What did Unions Ever do for me?

With Brad and the boys getting ready to set labour policy direction by what Saskatchewan Party supporters told them in the doorstep during the last campaign I got thinking how things hard won, can disappear in the blink of an eye.

I noticed a bumper sticker the other day that said, "Unions – The people who brought you the weekend" It made me laugh but, it also got me thinking. What else aside from negotiating contracts, representing members, fighting grievances and keeping an eye out for health and safety, did the union do for you and me lately. 
So, I started to make a list of things we tend to, take for granted.

I thought let’s see;
  • Vacations and vacation pay 
  • Minimum wage laws 
  • overtime pay
  • a five day work week
  • Unemployment insurance
  • Old aged pension benefits
  • Long term disability
  • Stat holiday pay
  • Human rights legislation
  • Workers Compensation
  • Maternity/paternity leave
  • Health and safety rules 
If you ask me, that is pretty good, for a quick, short list. The Aussies did a very funny video about all this.

So, if in the future someone says to you, “What did unions ever do for me?” You can answer, “A hell of a lot buddy. A hell of a lot.”

I know some readers will say “Don’t be nuts. The government gave us those things.”  Don’t be too quick.

You might have noticed lately. Governments don’t generally just hand stuff out to working people. Let me tell you. In each and every case, for each and every one of those benefits. There was a tough, tough fight.

Those benefits were won through collective action – lobbying politicians, in bargaining and on picket lines. Everything we have and now sometimes take for granted,was hard fought for.

The danger today, is that we forget how bloody hard those benefits were to get – and how easily they can be taken away.


Brad Wall is Warming up the Steamroller

I note that the Saskatchewan Government has turned down binding arbitration as a means of settling the outstanding issues in what has become protracted bargaining with the people who work at the Cancer Agency.

 Whatever could be wrong with binding arbitration. If you think the position you are taking in bargaining is fair? If you are confident your position is a fair one, wouldn't you think a reasonable arbitrator might think the same.

The natural conclusion to draw is that, the government of Saskatchewan knows they are being unreasonable, particularly in these booming times.

I also read in the paper this morning that the Saskatchewan Government is going to “review” our labour laws again in what will be a look at our “out of date” legislation.

My immediate reaction to all this was, “These guys just don’t get it.” People won’t put up with this. Stand by for yet another war between our business friendly government and labour.

The last time they did this, they looked kind of stupid. After all, one of the most right wing judges in the province ruled their essential services legislation went way too far and was put in to place without proper consultation with the stakeholders. Well no that is wrong, it was without consultation with one of... no, half of the stakeholders. Their process was to basically, just ignored organized labour.

They are about to do it again but, I think I was wrong about them being out of touch. They very much “Get it”

To the Saskatchewan Party, very much like the Harper Conservatives it isn’t about finding consensus, or building bridges, or fairness, or need.

Despite all the good old boy talk, Brad Wall’s government is all about us and them, about creating division, pitting one side against the other.

What is good for business is good for Brad. After all, could the Chamber of Commerce be wrong about anything?

Brad and the boys are sitting pretty with an electoral system that handed them 85% of the seats in the legislature with 64% of the popular vote. They can pretty much do what they want.

Will Saskatchewan the people who will be affected by what will no doubt be yet another gutting of Labour legislation stand up and speak out. I doubt it. Only 66% of us even bothered to vote. Speaking up, writing letters or - God forbid - going to a demo takes even more effort than casting a ballot.

Oh sure, the usual suspects will get up on their high horse but will the public actually listen? I sometimes thing the term Labour Communicators is an oxymoron. Think Bob Bymoen for example.

It isn’t a very good time for unionized workers in Saskatchewan. Standby, the government is just warming up the steamroller.


Send the Bugger Back to the UK

Conrad with his wife Barbara Amiel
Canadians have to ask themselves why, would it be in the best interest of the country to allow Conrad Black, back into Canada?

Black who so famously renounced his Canadian citizenship so he could become a British peer, and who is sometimes known as Prisoner no. 18330-424, is due to be released from his country club jail this coming Friday. He says he wants to settle back into, what for him is a normal life, in Toronto.

Now the question is, how promptly the convicted felon will be able to return to Canada. Prisoner no. 18330-424 is not able to re-enter our country without the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration’s permission but, Jason Kenney is predisposed to open the door wide to anyone who is able to bring a few million dollars with them. But, how does that fit with the Conservative law and order agenda.

Black was a pompous and shady character even before he tossed his citizenship aside and frankly I figured the Brits were welcome to him.

As a newspaper owner, he promoted the likes of Harper. It will be interesting to see if the PM returns the favour.


A Big Night at the Sask Book Awards

Anne and I were Big Winners        Photo Shelley Banks
We attended the Saskatchewan Book Awards Saturday night here in Regina. It was quite an evening with an amazing number of connections.

Two of our friends, writers and floor hockey players both of them, came up winners. It was all very exciting;

Eric Greenway is one of the principles in Hagios Press and one of their nominated books, Jeff Park’s The Cellophane Sky: Jazz poems won the Saskatoon Book award.

Then, Anne McDonald won the First Book Prize for her novel, To the Edge of the Sea, published by Thistledown Press. The book description says, In the mid-19th century three young Prince Edward Islanders explore their disparate futures at home and away, in a debut novel that is lyrical and precise in its descriptions of land, sea and people, and powerful in its accounts of both personal and political histories of the province and the country. It is also about John A. MacDonald and his efforts to form Canada into a real country.

We were sitting at Anne’s table and we were all holding our collective breath when Anne’s name was called out. It was a real treat to be there, one year to the day from her launch at the Bushwakker so of course, when the official gala event was over, we had to go back to the scene of the crime and finish our celebration with a pint or two.

We were also pleased that Seeing Red: A History of Natives in Canadian Newspapers took home prizes in in three categories. The authors, Carmen Robertson and David Cronlund Anderson led a University of Regina trip to Peru that Morgan went on a few years ago.

The guest speaker was Mark Abley. Although Mark has deep Saskatchewan roots, he lives and works Montreal. He is a poet and a columnist for the Montreal Gazette.

We used to live in the same neighbourhood in Pointe Claire and one of his daughters went to school with Chris for a few years.

To top it all off, we were all surprised at the end of the evening when I somehow managed to win the raffle and took home chocolates, a bottle of wine, hand painted wine glasses, a copy of each of the winning books and a gift certificate for the Willow on Wascana, one of our favorite Regina restaurants.