such jailing since the Wagnerism was introduced.

1982

The "6 and 5” Program brought in by the federal Liberals. It is a second anti-inflation program launched by the Trudeau government and imposed wage settlements (of 6% and 5%) on federal public sector unions. Provincial governments followed with their own similar impositions.

1999

The Delisle decision is handed down. Delisle is a Supreme Court decision ruling that RCMP officers did not have a Charter protected right to organize a union.
 
2001

Dunmore decision. Dunmore is a decision where the Supreme Court found that governments have a “positive obligation” to protect the right to organize for farmworkers and other vulnerable groups. This was the first indication from the courts that the Charter might protect the right to organize[1].


Ford Retains his Mayoral Seat Pending Appeal

In a previous post we noted that on November 26, 2012, in a highly debated judgment, Justice Hackland removed Ford as mayor for participating in a vote in which he had a conflict of interest. Ford was aware he may have had a conflict, but his personal arrogance spilled over into his professional life and he voted anyway.[1] Justice Hackland stated that Ford had a “stubborn sense of entitlement” and was willfully blind to the conflict of interest rules. Apparently Ford didn’t believe the rules should apply to him. While Ford blamed “left-wing politics” for his ouster, it was arrogance that ended his mayoralty.[2] Ford has often approached organized labour with the same arrogance that ended his mayoralty. For a moment, the hardworking men and women of organized labour seemed to be able to look forward to some respite from Ford's notoriously anti-union leadership. Unfortunately, those hopes were dashed when, on Wednesday December 5, 2012, a Justice with the Divisional Court stayed Justice Hackland's decision and ruled that Ford can remain in office until his case is reviewed by an appeal court[3]. In our previous post, we described some of the aspects of Ford’s legacy that have been particularly important to unions. Now that Ford is permitted to retain his seat as mayor, it’s worthwhile to repeat these aspects of his legacy.

 

A Dark Legacy


Despite its brevity, the tantalizing notion that Ford would no longer be filling Toronto's mayoral seat caused thoughts of his legacy, and it is a dark legacy indeed. Ford has followed a course only the staunchest union-busters could admire. The focus of his mayoral campaign was to save the City money by stopping the “gravy train.” Two promises dominated his platform: eliminate the City’s fair-wage policy and privatize garbage collection[4]. With this platform Ford established unions as a scapegoat for the City’s financial woes from the start. He has approached organized labour with hostility and arrogance ever since.
 
Ford has a history of distortion and intimidation that would have made Richard Nixon blush[5]. He used opposition to unions as a way to bolster support among constituents still reeling from the 2009 garbage strike. In doing so, he politicized future negotiation processes with unions.

Last year, for instance, Ford brought his trademark hostility to negotiations with unions who had collective agreements expiring on December 31st, 2011. The Ford administration went into the negotiations with little respect for the collective agreement, with Deputy Mayor Holyday noting the agreement provided “unbelievable job security.”[6] Though union members disagreed with Holyday’s characterization of their job security as “unbelievable”, Ford’s smears had already persuaded the public. He’d stacked the deck in his favour. The unions knew this. Ford knew this too, and he leveraged it to gain political capital. On February 5th, 2012 Ford managed to get one of the largest Toronto unions to sign a new collective agreement on the city’s terms.[7]

Unfortunately, this is not an outlier in Ford’s legacy and his hostility to the public service has often seeped into other aspects of his professional life. Take the case of Gary Webster, formerly the chief General Manager of the TTC. Two weeks after voicing opposition to Ford’s proposed subway plan, Webster was terminated. He had been at the service for 35 years and was set to retire in a year. Supporters of Gary Webster describe him as highly competent.[8] In other municipal administrations Webster’s input might have been respected. In Ford’s administration, however, a divergent opinion was apparently too much handle. The administration’s disdain for labour representatives was once more on display.

The bases for Ford’s disdain of organized labour have never held up well against reality. He once said that 80% of Toronto’s budget goes to labour costs. In a city that elected Ford largely on the basis of cutting costs, this comment seems calculated to turn public perception against organized labour. This figure is fiction. The real figure is 48%.[9] Not exactly the “gravy” he claimed.

