Saturday, May 19, 2007

Calgary alderman wants union strike power banned

With a transit walkout looming, a Calgary alderman wants the province to look at eliminating unions' right to strike unless workers' safety is in jeopardy.

Ald. Craig Burrows said the necessity of allowing workers to strike has outlived its usefulness and only creates a confrontational atmosphere around labour negotiations, a prime example being the city's current impasse with the transit union.

"The days of unions having strikes doesn't make sense any more -- you shouldn't have the right to strike just because you want more money," he said.

"I'm not saying let's abolish unions -- what I am saying is let's abolish strikes if it has nothing to do with workers' safety."

Which would in one stroke, heavily radicalize previously relatively content workers and make the strikes - which to be clear, would still happen illegal. Such a law would not make strikes cease to exist, just vastly increase the odds that they would descend into bloodshed.

This is the province, where two years ago a manager at a meatpacking plant deliberately drove a union official off the road. A plant where people were, among other things, striking for a first contract to get break times so that they didn't have to piss themselves at their work-stations.

This is a province where a corporate CEO deliberately encouraged conflict on the streets by organizing a rally of scabs against a rally of locked out workers - to the horror of watching city police.

This is the province, one of the few places in the world, where farm workers are legally prohibited from even trying to form a union - and not surprisingly are exploited, frequently injured, and even murdered by their bosses.

Does this sound like a place where unions are no longer needed? Where their power should be diminished rather than strengthened?

Just as outlawing abortion would simply make the abortions that would continue to take place illegal and dangerous - outlawing strikes would simply make the strikes that would continue to happen illegal and dangerous.

That an elected civic official does not comprehend such elementary social arithmetic is deeply troubling.


Another factor Alderman Burrows has clearly not considered, is that all industries under federal labor law would continue to have their strike rights, even in the hopefully brief period before the courts returned them to provincially regulated employees.

So if Burrow's deeply ill-considered idea ever actually became law, was enacted, and survived the inevitable court challenges, it would simply create first and second class citizens in Alberta.

Employees would have legal strike rights if they worked in telecommunications, railway or federal public service among others.

Everyone else would be facing jail for picking up a picket sign.

Alderman does the term 'recipe for chaos' mean anything to you?

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