We've been warned. The Harper government's rash interventionism in Air Canada and Canada Post strikes has to be seen as a declaration of a war on organized labour in Canada.
I'm a left-leaning Liberal but not what, to the Canadian Left, would qualify as socialist. My support for organized labour is genuine but it is also measured.
For most of my working life I belonged to some sort of union or guild or professional society. Even lawyers and doctors have collective representation.
I value organized labour as an essential component to the maintenance of a healthy, robust and viable middle class which is the very backbone of our democracy. A strong middle class is the very engine of social and economic mobility. It is the ladder by which the poor can climb out of poverty and clears the path for them to ascend into the trades and professions.
The middle class operates as a buffer against extremism on the Right and the Left. When it functions properly it provides people with hope and security, a vested interest in their society.
The middle class is not homogeneous. There are layers or sub-classes within the class although the distinctions are usually vague. These layers actually strengthen the middle class and make it more resilient to external forces. Organized labour is an essential component of that, overlapping several of these layers. Neutralize organized labour and you greatly weaken the middle class, sapping it of both strength and resilience.
As I wrote yesterday, the right to organize trade unions is specifically acknowledged in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In signatories to that declaration, Canada included, it is a fundamental human right. You cannot allow people to organize trade unions and deny them the right to strike for that deprives them of their fundamental human right. And that, sadly, is just what Harper seems intent on doing.
Harper is trampling underfoot Canada's human rights obligations. He is withholding from a group of Canadians what is their fundamental human right. This is tyrannical.
We do ourselves and our cause a great disservice if we fail to recognize Harper's incremental ways. He builds on small steps and acts as though his feet have not moved at all. That is what makes his assault on labour so threatening. Back to work legislation ought to be a last resort for any democratic government. Yes, indeed, it may be necessary in some circumstances, eventually, when the strike remedy proves intractable and no longer a tool of consensus. Then, perhaps, but not before.
Harper brushes all that aside. You strike. He orders you back to work, your demands and grievances nullified. He dismantles what the Supreme Court of Canada described in 2007 as "the human dignity, liberty and autonomy of workers."
Mr. Rae and then Mr. Layton took Harper to task over this but Harper wouldn't listen to them when he was obliged to so he's hardly going to heed them now that he has his majority. So, if Parliament is incapable of rectifying Harper's excesses, how is society to find redress?
In circumstances such as these there is really only one effective response and that is the general strike. Labour walks out, shuts the place down, says "oh no you don't." A general strike in defence of a fundamental human right is not excessive nor unjustified in a truly democratic society.
Corporatism, that has taken such a malignant hold in the United States, is setting into Canada also. Harper is not genuinely conservative. He is corporatist. He bridles at what are, for him, the shackles of law and conventions and everything outside his very twisted and narrow notion of decency. His actions this past week speak for themselves and we act at our peril if we don't listen.