But Ford’s definition of “gravy” has rarely been accurate. Early on in his mayoralty, he boasted of saving $70 million. Again, this was fiction. Most of the $70 million came from the cancellation of the vehicle registration tax, which amounted to $64-million. Ford’s “savings” actually represented a $64 million reduction in revenues that could have gone to the treasury and the provision of services.[10]

Though Ford tends to blame unions for the City’s financial woes, the reality is workplace grievances have recently been down 13% and workplace injury claims have been down by about 15%. In monetary terms this means unions have saved the City around $800,000.[11]

When Ford views union workers, it’s clear he doesn’t see hard-working men and women that help to make Toronto great. Just as he was judged to be wilfully blind to his conflict of interest, so too has Ford been blind to the good organized labour does for the City. In the face of Ford’s unrelenting efforts to tarnish their image, unions have done what they do best: they stood together. With the recent ruling that Ford may retain his mayoral seat while his appeal is pending, unions will need to continue to stand tall, stand firm, and stand together.

 



[1] Christie Blatchford, “Controversy Grows over why Judge took‘Nuclear’ Option in Rob Ford Ruling” (Globe & Mail, November 28, 2012). Online: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/11/28/christie-blatchford-controversy-grows-over-why-judge-took-nuclear-option-in-rob-ford-ruling/.
[2] Marcus Gee, “Rob Ford’s Self-Inflicted Downfall”(Globe & Mail, November 26, 2012). Online: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/marcus-gee-rob-fords-self-inflicted-downfall/article5670796/
[4] Jason Mraz, “Who is more Deluded: Rob Ford or the Labour Unions?” (Toronto Life, December 22, 2010). Online: http://www.torontolife.com/daily/informer/from-print-edition-informer/2010/12/22/who-is-more-deluded-rob-ford-or-the-labour-unions/
[5] Royson James, “Mayor Rob Ford Allies Sink to a New Low” (Toronto Star, October 5, 2012). Online: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/1267459--mayor-rob-ford-s-allies-sink-to-a-new-low
[6] Supra 4.
[7] Patrick White, “The Peaks and Troughs of Rob Ford’s Career” (Globe & Mail, November 26, 2012). Online: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/the-peaks-and-troughs-of-rob-fords-career/article5714165/
[8] “TTC chief Gary Webster Fired” (CBC News, February 21, 2012). Online: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/story/2012/02/21/toronto-ttc-meeting-gary-webster.html
[9] Marcus Gee, “Ford’s Financial Numbers Don’t Add Up”(Globe & Mail, July 15, 2011). Online: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/fords-financial-numbers-dont-add-up/article625903/
[10] Supra 8.
[11] Enzo di Matteo, “Rob Ford’s High Stakes Union Gamble”(Now – Toronto, January 12-19, 2012) Vol. 31 No 20. Online: http://www.nowtoronto.com/news/story.cfm?content=184705
 

Thursday, 6 December 2012

This Day in the History of the International Labour Movement


December 6, 1928


On this date in history, the Santa Marta Massacre (or “Banana Massacre”) occurred. Once hugely important, the Colombian city of Santa Marta lost much of its importance during the Colonial era to the nearby port city of Cartagena. In the 20th Century, Santa Marta was given a boost by the export of coal and bananas. When industrial unrest came to Santa Marta, the government was resolved to force a return to work. Workers for the United Fruit Company had been on strike to secure better pay working conditions when the army was sent in to end the strike. Troops opened fire and many workers were massacred. The exact number of workers who died is unknown[1]. A fictionalized account of this event appears in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s, One Hundred Years of Solitude, and remains impressed in the minds of the Colombian public[2].

