Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Two: Warren “Smokey” Thomas, President of The Ontario Public Services Employees Union (OPSEU)

Introduction

This is the second part of a series on the ideology or rhetoric of unions when it comes to collective agreements. In the first part, I compiled a list of some of the claims of the largest national union in Canada–the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)–that collective agreements signed by its various local unions were somehow fair.

I planned on doing the same thing for the second largest Canadian union–Unifor (the largest private sector union)–but Smokey Thomas’ apologetic comments concerning Doug Ford inspired me to focus on his union rhetoric (see Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One).

I have persistently pointed out in this blog that collective agreements are, generally, better than individual employment contracts. They provide more protection for workers and more benefits. On the other hand, we also need to acknowledge the limitations of collective agreements in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers–something which unions rarely do. Furthermore, many of them use the rhetoric of “fair contracts,” and similar terms to hide the dictatorial nature of the employment relationship (for a description of that relationship, see Employers as Dictators, Part One).

Smokey Thomas’ Union Rhetoric of a Fair Contract

I will just make a list of Mr. Thomas’ union rhetoric concerning fair contracts. This rhetoric can be compared to management rights clauses. One such clause is found in the following:  

 

Collective Agreement
between
Ontario Public Service Employees Union on behalf of its_ Locals (various)
and
Municipal Property Assessment Corporation

DURATION: January 1, 2019- December 31, 2022

ARTICLE 4- MANAGEMENT RIGHTS
4.01 The Union acknowledges that it is the exclusive right of the Employer to:

a) maintain order, discipline and efficiency;

b) hire, transfer, classify, assign, appoint, promote, demote, appraise, train, develop, lay off and recall employees;

c) discipline and discharge employees for just cause, except that probationary employees may be discharged without cause;

d) generally manage the enterprise in which the Employer is engaged and without restricting the generality of the foregoing, the right to plan, direct and control operations, facilities, programs, systems and procedures, direct its personnel, determine complement, organization, methods and the number, location and classification of personnel required from time to time, the number and location of operations, buildings, equipment and facilities, the services to be performed, the scheduling of assignments and work, the extension, limitation, curtailment or cessation of operations and all other
rights and responsibilities not specifically modified elsewhere in this Agreement.

4.02 The Employer shall exercise the above rights in’ a manner consistent with the
expressed terms of the Collective Agreement.

Mr. Thomas, by calling collective agreements fair, by implication calls the right of management to dictate to workers covered by the collective agreement fair. However, to treat any worker as a mere means for employers’ purposes is to treat workers as things–and that is hardly fair (see The Money Circuit of Capital). 

Let us proceed with several statements made by Mr. Thomas concerning collective agreements. Most bold print are my emphases: : 

  1. Dated April 10, 2015. From   https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/r-e-p-e-a-t—-government-workers-protest-to-demand-a-fair-contract-517437241.html:

AURORA, ONApril 10, 2015 /CNW/ – Workers in the Ontario Public Service (OPS), represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, will hold an information picket over the government’s refusal to bargain a fair collective agreement.

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said that at the same time that the Wynne Liberals are slashing funding for much-needed public services, they are wasting billions on private sector contracts and spending billions more on corporate tax cuts.

“After years of austerity, Premier Kathleen Wynne is demanding that the public service accept more wage freezes, cutbacks and concessions,” Thomas said. “Government negotiators at the bargaining table appear they would rather push the OPS into a strike than negotiate a fair deal with their employees.”

2. Dated June 5, 2019. From https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/statement-from-opseu-president-warren-smokey-thomas-on-the-introduction-of-a-public-sector-pay-bill-823871469.html): 

Statement from OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas on the introduction of a public sector pay bill

 


NEWS PROVIDED BY

Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) 

Jun 05, 2019, 17:24 ET

TORONTOJune 5, 2019 /CNW/ – The bill introduced today capping wage settlements shows that Premier Doug Ford has no respect for the rule of law or the right to fair collective bargaining.

3. Dated August 31, 2018. From https://nupge.ca/content/grca-members-ratify-contract-wage-increases-privatization-protection:  

GRCA members ratify contract with wage increases, privatization protection

Toronto (31 August 2018) — The members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE) working at the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) have ratified a contract that includes significant wage increases, protection from contracting-out, and a number of other improvements.

Workers and the public win with this contract

“This is a great deal for our members, and great news for all the people in the communities they serve,” said Warren (Smokey) Thomas, OPSEU President 

“Everybody wins when workers are paid a decent and fair wage. And everybody wins when a local like this bargains language that will prevent their jobs from being contracted out or privatized,” Thomas said.

The roughly 150 members of Local 259 work at the GRCA as planners, assistant superintendents, and environmental officers.

Their new 4-year contract includes wage increases of between 6 and 14 per cent. It also includes language that prevents the employer from contracting-out their work, and improvements to time-off and on-call provisions. 

4. Dated early April, 2019. From  https://www.correctionsdivision.ca/2019/05/22/opseu-submission-on-public-sector-consultations/

In early April 2019, OPSEU’s leaders were invited by the deputy minister of the Treasury Board Secretariat to take part in a series of consultation meetings.  opseu_public_sector_consultation_submission.pdf

“The government is seeking your feedback on how to manage compensation growth in a way that results in wage settlements that are modest, reasonable, and sustainable,” the deputy minister wrote.

