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Strikes, and all that…

The Windsor faculty strike and VIVA transit strike linger on.  I couldn’t help but notice the hostile tone of the ‘comments’ to the stories in the media, posted by the newspapers’ readers.  A clear and almost universal message is evident:  unions are evil, as are union members, and governments should ban strikes.   The commentators appear to be angry because (1) the workers don’t accept the employers’ offers (which the reader judges to be generous);  and (2) some of them are being inconvenienced by the strikes.  

On the first point, it seems people get angry at unionized workers for fighting to get a better settlement than would be the case if they simply accept the employer’s first offer, as is the usual scenario in the non-union world.  Unionized workers earn more and have better benefits than non-unionized workers in Canada precisely because they ‘fight back’ through collective bargaining and, in the relatively rare case, striking. Yet, for many non-union workers, higher wages and benefits in the unionized sector is perceived to be a bad thing.  Do you believe that the non-union model, in which employers usually set wages and benefits unilaterally, is a better model than collective bargaining?  If so, why?  Make a rationale argument, not an uninformed emotional one (like ‘union members are selfish and lazy’, as a number of the commentators baldly claim).

On the second point, the Supreme Court stated recently that a modern democracy should be able to tolerate some occasional inconvenience as a cost of protecting fundamental freedoms  (see, for example, the comments in Pepsi-Cola Canada).  The comments on both strikes have suggested that the government should ban the strikes, or order the employees back to work.  Canadian governments like to to do this, whenever the public gets angry about a strike.   See my comments in this earlier entry.  But banning strikes, or ordering them to come to an end, is a violation of Canada’s international law obligations, except where the strike “would endanger the life, personal safety or health of the whole or part of the population”, according to the International Labour Organization (see esp. p. 20).   A strike by bus drivers or university professors would never fit within those categories.  

So, if you believe that governments should ban strikes whenever the public is irritated or inconvenienced by them, does it concern you that this would result in Canada violating its international human rights obligations?  Or do you think that international human rights (such as those set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and ILO Conventions–both of which recognize the right to strike) should be ignored when it comes to the right to strike?

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