On the Subject of Imposing Limits on Workers’ Rights in the Name of Public Interest — Comment
— Peggy Morton —
Governments and the courts consider that the right of public sector workers to collectively bargain and decide on their terms of employment must be “reasonably limited” because of a perceived conflict with the public interest. The governments and courts give themselves the right to define the “reasonable limits” of public sector collective bargaining because of this so-called conflict with the public interest. They define the public interest according to the private interests of the financial oligarchy.
The declared conflict between workers’ rights and the public interest is also extended to include the national interest, as the Trudeau Liberal government did with the rotating strikes of postal workers last November. The Liberal government in the “national interest” imposed Bill C-89 the Postal Services Resumption and Continuation Act to end the rotating strikes, effectively blocking postal workers from using the weapon of a withdrawal of their capacity to work to force management to negotiate and resolve outstanding issues within a new collective agreement. Again the national interest is defined by those in control and not by the concrete conditions, needs and rights of the working people.
The government also limits the right of private sector workers to collective bargaining within the confines and reference point of a self-declared public or national interest such as with the case of railway workers and others. The “right of property” is also invoked to limit the human rights of private sector workers.
Within the “reasonable limits” of its reference point of workers’ rights in conflict with the public and national interest as defined by the financial oligarchy, the Supreme Court as well as lower courts have upheld the “right” of governments to impose wages and working conditions on workers without the consent of those affected. This has occurred despite all the high-sounding phrases about a Charter right to collective bargaining and the right to strike.
The Kenny Alberta government declares it has a mandate from the election to “reasonably limit” the existing collective agreement of public sector workers. This expresses the control the government has to define the public interest and impose its definition on working people.
An Alberta court found that Bill 9 goes beyond its reference point of “reasonable limits” and definition of public interest and granted an injunction allowing arbitration on a wage reopener to proceed. However, the injunction did not prevent the government from appealing the ruling to a higher court, and if that fails, to pass new legislation directly imposing wage controls on the 180,000 workers.
This violation of the rights of workers uses deceptive words about defending the public interest within “reasonable limits” without exposing who defines the public interest, while the true intent is to attack the wages and working conditions of the working class and trample on its rights.
Workers across Canada should give this serious thought. The issue boils down to who controls and who decides. In this election workers should speak out forcefully on these important issues. Empower Yourself Now!
Peggy Morton is the MLPC candidate in Edmonton Centre in the 2019 federal election.