11/07/2013 11:24 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Quebec labour leader calls for union-led counterattack against Tory policies

OTTAWA - It's time for Canada's labour movement to mobilize for a counterattack against the Harper government's anti-union policies, a Quebec labour leader said Thursday.

Jean Lortie, general secretary of the Confederation des syndicats nationaux, says the federal government has declared war on unions and the middle class and it's time to fight back.

"Everything that this government is doing on its anti-union agenda is attacking middle-class Canadians," Lortie told a news conference.

He said resolutions at the Conservative convention in Calgary last week, including some aimed at the CBC, showed a deep anti-union sentiment.

"I was there in Calgary last week and it was incredible," Lortie said. "In recent history we haven't seen that in Canada — such a declaration of war against people and against Radio-Canada and CBC."

Treasury Board President Tony Clement spoke in favour of some of the Calgary resolutions and has made it clear recently that he is ready to take on the public service unions in his quest for budget savings.

"You don't level the playing field by saying public sector employees are given a by on the state of the economy," Clement said this week. "That isn't right, it isn't just. It's not conservative. It's not in the public interest."

If budget are to be balanced, then public service salaries and pensions and sick leave must be addressed, he said.

Lortie predicted trouble if the federal government goes too far — imposing U.S.-style right-to-work legislation, for instance, or attacking the long-standing formula that governs mandatory union dues.

"Don't cross that line, because it's going to be open war, it's going to be hell," he said. "Don't go there, because you're going to attack millions of workers in this country, millions of families."

NDP labour critic Alexandre Boulerice said the Harper government is trying to use unions to mask its own problems.

"They are just trying to focus out of their own incapabilities,"he said. "It is a right-wing agenda, a very strongly right-wing agenda on demonizing groups."

Lortie said efforts are in the works to organize a "rainbow coalition" of unions, environmentalists and other social activist groups to bring 20,000 people to Ottawa next summer to oppose the government's agenda.