Role of Ontario Courts in Assisting U.S. Hedge Fund to Destroy Canadian Union
Striking salt workers
and supporters rally at Windsor City Hall, March 16, 2023.
The role the courts play in Canada on the side of narrow private vested interests always contradicts what is said about the courts, which is that they are neutral and that their role is to make sure the cause of justice is served. Life shows that it is not the working people who define what it means to serve the cause of justice. This was proven once again on March 6, when Justice Ian Leach of the Superior Court of Ontario renewed an interim injunction, which he had originally issued on February 28, to prevent striking workers from stopping Windsor Salt and its new owners, the U.S. hedge fund Stone Canyon Holdings Inc. from removing stockpiled salt from its operations in Windsor, Ontario. It is a blatant example of the court intervening on one side of a dispute in a manner that shifts the balance of power to the side that represents private vested interests, against the other, labour. Labour is the part of the equation that creates the wealth the private vested interests expropriate in the first place and it is labour that is defending itself so that the workers can work and live in dignity.
Striking workers block shipments going out from Windsor Salt, February 23, 2023.
Prior to the court injunction, the workers had not permitted the removal of stockpiled salt because of the experience their colleagues in Pugwash, Nova Scotia had with the company which used stockpiled salt to prolong the strike and get the workers to accept concessions. An aim in seeking an injunction is to intimidate the workers because they will be criminalized if they persist in defending their interests by stopping the removal of the stockpiled salt. It is also to force the police -- another body said to be neutral -- to do "their duty" and more strenuously impede the workers from stopping the trains and trucks removing the salt. The conception that the courts and the police would be doing their duty if they defended labour does not enter the thinking that guides the legal system. This is why that thinking and the arrangements called liberal democratic institutions need renewal so that their aim is determined by the working people according to their vision of a society that harmonizes individual and collective interests within the context of society's general interests.
The long-winded rationale given for the extended injunction appears to have made it more specific and proscribed by limiting the pickets of striking workers to stopping vehicles for 15 minutes. Fifteen minutes is said to be very reasonable but it does not address why the company is shipping the salt out while refusing to engage in negotiations.
The extended injunction came into effect on March 8 for one week, at which point the company can apply to have it extended again.
On the day the injunction was renewed, a worker on the picket line made the cruelty of the injunction clear when he told CBC News: "That's a little bit more upsetting now than in the past, because we see the trucks the last couple of days are going in and loading product out and shipping the product to our warehouses, which hasn't been happening up until yesterday."
Unifor represents the Windsor Salt workers. It has made it clear that from the outset the new owners of the operations refused to talk about any financial matters (i.e. wages or benefits) unless the union allows the company to contract work in its salt operations to non-union employees. This is something that no union worthy of the name could accept. The union's national president, Lana Payne, came to the picket line to show support for the striking workers in Windsor, at which time she said: "It's a challenge because the company was purchased by a hedge fund during the pandemic, and we all know the history of hedge funds and how they operate. We're at the point right now of defending the very existence of our union in that mine." The proposals from the company, the concessions that they're talking about, "would basically potentially wipe out our membership," she said. In addition, they would potentially wipe out the health and safety and other standards that the union upholds, which the new owners want to remove so that they can rip as much value as possible out of the operations for themselves and their shareholders. These then are matters the workers are deliberating on as they work out a way forward.
This article was published in
Number 14 - March 17, 2023
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