Editor’s Introduction The Saskatoon Co-op strike has been on since November 1 with strikers fighting against an increasingly ugly employer that wants a two-tier contract that would sell out all future hires. Recently, the case for backing the strikers was made by Andrew Stevens and Charles Smith. A new opinion piece with a different view of the strike has been written by Industrial Relations professor at the University of Toronto, Dionne Pohler.
Charles Smith respond below to Pohler:
In this piece, Professor Pohler challenges Andrew Stevens and I (without directly naming us) on a few things with regard to the Co-op strike in Saskatoon. I’m going to respond as respectfully as I can, with the hopes that there is some clarity of our actual argument and in outlining some basic misnomers on this piece:
1) This is only a Saskatoon dispute, not a province-wide one
As anyone who follows labour issues would know, there was a similar strike in Moose Jaw, and these same type of tactics occurred at the Regina Co-Op refinery. So yes, these disputes are happening across the province.
2) That Saskatoon Co-op is a separate business than FCL or other Co-ops
Sure, that’s like saying the Saskatoon Walmart is a separate entity from the Regina Walmart. But any way you slice it, these organizations are integrated. They’re integrated in a way that links supply chains, resources, shipping etc. So you can claim legal separation, but give me a break that they have a complete asset and financial separation.
3) Co-ops and unions are equally democratic
That is almost a laughable notion, as the CEOs of the Co-op are in no way accountable in the manner of a union official. I challenge the understanding of democracy in this piece (that isn’t ever explained).
4) That asset ownership is responsible for inequality
(and you can’t look at one strike to explain societal inequality)
Ok, notwithstanding the fact there is NO evidence to support this claim, there is a TON of evidence to show that wages are stagnant, unions (in the private sector) are in steady decline and that the cost of living has risen astronomically while wages have not. We provided a small snapshot of that evidence, while this piece provided none.
Also, having visited the line numerous times I can assure you that it is made up of strikers that represent a cross-section of the working class: women, people of colour, Indigenous workers etc. These workers are not struggling because of “asset ownership.” They’re struggling because their wages are too low.
But really, the absolute difference between this analysis and ours is that we take the concept of class and class struggle seriously. This piece wants to find a balance between management and labour (while concealing it’s actual defence of the status quo and thus its basic conservatism) and in so doing loses the forests for the trees.