Poilievre says he’s a workers’ friend, while his party blocks progress of worker-friendly legislation in Manitoba

By Dave McKee  

To hear him speak about it, Conservative Party of Canada leader Pierre Poilievre is the best political friend a working person could ask for.

Of course, it doesn’t take much to scrape away the veneer of deceit with which he is trying to confuse people. In fact, his own party members in Manitoba are already busy chipping away at it.

The provincial NDP government of Wab Kinew announced in mid-March that it would table legislation to reform Manitoba’s Employment Standards Code, introducing card check union certification and a ban on the use of scabs during a strike or lockout.

Card check (sometimes called single step) certification requires only that a simple majority of workers sign a union card for it to be certified. It’s a democratic process, generally favoured throughout the labour movement, which reduces the bosses’ ability to interfere during union drives and intimidate workers.

Anti-scab legislation is key to protecting workers’ right to bargain collectively and to strike. It is proven to shorten the length of labour disputes and reduce the risk of violence on picket lines.

The government’s stated intent was to table the bill during the spring session, to guarantee passage by the summer break which begins June 3.

But the provincial Conservatives – who clearly did not get Poilievre’s “pretend to be nice to workers” memo – are using filibuster tactics to stall the legislation and drag it out until after the summer at least.

Unions across Canada have been pushing for anti-scab legislation throughout the country. Currently, BC and Quebec have laws banning the use of scabs, and the federal government introduced similar legislation in February. The Nova Scotia NDP introduced anti-scab legislation on March 19 and, while Conservative premier Tim Houston says he does not favour banning scabs, the labour movement in Nova Scotia is working hard to encourage all-party support for the bill.

Against this backdrop, the Manitoba legislation is an important step in the struggle for labour rights right across Canada. As such, the union movement is quick to condemn the Manitoba Conservatives for blocking workers’ rights.

United Steelworkers (USW) Manitoba area coordinator Mike Pulak noted that “the Conservatives’ filibuster highlights a clear divide: there are those who are on the side of workers and fighting for their rights, and those who oppose them,” while USW Western Canada Director Scott Lunny pointed out that “the Tories’ tactics in blocking this bill speak volumes about whose interests they really serve.”

The Manitoba Federation of Labour called the Conservatives’ tactics “shameful” and said, “it is clear that the PCs and Manitoba’s business lobby are gearing up to prevent these bills from passing into law.”

The struggle shines a light on the importance of the political dimension of class struggle, particularly the urgency of fighting for legislation that protects and advances workers’ rights. A united, Canada-wide campaign for a Labour Bill of Rights – which would enshrine working people’s right to organize, bargain collectively and strike without the threat of scabs – would help to move the struggle forward and establish a higher floor for labour rights throughout the country.

[Photo: Manitoba liquor workers faced scabs during their province-wide strike in 2023]

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