By Ivana Saula
IAM Canadian Research Director
A vote set to take place over the summer, more precisely August; a month when most people take vacations, take time to relax, disconnect from work and reconnect with friends, family, and nature. A month for some well-deserved down time.
It’s also the month that unions in Manitoba came under direct attack from Pallister’s PC government. If the strategy is taken out of the union context and looked at as a military strategy, the PCs move was akin to attacking a sleeping enemy. The scheduling was deliberate and timed to ensure retaliation was difficult to coordinate. Union members in Manitoba did not stand a chance.
In a move to neutralize the labour movement in the public sector, precisely healthcare, which is a sector known for strong and vital unions, the Conservatives devised a strategy to pit union against union, worker against worker and foster animosity in the House of Labour in Manitoba. That they might not have succeeded in, but the ensuing carnage is a blow to labour in Manitoba.
The change in regulation that required the reorganization of bargaining units was actually targeted at three of the strongest unions, Manitoba Nurses’ Union, MGEU and CUPE. The nurses’ union managed to keep its membership and add 500 new members, but MGEU lost 8,600 members. CUPE gained the most members out of all unions. But the question isn’t which union won, that is irrelevant in the broader context. What is important to recognize is that the government decided to take an aggressive stance against labour, one so contemptuous that unions weren’t even given a fair chance.
The Conservative government argued that reducing bargaining units in healthcare was necessary and was done for the sake of efficiencies, improving patient care and reducing administrative costs. It’s bewildering how union representation and choice individual workers make has anything to do with patient care.
Improving patient care requires not shutting down emergency rooms, and essential community programs, increasing staffing and ensuring healthcare facilities get the funding they need to provide adequate care. Exceptional patient care requires staff, equipment and facilities, none of which the Conservatives are willing to invest in. In fact, the Conservatives have made major cuts to healthcare, and their plan to improve patient care is to reorganize bargaining units.
As the media focuses on which union won, further fuelling tensions between unions in Manitoba, we should reflect on the fact that the collateral damage of this war is the public. Union solidarity is strong, and unions in Manitoba will surely overcome this setback, but it’s the patients who will pay the price of an unnecessary war the Conservatives waged.
The Conservative’s war on middle class Canadians, public services and communities continues, province by province using the same tactics and logic. Let’s be informed and choose wisely this October, let’s make sure we’re voting for a government that works for all of us, not some of us.