by Doug Nesbitt
The federal Tories are already introducing back-to-work legislation against CP Rail workers’ unions who are still in bargaining with a Sunday morning strike threat. The two unions are the Teamsters and Unifor.
On Friday February 13 at 4:50pm, Minister of Labour Kellie Leitch introduced “An Act to provide for the resumption of rail service operations” to be rammed through on Monday, February 16.
Debate is being limited so all three readings can be accomplished in one sitting, overriding usual procedures. Mandatory committee consideration of the bill is limited to one hour.
2012 Deja Vu
The content of the bill is not yet known, but its name is like the 2012 bill that legislated Teamsters back to work during their May 2012 CP Rail strike: “An Act to provide for the continuation and resumption of rail service operations”
The 2012 bill was introduced by then Minister of Labour Lisa Raitt on May 28 2012. It became law on May 31 2012.
Supreme Court Right-to-Strike?
Back-to-work legislation of these private sector workers was justified by the Tories in 2012 because rail service was essential to the economy (they said the same about Air Canada back-to-work legislation in 2011 and 2012).
The bill is a direct challenge to the spirit of the recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling which many unions celebrated as enshrining the right-to-strike (check out Charles Smith’s analysis of the SCC decision). The SCC ruling was, however, a challenge surrounding public sector workers and essential service legislation which stripped them of the right-to-strike.
Labour versus the Law
Legal challenges remain a regular feature of organized labour’s work and they should not be abandoned. However, these challenges take years and are very costly. They leave the union rank-and-file out of the process, which can often lead to demoralization or apathy.
The greatest achievements won by workers have come through collective struggle. From the 1872 Toronto Printers’ Strike, to the 1945 Ford Windsor Strike, to the 1965 postal workers wildcat, the law has been bent in favour of workers when together they confronted the authorities and status quo.
Breaking the Tories and their anti-worker, anti-union agenda will require more than legal challenges. Until a serious blow is struck by workers in action, the Tories will continue to become bolder in their policies. Pre-emptive back-to-work legislation against private sector workers, from CP Rail to Air Canada, is already becoming the new normal.