A very special Labour Day message

By Buzz Hargrove and Gord Gekko
web posted September 1997

A few days before Labour Day (September 1 in Canada), Canadian Auto Workers president Buzz Hargrove released a Labour Day message to the workers of the world. In a touching show of solidarity, Gord provides some accompanying comments to clear up any confusion over facts in Mr. Hargrove's text.

Hargrove's text is regular, while mine is in bold.

For the last two decades, corporations and right-wing governments have pushed an agenda of privatization, deregulation, free trade, the GST, and fighting deficits.

And for the last two decades corporations and right-wing governments (just how many of these right-wing governments have we had?) have failed. With the exception of free trade and the deficit, these nameless corporations and right-wing governments have been resounding failures. Time to overthrow traditional conservatism on both sides of the border!

And Buzz, the Goods and Services Tax was not the act of a conservative government. Real conservatives don't believe in stealing the efforts of production from workers or corporations...unlike you.

Working people and their families have been repeatedly told to sit tight and wait for these economic tools to work their magic. Things would get better if workers just had the patience to wait.

We're still waiting.

And so are we...for these right-wing governments to happen. With the exception of Mike Harris of Ontario and Ralph Klein of Alberta, this country has seen an unending parade of statist goons.

That said, everyone is better off now then they were 20 years ago.

This agenda has meant unemployment in Canada remains chronically high. Young people face a future of few jobs and if they can find a job it's often low wage, less than challenging, and dead end.

Perhaps Mr. Hargrove should ask himself a hypothetical question. I assume even he knows how to do that. He should ask himself what would happen if corporations didn't have to pay over $20-billion in taxes, and if there might be a few more workers because of economic expansion as those vile corporations start throwing that money around.

And then Mr. Hargrove should ask himself what would happen if ordinary people didn't have to pay the GST, also over $20-billion a year.

Ah, but Mr. Hargrove wants his social programs doesn't he? Reminds me something about having your cake and wanting to eat it too...

Real wages for most workers are stagnant and social programs that support workers have been steadily slashed and cut, despite a period of unprecedented wealth creation in Canada producing sky high executive salaries, perks and benefits.

According to Statistics Canada, the number of people in Canada who earn over $100 000 is less than two per cent of the population.

Working people see the sharp contrast between what they have been told and the realities they face every day - more for the wealthy and powerful, while working people and the unemployed face a future of less job security, lower wages and fewer benefits.

A job survey announced at the end of August showed that majority of employers either intend to hire new workers or remain at current levels.

And even though Mr. Hargrove repeats this bit about the wealthy, they still make up less than two per cent of the population.

And Mr. Hargrove can't argue stagnant wages in one paragraph, and then state lower wages in the next. Consistency!

Despite the constant stream of right wing propaganda about putting our economic fundamentals in place, working people are showing signs of resistance. Something is changing. Labour is stirring and a dramatic fightback is growing across Canada and around the globe.

The percentage of labour participation in unions in Canada has fallen every year since 1990 with no sign of reverse any time soon. The average union member continues to get older. It is only that the public sector is highly unionized (73 per cent) and increased participation by women that has saved the union movement in Canada from obliteration.

In the United States, Union membership peaked at 34.7 percent of the workforce in 1954 and has declined steadily ever since.  In 1978 there were about 20.7 million private-sector
union members. Today, that number has slipped to about 10 million workers -- or about 10 percent of the workforce. Public-sector unions, however, have bucked the downward trend so far. Analysts say the proportion of unionized public-sector employees seems to have peaked at 37.6 percent, and may soon begin a decline. Some estimate private-sector union membership could sink to as low as 3 percent to 7 percent of the workforce. Source: Robert P. Hunter (Mackinac Center for Public Policy)
, Investor´s Business Daily  

Since the election of Premier Mike Harris, labour and a coalition of social and community groups have built strong links through the Days of Protest fight back movement in cities across Ontario. In each community these were the largest protests ever held including an incredible turnout in Toronto. Even organizers at these events were surprised by the massive number of participants. The Days of Protest will only continue to build this fall with events planned for North Bay and Windsor and widespread protests over the draconian Bill 136. Particularly significant has been the increasingly active role of teachers alongside labour.

While they had quite a few people out, they didn't have quite as many as they'd like to have you believe. Their estimates often ranged a half to two times higher than other estimates.

And a majority of people in Ontario support the actions of the Harris government. Probably even some belonging to the Canadian Auto Workers I'll wager.

Across Canada working people have staged protests and demonstrations from the east coast to west coast - from the unemployment protest in Newfoundland outside the Chrétien Liberal campaign bus to the BC blockade of the Alaskan ferry boat protesting the lack of a Pacific salmon agreement - working people are beginning to say enough is enough.

