Sunday, February 11, 2007

When's a strike not a strike?

Back in 1984 during the historic strike against the Canadian division of General Motors that led directly to the breakup of the United Auto Workers, much was said about the battle between Bob White and Owen Bieber -- in particular, the latter's initial refusal to authorize a strike because the two men had a fundamental disagreement about wages. White, of course, wanted an increase in the hourly wage each year; Bieber wanted to follow the then American pattern of annual lump sum payments. The irony is that a few months later when Mulroney announced he was opening free trade talks with the US, the union broke up that same day -- and Big Chin, no friend of White's, praised the Canadian leader for making the move.

It's 2007 and the conductors at Canadian National Railways are on strike. They are willingly (for now, anyway) members of a US-based union, and the tables have now been turned. The company wants the strike declared illegal because -- get this -- it was not authorized by the union's American president.

Since when do Canadians need permission from Americans to use their legal rights, in this case the right to withdraw employment as a demand for better wages? Since when do Canadians get told that to ensure union solidarity it's "out together, in together?" If the tables were turned and it was a Canadian based union telling the Americans what to do, there'd be another American Revolution. After all, the Continental Congress declared war against Canada before they did the rest of the British Empire.

I'll let the Labour Board decide whether it's illegal or not. For now, CN would have it in its best interests to go back to the bargaining table anyway and sort this out. This country is heavily dependent on the railroads for trade, and just a few days shutdown could cripple our economy at a time when we need a slowdown the least.

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1 comment:

eugene plawiuk said...

I have commented on this contradiction as well on my blog. Also I have taken the liberty to post your article at LabourStart