In Manitoba labour movement in the middle of the election cycle storm

8484819874_ac99ece7e2_bBy Scott Price

The 2015 Canadian federal election is approaching its last days. Although the NDP has seen its support wane, the election will most likely be a close one. In Manitoba and Winnipeg the municipal, federal and upcoming provincial elections could signal the start of a longer process of reevaluation and retooling for both the NDP and the Manitoban labour movement.

In the area of Winnipeg civic politics the Winnipeg Labour Council (WLC) endorsed Judy Wasylycia-Leis was defeated handily by conservative lawyer Brian Bowman in the last municipal election in 2014. In total five WLC endorsed councillors currently hold office on Winnipeg city council.

WLC president Dave Sauer told that while he would not want to give up the WLC’s “sausage recipe” when it comes to political campaigning the WLC would be reassigning how they approach elections and what their strategy would be, adding that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again”.

In terms of the provincial and federal election Sauer stated that the WLC are purely “ground game organizers.” Sauer stated that the campaigns of Daniel Blaikie (member of the WLC executive) in Elmwood-Transcona and Pat Martin running in Winnipeg Centre are two campaigns the WLC is highly involved with. Both Blakie and Martin are in close races, as well as incumbent Niki Ashton in the Churchill-Keewatinook Aski riding in Manitoba’s north.

When asked if Sauer is seeing discontent with the NDP federally due to the unpopularity of the NDP provincially, Sauer stated that he has not personally seen much of it and when it does its “partisans from other parties that would try to tie those two together”.

In provincial politics the Manitoban NDP have seen their support dwindle due to unpopular policies such as raising the PST from 7% to 8%. With popular opinion polls placing the NDP in the 20% range,  a rebellion within the Manitoba NDP caucus erupted and a leadership race ensued. The result was current Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger staying on as leader, many senior NDP cabinet ministers stepped down and many staffers left for greener pastors in Alberta. The Manitoba Federation of Labour president Kevin Rebeck said that while it’s a low point currently for the Manitoban NDP, once “relationships get stronger provincially, things will start shifting again.”

Looking ahead to the 2016 April 19th Manitoban provincial election Rebeck said that the MFL has already taken a stance on raising minimum wage to a living wage in province and that the MFL is currently working on more policies and announcements as the provincial election comes closer.

The current prospects for the labour movement and the NDP in Manitoba are not robust, but deeper issues than simply election results may come into play at the end of the election cycle. With an NDP government in Manitoba for 16 years the capacity for the labour movement to organize and mobilize mass co-ordinated campaigns has atrophied. If a PC government is formed after the Spring 2016 election the Manitoban labour movement may find itself in a battle it is ill prepared for.

Bill C-51 and Bill C-377

In terms of the ramifications of Bill C-51 WLC Sauer said that the labour movement always has to be cautious of the RCMP and CSIS as there is a “history of them spying on labour organizations.” Sauer added that “anyone in the labour movement should be concerned about what kind of information intelligence agencies are gathering on you.”

Rebeck stated that Bill C-51 sets up the union movement to be detained without any charges. In the event that Bill C-51 stays law with either a Conservative or Liberal government Rebeck said that any efforts against the bill would be co-ordinated with the Canadian Labour Congress to mitigate or change the law.

For unions and their members the ramming through of Bill C-377 would see onerous stipulations on what unions would have to disclose about union activist salary and activities (both union and non-union). Rebeck pointed out that the law would give an unfair advantage to an employer as it would let them know how much money is in a strike account and thus how long a union can stay out on strike. “It really tips the balance in a bargaining position to the boss who already has all the power,” Rebeck.


When asked if non-compliance with the law is an option, Rebeck explained that non-compliance with the law is an option that is seriously being talked about. He went on to caution that if all unions take the route of non-compliance it would be disruptive to government, while if only some unions take the non-compliance route it starts to be disruptive to labour unions and it “pits ourselves against ourselves, which isn’t helpful either.”


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