By Scott Price
Seventeen years of NDP governance in Manitoba has come to an end. The Progressive Conservatives, lead by Brian Pallister, have won an unprecedented victory capturing 40 seats and 53% of the popular vote. The Manitoba NDP have been reduced to 14 seats with only 2 (Flin Flon and The Pas) outside of Winnipeg. What now and what should we expect from a Brian Pallister lead PC majority in Manitoba?
Throughout the campaign the PC’s kept to their message of providing lower taxes, cutting waste in government and maintain front line services with few details. A few details did slip out, in particular changes to Manitoba’s labour laws.
Brian Pallister has said that his PC government would end the card check system which. Currently, Manitoba is one of the few jurisdictions left in Canada with this process, where certification can be achieved if 65% of the workforce signs a union card. Instead, workers would have to vote by secret ballot in order to unionize, which research has shown to slow the pace of unionization. PC’s claim that is would save the province $12 million in so-called “forced unionization”. Tim Hudak proposed a similar change in labour laws in his failed campaign in the 2014 Ontario provincial elections.
The proposal is an obvious attack on workers’ right to organize as a secret ballot vote allows greater opportunity for employer intimidations and firing of workers who show support for unions during a campaign. The Manitoba Building Trades have also opposed the changes because it would give non-union contractors an advantage in bidding for projects by ending common wage and working conditions set out in Project Labour Agreements. The fact that the Palliser PCs are making similar proposals as union buster Tim Hudak is an ominous sign of things to come in Manitoba. Similar developments can be seen next door in Saskatchewan.
What now for the labour movement in Manitoba? A small rally that happened on April 15 might hold some insights.
Around 40 people marched from the University of Winnipeg down Portage Avenue in Winnipeg as a part of the nation wide 15 and Fairness campaign aimed at raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
The event was well organized and connected the labour movement with community and advocacy groups like Make Poverty History, CCPA (Manitoba), and student activists.
Campaigns like 15 and Fairness certainly has the potential to connect various parts of the labour movement with community organizers into a wider campaign. A deeper question is: how quickly will unions respond and mobilize against a PC government? Will it take the opening that the 15 and Fairness campaign offers for building a wider movement, or will the labour movement simply hold their collective noses for four years and hope the NDP can regain power?
Over the last 17 years the labour movement in Manitoba has chosen to take a docile approach with an NDP government in power. This has seriously eroded the labour movement’s capacity to organize even a defensive campaign let alone a wider project that can capably challenge a PC majority. While the experience under the last Tory mandate lead by Gary Filmon has been used time and time again as a way of demonstrating the ills of conservative governance, this has proven to be a poor organizing strategy. In fact, it became a crutch for the NDP and unions in Manitoba.
The labour movement in Manitoba has to make up for lost time in organizing capacity and mobilizing its base in wider campaigns. No better time to start than on April 20th.
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