While completely opposed to any attempt to impose “modest” wage settlements outside of its members’ constitutionally guaranteed right to free and fair collective bargaining, OPSEU’s leaders chose to take part in the consultation sessions in good faith and good conscience. And without prejudice.

As leaders of an open, transparent, and democratic union with 155,000 members across Ontario, OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas and OPSEU First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida attended the sessions with a number of their members’ ideas about ensuring the sustainability of decent and fair compensation growth in the public sector.

5. Dated January 28, 2015. From https://sites.google.com/site/opseulocal599/:


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                     

January 28, 2015

Government forcing OPSEU towards a strike 

TORONTO – The union representing 35,000 frontline Ministry employees who work directly for the Ontario government announced today that bargaining representatives of the Ontario Government have taken a significant step towards forcing OPSEU members out on strike.

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said that instead of trying to bargain a fair contract with their employees, the government has initiated the process of negotiating Essential and Emergency Service (EES) Agreements, which by law must be completed prior to a legal strike or lockout.

6. Dated November 1, 2017. From https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/college-faculty-ready-to-bargain-as-employer-returns-to-table-654537183.html:

 

 

College faculty ready to bargain as employer returns to table 

TORONTONov. 1, 2017 /CNW/ – The union bargaining team for Ontario public college faculty is interested in what the College Employer Council has to say and ready to bargain when contract talks resume tomorrow, team chair JP Hornick says.

“College faculty are taking a stand for a better college education system,” she said. “We are ready, as we have been from the start, to bargain a fair contract that addresses the issues of good jobs and quality education.”

The mediator in the talks has called the parties back together to meet Thursday, November 2 for the first time since the strike by 12,000 faculty began October 16.

“This strike has highlighted the problems that come when an employer uses precarious work as a tool to cut costs,” said Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union. “When faculty aren’t treated fairly, education suffers, and OPSEU members have stayed strong on the picket lines because they want colleges that are better for faculty and students alike.

7. Dated July 15, 2016. From https://www.thesudburystar.com/2016/07/15/ymca-workers-vote-to-join-opseu/wcm/47381266-1e5e-b122-ff7f-754415b71d4f

YMCA workers vote to join OPSEU

YMCA staff in employment and newcomer services have voted to join the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, the union announced this week.

“This is great news for these hard-working employees,” Jeff Arbus, OPSEU regional vice-president, said in a release. “One of the many benefits they’ll enjoy with OPSEU membership is increased job security – something they badly need right now so they can better plan for the future.”

The July 7 vote means 36 full- and part-time staff in employment and newcomer services, not including administrative assistants, supervisors and those above the rank of supervisor, have been certified by OPSEU.

The result was good news not only for the new members, Arbus said, but also for the YMCA and its clients.

“When working conditions are improved, staff retention is increased and so is their experience and knowledge,” Arbus said. “The Y’s reputation as a prominent community partner will be enhanced, while clients will benefit even more from the help they receive.”

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said the publicly funded programs at the Y are essential to the well-being of Ontario communities.

“An agency delivering them should be setting an example to the employers they work with by treating their employees with respect,” Thomas said “We’ll be sitting down with the employer and these employees to make sure their employment conditions are fair.

“I congratulate them for choosing OPSEU. We’re proud of our long track record when it comes to standing up to employers who don’t treat their workers with the respect they deserve.

For Mr. Thomas, it is possible to treat workers, who are employees (who subordinate their will to management as representatives of employers) in a fair manner. Mr. Thomas, like other social democrats, it is fair that, on the one hand, a class of employers exist and that a class of workers exist who must submit their will to the class of employers; such fairness, however, only arises for Mr. Thomas if this relation is embodied in a “free collective agreement.”

What does Mr. Thomas have to say about management rights? Nothing. He never once addresses the issue. He assumes that management has the right to dictate to workers as it see fits provided that a collective agreement has been obtained through “free collective bargaining.” Or perhaps he shares the same attitude towards collective bargaining and collective agreements as John Urkevich, former business agent to a union to which I belonged (AESES, or The Association of Employees Supporting Education ). I will quote from that post (see Comments from John Urkevich, AESES-UM Business Agent, to my Critique of the Grievance and Arbitration Procedure: Letter to the Editor, Inside The Association of Employees Supporting Educational Services (AESES), Vol. 17, No. 4, May 1994). First. Mr. Urkevich:

After all the employer only has control over the how, what, and when, it does not have the right to treat employees in an unjust or undignified manner. Employees are not chattel.

I respond in my post to the above: 

This last sentence likely sums up the attitude of many union representatives. No, employees are not chattel, that is to say, they are not slaves, owned 24 hours a day. They are not required to work for a particular employer. No one forces them to work for a particular employer.

However, just as with the manipulative use of the word “if” above, Mr. Urkevitch uses the word “only” in order to minimize the importance of how much power management has over the lives of even unionized workers: “the employer only [my emphasis] has control over the how, what, and when….”

Mr. Urkevitch evidently does not think that “control over the how, what, and when” is “unjust or undignified.”

I do. (See above, referring to Kant and the money circuit of capital). Employers, by controlling “the how, what, and when”–control the lives of workers, which is undignified and unjust.

Union representatives, like Mr. Urkevich, however, obviously believe that it is just. They believe in the justice of the collective agreement, where “the employer only has control over the how, what, and when.”

