Larry Rousseau on ‘Workers Free Choice’

It is called ‘Workers Free Choice’. And it is anything but. It is in fact Pierre Poilievre’s real agenda to ensure that there is no choice. No choice but to accept what is being rammed down the throats of public service workers. No choice but to be browbeaten into accepting whatever some goose-stepping, yahoo-macho-cowboy manager dictates and imposes on a cowering and trepidatious staff. No choice but to respond, as in the days of bad ol’ King John, “yes, sir, yes, sir, three bags full, sir!”

Over the years and decades, what began as a determined effort to implement free collective bargaining became one of the best public service accomplishments in the Western world. Specifically, the Ottawa 1965 Report of the Prepatory Committee on Collective Bargaining in the Public Service, headed by one of Canada’s most accomplished public servants, Arnold Heeney, a lad from Danford Lake in West Québec. He was very well educated, erudite and perfectly bilingual. The first real Clerk of the Privy Council, Mr. Heeney had been a trusted confidant and advisor of every prime minister from MacKenzie-King to Trudeau. Mr. Heeney’s report, the result of a bi-partisan effort started under John Diefenbaker, a Conservative, and completed under Lester B. Pearson, a Liberal, led to the creation of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), as well as recognition of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) and the Canadian Association of Public Employees (CAPE) as the main bargaining agents of Canadian federal public service employees.

The work of that Committee, as well as its report, recognized that it was high time to repeal and modernize “the arbitrary and paternalistic system which continued to prevail, especially in the means of determining rates of pay.” These words are Mr. Heeney’s own, from his book “The Things That Are Caesar’s – The memoirs of a Canadian public servant”, published in 1972 by University of Toronto Press, shortly after his death. I would have wanted to meet with him; talked with him; and learned more. He decried and helped change a system that he called “arbitrary and paternalistic.” Arbitrary and paternalistic are what I call Pierre Poilievre’s determined efforts to establish “Workers Free Choice”, which is really no choice. No choice but to  return to the days of yore, when you shut up, and took what was dished out; no choice but when the privileged elites spoke down to you, you always looked up and never talked back. Oh yes, Mr. Poilievre, there are those in society who still remember that period well, though much older (and decidedly wiser) than you, and who never, ever, would go back. Who fought wars to end that society. And yet, going back to a darkened future is precisely what Workers Free Choice will instill. Who but corporate conservatives, as well as those willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, would think that it is a good thing to demolish the very institutions that were created to ensure free collective bargaining, and the progressive rights that have been hard fought and won in the workplace (especially by women)? No, we will not go into the debate of the usefulness of trade unions here. No time, no space. However, if anyone, including Mr. Poilievre wishes to debate that with me, name the place and time.

It is precisely because the PSAC and public service unions have been so instrumental in helping to achieve the goals and dreams that Mr. Heeney saw when he headed the Prepatory Committee and wrote that report in 1965, that we need not have a debate. We need only list the accomplishments gained since 1965 through free collective bargaining, which is true and democratic workers free choice. That helps us see so easily through the putrid and rotted beams of Mr. Poilievre’s “Workers Free Choice”, a canard if there ever was one. Why oh why is it that right-wing regressive corporate conservative programs and ideas are presented in “arbeit macht frei” terms that are precisely the opposite of what they state? It has always smelled of the obscene disregard for the determined intelligence and consciousness of the people to progress toward a more egalitarian society. Throughout history, conservatives, and today especially, corporate conservatives have truly believed that the rabble must be presented with simplicity because they are simpletons…Marie-Antoinette would truly understand and approve of Mr. Poilièvre’s actions!

Workers Free Choice. Let Them Eat Cake. Words that lead to revolting reaction and the upchucking of what cannot be digested. Spoken by those who disregard freedom in favour of corporate dictatorship in our workplaces, in our communities, and in society at large. Unions, however, speak back. Unions challenge. Unions win better working conditions and labour rights. For all of society. We all gain as union members, and through our union dues we all pay for the gains we make at the bargaining table through free collective bargaining. End of story. It worked in 1965 and it still works today. Except for those who wish to reinstate and enforce “arbitrary and paternalistic” working conditions on workers throughout society. All in the name of corporate profits and tax-free havens, which profit the rich. And that is the precise agenda of Mr. Poilievre and his band of regressive conservatives, stealing from the poor and giving to the rich, pushing “Workers Free Choice.” Arbeit macht frei, indeed!

When I see Pierre Poilievre I am reminded of the Sheriff of Nottingham. Not to mention Sherwood Forest…

Bring it on!