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The Conservative attack on unions lacks common sense and will have unintended consequences

Calgary, October 31, 2013 — Anti-union measures in a new omnibus budget bill and a series of anti-democratic policy proposals at the Conservative Party convention in Calgary this weekend will have serious consequences for Canadians should they ever become federal law.

Elected leaders of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers (UCCO-SACC-CSN) and its union affiliation, the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), made the warning at a press conference this morning while appealing to delegates to use common sense and reject the resolutions.

Clearly intended as a theme for the next federal election, they said, the resolutions represent a frontal attack on the foundations of democracy: the right to freedom of speech and freedom of association. The budget-implementation legislation in Bill C-4, meanwhile, unilaterally changes labour-relations rules in the federal public service in a massive power grab by the Conservative government.

“Stephen Harper wants to gag our right to free speech, then campaign against us for re-election while we are muzzled,” commented CSN Secretary-General Jean Lortie. “But the CSN will not roll over. We will be there, from coast to coast, to loudly oppose these attacks on the middle class and on our fundamental human rights.”

For example, the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers built a life-size prison cell for use in its public interactions at Calgary’s Marriott Hotel this weekend so that delegates and the public at large could better understand the dangers of double-bunking in federal penitentiaries.

“The public, our members and inmates are clearly at risk from double-bunking, but these proposals seek to stop us from speaking out about this practice,” said UCCO-SACC-CSN National President Kevin Grabowsky. “We need an open and honest public debate about this and many other issues, but Stephen Harper only wants us to shut up.”

No less than eight separate policy resolutions at the Conservative convention seek to strictly restrain union activity. According to one resolution, “worker contributions to unions should be limited to the costs of collective bargaining and union-administered benefits.”

If this had been the law when UCCO-SACC-CSN was founded in 2001, noted Mr. Grabowsky, the union would have been unable to successfully campaign for stab-proof vests, or to use handcuffs, or to be armed while conducting public escorts of dangerous inmates who are often members of powerful criminal organizations.

“These important safety battles clearly benefit the public, but they are not governed by our collective agreement,” said Mr. Grabowsky. “According to this logic, we should be able to withhold the part of our taxes that go toward government programs we don’t support.”

For his part, Jean Lortie said this brutal assault on the Canadian union movement would impoverish the middle class and add to an already growing income gap between rich and poor. He pointed to a long list of crucial public programs that were won or improved by union political activity: health care, pensions, accessible education and employment insurance, to name but a few.

Previous Conservative government initiatives under bills C-377 and C-525 are resurfacing, added Mr. Lortie. These laws would reveal intricate details of almost all union spending and create obstacles to the certification of new unions.

“These efforts clearly seek to create an uneven playing field in favour of employers at the negotiating table,” he said. “What we don’t see are equivalent measures on the other side. What are employers paying their high-priced legal help? What about their spending on misleading advertising campaigns?”

In the end, Mr. Lortie warned, the Harper government is seeking to destroy any independent public base of opposition to their campaign to remake Canada in a way that only a minority of Canadians support.

“This is why they are using the almost unlimited power of government to silence the voices of the majority: it’s the only way to lower the living standards of the middle class and to destroy our social safety net. We will never accept this, and we call on democratic voices in the Conservative Party to oppose these initiatives.”

Finally, Mr. Lortie said a national movement is building to oppose the destructive policies of the Harper government. He invited Canadians of all backgrounds to get involved in preparations for and to attend the Peoples’ Social Forum now being planned for Ottawa in August 2014.

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