The Alberta majority government has moved a series of bills that, when looked at together, drastically undermine unions in the province. Bill 1, passed in May, makes it illegal to protest 'essential infrastructure'. Bill 32 makes multiple changes to labour law, restricts picketing activities, creates an onerous system where members must opt-in for dues used for 'political activity', and more. Finally, Bill 26 changes the Constitutional Referendum Amendment Act allowing big money to pour into Alberta politics.
Services and products for people in need are going to be a problem in the coming weeks. Supply chains are complex and some businesses along those chains will not be able to support production during this crisis -- or support the necessary ramp-up in production needed. To sustain production, the state is going to have to step-in and direct procurement and investment. As such, nationalized production should be on the table if it looks too complicated to coordinate the private sector to get the goods we need to the people that need them. Here is a list of recommendations outlining how socialists should be framing their demands during this time.
While some people are convinced that COVID-19 does not affect them, it is important to remember that everyone has a role to play to limit contagion. COVID-19 has the potential to directly affect the ability of the union to operate effectively, and to advance the interest of our members. This note outlines analysis and recommendations for union leadership on orientation to building a response to COVID-19 within the union.
When we are debating how best to build worker power through their unions it is usually in the context of winning demands at the bargaining table. But, under advanced capitalism, union power is mostly measured in terms of how badly we are losing. This is not useful as a metric for discussion of labour law reforms attempting to impose balance in labour relations between unions and capital. If we think of unions as structures of democracy, then we can shift the narrative around power simply to refer to winning or losing the battle for our own democracy. And, democracy, unlike worker power at the bargaining table, is entirely in the hands of workers. Socialists should focus on building democracy in discussion on labour reform. Then, no matter what we are able to win in terms of power at the union's bargaining table or reforms that raise standards for workers outside unions, we are helping to build the socialism we want.
To avoid the need to rebuild our democratic organizations -- and thus waste valuable time -- we must defend our current institutions of democracy. We must defend them even though they can, from time to time, be lead by flawed individuals -- we are human, after all. It is not the people we defend as leadership can and will be replaced, but the institution. This defense is part of the historical fight for our right to practice and perfect our own democracy. (Photo by Randy Colas on Unsplash)
Rising inequality, US anti-union laws crushing organized labour south of the boarder, and the slow unrelenting decline of union density here in Canada has renewed the focus on labour union organizing. The response from the leadership of the movement has been focused – rightly – on changes to law regulating labour unions that make it harder to organize. However, changing labour laws will not undo the slow decline in union density alone. Unions will also have to actually go out and talk to workers, sign them up, establish a local, bargain a first agreement, and enforce those terms.
In Canada, there is a two step process for most workers to form a union. There is a card signing process which acts as a poll asking workers if they want democracy in their workplace. Then, if enough of them do, there is a vote asking those same workers if they want workplace democracy through a union.
With the prospect that the Conservatives could lose this federal election and be replaced by a left-wing NDP government, it is important to start considering the legal changes that should be made to better protect Canadian workers.