Summer 2022

NORTHERN LIGHT: Canadian Labour Unions

They're getting more and more attention. 

The British Columbia New Democratic Party government passed new card check certification marking a major win for workers and labour.  Under the new rules workers organizing to form a union will not have to win a secret ballot election to get certified. 55% of workers signing cards will do it. 

This happened four years after the NDP labour code reforms fell short of implementing card check. What changed?  

A new mandate and a majority government for John Horgan’s BC NDP. Elections matter, and any variation of the NDP is better for workers than Tories or Liberals, and in BC’s case the Greens as well.

Of course, elections are not everything. Just like card check, electoral victories get us nowhere without organizing plans and resources after the fact.  

SEIU and ACORN have been partnering to lay groundwork for organizing service workers in BC. It’s been preliminary field research and staff training up until now.  Not surprisingly, it’s largely ACORN doing the grunt work and not the brain work, but don’t be surprised to see the Service Employees take card check and run with it. Whatever they decide to do, they know ACORN will be there to help! 

District 3 of the United Steelworker’s had won a few elections at Starbucks in Western Canada over the last year, part of a larger wave of organizing workers at the coffee giant across North America. With new District 3 Director Scott Lunny at the helm, it will be interesting to see if they pull together a plan and resources to take advantage of card check, scale up their organizing and take the lead in organizing Starbucks workers in Canada. 

In Ontario the narrative around the resounding Progressive Conservative election win in early June also had to do with union jobs. No, the conservatives are not bringing back card check to Ontario.  They are, to the delight of some trade unions, promising billions in investment in infrastructure and development, mostly through an expansion of highways. The mantra of “yes to jobs” seemingly paved the way for Doug Ford, the brother of the now deceased crack-smoking mayor of Toronto, to win his second straight majority government in Canada’s largest province. 

While the second place NDP and the distant third place Liberals ran lackluster campaigns, it was both fascinating and depressing to watch Doug Ford actively and at least somewhat successfully court labour's vote. The polarization around the construction of a new (and entirely needless) highway in the Greater Toronto Area was illustrative of the campaign as a whole.  Ford was promising jobs and prosperity while the NDP, Liberals, and Greens all campaigned around saving the Green Belt - land around Toronto protected from development - and stopping the highway. Pile on Ford's license plate sticker refunds (I got my $200 a week or two before the election, and his promise to end gridlock, and the trap was set that the NDP and Liberals were not agile enough to avoid. 

Several construction trade unions supported Ford, but arguably it was union members that Ford won. They picked up seats in working class ridings at the expense of the NDP. 

Ford’s avoidance of an adversarial relationship with unions, like his predecessors Mike Harris, evolved into a more amiable relationship with them and won the day.  He did this by pitting construction and private sector trades-based unions against the ‘bloated’ public sector. In his first mandate Ford restricted the right of female dominated public sector unions from bargaining more than 1% compensation increases.

Overall Ford’s peace with the Ontario labour was insincere but successful.  It may indicate that labour power is on the rise with all parties courting their support. Or maybe it shows labour’s weakness: that member density is in decline, they are unable to get their membership to vote the way they want them to, and unable to get the NDP to run a campaign that is attractive to their membership. 

One thing is for sure though. Labour needs to seize the opportunity in BC, because what Ford is offering in Ontario is a highway to nowhere.

John Anderson is the Field Director for ACORN Canada. Since 2004 John has helped to develop the ACORN Canada operations in Toronto, Ontario, and British Columbia. He is a graduate of the University of Winnipeg.

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