March 2014 Archives

Robyn Benson, PSAC

International Women's Day 2014

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Having had the privilege of addressing a great group of Sisters in Newfoundland on March 7 on the subject of “Inspiring Change,” I still feel pumped: all that positive energy the day before International Women’s Day recharged my batteries.

It’s just as well that we have so much energy to tap, though. We’ll need it for the work ahead of us.

Remember that silly slogan from a few years back (from a cigarette ad encouraging women to smoke), “You’ve come a long way, baby”? Not nearly long enough. In fact it sometimes seems we’re headed backwards—or in a direction where things are growing even worse than they were in the bad old days.

At the University of Ottawa, the men’s hockey team is under suspension after a suspected sexual assault, and a vile exchange on Facebook about the student council president, Anne-Marie Roy, has become the talk of the town. This isn’t the locker-room talk of decades ago, but a violent and hateful conversation that has rightly been called an example of “rape culture.”

Then there are our Aboriginal sisters, hundreds of whom have been murdered or have gone missing in the past few years. The Harper government’s response has been to obstruct justice for these women almost every step of the way—shutting down Sisters In Spirit, which had assembled a comprehensive data-base, and resisting all calls for a national inquiry into these deaths and disappearances, to this very day. A new report from a Parliamentary committee is just more of the same do-nothingism. Yes, says the Conservative majority on the Special Committee on Violence against Indigenous Women, there is a problem (Aboriginal women and girls suffer far more violence than Canadian women as a whole). But no new initiatives to address the problem will be supported.

Not good enough. Not by a long shot.

But the attitude of our government towards women in general has been…remarkable. Harper scrapped early learning and childcare federal-provincial agreements within moments of coming to office in 2006. His government effectively abolished pay equity in the Public Service in 2009, even making it illegal for a union to help any individual member wanting to make a pay equity complaint. A year later, it loosened equity requirements for federal contractors, affecting hundreds of thousands of workers.

Women are also impacted by every anti-union move the government makes. Unions have been a source of strength and advancement for women in all sectors, successfully negotiating employment equity, pay equity, workplace child care, improved maternity and parental benefits, and non-discriminatory, harassment-free workplaces. Passing legislation to weaken unions, which the government has already done and is continuing to do, means putting all of these gains up for grabs.

So women still have an uphill battle, in our workplaces and in society. But we’ve won seemingly impossible struggles before—the right to vote, reproductive freedom, equality under the law. “We’re the women of the Union and we’ve just begun to fight,” we started singing a few years back. Well, we’re still fighting, harder than ever—and more and more Brothers are right there with us. When it comes to inequality and discrimination, we are ALL affected. And together we’ll win this uphill battle too.

Right to work for less.jpg

Ah, the pleasant sound of furious backpedalling. Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak, after a considerable amount of flipping and flopping during which time he even had a PC candidate booted for opposing his extremist anti-labour line, has finally abandoned his grand plan to give Ontario workers the right to work for less. Or so he says: “If we’re elected, we’re not going to do it. We won’t touch the Rand formula.”

Hudak had been running into a lot of discontent with his proposal to abolish Rand, including from his own party faithful. At the Ontario Progressive Conservative convention last Fall, a “right to work (for less)” policy was only narrowly approved. Meanwhile, it seems that the voters haven’t been particularly keen on his agenda.

“My own party,” said Hudak, “raised these measures as an option for Ontario, and when I talk to employers, to workers, some of them tell me that they do want right-to-work laws in Ontario, but not very many.” Losing the recent Niagara Falls by-election might well have been the last straw. Hence an embarrassing climb-down for a fellow who has made his anti-labour obsessions the focus of two years of campaigning.

But keep in mind that Hudak reportedly said the policy is not right at this time—a bit of a warning flag there, I think. And pay close attention to this as well: “Only 15 per cent of the private sector is unionized in Ontario [so] this right-to- work issue just doesn’t have the scope of power to fix the issues for the 100 per cent of manufacturing jobs threatened in Ontario.” No mention here of the public sector at all, where the unionization rate is around 70%—and this omission is no accident.

Hudak has a plan for the Ontario public service: wholesale privatization. He wants to force union workers to compete with non-union companies, with their inferior wages and benefits, to keep their jobs. This isn’t “right-to-work” legislation, but it would have exactly the same result: a race to the bottom of the wages and benefits barrel, with unions being an early casualty.

Hudak’s public change of heart is only an illusion, in other words—there is no change of direction. And we know that he is far from the only politician in the country with those self-same intentions. This is no time for any of us to let down our guard, if we want a better vision of Canada to prevail.

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