I read with great interest, as undoubtedly did other trade unionists at your public statements reported in the media and the information forwarded me by my Union regarding what is entitled the ‘CAW and MAGNA SIGN FRAMEWORK OF FAIRNESS, USHER IN NEW LABOUR RELATIONSHIP’
I am as astonished as I am disappointed in this undertaking which can only be described as a disaster for CAW members and workers generally.
I re-call in my 14 years as Director of Education for UAW/CAW conveying to our members that in the end the right to strike was the only weapon available to workers as they fought to improve the quality of their lives and their families. It is the exercise of strike action which provides a measure of power to workers in addressing the enormous imbalance of power in the workplace. A grievance procedure administered by ELECTED worker representatives is the mechanism by which workers can seek and achieve justice when the boss has violated the very terms they earlier agreed to. Volumes of Arbitration decisions attest to this fact.
The CAW/MAGNA agreement ignores the lessons of our past and places the well being of workers in the care of what is purported to be a paternal Employer. There can be little doubt that when the Employers interest is challenged the workers rights will be given short-shrift. If we have learned nothing else throughout our Unions’ history it is that power concedes nothing without a demand, it never did and it never will. That is why those that went before us knew that not only did we have to challenge the boss to make gains but that we also needed to sustain our members in these struggles. Hence the UAW/CAW emphases on a healthy strike fund.
You have referred to this arrangement as ‘historic’. It is not. When our Union in the early days under the leadership of Walter Reuther was attracting thousands upon thousands of workers to the UAW banner, Employers sought ways to circumvent organizing drives. They co-opted some of their workers and signed toothless contracts that did nothing to advance the welfare of workers and indeed virtually indentured them. Walter often referred to these agreements as ‘yellow dog contracts.’ The main attraction for the boss in these agreements were that the worker gave up the right to strike and meaningful workplace representation in return for a vague expression of security. Your agreement with Stronach can correctly be described as a Yellow Dog agreement and is hardly historic. In fact more recently, C.L.A.C. engaged in the very practice described above to the scorn of seeking to truly represent workers interests,
Attacking the sanctity of the right to strike is not progress for workers. It is regressive and as great a concession as can be garnered by an Employer. I re-call Bob Rae and the Social Contract in which you were unreserved in your criticism when Rae suspended the right to strike for public sector workers. You called for his defeat and removal from office for SUSPENDING this right. You apparently have agreed to a permanent suspension of this right for Magna workers should they decide to join the CAW. When you continued your demand for Rae’s defeat through 93-94 and into early 95, I recall our discussion in which I indicated my belief that if we did not change tactics, not only would Rae be defeated but that we would get Harris. Initially you took the position that Harris would never get elected and later you acknowledged the possibility but were adamant that ON PRINCIPLE Rae had to be defeated if labour was to maintain our credibility. What is different between what Rae did and what you have apparently done is that Rae legislated and you on the other hand have entered into this unholy alliance voluntarily.
You have stated that this cancer will not be allowed to spread to other parts Employers and that “me too” is a non starter. You may be right, the future will determine if you are right. Isn’t it somewhat ironic that the mechanism by which workers can ultimately fight to retain their gains with Magna competitors is the right to strike that you have conceded at Magna. Hmmm!! Tell me Buzz, what possible justification can their be for the leader of my Union to voluntarily relegate Magna workers to what can only be described as second class members put there by their two tier membership status? The long and short of this sordid mess is that no matter how much sugar you attempt to put on this one ... it remains what it is ... a poison pill for workers.
Tell me Buzz, how does the CLC respond to foreign governments when arguing internationally for the right of workers to engage in free collective bargaining with the right to strike and the right to elect freely and democratically their representatives? I ask this question because at the very least as the largest private sector CLC affiliate, you have compromised their credibility in this regard and left them open to demands that they clean up their own house before demanding full workers rights of other jurisdictions.
What about Public Sector workers that continue to resist Employer legislation that would remove their right to strike or public sector workers that have been fighting for years to achieve the right to strike? Your considerable profile and this action will become a formidable tool and will embolden Employers to pursue a similar course. I speak of those workers that seek the right to strike which is not in any way a criticism of professions which have CHOSEN another way.
Bob White who led our struggle against FTA and countless other fights has often said, and I believe him to be right, “workers don’t need a Union to walk backwards.” Who in our Union being of sound mind can declare your Magna deal to be progress for workers? It wasn’t progress in Walter’s time and it isn’t progress now. From a trade union perspective this deal is nothing more than a frantic attempt at all cost to increase membership. It has nothing to do with progress for workers and indeed undermines the objectives of the labor movement. Moreover, and under your term in office, this deal stands as a reminder to all of our Union’s dismal record in organizing Japanese assembly plants.
Tommy Douglas (you remember him don’t you Buzz), once said “courage my friends it’s not too late to make a better world.” I don’t recall you accepting my advice in the past but let me give it a try anyway. It’s not too late to send Stronach packing and in doing so reaffirm our Union’s leadership support of the right of workers to withdraw their labour in their struggle for a better life for themselves and their families. Do this and you will regain the respect our Union deserves from friend and foe alike. Do it not and you will have cast a pall over the sparkling record of achievements that our Union has amassed domestically and internationally.
In the spirit of fairness I am sending a copy of these remarks to those that you copied on your reply to Gerry Michaud.
With best wishes for a better world, I am