Tag Archives: union busting

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.

Profits Before People: Richmond Ikea Lockout Enters Day 17


Boycott Ikea

Generating enough media spin to rival a jet engine at take off, the management and PR folks at Ikea Canada want you to believe that their poor little corporation is being held hostage by greedy, soulless union workers in Richmond.

Pity poor Ikea.

It’s tough being a multi-national corporation with a reputation for  union busting, still more union busting and sundry  human rights violations. It is also expensive to flog the entire planet with particle board, Allen Keys and horsemeat tainted foodstuffs. You can’t expect them to provide “coworkers” with a safe, fair and equitable place to work. After all, you can’t have your faecal contaminated Tarta Chokladkrokant and eat it too.

Bottom lines, people. Bottom. Lines.

Meanwhile, back in Lotusland, 300+ workers of the mega-Ikea store in Richmond are embroiled in a rapidly degenerating labor dispute. Members of the Teamsters Local #213 are locked out, and the store continues to skeleton crew it, while management utters threats in the news about further reducing the contract on the table if their slaves picketing staff doesn’t roll over and take the pounding.

(Source: CKNW)

It looks like some assembly may be required as things get tense in a labour dispute between some 300 union workers and management at the Richmond Ikea.

Manager Janet McGowan says the store has been operating on limited hours as Teamsters take job action.

But McGowan says they will now play hardball by gradually reducing the contract on the table if the union doesn’t sign soon, “So, on June 3rd, our co-workers would have a phase one offer that they could, in fact, be accepting and then we would give co-workers an additional five days before implementation of phase two and then an additional five days before the implementation of the phase three.”

Phase one would see a 500-dollar signing bonus go bye-bye, by phase three paid sick days would be cut in half.

If Ikea is so moral and fair, as their media relations people would have you think, why have the staff overwhelmingly rejected not one, not two, but THREE different offers by the company to date?


Ikea is attempting to drag workers back into the dark ages. Not just because they’re cheap, but because, according to their  track record, they also enjoy it.

(Never mind that Richmond-area retail workers reside in one of the most expensive cities in the world. It’s not like they have homes or families, right? Who needs to eat?)

Ikea is not about ensuring fair living wages. It’s about profit. Not people.

Primary contract issues, per Teamsters Local 213’s Facebook page:

  • re-introduction of multi-tiered wage systems
  • removal of hour guarantees
  • benefit reductions
  • contract work out schemes
  • many other concessions

I stand in solidarity with these men and women on the picket line.

Having been locked out by my employer  for over a month in the summer of 2000, I understand what these people are going through.
Spending your nights and days on a picket line, in all kinds of weather, all times of day, and not knowing what comes next is scary.

Here is what happens:

The first few days are adrenaline-fueled and high-energy. There is solidarity. There is power in numbers. Everyone is prepared to stick it to the man.

As time slithers on, and the rhetoric from the employer grows increasingly hostile, infighting starts. Division.

People start to blame each other. Blame the union. Question whether they made the right choice.  Side with the employer. Discomfort and unknowns don’t bring out the best in people.

When weeks near months, people become afraid. Union stipends/wage replacements are not enough in Vancouver. People start looking for other jobs.

The ones who hang in there start to feel guilt, and become compelled to accept whatever comes down the pipe from corporate, just to end the sustained duress.

The media portrays the workers as lazy, ignorant and willfully spiteful. Goodwill diminishes. There is a lack of public support.

The union organizers work hard to rally, but the morale just isn’t there, and their job grows increasingly difficult.

They need support. Your support. Our support. These are families and community members, not a faceless corporate entity.

Ways in which we can help boost the cause of the locked out Ikea workers in Richmond/Teamsters Local 213:

  • Boycott  Richmond Ikea. Don’t shop there. Don’t give them your money.
  • Boycott ALL Ikea locations. Don’t go running down the road to Coquitlam. (The breakfast is cheap for a reason.)
  • Don’t cross their picket lines. Ever.
  • Walk the picket line WITH them.
  • Bring by some food and beverage, especially if it is really hot or really cold.
  • If the weather becomes inclement, pop by with some shelter or weather related implements like umbrellas, ponchos or sunblock.
  • Respond to online editorials, radio talk shows, newspaper articles that spin in favour of Ikea and demonize labor unions/workers.
  • Use social media to counter the spin.
  • Write to them and let them know you support the workers.

Keep fighting the good fight, folks. Remind them that people need to come BEFORE profit.



Thoughts on a Filibuster

Can I get a “WOW”? Just look at all those women! I couldn’t stop grinning as woman after woman after woman rose and spoke. What happened to all the arrogant white dudes?  Oh, they’re posturing and questioning.  I guess someone noticed as the past few questions have been lobbed by female CPC MPs.

Aside from the feeling that I might watch CPAC more often now, and that it was rotten to schedule this vote on St. Jean Baptiste Day, here are some random thoughts:

1. The Conservatives keep stating Continue reading Thoughts on a Filibuster