On the Line

Why are the Liberals now Nova Scotia's least labour friendly party in Nova Scotia?

Why are the Liberals now Nova Scotia’s least labour friendly party in Nova Scotia?

Did the three three men vying to be Premier of Nova Scotia pass the last Labour Day before the election celebrating workers’ rights, marching in solidarity with nurses, teachers, cleaning crews and coffee shop workers. Or did they take the day off – a victory won for us by the work of the labour movement?

Once upon a time, even American Republicans cheered about their strong ties to organized labour. Now, Liberals in Canada, and of course Tories, shy away from topics ranging from the minimum wage to maternity leave.

On Labour Day, while marching and speaking at a union rally in Halifax, NDP Premier Darrell Dexter announced an important policy plank that will help workers take care of their families – better access to parental leave.

More Nova Scotians will be able to take parental leave knowing their job will be waiting for them when they return. Premier Darrell Dexter announced plans today, Sept. 2, to amend the Labour Standards Code to allow someone employed for six months with an employer to qualify for pregnancy/parental leave.

Jamie Baillie did not hide completely on the one day of the year politicians focus on labour issues. On Twitter he offered this:

Let’s take a moment today to reflect on the valuable contribution the men & women who work hard in all kinds of jobs, make to our economy. Together, we all want a growing economy, safe work conditions, and a shared, prosperous future for all Nova Scotians.

Stephen McNeil was quiet on workers’ issues this year.

We’ve talked about the Liberal Party’s history of labour relations in Nova Scotia. It bears repeating.

The last time the Liberals were in power saw the worst period of labour unrest in Nova Scotia’s recent history.

  •     Angry nurses suggested wildcat strikes after the Liberal government refused to give the chief negotiator a mandate to resume talks.
  •     Nova Scotia’s 60,000 public-sector workers said they’d walk off the job if the Liberal government didn’t restore collective bargaining.
  •     Nova Scotia’s teachers agreed to support the general strike over a 3% rollback in wages and benefits by the Liberals and a three-year salary freeze.
  •     All police forces in the province outside of Halifax signed on to take part in a wide-scale walkout against the Liberal government.

“Collective bargaining has not been abolished,” Liberal Human Resources Minister Eleanor Norrie said in the legislature at the time. “Collective bargaining has been suspended.”

Nurses, public sector workers, teachers and cops would do well to remember those savage days in Nova Scotia. The Liberals flash left, but turn right, causing quite the spectacular crash.

Liberals polling about banning strikes?

Stephen-McNeil-LiberalNova Scotia’s Liberals have a history of flashing left and turning right. An opinion poll run by Gandolf Group suggests a few paths Stephen McNeil would drive down if given the chance.

The following is a list of possible policies and initiatives that a provincial government could undertake in Nova Scotia. Please tell us whether you would strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose each.

  • Breaking Nova Scotia Power’s monopoly.
  • Banning healthcare strikes.
  • Accelerating development of Nova Scotia’s natural gas deposits for export.

The first potential Liberal policy seems to be more of a commercial than an energy policy. The latter policy option seems to be testing the waters for a fracking boom should the Liberals ever get elected to government. It is the middle option that Nova Scotians should be concerned about the most.

The last time the Liberals were in power saw the worst period of labour unrest in Nova Scotia’s recent history.

  • Angry nurses suggested wildcat strikes after the Liberal government refused to give the chief negotiator a mandate to resume talks.
  • Nova Scotia’s 60,000 public-sector workers said they’d walk off the job if the Liberal government didn’t restore collective bargaining.
  • Nova Scotia’s teachers agreed to support the general strike over a 3% rollback in wages and benefits by the Liberals and a three-year salary freeze.
  • All police forces in the province outside of Halifax signed on to take part in a wide-scale walkout against the Liberal government.

“Collective bargaining has not been abolished,” Liberal Human Resources Minister Eleanor Norrie said in the legislature at the time. “Collective bargaining has been suspended.”

Nurses, public sector workers, teachers and cops would do well to remember those savage days in Nova Scotia. The Liberals flash left, but turn right, causing quite the spectacular crash.

A Tale of Two Unions

Man has lost the basic skill of the ape, the ability to scratch its back. Which gave it extraordinary independence, and the liberty to associate for reasons other than the need for mutual back-scratching. – Jean Baudrillard

Nova Scotia has an NDP government. And the NDP have an historic and familial relationship with the labour movement. That’s reality.

While the Tories and Liberals like to blow hard about good labour legislation including First Contract Arbitration, a real important question is how each of the two long-time friends – the NDP and the labour movement – are evolving now that the NDP is the governing party.

In fact, let’s look at First Contract with that question in mind. Labour wanted it. And passing the legislation wasn’t so much “payback,” as it was pay-forward to Labour. It was about the future. In return, Labour would behave responsibly (and strategically) in contract negotiations leading up to the next election. That is what the NDP were trying to “fix” – the divisive, bitter and unstable labour environment under Conservative and Liberal governments of the last 20 years. More specifically, the NDP was  saying “this is the kind of progressive legislation you can expect from an NDP government.” But, to continue to get this kind of progressive action from the NDP, they need to be in power. And for that to happen, Labour needs to evolve beyond short term demands for wage hikes that the province cannot yet afford.

So far, the evidence suggests the NDP has evolved into the kind of pragmatic, responsible government that builds the economy and creates jobs – much like Romanow and Doer did out west. Neither of those successful NDP governments had serious showdowns with Labour. So, what about Labour? Have they evolved? Or are they still treating the government as if an anti-labour party were in power?

Last week, we saw evidence suggesting that one union’s leadership – the NSGEU – has evolved, while another union’s leadership, the NSTU – is acting neither strategically nor responsibly.

The NSGEU  bargained in good faith, did not break the media blackout, and did not strike. They received a good contract that keeps wages in line with cost-of-living increases. Imagine if Jessome and the NSGEU had behaved with the hostility of Alexis Allen of the NSTU? It would have been chaos.

The NSTU isn’t even negotiating a new contract for our teachers yet, and they are already poisoning their own well with their ad assault on the government and their antics as visitors to the legislature of late. It is a shame. Our teachers deserve cool-headed, thoughtful, and responsible labour strategies from their union reps – that’s the way to negotiate with the NDP government.

Congratulations to Local 42 on your new contract. The NSTU should evolve and learn from you.