Tag Archives: Labour Day

Why I Joined Team Mulcair

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair speaks at a campaign event in Toronto, Aug ...

After years of concern about what a second Harper majority government would do to eradicate the rest of what I love about Canada, I’ve been able to reject fear and embrace change. But it was a long process that required coming to terms with Tom Mulcair. And I did.

And so should you, which is why you should also be able to let go of any urge to vote for the Liberal Party.

As trade unionists we should be voting not only in our interests, but in the interests of the country. The great thing about being in the working class is that those interests are largely aligned.

We should not be fooled into thinking that terrorists are on the verge of blowing up our hallowed hockey arenas and legislatures. That’s Harper’s fear we need to continue rejecting.

We also should not be fooled into thinking that the Occupy Movement was irrelevant. As a political economist, one of my hobbies is to monitor right wing, neoliberal institutions like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

But what I’ve tracked very closely is that all three right wing organizations, and many others, have started insisting that economic inequality is a huge threat to global stability: the core idea in the Occupy Movement.

But how do all these ideas lead to our fall election?

Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are bad for Canada and Canadians.

And the trick has been in how to actually get rid of him, considering how much his party has cheated in and between the last few elections.

A luring notion has been percolating since the 2011 election: some sort of electoral co-operation, if necessary. And why not? Our current first-past-the-post electoral system continues to reward majority governments with absolute power to parties that get less than 50% of the popular vote.

And the big idea was to look to the Liberals and NDP to oust Harper’s Conservatives. The NDP’s Orange Crush brought the party to official opposition status. Jack Layton had just died. Ignatieff drifted back to Harvard and a younger Trudeau emerged as a contender to lead the Liberals into a new era.

And many people examined Mulcair, and found his personality, leadership charisma and appeal lacking. After all, Jack Layton was a beacon of optimism.

The NDP leadership race came down to Cullen, Topp and Mulcair.

Nathan Cullen touted co-operation with the Liberals to save Canada from Harper. Leadnow.ca, the powerful citizen mobilizer group, embraced that goal as well.

Brian Topp had never been elected and was running to become leader of the opposition, which was a stretch despite his history as a campaigner.

Tom Mulcair was successful in helping deliver Quebec, which had already warmed to Jack Layton, and was an experienced.,effective parliamentarian.

I supported Cullen and a co-operative approach, with the hope of achieving electoral reform as well.

But I joined Team Mulcair this past spring. And I had a number of compelling realizations as I changed my mind about how to save Canada, which I present here, chronologically:

  1. The political economist in me was impressed with Mulcair’s ability to litigate and coherently attack Stephen Harper’s anti-Canada agenda during question period in the House of Commons. Justin Trudeau has been largely ineffective in parliament.
  2. Starting in mid-2014, the NDP started releasing its election platform, well over a year before the fixed election date of October 19, 2015. After hearing little from the party about what policies the Mulcair-led policy would champion, I was impressed. There was action on climate change, an inquiry into the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, economic equality policies, treating veterans with dignity, and many more. Meanwhile the Liberals had little to offer that was inspiring at all.
  3. Then, last Spring, Trudeau criticized the NDP for providing parliamentary office space for its staff union, but this nasty turn should not have surprised unions so much. Last decade, the Liberal Party promised to vote for federal anti-scab legislation. Then, they voted against it. The Liberal Party is not the party of unions or working people.
  4. Also last spring, as Mulcair continued to expand his personality and charisma, and win over NDP activist friends of mine who found him more engaging and inspiring than I ever had, the NDP stood strong and voted against the fascist bill C-51. Trudeau voted for it, despite claiming it was bad, but that he’d fix it once in power. In wanting to avoid alienating the right wing of his party, he alienated the many of the rest. This fence-straddling is typical for this party historically. But no more free pass for the party that campaigns from the left and governs from the right. I’m done with that kind of lying.

And by the summer, the Liberals were dropping in most demographics, the NDP was ahead of the Conservatives almost everywhere and voting Liberal anywhere in the country became impotent.

Looking back, the NDP won 103 seats and came second in over 100 ridings in 2011. Trudeau is missing. Mulcair has come into his own. Alberta inspired the whole country by embracing the NDP for change provincially. And Harper has driven our economy, rights and freedoms into the ground.

The NDP are fully capable of ridding us of Harper’s Conservatives for good.

That’s why I joined Team Mulcair. And so should you.

A version of this piece shows up in the Labour Day 2015 issue of Our Times magazine.

