Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The December edition of the Industrial Worker had a brief article on the recent Bill C-257 which passed second reading by a margin of 167 to 101 in the House of Commons on Oct. 25th. The article reads as follows,
"The House of Commons voted Oct. 25 167 to 101 in favour of Bill C-257, which would make it illegal for employers covered by the Canada Labour Code to hire scabs. The bill was supported by union activists across the country including CUPE members who sent in hundreds of emails to their MPs. According to the 2.2 million-member Canadian Labour Congress, the bill will help create more tranquil labour relations in the federal jurisdiction, including a significant drop in work days lost due to strike or lockout."
This article was far too brief and actually obscures more than it tells in the effort to present "good news". A little background is in order. The bill is actually the 11th time that the Bloc Quebecois has attempted to introduce such legislation under the provisions for "private members bills". All previous attempts have been defeated. The Act entitled 'An Act to Amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers) would indeed forbid the hiring of scabs in labour disputes governed by the Canada Labour Code, but these are a small minority of the disputes that occur in Canada. In the Canadian federal system most labour disputes and regulation fall under provincial jurisdiction.
Presently two Canadian provinces ban the use of scabs during strikes, Quebec since 1977 and BC since 1993. Right wing ideologues at the Fraser Institute tout so-called "evidence" as opposed to the position of the CLC that such legislation reduces ! time lost to strikes in such publications as 'Budd, John W. (2000)."The Effect of Strike Replacement Legislation on Employment." Labour Economics 7:225-247' and 'Budd, John W and Yjiang Wang(2004) "Labour Policy and Investment:Evidence From Canada". Industrial and Labour Relations Review 57, 3 (April), saying that "employment and investment decrease in jurisdictions that ban the use of replacement workers".
The academic studies cited are deeply flawed. Can you say, "lack of controls". The case of these two Canadian provinces, the most militant in Canada is taken in isolation from not just the numerous other union factors that may make a jurisdiction seem "unfriendly to business" but also in isolation from general economic trends that affect all Canadian provinces, with or without anti-scab legislation. In particular, even though the Fraser Institute mentions them, the cases of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland where scabbing has been prohibited via precedent setting court cases rather than legislation are ignored in such reports. Any old piece of academic driftwood if your ship appears to be going down I guess.
The reading given the bill was actually only the 'Second Reading', the stage of a bill in the Canadian system where "the principle and object of a bill is either accepted or rejected". The Bill now goes to committee. Hearings for said committee began today, with presentations from various interest groups. Detailed examination of the clauses will be conducted through a lengthy process of hearings and consideration (and, of course, wheeling and dealing) before any such bill is presented to Parliament for a third and final reading.
From Molly's point of view this Bill is very much one of the 'Christmas Bills' that will be "lost in committee". The process of passing an Act of Parliament is a little more complicated than the layperson might imagine. A Bill is, of course, automatically lost if a given Parliament ends with the calling of an election. It can, however, also be lost due to the ending of a "session of parliament" that end with the dissolution of the session and the introduction of a new speech from the throne. Should Bill C-257 miraculously avoid both pitfalls and come to a vote in the Commons before either event it still has to pass the Senate before such events to become law. More than a few little hurdles to pass before the partial protection becomes the law of the land for the few Canadian workers who fall under federal jurisdiction. I wonder when the RCMP will go on strike ?
The prohibition of scabs has less of an effect than other right wing ideologues who are more shrill than the Fraser Institute imagine. A great number of editorials (and same disguised as "news) have hit the more right wing papers and airwaves in the recent days bringing up the spectres of no 911, no fire protection, no police, etc.,etc.,etc.. In actual fact the legislative power available to governments in BC, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland has been more than equal to countering the "wild in the streets" scenarios. Essential services legislation, compulsory arbitration, court injunctions, etc. have always ! been more than enough to defeat public sector strikes without ! the use of scabs- which for emphasis- could hardly ever be used in ANY public sector strike anyways.
To a large extent the new Bill is more of a symbolic statement than a realistic reform. Something like the eternal "Quebec as a nation" statement in Canadian politics.
Molly note: The whole matter discussed above falls very much into the usual category of anarchist and syndicalist advocacy of "direct action" versus "political action" as means to achieve workers' rights. It, however, brings up an interesting question of what "reforms" to support.
First, it should be noted that 99% of anarchists in the historical sense have seen anarchism as a method to change "property rights", in particular the property rights of workers vis-a-vis those who control "the means of production", whether they be capitalists, managers of corporations or government bureaucrats, "socialist"(sic) or otherwise. There are some who may disagree, particularly in the USA where cults of anarcho-capitalism (to whom private property is as sacred as the Blessed Host) and primitivists who think such questions are "petty" in terms of their existential quest for an identity of the "most radical". Ego-boo big time.
But most anarchists have seen the gradual (or sudden-revolution) extension of workers' rights to the control of their work time and the product of same as close to the heart of anarchism. To anarchists this is justice, equality and liberty rolled into one. As such there is the ever present tendency to compromise and simply applaud any effort of government to legislate such matters, such as anti-scab legislation. The "right wing danger" in this, as opposed to the "left wing danger" of fools such as the primmies or less foolish people such as left communists who reject ALL reforms is to begin to pretend that such legislation is anarchism. To forget that it is merely a compromise that has BOTH good and bad points. To get carried away with a bipolar view of the world that cheers each and every lefty cause and government act without any consideration of the limitations of same. Cheer leading in other words.
The idea of "reform" is important to anarchism. Without it it becomes a silly little cult that gives identity and nothing else. The posing of "revolution" as the "final answer" to every small question is no answer at all, and an "ultra" position is NOT a useful political position. It is, however, important to judge reforms realistically, and to be very much public about their limitations. When anarchism has organizations that can continually and persistently "push the envelope" about the major questions of public policy such as anti-scab legislation then it will have "arrived" as a real movement and force in society. It may fall short of apocalyptic dreams, but it will be much more real for abandoning illusions.
Until then...

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