Union representatives imply, often enough, that there is somehow something fair about collective agreements. No one seems to challenge them to explain what they mean by fair collective agreements.

I then quoted a statement from Mr. Thomas about fair contracts–and my post was dated Auguste 17, 2018, referring to a published item on May 24, 2018, that contained Mr. Thomas’ reference to union members getting a “fair contract.”

The radical left here in Toronto, for the most part, though, do not engage in any systematic criticism of the limitations of unions. Rather, they fall over themselves in trying to accommodate their own positions to the limitations of union reps in order to gain a “hearing” from the union reps. Their silence over the issue of management rights, for example, expresses their own limitations. 

But then again, Mr. Thomas now does the same thing with respect to Doug Ford, Conservative premier of Ontario. Perhaps he now does so because it had been confirmed that Ford will now permit paid sick days for essential workers who need to stay home because of posible exposure to the virus—something which the labour movement, community organizations and unions have been calling for for some time. That Ford recently tried to institute more police powers (see the previous post)–his apology notwithstanding since many police departments simply refused to comply with such expanded powers–is now forgiven and forgotten–as the many, many oppressive acts of his government over the last three years–all for the sake of paid sick days.

Is there really any wonder why the so-called left is in shambles? From being a critic of Ford to apologizing for Ford, Mr. Thomas is a good example of the real nature of not only union leadership in Canada but also the left in Canada. Mr. Thomas, like so many among the left, ultimately believe that the class power of employers is somehow fair. 

What do you think? 

Smokey Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU)–A Good Example of the Real Attitude of Many Union Leaders Towards the Ruling Class

A few days ago, on April 17, 2021, Warren “Smokey” Thomas, the president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), wrote the following(https://opseu.org/news/a-statement-from-opseu-sefpo-president-warren-smokey-thomas/120559/). The immediate background is that Doug Ford is the premier (head) of the Ontario government (Ontario is the province with the largest population in Canada). My comments are within the square brackets]:

Chaos is the last thing we need [The government waited to hospitals would fill up as predicted by models–and then reacted when they filled up. It permitted restaurants to open up outdoors and then ordered them close within a couple of weeks. It permits schools to remain open. It has resisted a movement to provide paid sick days for workers despite such a recommendation by the medical field. And so forth. Of course, all this is without mentioning the health cuts before the pandemic–by the same government). 

Cornwall.  Peterborough. Guelph. Ottawa. Niagara. Peel. Toronto. And now police forces right across the province are refusing to make use of the new powers authorized by the Ontario government yesterday. And with good reason; randomly stopping citizens and ticketing those who don’t comply won’t stop the COVID-19 pandemic. [The Ford government responded to the third wave of the pandemic by granting expanded powers to the police, including enabling them to question why a person is outside and to provide their home address. There was a backlash against the expansion of such powers, but to what extent Ford changed his mind due to citizen backlash or police backlash remains unclear. Even the police objected to granting them such powers–and responsibility; several police forces in the province indicated that they would not be actively enforcing the law.] These measures could lead to racialized, homeless and vulnerable communities already disproportionately impacted from this virus to now be living in fear and apprehension. What’s now labelled as the back of napkin efforts of a government furiously trying to stop the spread of the virus are leading to ineffective measures and chaos. And chaos is the last thing we need.

Ontarians don’t know who to trust on the issue of COVID-19. No matter where we look, there is conflicting information about masks, about safety, about vaccines. They are confused by the lockdowns, followed by the easing of restrictions, followed by more lockdowns. Businesses are mandated to close, then opened next month, then closed again the next week. The economy is teetering on the brink of the next announcement. And Ontarians are left feeling insecure and unsafe.

When the police refuse to follow the instructions of the government, we have the beginnings of civil unrest. [Mr. Thomas is evidently afraid of civil unrest. Civil unrest for him is something purely negative.] We are already seeing parents tearing down yellow tape to get into playgrounds and visiting elderly family members despite orders.  It’s been more than a year of announcements that don’t fully work and measures that only temporarily curb the pandemic or protect the public.

As the leader of Ontario’s public service union, I am most concerned with public safety. Thousands of OPSEU/SEFPO members have been in the front lines of this pandemic, risking life and limb for the protection and safety of all Ontarians. To protect them, and the rest of us, we need a return to public trust and measures that work.

I am also concerned with how politicized the issue has become. There is no easy answer to ending the pandemic. If there were, surely we would see evidence around the world, not just in a few select places. If we are to get through this, we are going to have to rely on a few things, starting with available vaccines into as many arms as possible, regardless of the name on the label. 

We are going to need capacity, both in terms of infrastructure and skilled, trained human resources.

We need treatment options for early onset symptoms for high-risk individuals.

Education, not enforcement, will see us through.

And we need collaboration.

Accusing the Premier of being uncaring, callous and more concerned with finances than health is simply dishonest.

I have come to know the Premier. I know he is distraught. I know he cares. I know he is working around the clock. The burden of leadership, whether he signed up for it or not, weighs heavy in life or death decisions. Armchair quarterbacking is far cozier.

Stop lobbing rhetorical bombs, end the name calling and hostility. Now is not the time for posturing along party lines that has been so front and centre.

We must come together now. [My daughter, Francsesca, calls the idea of “We’re all in this together”–bullshit.]