Against Collective Forgetting

Workers must do our part to Stop Harper!

Happy Labour Day! 🙂

In Stephen Harper’s Canada, we keep enumerating the things we’re losing: meaningful legislative debate, evidence-based policy, public science, a free and open society, among other things. But what happens if we go too long with a slow erosion of the features that make our society vibrant? What happens if we let the right wing continue to teach us that we shouldn’t expect anything meaningful from government?

What happens if young Canadians grow up without a sense of what used to be the Canadian birthright: Medicare, the CPP, and a free and robust education system, for instance?

Many Americans suffer from this syndrome of unknown unknowns. They may have heard about Canada’s amazing healthcare system, but they don’t really know what they’re missing.

Many Americans have been convinced that some faceless Orwellian bureaucrats from Health Canada constantly interfere with my doctor’s ability to decide if I need liquid nitrogen on my warts, some kind of invasive prostate exam, or cancer treatment.

Ironically, it’s Americans who suffer from faceless Orwellian bureaucrats who work for for-profit health insurance companies, companies that actually do interfere with those decisions. Canadian clinicians make decisions based on health considerations. Period.

But many Americans have been misinformed, which is part of the reason why Michael Moore’s 2007 movie, Sicko, was such a revelation for so many. People simply didn’t know what they didn’t know: healthcare is a human right and can be provided sustainably, without profit-mongering.

But let’s not be so self-righteous as to think that we’ve got it all together. In BC for example, 13 years of Liberal governments have decimated funding for public education, inspiring wealthy parents to seek private school options. That’s stealth privatization.

Now we have a whole generation of students who, compared to previous generations and to most of the rest of Canada, have been educated in a public system starved of investment. They don’t know that it used to be so much better. They have what urban theorist Jane Jacobs called mass amnesia.

LABOUR’S UNKNOWN UNKNOWNS

I continually write about how unions need to more effectively and meaningfully embrace a mindset of social unionism. But one of labour’s unknown unknowns is that too many of our millions of members, and many of our staff, don’t understand our own history: they don’t know that for eight generations unions have played a central role in creating a society with more justice for all. So it is incumbent on us to provide education about why paying union dues is an investment in a better society, not a deduction to be resented.

That need to provide education goes along with labour’s need to more effectively engage our members and help mobilize them to protect union rights in Canada.

HOW THE BROADBENT INSTITUTE HELPS US FILL THE GAP

We’ve also been unaware that we’re missing a particular kind of organization that can support all this work: The emergence of the Broadbent Institute makes that clear.

Despite its namesake, the institute is a non-partisan organization that seeks progressive change because “a majority of Canadians favour progressive policies — and they are looking for new tools to build the Canada we want.”

One of the Broadbent Institute’s key functions is to provide space and convene people so they can develop more effective progressive action — an activity that happens too little in our busy labour organizations, and another necessity we often don’t know we need.

I’ve watched the institute since its inception in 2011, when it first opened its doors in Ottawa. In June of 2014, it launched an event in BC.

The Vancouver inaugural event brought together close to 300 people from progressive groups, unions, political parties and more to connect with each other and to hear from Ana Maria Archila, an inspiring, Colombian-born New York leader of the Center for Popular Democracy, who used community organizing to mobilize immigrant voters in New York.

Archila spoke about how to de-silo our issues and engage with other progressive groups to build movements. I took away three core lessons:

1. We need to meet people where they live, play and gather. We cannot expect them to come to where we are. They don’t. That’s why they haven’t come to us in the past. The key to effective organizing is listening to people’s stories and truths and building from a place of empathy and understanding.

2. Coalition-building means working with people and groups we haven’t worked with in the past, which demands that we get out of our comfort zone.

3. Organizations like unions, with staffing, resources and money, need to better support progressive organizations that are too grassroots to possess these capacities. This is one way we can share and build power.

In talking to people at the Vancouver event, I saw how varied their perspectives are about the roles that the Broadbent Institute can play: It produces research to advance progressive solutions. It has a powerful news and analysis portal, PressProgress.ca, to challenge conservative ideas. And while providing space and convening people, it provides training and focus so we can improve our activist processes and our ability to be intentional in our work.

Ultimately, we didn’t know we needed the Broadbent Institute until it showed up to fill a gap in our work.

This piece first appeared in the Labour Day issue of Our Times labour magazine.

Labour Day 2013: Say Hello to the Pavement!

