Tuesday, March 13, 2012

When March Break Trumps Democracy; The Harper Government and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Government’s move to prevent Air Canada employees from going on a legal strike, in part because it might interfere with March Break, most recent example of disregard for democracy, even our Constitution.

By Larry Brown
National Secretary-Treasurer
National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE)

Ottawa (13 March 2012) - Evidence is mounting every day that the Harper government is contemptuous of democracy; they are not just undemocratic, they are actively anti-democratic.

Democracy is not just the right to vote in an election every four years. Real democracy includes the right to dissent, the right to have and express different opinions, the right to protection against unjust laws, and respect for the checks and balances of our parliamentary system.

And real democracy includes the right of unionized workers to defend and protect their rights in the workplace without government interference. Employer oriented back to work legislation at the drop of a hat is fundamentally undemocratic.

The government’s move to prevent Air Canada employees from going on a legal strike, in part because it might interfere with March Break, is the most recent example of this disregard for democracy, even our Constitution.

It’s not the only example, of course. For one thing, democracy requires at least some assurance that our government is not flat out lying to us. How do you tell when a Conservative Minister is lying? When their lips are moving.

This government’s contempt for Parliament should make every Canadian who believes in democracy very worried.

Democracy requires that governments themselves respect the law, and respect our Constitution. The Harper government does not respect either.

Respect for the courts? When a court said their Wheat Board legislation was invalid, they shrugged the decision off and proceeded. Their contempt for the legal system in that case was chilling.

But the Harper reign involves more than just a lack of respect for the courts. This government has no respect for Canada’s very Constitution.

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that the right to unionization and the right to collective bargaining is part of Canada’s Constitution. Another court has ruled that the right to strike is an essential element of the right to collective bargaining, and can’t be lightly taken away. In other words, courts in Canada have ruled that the Constitution itself guarantees Canadians the right to unionize, the right to bargain collectively, and the right to strike, which cannot be taken away without giving unions some other fair way to resolve the dispute.

Both the Supreme Court and the United Nations have ruled that the right to real collective bargaining is an important human right.

For the Harper government, March Break is more important than a mere Supreme Court decision, more important than the Constitution, more important than an internationally recognized human right.

In its newest ‘back to work’ Bill, introduced while no one was actually on strike, the Harper Government was true to form. Minister Raitt simply lied about why the Bill was introduced. She claimed the Bill was necessary to protect the economy and prevent passengers from being stranded.

Meanwhile her own Department was saying that these concerns were not based on reality. There are other airlines in Canada, after all, and other means of transportation. The Department said, “An Air Canada work stoppage would induce some passengers and firms to cancel their travel arrangements altogether, while others would opt for alternative airline companies or choose to travel by train.”

Of course the biggest threat to our economy is the growing inequality of incomes and the fact that working people cannot afford to spend enough to keep the economy healthy. Attacking the right to collective bargaining is a funny way to resolve that problem.

The real kicker in all this, though, is that the Minister felt comfortable saying that she was introducing this Bill in part so that families traveling on March Break would not be inconvenienced. In a choice between Canada’s Constitution and the March Break, the Harper government had no hesitation about which to choose.

The legislation itself is another contemptuous pro-employer piece of garbage. Under Stephen Harper, employers can do no wrong.

But at what point do even conservative Canadians realize that undercutting the very foundations of democracy is a very high price to pay for a pleasant March Break?

Larry Brown is the National Secretary-Treasurer of the 340,000 member National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE)

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