Society President Scott Travers and Matthew Kellway, who recently returned to The Society’s staff as Special Assistant to the President, presented on a panel at the IFPTE’s international Legislative Action Conference in Washington, DC.
Entitled Legislative Challenges Facing Public Sector Workers, Travers spoke about The Society’s campaign to stop offshoring and the impact privatization has on The Society’s ability to maintain that work in Canada over the long-term. Kellway, elected Member of Parliament for Toronto’s Beaches – East York riding in 2011 but previously The Society’s Policy Officer and a Labour Relations Staff Officer, presented from his perspective as a recent lawmaker.
Travers highlighted the importance of maintaining public control over companies at a time when free trade deals make it impossible to keep many types of professional work in North America. He noted that when The Society caught wind of Hydro One’s interest in offshoring some of the bargaining unit’s work, the union was able to run a convincing advocacy campaign that showed the Minister of Energy the economic and political value of forcing Hydro One to keep the work in Ontario. But with the recent decision to privatize Hydro One, Travers pointed out that the Ontario government doesn’t have the ability to intervene anymore. Doing so in future could result in Canada being brought before international trade tribunals. While The Society recently negotiated a four-year collective agreement that requires Hydro One to keep its work in Ontario members will have to fight in future rounds of bargaining to keep those jobs in the province.
From Kellway’s perspective the challenges facing public sector workers is a culmination of the deterioration of the Fordist model of labour relations. That model, he said, has been torn apart by the “voracious pursuit of profit whether through the financialization of our economy or simply through the continued pushback of that terrain of the economy occupied by the public sector.”
“That postwar ‘compromise’” between workers and employers where hard work is rewarded with decent pay, benefits and a pension, Kellway noted, “is long gone.”
As an MP, Kellway participated in a 58-hour filibuster to block anti-worker legislation. That legislation eventually passed and he witnessed countless other legislative measures, whether standalone laws or lines hidden in budget bills, rammed through Canada’s House of Commons meant to weaken workers’ rights. After witnessing that up close, Kellway is an even firmer believer in the need to mobilize.
“Working people and the organizations that represent them had better mobilize, be organized and had better participate in the political process and, especially, the electoral process. And that activity has to be something that unions do, always,” Kellway concluded.
Travers and Kellway also attended a number of workshops to learn from successes of The Society’s sister locals in other jurisdictions.