I am calling on the Premier to share the burden, widen the tent and bring all voices into a room where egos can be checked at the door for the good of Ontario. [We are, after all, all Ontarians if not Canadians. That despite the class power of employers in Ontario and Canada. That in spite of the fact that Mr. Ford is himself a capitalist employer.] Let’s hash it out; determine a course, develop a narrative everyone can trust and understand. And finally let’s implement it once and for all.

With nearly 4,500 new cases of COVID-19 reported in Ontario today, it’s clear that the answers must come quickly. Real answers from leaders who care more about people than their own futures. [Yes, real leaders–not the pseudo-leader called Warren “Smokey” Thomas.]

OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren (Smokey) Thomas

For more information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931; OPSEUCommunications@opseu.org

The above expresses the ideology of “We’re all in it together.” This is the real nature of trade union leaders–not the rhetoric (bullshit) that they often express to their members.

I quoted Mr. Thomas in another post, this time dated November 27, 2018. In that quote, it is the rhetoric (bullshit) that is expressed. I invite the reader to contrast the two quotes. All bolded words in the text are my emphases:

Ford in bed with business, won’t save good GM jobs

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas in the Queen's Park media gallery.
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Toronto – OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas says Doug Ford has indeed made Ontario “open for business” … to trample all over workers and kill good jobs.

Shrugging his shoulders at GM’s callous plan to shutter a state-of-the-art Oshawa plant next year is yet another sign that Ford has no clue how to manage the province, Thomas said. He could care less that thousands of hard-working people will end up losing their jobs.

“This premier is in bed with business and this is how business behaves. Always putting profits ahead of people,” said Thomas. “Ford couldn’t organize a two-float parade, let alone run the province.  We need leadership that will stand up for working people.”

GM is a successful company that has already posted $6 billion in profits so far this year, Thomas noted.

“Ontario was there in 2009 when GM needed a multibillion-dollar lifeline from taxpayers. Now it’s turning its back on the people and Ford isn’t lifting a finger to stop it,” he said.

Contrast that with the premier’s red-faced fury a few months ago when he vowed to do whatever it took – including invoking the notwithstanding clause – to settle a score with Toronto city council, said OPSEU First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida.

“This is the bully who threatened to suspend constitutional rights to slash city hall and get even with his critics,” he said. “But when GM tells him they’re going to close shop and throw thousands of people out of work, he just rolls over. What are his priorities?”

With the Conservative government in shambles over its disastrous decision to scrap the office of Ontario’s French-language Commissioner and abuse-of-power scandals breaking almost daily, it’s clear that Ford’s incompetence is dragging Ontario down.

“He can’t run a party, never mind the province,” Thomas said. “At least Ontario has strong unions who stand united to fight for good jobs, even if the premier won’t.”

For more information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931

Which is the real Warren “Smokey” Thomas?

Defense of Arrested Picketers is Vital–But Not the Idealization of Collective Bargaining, Collective Agreements and Strikes

On January 20, 2020, Jerry Dias, president of a large private-sector union in Canada, and others–were arrested in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Despite my criticism of Mr. Dias on this blog, in this instance he and others deserve support–as do the workers who are on the picket line in that city.

I am copying the details below from the Rank-and-File website–but I also have a criticism of how Rank-and-File used the situation to support an ideology of fairness if there were anti-scab legislation to prevent the situation from arising in the first place:

In a move that shocked trade unionists across the country, the Regina Police Service arrested Unifor National President Jerry Dias and thirteen other Unifor members at Gate 7 of Regina’s Co-op Refinery Complex on Monday, January 20, 2020.  About 730 refinery workers, members of Local 594, have been locked out for the past 49 days for trying to save their current Defined Benefit pension plan.

Earlier that day, Dias announced Unifor would blockade the refinery gates, challenging a court injunction which ruled workers could only delay vehicles entering and leaving the refinery by 10 minutes. The union argues this injunction interferes with workers’ constitutional right to picket.

“Let’s just say in 2019 – and so far 2020 – we’ve had enough injunctions that we could probably wallpaper a concert hall,” Dias tells RankandFile.ca. “The simple reality is that Unifor is very different than other unions. The fines, the police, the court decisions are not going to prevent us from winning justice for our members. It isn’t any more complicated than that.”

The night prior to the Unifor arrests, around 500 Unifor members from across Canada flew in to help bolster the picket lines. Because of this, Dias asserted that Unifor – not Local 594 – was blockading the refinery, and therefore not breaking the injunction leveled against Local 594.

However, the Co-op Refinery disagreed, calling the blockade “illegal” and a “bullying tactic.”

The Regina Leader-Post also reported that trucking companies lobbied the government and police to intervene the morning of the crackdown:

“C.S. Day Transport president Heather Day sent a letter Monday morning to RPS Chief Evan Bray, as well as Premier Scott Moe, Labour Minister Don Morgan, Corrections and Policing Minister Christine Tell, Mayor Michael Fougere and Regina city councillors.”

“RPS is failing to enforce the court order and other laws and bylaws by ‘not choosing sides.’ Does the presence of a labour dispute mean that laws no longer need to be followed or enforced?” she asked.”

Regina Police Chief Evan Bray stated this letter did not influence his decision to intervene.

Following Dias’ arrest around 5 PM, the Regina Police Service continued a protracted attempt to break Unifor’s blockade, bringing in several tow trucks – two belonging to the City of Regina – and a front-end loader to remove vehicles Unifor had parked as part of their blockade. Bray says about 50 police officers were deployed.

