Labour faces new challenges in 2013

Labour day isn’t what it used to be in Brantford during the Massey, White Farm Equipment days, but members of several trade unions put on the colours and marched in solidarity through downtown Brantford on Monday.

The face of labour is changing as unions battle against a Canadian government bound and bent on union busting and keeping the wages of most Canadian workers as low as possible and arbitrarily removing hard fought for benefits from the workplace.

Bruce Hazelwood, is a member of the teacher bargaining unit of the Secondary School Teachers Federation. He is also an executive member of the Brantford Labour Council.“I think that unions over the last few years have been fighting against the Canadian government because what we have been having is a lot of strife within the public sector.

I see the possibility of this increasing in the next year with the so-called right to work legislation and other bills being put through. Those things stand in the way of unions being able to do what their real work is which is to support their members and the communities they operate in.”

Donna Howey, the President of the Grand Erie Elementary Teachers Federation agrees.“Over the past year we have been battling Bill 115, which was called the “Putting Students First Act” which is kind of ironic since it has very little to do with that at all.

It was imposing terms on all education workers that they were not free to negotiate. Those imposed contracts will be done by October 31some real negotiations next year.”

But amongst the doom and gloom brought on by a labour busting government, there is hope and excitement in some labour sectors.

This past weekend marks the beginning of UNIFOR, and amalgamation of two of Canada’s largest private sector unions, the CAW and CEP, which now represent 300,000 Canadian workers under one banner.

Cary Macmillan is Financial Secretary for UNIFOR local 504 and as a longtime unionist, he has a clear view of the future and the challenges organized labour will be facing in the coming years.

But now, with 300,000 members, he feels labour is beginning to push back and anticipates more of the same this year as UNIFOR stands together against Prime Minister Harper’s anti-labour legislation.“Our battle is with all the stuff Harper government is trying to legislate against organized labour,” he said. “They want to take away the Rand ruling which made it mandatory for workers to pay union dues in union shops.

In doing so, Harper intends to starve out unions entirely. We negotiated that right years ago and we don’t want to fight that battle st. Certainly we will continue to plan for again.”

He observes that the CAW has always been very supportive of Native people and suggested that the birth of UNIFOR has reinvigorated that support.

Also marching was Frank Miller from Six Nations marching in solidarity with his union sisters and brothers.

Unions and Native Rights issues are closely paralleled, as treaties are being ignored and tossed aside just as readily as union collective agreements these days.“The fight unions are facing and Onkwehon:we people are facing is the same fight,” said Miller. “As much as I may have had certain feelings about unions before, in the long run unions help keep everything in balance and everybody needs more support that way.

Prime Minister Harper is down to the point where I don’t know how we can do it. “There was a time not long ago when a single breadwinner could keep a family going, but that is impossible today, even working two or three full time jobs.”

IMG_4134Brantfiord’s Labour Day Parade is only a shadow of what it once was, but there is hope on the horizon within labour circles. (Photo by Jim Windle)

IMG_4152Six Nations’ Frank Miller marches in solidarity with his union brothers and sisters in Monday’s Labour Day March in Brantford. He believes the attacks against labour and those against Onkewehon:we people are parallel and standing together is the only way to preserve both treaties and collective bargaining. (Photo by Jim Windle)

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