The Santa Marta Massacre showcases the hostility that can exist between workers and employers and of the terrible results that such hostilities may bring if there is a significant power imbalance. Though the events in Santa Marta occurred in 1928, more recent events provide a sad commentary that things may not have changed much over the past 80 odd years. Testament to that discouraging thought is the execution of Oscar Soto Polo. Soto was the local president of the National Union of Beverage Workers. On June 21, 2001 he was fatally shot in the head whilst walking home with his eight-year-old daughter.

Soto was the 62nd Colombian labour activist to be killed in 2001. Following his death, labour officials and activists continued to be murdered. From 1991 to 2001, over 1,500 labour officials and activists were murdered, making them Colombia’s most endangered group of civilians. The unions assert that independently owned bottlers hired by Coca-Cola in Colombia were behind the executions of Soto and other labour activists. The union, with the support of the United Steelworkers of America, and the International Labor Rights Fund filed suit in a Miami district court against the Coca-Cola Company.  While Coca-Cola Co. vehemently denied any involvement in the killings or in the actions of the independently owned bottlers, one thing that is clear is that unionists were living under threat of death.

The threats labour officials and activists faced on a daily basis impinged their ability to effectively carry out their activities. At the time of his execution, Soto’s union was attempting to negotiate a pay raise of anywhere from 17% to 22%. Soto was involved in the negotiations. Far from the raise desired by the union, the company offered 6.5%. Shortly before Polo’s murder there was a lull in negotiations. Two weeks after Soto was murdered the negotiations resumed. The union settled for an 8.5% pay raise[3].

Terrorizing labour activists is not limited to Colombia. In many parts of the world trade unionists fight for their rights under constant threat of death. Organized labour has a common unifying cause: the protection of workers’ rights and dignity. These events provide a stark reminder of the importance of labour rights and the sacrifices brave union members the world over have made to protect and improve work conditions. Whether the massacres in 1928 or the executions in 2001, nothing can stop organized labour from fighting for what’s right. While we mourn the loss of those murdered in their struggle to advance labour rights, we are deeply thankful that such people have existed and continue to exist across the globe.



[3] Peter Katel, “Under the Gun: Execution-style Killings have Colombia’s Trade-Union Activists Running Scared” (Time Magazine, International Edition, August 23, 2001). Online: http://www.laborrights.org/print/10905.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

This Day in the History of the International Labour Movement

December 5, 1955 


On this day in history the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) were dissolved. Founded on December 8, 1886, the AFL was one of the earliest federations of labour unions in the U.S.[1] Founded as an alliance of craft unions, for roughly half a century the AFL was the only unifying agency of the labour movement in America[2].

At the AFL’s Convention in 1935 the question of whether union organization should be based on craft or industry became a divisive issue. An industry-based resolution was presented which emphasized the importance of industrial organization. The resolution was rejected, prompting eight unions to defect. From these eight unions the CIO was born[3].

During the 1940’s the U.S. saw a rise of conservatism in national labour policies which did not favour organized labour. In 1947, to make matters worse, Republican majorities in both houses of Congress voted to enact the Taft-Hartley Act. The Act amended the generally union friendly Wagner Act. One reason for the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act was to disempower unions, which had been growing rapidly in both membership and strength[4]. The CIO joined with the AFL in opposition to the Act. The AFL and the CIO put aside their differences and, in 1955, both organizations were dissolved. They merged together to form the AFL-CIO, which remains intact today[5].

This brief history of the AFL-CIO is one of many testaments that unions are stronger when they stand together. As large and numerous as the differences between the AFL and the CIO may have seemed, the organizations realized they were bound by a commonality of interests and embraced solidarity. Anyone would be hard pressed to argue that either organization would have been better off standing alone. Had they stood alone, it’s anyone’s guess whether either would still be standing today.

December 5, 2007

Fifty-two years later on December 5, 2007 there was another historic event in labour history when the National Union of Mineworkers of South Africa held a one-day strike over concerns for working and safety conditions. Workers were concerned about the safety conditions of the mine for a long time, with union officials stating that the companies who owned the mines had shown a lack of concern for safety conditions dating back to the Apartheid era. This was the first industry-wide miners' strike in the history of post-Apartheid South Africa[6].