Happy Labour Day means building solidarity!
Happy Labour Day means building solidarity!

Workers in Canada and around the world have been under assault for decades, but most of our recent tactics to stop the bleeding have been ineffective. Are we lazy, complacent, overworked, obedient, compliant, subdued, afraid, docile, or fully tamed and intimidated by the one per cent?

If we don’t get a lot more of our boots on the pavement, and soon, our union density will continue to decline to an impotent level. Just look at the United States. Union density does not have to be zero for workers there to consistently lose against employers and anti-worker legislators. Density just has to be low enough to dissuade against a meaningful push back.

Here are two examples of just how bad it is getting, in Canada.

In 2012, Labatt’s parent company, Anheuser-Busch, made $9 billion in profit. Not revenue, but profit! That’s a lot of Stella, Becks, Lowenbrau and Blue. Yet, last April, they tried to demand concessions from their workers in Newfoundland and Labrador, because $9 billion was simply, incredibly, not enough money for their shareholders. (A boycott campaign has begun, but it won’t work until thousands or millions take part AND communicate their boycott to retailers and the corporation.)

In Richmond, B.C., on the day before the provincial election in May, and in the media frenzy of that campaign, IKEA locked out its unionized workers, members of Teamsters Local 213, and then began bargaining in reverse: the longer the workers stayed out, the more concessions they would have to eat. Then IKEA was also caught hiring scabs.

The warm and fuzzy Swedish company is calling it a strike because workers can come back in any time. The rhetoric is galling, but we don’t have the luxury of having our sensibilities bruised.

By the way, IKEA’s 2011 profit was $3.85 billion. Profit, not revenue. Again, not enough money for the family-owned company! Its founder is worth $52 billion.

Despite IKEA’s charming, suburban, global reputation, they have been busting unions around the world. The only unionized IKEAS in Canada are in Richmond and Montreal. If IKEA breaks the Teamsters in Richmond, what happens to the workers in Montreal and to any other organizing drives around the country? They fizzle. Seventy per cent of IKEA workers in Sweden are unionized. They’re at risk. Every retail worker in Canada, including at IKEA, should be in a union.

Abandon Ineffective Tactics

Petitions and email campaigns are convenient for activists who are busy. Sending stern emails also feels good and helps us feel involved, but they’re often just form letters. Even if we all added our own unique preface to the form letter, how often do they cause employers to back down. Armchair activism has run its course.

We are rarely able to get more than a few dozen of the usual suspects out to rallies. What does this accomplish? Why do we even have rallies any more? The media rarely show up. Even if they did, they often end up mocking the issue by looking for sensational personalities to put on camera. The employers are often just inconvenienced for a few hours, then it’s back to union busting. If rallies never lead to a victory, why should we be surprised that members and their families and activist networks won’t show up for them.

Despair is a luxury we cannot afford. It’s also self-indulgent and extremely unproductive. But futility is a feeling that we can learn from. So is fatigue, burnout, complacency, cynicism and exasperation. So, let’s stop asking members to show up for actions that don’t work.

Smarter Activism

We need to get back into the streets, and not for 45-minute rallies. Unions have often merely endorsed exciting new approaches to pushing back against the Canadian and global elite, like the Occupy Movement and Idle No More, but we haven’t delivered our members, their families and activist networks. Here’s why: we haven’t drawn the connections so that our members can understand that real wage growth in the last two generations has declined while the one per cent are becoming obscenely rich. We will keep losing if we don’t fight back, and a lot more.

What if there was strike support at every IKEA in Canada from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday until the end of the lockout in Richmond. And not just a rally, but real engagement, taking advantage of the opportunity to inform IKEA’s beloved customers about how awful the company’s labour policies are, and how rich IKEA’s owners are.

But why stop there. Why not continue the rallies until every IKEA in Canada is unionized.

I know, we are exhausted. We are trapped in a hyper-consumerist society and we make less money than our parents did. So, we’re behind and we aren’t catching up, and we have little free time and we miss our families and friends. Still, we could be more effective with the time we’ve got. We can’t turn this around until we help our members understand that every lockout or anti-worker piece of legislation is an attack on them, on all of us. It needs to be our job, as labour activists, to help people make the connection that it is worth several hours every other Saturday to do something like occupy the sidewalks outside all the IKEAS.

One-off rallies are not effective any more. Regular, unpredictable rallies and occupations would be better, but only if we can show our members how they will be successful.

This piece appears in the current issue of Our Times.