07/07/2016 08:30 EDT | Updated 07/07/2016 08:59 EDT

Canadian Workers Are Finally Being Heard


There has been a thaw of sorts lately in Ottawa and other corridors of power, as far as labour's relations with government go -- and that's a good thing for working people across this country.

After a decade of being frozen out by the Harper Conservatives, what we are seeing now is a rebalancing of the voices heard by our members of parliament -- including those who sit in cabinet.

What we have now is a government in Ottawa, and likewise in some provinces (including Ontario), that wants to consult all Canadians and the organizations that represent them before making big decisions. This is what responsible governments do. It is not what the previous government did, however.

Instead, the Harper Conservatives rarely emerged from the echo chamber of their own rhetoric and pro-business supporters, who told them to thwart the wishes of working people and to sign trade deals that had little to do with trade and everything to do with expanding the rights of corporations.

In a story in the Globe and Mail last weekend, Canadian Chamber of Commerce President Perrin Beatty said he was not able to meet face to face with the Trudeau government to discuss expansion of the Canada Pension Plan before the government signed a deal with the provinces to do exactly that.

Excuse me?

For 10 years, the Chamber and its members held sway in Ottawa, and had much more influence over the laws of this land than organized labour is ever likely to have. The result? Record youth unemployment, social services cuts to pay for massive tax breaks, skyrocketing tuitions and a struggling manufacturing sector.

It is a politician's duty to listen to what the voting public has to say on the issues of the day, and talking to labour leaders such as myself is one way they do that.

On the CPP file, we all know the advice coming from the business side of the table -- do nothing. Keep the CPP at its current inadequate levels and leave future retirees to their own devices -- even as we know that Canadians are not saving what need to, largely because life today has become so expensive.

With advice like that, thank goodness our new governments are seeking a wider array of voices before moving forward.

In that same Globe article, I was quoted as saying, "I have spoken with more ministers in the last six months than the previous 10 years."

It's true. I have, and that's a good thing. Because when I talk to a minister or any other politician, I bring the hopes and dreams of Unifor's 310,000 members and their families to the conversation. It is a politician's duty to listen to what the voting public has to say on the issues of the day, and talking to labour leaders such as myself is one way they do that.

As the Globe story notes, there have already been positive changes made in Ottawa, beyond the commitment to expand the CPP, such as repealing the Harper Conservative laws that would make it harder for workers to organize and would place overly restrictive reporting rules on unions.

Even some of the Conservatives' staunchest supporters didn't like those laws, and said so. They, along with labour, pointed out that unions have a positive role to play in society and that such laws would weaken the voice of working people and worsen the inequities in our society

But to the Chicken Littles right-wing press, such as The National Post's Kevin Libin, such changes are evidence of Justin Trudeau "cozy" relationship with organized labour and nothing more than a cynical ploy to buy votes.

This is a man who once dismissed the reporting on the Panama Papers and tax havens as an "attack on the wealthy" (the best reporting on which, by the way, was done by Unifor members at the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail), and ridiculed the idea of paying your fair share in taxes by likening any taxation at all to robbery.

Such people may never see the value in consultations with Canadians -- other than the richest one per cent. Thankfully, however, our new federal government and an increasing number of our provincial governments do see the value.

Libin was right about one thing, however: "It appears the death of the labour movement has nevertheless been greatly exaggerated."

Couldn't agree more.

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Wage Gains In Canada, By Industry (2015)