The mines of South Africa account for 7% of the nation’s GDP. With economic importance of such a large scale, the lack of decent working conditions being provided for the miners is but another example in a long history of the exploitation of miners.[7] Such exploitation is not limited to South Africa and has been a global trend. Canada has not been immune to these practices.

On May 9, 1992, in Nova Scotia, the Westray Mine tragedy shocked the nation. Westray was mining coal when methane gas escaped from a seam and exploded. Twenty-six miners were killed. Two months before the mine opened, Liberal MLA Boudreau warned that the Westray mine set to open was one of the most dangerous mines in the world. Not only did Westray open the mine despite the dangers, it did so without bothering to adequately train its miners.

In Westray’s eagerness to get saleable coal, workers without sufficient coal mining experience were put to work in the mines. The workers were not trained in safe work methods and basic safety measures were either ignored or performed inadequately.

The regulatory framework in Nova Scotia requires that nearly all workers in underground coal mining hold a certificate of competency. Section 11 of the Coal Mines Regulation Act (1989) sets the amount of education and work experience necessary for the certificates. The company is responsible for training miners. In a post-explosion investigation, the Department of Labour concluded that the mine "had no program that was appropriate to the needs of that mine."

In its rush for profits, Westray ignored or encouraged many unscrupulous practices, including having miners work 12-hour shifts and using non-flameproof equipment in ways that violated conditions set by the Department of Labour.[8] Given the tragedy that occurred, perhaps the most egregious company practice was to disconnect methane detectors because of frequent alarms[9]. In reporting on the explosion Justice Peter Richard said: “The Westray story is a complex mosaic of actions, omissions, mistakes, incompetence, apathy, cynicism, stupidity and neglect."

Westray’s goal was to forge ahead, get the coal and sell it quickly, and the company had no qualms about exploiting its miners to meet these ends. The company’s mandate took precedence over safety. As a result of Westray’s greed, 26 miners are no longer of this world. The exploitation of miners is a tale as old as mining. One day we hope to see a final chapter to that tale.



[1] J. Sakai, Settlers: Mythology of the White Proletariat (Morningstar Press, 1989), 3rd ed.
[2] Philip S. Foner, History of the Labour Movement in the United States, Volume 2: From the Founding of the AFL to the Emergence of American Imperialism (New York: International Publishers, 1955) 132-133.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Fighting with Facts: the Arrogant Legacy of Rob Ford

On November 26, 2012, in a judgment that is being highly debated, Justice Hackland removed Ford as mayor for participating in a vote in which he had a conflict of interest. Ford was aware he may have had a conflict, but his personal arrogance spilled over into his professional life and he voted anyway.[1] Justice Hackland noted that Ford had a “stubborn sense of entitlement” and was willfully blind to the conflict of interest rules. Apparently Ford didn’t believe the rules should apply to him. While he blames “left-wing politics” for his ouster, it was Ford’s arrogance that ended his mayoralty.[2] Ford has often approached organized labour with the same arrogance that ended his mayoralty. He may run again in a by-election, but for the moment Ford’s removal gives unions some respite.

A Dark Legacy

Ford leaves in his wake a legacy only the staunchest union-busters could admire. The focus of his mayoral campaign was to save the City money by stopping the “gravy train.” Two promises dominated his platform: eliminate the City’s fair-wage policy and privatize garbage collection[3]. With this platform Ford established unions as a scapegoat for the City’s financial woes from the start. He has approached organized labour with hostility and arrogance ever since.

Ford has a history of distortion and intimidation that would have made Richard Nixon blush[4].  He used opposition to unions as a way to bolster support among constituents still reeling from the 2009 garbage strike. In doing so, he politicized future negotiation processes with unions.