So where is this right wing government? In Ottawa you have the statist-leftist Liberals, while in British Columbia you have the statist-socialist New Democrats. Sounds like Buzz is opposed to leftist bumblers to me...unless somehow the right-wing boogey-man is responsible for those buffoons Chrétien and Clark. Didn't CAW support Glenn Clark in British Columbia...hmmm.....

The resistance of working people to the agenda of rollbacks and job cuts extends well beyond Canada's borders. Earlier this year in South Korea there was massive labour unrest over the government's attempts to impose new anti-union laws. In Britain the election of a Labour government is another signal that working people are frustrated and looking for change after 18 years of Conservative government.

To use South Korea as an example of a free market democracy is almost laughable, except that to labour activists like Hargrove, distinctions between free and closed are lost.

It is also interesting to note that Tony Blair's massive win in Britain came about partly due his dropping many socialist party platforms, much to the consternation of the hard-core socialists in his party. Blair sounded more conservative than the conservatives, which is often the only way his kind can get elected. Blair is also reaping the benefits of a strong economy and reduced spending...thanks to those vile conservatives.

Over the last couple of years workers have stepped up their resistance across Europe and especially in France where union-led opposition to an agenda of cutbacks led to massive protests, which were widely supported by the public. This growing fightback had a major impact on the election of a socialist prime minister in France.

France's socialist prime minister, Lionel Jospin, has already scared most of the rational leadership of his country and Europe. His constant shifting on entry requirements and the state of the French deficit for the Euro dollar has the entire venture in some doubt. In his own nation, Jospin made a promise to cut the work week from 40 hours to 35, with no loss of pay. That should be something to see. Jospin has already broken numerous promises, the ones he made to labour no less.

In the U.S. the labour movement has shown renewed energy after years of decline. The recent victory of the Teamsters over UPS in the United States in a fight to stem the company's use of part-time, throw away jobs is another signal that more and more working people are taking a stand.

It is a fact that the number of part-time jobs in the United States has barely increased in 15 years. Out of the total job force of the U.S., 18 per cent hold part-time jobs, about the same as the early 1980s. Other than some spikes due to recessions, the trend of part-time jobs has remained flat.  The largest increase in part-time workers occurred between 1964 and 1974. Can someone name a right-wing government in the U.S. between those years? Thought not. All numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics.

In Canada during the June federal election the Liberal government just barely managed to hang onto a majority as voters displayed signs of growing disenchantment with the Liberal agenda.

And Hargrove's beloved New Democratic Party barely made any headway what-so-ever anywhere in Canada besides a few seats in Atlantic Canada. Reform, by comparison, become the Official Opposition of Canada.

Polls show the Mike Harris provincial government in Ontario is losing support and in fact has dipped to 30 per cent support.

Unionists need facts like a fish needs a bicycle. The latest Angus Reid poll shows 35 per cent support for Harris, not 30 per cent (quibbling, but if we're going to throw numbers around, let's use the ones that weren't dreamed up around the coffee table at CAW headquarters). The same poll also showed that 49 per cent of those surveyed approved of Mike Harris, and 61 per cent approved of the direction that the government was taking.

And since Buzz seems to think a high poll number means you're doing the right thing, what does this say about his New Democrats who are mired at 16 per cent.

But he is right on one count. Overall popular support for Harris has been slowly dropping since December 1996.

At the CAW more calls from workers interested in organizing are coming in from all economic sectors despite the fear both corporations and right-wing Premiers like Harris and Alberta's Ralph Klein have attempted to create through constant attacks and rollbacks of labour laws.

And support for the "right-wing wackos" also increases daily. Support for Harris' and Klein's policies remains high, and the Reform Party was elected Official Opposition. The Liberals only managed to win the election because of the support of Ontario, which is a nominally conservative province. It was Paul Martin's deficit fighting that got the party re-elected. Sounds like a good hunk of the country supporting conservatism to me.

Despite the steady barrage and pressure from the right around the globe, the labour movement and its allies in social and community groups are fighting back and building resistance to two decades of roll backs, stagnant wages and the lack of new jobs.

Again, since the deficit exploded over those past two decades, primarily to increased social spending that people like Hargrove asked for, where were these roll-backs when we needed them? Was it the radically right-wing Pierre Trudeau who rolled back everything?

On this Labour Day it's important to recall past struggles, but it's even more critical to look forward and continue to build a foundation for a new generation stepping forward to inherit this union, the labour movement and our country.

On Labour Day it's important to recall past struggles, but it's even more critical to look forward and continue to build a foundation for a new generation stepping forward to inherit conservatism, the conservative movement and our country.

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