Unifor members responded by climbing in and on top of the union’s vehicles to prevent them from being towed, letting air out of the tires, or removing tires altogether. At one point, an RPS officer took control of one of Unifor’s U-Haul trucks and attempted to drive it away, hitting a worker who was then arrested by other officers. RPS also threatened to use tear gas, but the union was able to talk to the police and deescalate. The police withdrew around 11 PM and the blockade remained intact. The workers arrested throughout the night were charged with mischief.

“We don’t see the police getting involved very aggressively very often anymore,” says Charles Smith, co-author of Unions in Court: Organized Labour and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. “It was much more common in the post-war period in the 50s and 60s. We don’t see it as much anymore – which is why it’s in some ways so shocking.”

Instead of jail time, courts often level major fines against unions for breaking laws or injunctions. For example, Prime Minister Trudeau legislated the Canadian Union of Postal Worker’s back to work in 2018. This broke the union’s rotating strikes under threat of $1,000 – $50,000 fines a day for individual workers and $100,000 a day for the union if found in contravention of the act. These fines are significant enough to deter union leadership from breaking the law, even if it weakens the union’s position at the bargaining table.

Unifor 594 has been fined $100,000 for breaking the injunction.

“You know, if you want to win these battles, sometimes you’re going to have to pay a bit of fines,” Unifor 594 President Kevin Bittman explains to RankandFile.ca. “Because really, if you’re going to just stand out here and walk back and forth, you’re probably not going to win it against somebody that’s willing to spend a billion dollars just to try and break you.”

Smith argues Co-op’s injunction escalated tensions on the line because it took away the workers’ key bargaining chip – putting economic pressure on the employer by withholding their labour.

“There’s no way we can call it an equal struggle,” he states. “Now imagine if we had anti-scab legislation, which meant the employer couldn’t use replacement workers. Then it becomes much more of a fair fight, but of course we’re not willing to have that sort of negotiation in Saskatchewan, because the government isn’t interested in evening the playing field.” [my emphasis] 

“Because we have this situation where employers can weaken lines through these legal instruments,  why would we be surprised that tensions ramp up like this?” Smith continues. “It easily could have not happened, we easily could have avoided this had there been some sort of semblance of fairness by the employer or the state.”

SOLIDARITY RALLY HIGHLIGHTS NEED FOR WORKING CLASS UNITY

Unifor 594 President Kevin Bittman speaks at Wednesday’s solidarity rally.

Following Monday’s arrests, labour unions across the country condemned the police intervention and called for Co-op to return to the bargaining table.

Notably, Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff flew in for a solidarity rally on January 22, alongside CUPE National President Mark Hancock, OPSEU President Warren “Smokey” Thomas and Seafarers’ International Union President James Given. Canadian Federation of Nurses’ Unions President Linda Silas and Saskatchewan Federation of Labour President Lori Johb were also present.

Representing Unifor was Local 594 President Kevin Bittman and National Secretary Treasurer Lana Payne. Dias was barred from the picket line, a condition of his release. Payne told the crowd Dias faces a two year prison sentence if he returned to the refinery.

“You cannot allow an employer, whether it’s a government, or private business to be allowed to destroy workers hopes and dreams to build a better life,” Yussuff tells RankandFile.ca. “I’m here to show solidarity with these workers – regardless of course of anything else – and to make sure they know the entire labour movement is with them to ensure they can get a fair settlement to resolve this dispute.” [my emphasis] 

In 2018, Unifor disaffiliated from the CLC following an attempted raid of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113. Unifor and the CLC disagreed over the interpretation of Article 4 of the CLC constitution. According to Larry Savage, Article 4 “governs the disputes between affiliates and provides a pathway for workers to switch unions.”

The disaffiliation created tension between Unifor and the broader labour movement, impacting organizing & resource distribution all the way down to the labour councils. Given this history, Yussuff’s presence at the Unifor picket line is significant.

“I think this should remind us all we’re stronger together. When we’re together, we’re a stronger movement, because we need each other,” he continues. “Without that, of course, any employer or government could take advantage of us. This again demonstrates why we need solidarity and to build together to build the entire labour movement in this country.”

CUPE National President Mark Hancock not only showed up to Wednesday’s rally, but actively intervened in de-escalating Monday night’s police crackdown. The police had brought two City of Regina tow trucks and a front-end loader operated by CUPE members. Hancock let his members know they had the right refuse unsafe work, which they did, leaving Gate 7.

“We all have our differences,” Hancock tells RankandFile.ca. “Every union is different…they all bring different things to the Canadian Labour Congress…and sometimes, you know, we have our disagreements, we have our fights – and that’s okay. But when it comes to workers, being treated the way that these workers are, the attack on their pensions, the labour movement needs to be united. Whether it’s Unifor, whether it’s OPSEU, whether it’s CUPE, we all need to support each other – and that’s why CUPE is here.”

President of the Seafarer’s International Union James Given said SIU would donate $10,000 to Unifor, and challenged all other unions present to do the same.

“If they wanted a fight, if they’re looking for a fight, they’ve got themselves a fight” Given said about Co-op at the rally, “…11.5 million union members are now focused on Regina.”

Shobna Radons, President of the Regina and District Labour Council, believes it is important to remember this dispute is about real people.

