Canadian unions used to be stronger according to former UBC professor

Sean Holden / November 29, 2018

A picket line has 100’s of workers surrounding Canada’s third largest mail processing plant.
(Ahmadullah Rahmat / BCIT News)

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) have been reinforced by crowds of BC unions standing with them and calling out “solidarity”, after legislation forced them back to work before the holidays.

“They have made a terrible mistake,” says CUPW Grievance Officer Cindy McDonald.

“We will continue to fight for fair negotiatied agreements that address the health and safety, equitable treatment, fair wages and working conditions of our members!” – Cindy McDonald, Grievance Officer with CUPW

The postal workers union were on their sixth week of strikes before it was ended.

“We are calling on workers to protest this unconsitional legislation,” called McDonald.

But, on the other hand, former UBC Politcal Science Professor, Philip Resnick said “that won’t fly,” because “there’s nothing unconstitutional about it.”

Though there is a right to assemble, the legislation is completely legal, he adds.

Despite the hoorah of private and public unions, they don’t have the same bargaining power as in the past according to Resnick.

“To be blunt, they weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms. there was alot of resistance,” said Resnick. “When the war came along, the second World War, that generally was a situation which labour shortages were much more common.”

He states that due to the complications of the war effort, the industrial sector was propped up to having stronger power over the government.

“They generally didn’t strike. But they were able to pressure the federal government to legislate in ways that were more favourable for them.” – Philip Resnick, Former UBC Political Science Professor

Post war unions were in a period of social change that created a stronger basis to demand for a greater social welfare system, said Resnick.

As the years went on, more factors came in to play that weakened the abilities of unions to pressure the government.

In 1987, a Supreme Court decision reinforced the governments ability to use back-to-work legislation to force public sector workers off the picket line.

Since then Resnick says public unions have slowly eroded in membership and popularity.

Statistics Canada records, in 1981 the country had nearly 42 per cent of the male workers engaged with a union. In 2014, that rate was at 27.2 per cent of male workers.

Statistics from 1981 to 2014 of unionized workers.
(Statistics Canada)

“The result is, the relative bargaining power of trade unions have become weaker, and this is also reinforced by the much larger trends such as globalization.”

In the case of Canada Post, Resnick said that with new competition from private industries such as UPS and Amazon, the pressure is on for postal workers to be more competitive and less unionized.

“The weakening of unions has also had implications for social policy,” said Resnick. ” It goes far beyond just unions, it can effect how strong or how weak the pressure is going to be for the governments to act towards the welfare state.”

CUPW stated it plans to continue protesting until the federal election.