Labour force has a little less to celebrate on its day

Where does the labour movement stand in this country under the Conservatives’ watch?

With Labour Day just around the corner, it’s hard not to think of where the labour movement stands in this country under the Conservatives’ watch.

Certainly Finance Minister Jim Flaherty must have winched somewhat when he proclaimed this week the private sector has to start doing more to help the economy and create jobs.

Although the government routinely bragged and proclaimed on oversized signs about all its investment and job creation it was doing across the country to save us from economic ruin, it still hasn’t shaken off the cloud of economic uncertainty.

So with a bit of a twist, now Flaherty, on behalf of the government, is saying the private sector isn’t doing enough to create jobs.

In political-speak that means, “don’t blame us if you can’t find a job and have been denied benefits, blame companies for not hiring you or laying you off.”

The irony is that the government has helped create the current atmosphere it’s blaming corporations for. By taking on workers at Canada Post and Air Canada without allowing any meaningful discussion and back-and-forth, the Conservatives have emboldened the private sector as well as provincial governments. Despite the government’s claim, I find it hard to believe the country would have come to a standstill without mail service for a few weeks or Air Canada flights being grounded. But that’s what we were led to believe.

By preventing fair negotiations, the government has swung the pendulum far in favour of companies looking to make big profits on the backs of workers. No need for negotiations, say companies, the government is showing us how to cut, reduce and eliminate jobs for a better bottom line.

After all, the bottom line is what society is all about now. Isn’t it?

We witness it first hand in B.C. where it’s a “take it or leave it,” wages freeze policy from the same politicians who on the other hand refuse to acknowledge their fat pensions, overspending or dubious expense accounts.

I just returned from a trip to the Harper enclave of Ottawa and saw and heard first hand several accounts that the government’s promise of fiscal responsibility and cuts to public service have barely made an impact.

I learned of an intern who, on a four-month job assignment, spent most of her time planning a trip to Geneva for the department, and then got to go on it with several other civil servants, and write a report about it on her return. That was her entire internship – the trip to Geneva.

While corporations have switched to webinars and Skype to be more cost-efficient, there’s nothing like sending a team of civil servants across the ocean to stay in posh hotels, eat well and discuss things that usually never see the light of day. I guess it wasn’t just Bev Oda who enjoyed those lavish perks but she was the one that got caught.

In downtown Ottawa, we watched with a bit of pride but more surprise as a total of six guards changed shift in front of the War Monument one afternoon. Not only were six people involved in guarding a statue during the middle of the day but also two more were on hand to answer questions from tourists as to why they were doing this.

There was no recent military death or the passing of a decorated veteran, it was just for show.

Symbolic as it may be, one has to wonder if they ever realized any vandalism is done at night and the obvious benefits of security cameras?

Which prompted me to ask if any of the laid off national park staff in western Canada, which protected millions of acres of land, were offered the job of watching over a statue.

One thing you have to realize when you’re in Ottawa is that Canada’s borders end on the western edge of Ontario.

What happens beyond that is pretty much like what happens in Las Vegas – it stays there.

On the other side is Quebec and, for a province that constantly feels shunned by the rest of Canada, it certainly gets its share of attention from the national headquarters.

The rush hour traffic heading back to Quebec from taxpayer-funded Canadian government jobs in Ottawa is astounding to say the least.

But back on topic, this is not to say that the labour movement has been battered everywhere. We simply have to look up on the hill at Teck and see how workers justifiably got a piece of the pie the company has been baking over the last few years.

Admittedly we all benefit, directly or indirectly, from the successful contract negotiations and it was a bright spot for workers that the settlement came quickly, without animosity and with suitable compensation.

Which brings me back to Monday’s marking of Labour Day. Most Canadians are already focused on back-to-school, one final weekend of summer, that last chance for some fun in the sun, the annual Calgary-Edmonton CFL tilt.

But we should all be reminded of that big sign in the Local 480 parking lot, “Unions, the folks that brought you weekends.”

Enjoy Labour Day anyway you want. But please take time to remember why you get to enjoy it.

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