“One of the things that’s just amazing to me is coming out and spending time with folks on the line and talking with real people,” she tells RankandFile.ca. “Everyone knows there’s been a disaffiliation of Unifor and that affects us even at the municipal level and the labour councils. It’s pretty powerful having [Yussuff] here supporting workers, the fact that we can put our differences aside and fight the fight.”

Bittman is thankful for the support, and emphasizes the outcome of this pension fight with the Co-op impacts workers across the country, not just his members.

“It just keeps building and building, every day there’s more people on the lines, there’s more unions coming out to support, everybody knows what’s at stake here,” he says. ”This is just old fashioned union busting and we’re not going to let it happen. If you can let a company that’s making 2.5 billion dollars over 3 years take away pensions, it’s really okay for companies to take anybody’s pension away. This is a stand that we’ve got to put down and say it’s not okay.“

The call for solidarity is indeed welcome. Anti-scab legislation, furthermore, is certainly preferable to a lack of such legislation. However, alongside this call in the article for such legislation, it is argued that anti-scab legislation can somehow magically transform the struggle between the working class and the class of employers into “an equal struggle,” that anti-scab legislation can miraculously transform such struggles into a “much more fair fight,” thereby “evening the playing field,” leading to a “fair settlement?”

Is there evidence that any collective agreement expresses “a fair settlement?” Is there evidence that anti-scab legislation leads to a much more level playing field between employers and workers?

Anti-scab legislation does exist in two other provinces–Quebec and British Columbia (see “A Federal Anti-Scab Law for Canada? The Debate over Bill C-257,” Larry Savage and Joseph Butovsky, 2009, in Just Labour: A Canadian Journal of Work and Society , Volume 13 , Spring 2009). Such legislation does not prevent the economic power of employers from taking precedence; therefore, such legislation does not by any means tip the relation between unionized members and their employers in such a way that they are equals (page 20):

Unions are not interested in negotiating an employer out of business. For that reason, economic conditions rather than the presence of anti-scab laws, continue to dictate the tone and content of negotiated agreement.2 … anti-scab laws may provide modest improvement in settlements…

Furthermore, as shown on this blog, collective agreements in Quebec and British Columbia express, implicitly and often explicitly, the power of management (a minority) to dictate to workers (a majority) in a particular firm or state organization (see Management Rights, Part One: Private Sector Collective Agreement, British Columbia,  Management Rights, Part Six: Public Sector Collective Agreement, British Columbia  and Management Rights, Part Seven: Public Sector Collective Agreement, Quebec).

The social-democratic left, it can be seen, must idealize legislation and  the collective-bargaining regime because, if they did not, they would then have to openly recognize that the working class can never possess equal power to the power of employers as long as the economic power of employers as a class is not challenged as such (and not just the particular powers of particular employers).

(I will critique Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff’s views in another post when I review Jane McAlevey’s book A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy.) 

What has been the response of some leftists here in Toronto? If the response by the Steering Committee of the Socialist Project is any indication, then there is obviously condemnation of the arrests, but the Steering Committee then makes a vague criticism of the rule of law:

While the employer crows on about how wonderful the “rule of law” is – a trumped-up law that prevents workers from protecting their futures and jobs – Unifor Secretary-Treasurer Lana Payne commented, “[t]his will not be settled in the courts. This will not be settled by police. We’re holding the line. I don’t know how much more clear I can be.”

The Socialist Project stands in support and solidarity with the members of Unifor 594 and the union’s national leadership in this struggle. We support the union’s demands for an end to the prosecution of workers exercising their right to picket, removal of the trumped-up charges and injunctions, stopping the use of scabs and demand that Co-op return to the bargaining table and withdraw their efforts to change workers’ pensions. •

Reference to the “rule of law” in quotation marks, I assume, uses the quotation marks as “scare quotes.” But what is the Steering Commitee’s position on the rule of law? Silence. (See, by contrast, the posts Socialism, Police and the Government or State, Part One). What is the Steering Commitee’s position on the idea that collective bargaining is a fair process and that the collective agreement is a fair contract? That unionized workers have a “decent job” because of the existence of a collective agreement? What is the Steering Committee’s position on the implicit or explicit management rights clause that exists in collective agreements?

Such is the left in Toronto these days. Is there any wonder that there is a rightward drift of workers when the left simply ignores such issues?

 

Management Rights and the Crisis in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada: Limitations of the Reformist Left, Part Two

In an earlier post, I questioned the Socialist Project’s characterization of the problem that workers in Oshawa face (Management Rights and the Crisis in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada: Limitations of the Reformist Left, Part One).   I also, implicitly, questioned their proposed solutions.  In this post, I will question their proposed solutions explicitly.

The Committee then proposes some things to be done to resolve the problem:

What’s needed are efforts to provide challenging education programs about the potential for workers to demand that the facilities in which they work produce environmentally responsible products, publicly owned, and not dependent on the whims of the fickle and brutally competitive consumer private vehicle market. Without a leadership that points the way forward and questions the hyper-competitive private marketplace workers remain dependent on corporate employers and look to them to provide for their future.

The demand for educational programs ought to shift workers’ consciousness to production that: 1. changes what is produced (environmentally unfriendly private vehicles vs. environmentally friendly vehicles); 2. and for what purpose (competitive and, implicitly, for profit rather than for need).