Last year, for instance, Ford brought his trademark hostility to negotiations with unions who had collective agreements expiring on December 31st, 2011. The Ford administration went into the negotiations with little respect for the collective agreement, with Deputy Mayor Holyday noting the agreement provided “unbelievable job security.”[5] Though union members disagreed with Holyday’s characterization of their job security as “unbelievable”, Ford’s smears had already persuaded the public. He’d stacked the deck in his favour. The unions knew this. Ford knew this too, and he leveraged it to gain political capital. On February 5th, 2012 Ford managed to get one of the largest Toronto unions to sign a new collective agreement on the city’s terms.[6]

Unfortunately, this is not an outlier in Ford’s legacy and his hostility to the public service has often seeped into other aspects of his professional life. Take the case of Gary Webster, formerly the chief General Manager of the TTC. Two weeks after voicing opposition to Ford’s proposed subway plan, Webster was terminated. He had been at the service for 35 years and was set to retire in a year. Supporters of Gary Webster describe him as highly competent.[7] In other municipal administrations Webster’s input might have been respected. In Ford’s administration, however, a divergent opinion was apparently too much handle. The administration’s disdain for labour representatives was once more on display.

The bases for Ford’s disdain of organized labour have never held up well against reality. He once said that 80% of Toronto’s budget goes to labour costs. In a city that elected Ford largely on the basis of cutting costs, this comment seems calculated to turn public perception against organized labour. This figure is fiction. The real figure is 48%.[8] Not exactly the “gravy” he claimed.

But Ford’s definition of “gravy” has rarely been accurate. Early on in his mayoralty, he boasted of saving $70 million. Again, this was fiction.  Most of the $70 million came from the cancellation of the vehicle registration tax, which amounted to $64-million.  Ford’s “savings” actually represented a $64 million reduction in revenues that could have gone to the treasury and the provision of services.[9]

Though Ford tends to blame unions for the City’s financial woes, the reality is workplace grievances have recently been down 13% and workplace injury claims have been down by about 15%. In monetary terms this means unions have saved the City around $800,000.[10]

When Ford views union workers, it’s clear he doesn’t see hard-working men and women that help to make Toronto great. Just as he was judged to be wilfully blind to his conflict of interest, so too has Ford been blind to the good organized labour does for the City. In the face of Ford’s unrelenting efforts to tarnish their image, unions have done what they do best: they stood together. The result is that the unions are still standing. The same can’t be said of Ford.

 

 



[1] Christie Blatchford, “Controversy Grows over why Judge took ‘Nuclear’ Option in Rob Ford Ruling” (Globe & Mail, November 28, 2012). Online: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/11/28/christie-blatchford-controversy-grows-over-why-judge-took-nuclear-option-in-rob-ford-ruling/.
[2] Marcus Gee, “Rob Ford’s Self-Inflicted Downfall” (Globe & Mail, November 26, 2012). Online: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/marcus-gee-rob-fords-self-inflicted-downfall/article5670796/
[3] Jason Mraz, “Who is more Deluded: Rob Ford or the Labour Unions?” (Toronto Life, December 22, 2010). Online: http://www.torontolife.com/daily/informer/from-print-edition-informer/2010/12/22/who-is-more-deluded-rob-ford-or-the-labour-unions/
[4] Royson James, “Mayor Rob Ford Allies Sink to a New Low” (Toronto Star, October 5, 2012). Online: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/1267459--mayor-rob-ford-s-allies-sink-to-a-new-low
[5] Supra 3.
[6] Patrick White, “The Peaks and Troughs of Rob Ford’s Career” (Globe & Mail, November 26, 2012). Online: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/the-peaks-and-troughs-of-rob-fords-career/article5714165/
[7] “TTC chief Gary Webster Fired” (CBC News, February 21, 2012). Online: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/story/2012/02/21/toronto-ttc-meeting-gary-webster.html
[8] Marcus Gee, “Ford’s Financial Numbers Don’t Add Up” (Globe & Mail, July 15, 2011). Online: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/fords-financial-numbers-dont-add-up/article625903/
[9] Supra 7.
[10] Enzo di Matteo, “Rob Ford’s High Stakes Union Gamble” (Now – Toronto, January 12-19, 2012) Vol. 31 No 20. Online: http://www.nowtoronto.com/news/story.cfm?content=184705