Sunday, September 07, 2008

Liberal anti-labour record

If there is one lesson that I hope voters might take to heart during this election campaign, it's not to think in binaries. There are not two, but several options on the table, including the New Democratic Party and the Green Party. It's not Harper = -Dion::Dion = -Harper.

For those already plumping for Dion simply because he isn't Harper, I challenge them to compare his record on labour--I'm talking about ordinary working Canadian men and women--with that of Jack Layton and the NDP.

Dion opposed anti-scab legislation in the House of Commons, joining with the Conservatives to defeat Bill C-257. 29 Liberals flip-flopped on the final reading of the Bill, including Dion himself and his aristocratic rival Michael Ignatieff, cravenly joining ranks with the Conservatives when the chips were down. In fairness, this was one of the few times that Dion took a decisive stand on anything, even if it required a flip-flop to get him there.

Dion remains deeply unpopular with ordinary Canadians, and despised by trade unionists. He simply lacks the common touch. His aloof arrogance, while of a different type from rock-'em-sock-'em Stephen Harper's, is no less ingrained. He has an upper-middle class contempt for working people, and it shows.

But putting this all on Dion himself would be a mistake. He's merely reflective of the anti-labour party that he leads. Both the Liberals in office and the Conservatives have not even been able to bring themselves to proclaim basic health and safety legislation for Parliament Hill workers, for many of whom exposure to asbestos is a daily hazard. They have each brought in a plethora of anti-labour measures while in power. From a worker's point of view, Liberals in office are indistinguishable from Conservatives: allow the wonky, soon-to-retire Canadian Auto Workers' prez Basil Hargrove his delusions to the contrary.

The NDP, to be frank, has a mixed record vis-à-vis Canadian workers. But it has been unwavering in its support for pro-worker legislation in the House of Commons. Unlike the Liberals, it hasn't flip-flopped on vital labour issues. Unlike the Liberals, it hasn't abstained from crucial votes in the House of Commons. Unlike the Liberals, it has not betrayed immigrant workers.
Unlike the Liberals, it is not a party of Big Business, endemic corruption and patronage.

There will be many other issues--and non-issues--in this campaign. But it behooves progressives with memories to highlight the shameful anti-labour record of the Liberal Party. The party will pretend to be the friend of the working man and woman, as they always do while in opposition. Ottawa Lib MPs Marlene Catterall and Mac Harb showed up for photo-ops at my own union's picket lines, whispering sweet nothings into our ears: when they gained office two years later, they and their party extended federal public sector wage freezes, continued the suspension of collective bargaining, fought pay equity tooth and nail, and kicked out 75,000 workers from 1994-1998.

Indeed the record shows that Liberals, once they come to power, turn on Canadian workers like wolves. In the past two decades, they've slashed the public service, stolen pension funds, torn up signed collective agreements, and imposed wage controls. Caveat suffragator: on the election catwalk this Fall,
Stéphane Dion and his colleagues will be strutting their stuff, but it's only their latest collection of sheep's clothing.


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