This demand is unlikely to have much immediate impact at Oshawa. To have an impact it would have been necessary to develop educational programs that call into question various aspects of the capitalist economy, both at the micro level of the plant and at the macro level of the structure of production and exchange. Has such an educational program been developed? Judging from my own experience in an educational program developed by Herman Rosenfeld, Jordan House and me and presented mainly to airport workers at Toronto Pearson airport, such an educational program has had severe limitations placed on it.

Firstly, we did not have many opportunities to provide educational course for such workers. In fact, after we presented three times, we did not present again for around two years.

Secondly, of those three times, only once did we present a critical macro approach, with three sections on the capitalist class, the working class and the capitalist state. The other two times, these sections were eliminated. Herman and Jordan did present to the airport afterwards–probably without the critical macro aspect.

Thus, to have an impact, there would have had to exist many educational opportunities for the workers, and the content of the courses would have had to include a critical approach at both the micro and macro level. Since there has not been such opportunities, a call for such a modified educational program at this stage is wishful thinking. It is highly unlikely to occur.

This leads into the last part of the article. The Committee demands the following:

Political Struggle, Community Control

The Socialist Project supports serious efforts by the union and the membership to organize collective actions that challenge GM’s decision and calls for new products to be allocated to Oshawa.

We also call for the union to build a movement inside Local 222, the surrounding community and across the union movement and the Canadian working class, to:

  • Pressure governments to ensure the survival of the productive facilities in Oshawa by taking ownership, after a community seizure of the plant. Productive facilities, like what remains of GM Oshawa were paid for by the community need to be owned and further developed by the community. The federal government didn’t hesitate to take ownership of the Trans Mountain pipeline project, and there is an historical precedent for the conversion of auto production during World War II to needed war materials.

  • Along with the workers and their surrounding communities, come up with a plan to produce needed mass transit equipment and other environmentally and socially necessary products. It would require and could lead to new capacities for research, development, production and distribution, that could create jobs, help stem the tide of climate change and foster the growth of a challenge to neoliberal capitalism.

  • Investment can be provided by a publicly owned municipal, provincial or federal development bank. More could be provided by taxing the assets of banks or other private investment institutions. •

It is of course necessary to try to address the immediate decision of GM to close the plant. A call for community seizure of the plant may be immediately needed to prevent GM from carrying out its plans. However, this is mixed up with the call for the federal government to take over ownership. Why would there not be a call for ownership to be located at the community level after the seizure? Why this shift to ownership by the federal government? Would it not be more democratic if the community owned the plant and workers made decisions within a framework provided by the community? Would not a community board of directors, with representatives from various community organizations being the ultimate owner, be more democratic than ownership by the federal government? (Tony Smith, in his book Globalisation: A Systematic Marxian Account) argues for such community ownership and organization, with workers having the right of use of the facilities owned by the community.)

The federal government may be needed to prevent GM from taking away the physical assets and accounts of the plant; it may also be needed in various ways to support the community. However, since the federal government is unlikely to be democratic in structure if it owned the plant. Workers would still be treated as things since the federal government would be the employer. Undoubtedly, given the macro environment of a capitalist economy dominated by employers, community organization would also tend in that direction. However, there would be less of tendency in that direction than would be the case if the federal government owned the plant.

In relation to the second point–a plan for democratically producing environmentally-friendly output, the emphasis seems to be more on the kind of output rather than the kinds of relations between human beings at work. Admittedly, creating environmentally-friendly vehicles does express a positive relation between individuals, but this relation would be between the set of workers producing the environmentally-friendly objects and other workers and institutions who buy the vehicles.

What should have been included is a characterization of the preferred internal relations between workers–democratic–and how such a form could at least have been begun (although hardly achieved since the Oshawa plant would exist in a sea of capitalist relations of production and exchange).

The two bulleted points, with the suggested modifications, will however very unlikely be realized; GM will in all likelihood be closed down, with the Oshawa workers and community experiencing the immediate brunt of the shut down. What would have been required was persistent preparation of both the community and the workers (of course, not exclusionary since Oshawa workers can also be inhabitants of Oshawa) for a democratic takeover of the plant through a criticism of the employer-employee relation as such. Given the lack of such criticism, workers are likely unprepared ideologically and psychologically  (in terms of their attitude towards what needs to be done and what goals to pursue) for a democratic break with the structure of capitalist production and exchange.

An example of the inadequate preparation of workers: I heard Chris Buckley, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, give a speech at a rally in support of striking airport workers in 2017. He used several times the term “decent job” and “decent work”–by which he meant a job subject to a collective agreement. The social-reformist and radical left did not question him anymore than they questioned Tracy McMaster, president of Greater Toronto Area Council, to which are affiliated 35 local unions of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU)), who also referred to “decent work” and “fair wages.”  They are afraid to alienate union reps and heads, but it is difficult to see how such alienation can be prevented given the acceptance of the power of employers as a class by such reps and heads of unions

Coming to the final point of the article is also wishful thinking. To create a developmental bank would require a fighting organization–a set of unions that are designed to engage in systematic attacks at the municipal, provincial and federal levels against the power of employers as a class and not the rhetorical flashes of engaging in struggles (see Chris Buckley’s letter to Premier Doug Ford, Letter From OFL President Chris Buckley to Premier Doug Ford Regarding GM Oshawa). The recent indication by Jerry Dias, national president of Unifor, and Warren (Smokey) Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), that they are going to fight Ford’s agenda, will unlikely be sufficient to change the situation in Oshawa   (OPSEU and Unifor Join Forces Against Doug Ford); both accept the premise that collective agreements express a relation of fairness or justice. Expanding alliances across the public and private sector may or may not constitute structural change within unions. If such alliances are merely extensions of the existing union structures, it is unlikely to be an effective fighting force since such structures are not designed to question the legitimacy of the power of employers as a class; they assume the legitimacy of the power of employers as a class and seek only to limit such power–a necessary part of working-class struggle, but hardly sufficient. To become fighting organizations (with purposes that go beyond the limits of the power of employers as a class) and not merely defensive organizations, they need to question the legitimacy of collective agreements while still engaging in collective bargaining as a necessary evil.

