For decades, Liberal and Conservative politicians have argued that free trade is the panacea for all our economic ills. That they negotiate our trade deals in backrooms not for themselves, but for all of us.
Most recently Liberals were spinning and waxing on about how their multilateral trade deals were done for Winnipeg mukluk producers and Nova Scotia blueberry pickers. The free-trade ideology has been given a free ride for so long that we don't even roll our eyes to such ridiculous claims. Even worse, it's led us to pretend like no one loses out because of these deals.
That's bunk, of course. Just take a look at our manufacturing base and you can see that these trade deals leave too many Canadians worse off. Last week I visited with workers from the CAMI plant in Ingersoll to see it firsthand.
The CAMI plant has been repeatedly voted the most efficient auto manufacturing plant in all of North America. It is so profitable that GM forces the workers to work six days a week so they can maximize the bottom line.
The disintegration of the middle-class dream is happening before our eyes.
But running the most efficient plant at a significant profit isn't good enough, so they are going to ship out production of the Terrain to Mexico, costing 625 people their jobs .
This is the face of Canada's trade orthodoxy no one wants to talk about: it doesn't matter how hard you work, how many concessions you give or how profitable the plant, you can be sold out.
And rest assured that if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau isn't going to stand up for jobs at a plant as important to the economy as CAMI, he sure as hell isn't going to stand up for you if you are working in a contract or temp job someplace else.
While Liberals continue with their failed Bobby McFerrin "Don't worry be happy" economic mantra, the data paints a different picture. In 2009 the number of Canadians who considered themselves working class or poor was 29 per cent. That number has since jumped to a stunning 44 per cent.
The disintegration of the middle-class dream is happening before our eyes and the Liberals' only solution has been to keep on with their failed trickle-down economics, giving bigger tax breaks to the upper management types who oversee the bleed-off of stable Canadian employment.
Canadian workers across this country deserve a government that is willing to have their back.
But just pointing to the problem won't cut it, so what practical steps can we start taking to ensure the federal government plays its role in sharing gains broadly?
First, with Donald Trump putting NAFTA on the negotiation table, we have an enormous opportunity to fight like hell for Canadian workers like those being ripped off by GM's move to Mexico. So far public discussions have only been about expected concessions from softwood and beef, to auto parts and dairy. This negotiation should be about ways to redress the trade imbalance.
Secondly, let's talk about a simple job pledge for Canadian investment. GM was given massive concessions and bailouts during the 2008 economic crisis. Now that the good times have returned, it's not acceptable that they give us the pink slip. What goes for GM would go for Bombardier, Irving or any other company. Any company that expects money and support from the Canadian government must commit to a job pledge -- proving that handouts are clearly linked to jobs.
Finally, specific to the auto sector we need to get serious about a proactive industrial strategy. Rather than sitting back and watching it be moved job by job to Mexico, my colleague MP Brian Masse (Windsor West) has spoken for years about the need to have the government working as a positive partner with industry, labour, auto dealers and the communities to strengthen the manufacturing economy.
And this is just a start. Simply put, it is the federal government's job to work with the corporate sector to share gains broadly and rebuild the Canadian middle class.
The workers at CAMI, like Canadian workers across this country, deserve a government that is willing to have their back. That's exactly why I am running for leader of the NDP, and that is my pledge.
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Without trade unions promoting the aim of a 40-hour work week, there would have been no pressure on employers to limit the amount of time employees spend working. While of course employees are free to choose how long they spend working, trade unions worked to ensure this was the choice of a worker, not their boss. The movement for an 8-hour work day peaked at the turn of the 20th century, just before the First World War. And more recent moves towards re-imagining the working day have seen big businesses use technology to limit after-hours email traffic. Arguably such ideas are borne out of trade union campaigning more than a century ago.
While European rules introduced the basic legal right to paid-for annual leave, it is the trade unions which fought for enhanced entitlements over and above the basic EU provision. Since the early 2000s, the Trades Union Congress has fought for increases to the amount of leave, which is now the equivalent of 5.6 working weeks (PDF).
Before the Employers and Workmen Act 1875, workers were the only ones who could be sued for breach of an employment contract. The increased organisation of trade unions and the Great Reform Act prompted both Tory and Liberal governments of the time to take a renewed interest in employment laws. Ultimately this brought about greater parity in the relationship between employer and employee.
Trade unions were instrumental in lobbying government for the provision of leave for new parents - at workers' own discretion. In 1998, the Trades Union Congress launched a campaign to ensure that proposed parental leave would be flexible and well promoted to employees.
Cases of discrimination aren't uncommon, but they'd be a lot more if it weren't for trade unions. As the European Commission says: "Trade unions play a primary role in fighting against discrimination through a variety of actions and tools". They negotiate with employers, support victims, and monitor discrimination cases - keeping up-to-date with the latest case law so that we don't have to.
Although trade unions had reservations about the effect of a national minimum wage, they declared their support for the policy in the mid-1980s. By the 1990s, scholarly evidence caught up with the unions - arguing that a minimum wage would not reduce adult-age employment (PDF). And through the Labour Party, trade unions were able to influence policy in government after the 1997 election.
In the 1840s, unions that were highly centralised and which employed full-time officers brought about negotiation and arbitration as their preferred method of achieving a good deal for their members. This had a significant effect in improving worker/industrialist relations, and while not always successful, they fundamentally changed workplace relationships for the better.
In the 1830s, a Chartist movement was organised around 6 clear principles - and mobilised mass support for its aims through petitions. Just like trade unions, the Chartists' relied on collective aims amongst like-minded people - most visible in the form of three 'monster' petitions presented to Parliament. These contained millions of signatures and proved a desire amongst workers for improved working conditions.
The history of the working week lies in industrial practices, and in Britain factories operated 6 days a week to maintain efficiencies of scale. Sundays were always the day of rest. But trade unions fought to secure the Saturday for workers, too. And now the Monday-to-Friday work week is accepted across industries, as the LSE notes.
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