Problems North Of The Border: Canadian Conservative Govt., Firms Target Unions

LONDON—There used to be a Electro-Motive plant in London, Ont., a medium-sized Canadian city between Detroit and Toronto.  It employed 460 workers, members of the Canadian Auto Workers.  Not anymore.
After Caterpillar bought the profitable plant, says Dave Coles, president of the Canadian Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, it demanded the workers take a 50% pay cut.  When they refused, it locked them out.  Then it shut the plant and moved its operations – to Indiana.
And, adds Coles, the Canadian central government of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which could have intervened, stood by and did nothing.  So did the Ontario provincial government, led by Conservative Premier Tim Hudak.
“If the Conservatives wanted to protect workers from these corporate attacks they easily could.  But their unwillingness to defend Canadian workers from large multinationals is only the tip of the iceberg in their anti-worker agenda,” Coles wrote in a recent op-ed column accessed through the Steelworkers website.
The USW got involved because the Canadian conservatives stood by again as U.S. Steel made a USW-represented plant in Nanticoke, on Lake Erie, the next corporate target. The U.S. company has locked out those 1,000 workers for the third time in the last five years.
And it’s all part of a combined corporate-political agenda north of the border, the writers told USW.  Developments in Canada are important to U.S. unionists, too. Canada is the biggest U.S. trading partner, in everything from cars to timber to oil, and its economy is a virtual mirror of the U.S. economy, with two exceptions.
One is the Canadian economy is proportionately more natural-resource-based than the U.S. economy.  The other is that union density in both the public (75%) and private (16%) sectors in Canada is double that of the U.S.
All of which, Coles and other writers report, has prompted Harper, Hudak, their Conservative legislative majorities and their business backers to launch anti-worker crusades.  The measures used against Canadian workers sound very much like those in the Radical Right’s crusade against U.S. workers, union and non-union:
• A cut in eligibility and more-onerous job search requirements for the unemployed. Canada never hit the depths of joblessness the U.S. did during the Great
Recession, as it has much tighter controls on its financial sector, preventing the fraudulent speculation in phony pieces of paper and subprime mortgages that caused the crash here. But its unemployment rose, nevertheless, in reaction to U.S. conditions.
In his 2012 budget, Harper “changed the definition of suitable employment and reasonable job search” by Employment Insurance recipients “to include ever wider classifications and geographical distances,” Coles reported.  Harper’s government “also ramped up the monitoring of recipients and forced some EI beneficiaries to take lower paying jobs.  By making the unemployed even less secure, these changes put downward pressure on wages and conditions for all Canadians who work for a living.”
• Harper’s government used anti-worker court injunctions five times in two years to end nationwide strikes, working on behalf of employers.  Those injunctions, like Taft-Hartley injunctions the GOP Bush administration used against unions in U.S. rail and airline disputes, came three times against workers at Air Canada, and once each against rail workers at Canadian Pacific and postal workers at Canada Post.
• In his fiscal 2014 budget, which Harper can push through Parliament as his party has a majority, his Cabinet gets the right to intervene in bargaining between public worker unions and “Crown Corporations,” large public departments or enterprises.
“Treasury Board President Tony Clement stated the goal of this move is to better ‘align’ these workers’ wages and benefits with those in the private sector,” Coles reported. “Allowing the Treasury Board to appoint a representative to Crown Corpor-ation labour negotiations is part of a broader issue, which is aligning the public-service compensation and benefits to private-sector norms and expectations,” Clement said. “In other words, the government wants to worsen conditions in the public sector so these workers no longer put upwards pressure on pay and benefits in the private sector.”
• The Canadian federal government and the Ontario provincial government both have the right to intervene when a firm gets government economic development aid – such as tax breaks – and then breaks its promises to create jobs, several writers told USW. Both stood by as Cat shut the Electro-Motive plant.  Hudak’s Ontario government has settled for U.S. Steel’s promise to keep the Nanticoke plant open through 2015.
• Harper added two years to the number of years a Canadian government worker must serve to be eventually eligible for a pension, author Linda McQuaig told the  “A few decades ago, North Americans often whimsically posed the question: ‘In the future, what will we do with all our leisure time?’  As it turned out, our leisure time shrunk, with two years of it now snatched away by the Harper government.”