We can see this on the OPSEU website for example. The title of one article is  Ford in bed with business, won’t save good GM jobs ; as noted in the first part of the post (see the link to that post above), the logic of this is that before GM announced its decision to close the plant, GM jobs were “good jobs,” but after the announcement, what were they? Bad jobs? The right of employers to close down may be fought on a particular basis, but generally employers as a class have the right to close businesses based on business criteria (generally, profitability in the private sector and public efficiency and political expediency in the public sector). This applies to jobs such as the jobs at GM. To call any job controlled by employers as good, therefore, is contradictory; jobs apparently are both good (when they are not eliminated) and bad (if they can be eliminated).

The article on the OPSEU website has Warren (“Smokey”) Thomas specifically claiming the following: ““At least Ontario has strong unions who stand united to fight for good jobs, even if the premier won’t.” In addition to calling such jobs good (and, by implication bad when they can be eliminated)–in addition to this contradiction–Smokey’s argument ignores how workers at Oshawa are used as means for the benefit of obtaining more and more money by GM (see the  The Money Circuit of Capital, which calls into question any characterization of working for employers as good or decent since workers are necessarily things or means for ends not defined by them but by a class of employers).

We can get an idea of Jerry Dias’ views on “good jobs” from the following article on the Unifor website, entitled   Unifor to hold national ‘Good Jobs Summit’.  Mr. Dias states the following:

“We need elected officials to help chart a path towards a good jobs future,” Dias wrote. “We need to start raising expectations that we can win jobs that pay fair wages, are safe and stable. And we want all workers in Canada to join in.”

Working for an employer, who generally has the legal right to close a factory, a department and so forth without democratic control by those effected by the decision, is somehow still a “good job.” It somehow results in fair wages (whereas wages, in the private sector, result from previous surpluses produced by workers and therefore are used to further exploit workers. See my post Basic Income: A Critique of the Social-Reformist Left’s Assumptions and Analysis: Part Two , criticizing David Bush’s one-sided analysis of capitalist relations of production and exchange).

The idea that jobs within a capitalist society are somehow safe also is questionable, as a number of posts have tried to make clear (Confessions of a Union Representative Concerning the Real Power of EmployersUnions and Safety on Jobs Controlled by EmployersGetting Away with Murder and Bodily Assault: Employers and the Law).

As for stable jobs: Where does Mr. Dias question management rights clauses in collective agreements, which implicitly or explicitly express the right of employers to reduce the number of positions or close factories or departments? That unions can and have limited such a right is certainly preferable to letting management have carte blanche, but limitations on that right hardly involve stability–as the Oshawa workers have experienced first hand. In any case, in a system characterized by capitalist accumulation, where a minority make decisions about what to invest, where to invest, when to invest and so forth, stability is possible for awhile but subject to constant disruption as investors seek new profits and new means to accumulation across the globe. Stability was possible after the Second World War, for instance, for some time because of the substantial destruction of means of production during the Second World War, the opening up of new areas for investment, the expansion of demand for workers and relative increases in wages. Given that a global war is hardly in the workers’ best interests, it is likely that more and more workers will be subject to increasingly precarious jobs until a global slump much wider and deeper than the one in 2007-2008 reduces the value of many means of production, leading to a vast upsurge in unemployment–in either case hardly a stable future.

So, the alliance of a public-sector union and a private-sector union is unlikely to provide the basis for the realization of the third point in the Socialist Project’s Steering Committee: neither the emergence of a development bank at the municipal, provincial or federal level, nor taxing the banks and other investment institutions is likely to be realized in the near future. (It is to be wondered why taxing is limited only to investment institutions and excludes taxing corporations involved in production. But that only in passing.)

The article fails to address the issue of preparing workers to develop a working-class attitude that would be conducive to engage in action that reflects an understanding of their class interests. It may or may not be too late to engage the workers at the Oshawa plant with such an approach, but such an approach should have been started long ago in order to address democratically the power of this particular employer to exert its class right to determine what to do with the means of production.

As it stands, there will probably be knee-jerk reactions to an immediate crisis–which is a typical response of an approach that fails to take into account the class nature of working for an employer but rather assumes that there are such things, within the confines of the employer-employee relation, as “good or decent jobs,” “fair wages,” “a fair contract,” “economic justice” (given collective agreements), “fairness,” “Fair Labour Laws Make Work Safe” and other such half-truths and platitudes. Perhaps the workers in Oshawa will learn the hard way this lesson, but it is more likely to do so if a critical working-class organization exists which questions such half-truths and platitudes and enables workers to understand their own experiences in a wider social context.