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The NDP and “Big Labour”

July 3, 2011

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Rob Silver, a sharp guy I first met through university debate, has written a rather disappointing piece entitled, “Would NDP be neutral were it in power during a labour dispute?”

This question is interesting and significant. On the one hand, the NDP’s political philosophy is strongly supportive of working people. Compared to Liberals and Conservatives, NDP provincial governments have consistently enacted labour legislation that makes it easier for workers to form unions and engage in collective bargaining.

On the other hand, the state is a very large employer. Governments of all political stripes automatically find themselves on the management side in dealing with their own employees. On several occasions, NDP provincial governments have imposed settlements over the objections of public-sector unions.

Rob does not examine these issues or NDP provincial governments. He just goes for a quick partisan attack, claiming that the federal NDP has been “brazenly pro-big labour” in opposing back-to-work legislation for Canada Post. But what does that mean?

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers has some 54,000 members, not an especially big union. By comparison, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, United Food and Commercial Workers, Auto Workers and Steelworkers each have around 200,000 Canadian members. The Canadian Union of Public Employees represents 600,000.

Rob is not distinguishing between labour organizations based on size. He is just using “big labour” as a pejorative term for any union.

  • Erin Weir is Senior Economist with the International Trade Union Confederation and a CCPA Research Associate.

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