Forty years ago Canada’s labour movement warned of the dangers of unfettered corporate power and political influence. Along with partners in social responsibility such as the Council of Canadians and progressive politicians, the labour movement mobilized against the very first free trade agreement (FTA) between Canada and the USA in 1988. As clear as the warnings delivered were, the Conservative government of the day embraced free trade. Unfortunately, the reality of that first FTA far out stripped the warnings.
Hundreds of thousands of jobs in manufacturing were lost as employers, without penalty or conscience, shipped Canadian jobs to American States with lower wages, less stringent health and safety laws, weaker employment and labour laws and looser environmental laws. In no time at all the loss of jobs manifested into government revenue issues and tempted employers to push harder for a further loosening of trade restrictions to permit even easier routes to the shipping of more and more work out of country and offshore as the trade agreements expanded.
All done in the name of acquiring cheaper goods, the trade agreements forced more and more work offshore and dug deeper and into government revenues as fewer and fewer companies and workers fed tax revenues into the provincial and national coffers. These coffers are the source of revenue to properly fund public services. Governments negotiate the deals, but the empowerment of the corporate world to drive this agenda has left us a legacy of underfunded public services.
The tragedy of this legacy, well known for years due to underfunded public healthcare and the rape of public services through corporate influence and the drive to privatization, could be witnessed across the board before COVID-19. The policies of austerity were already a death sentence for key pieces of public infrastructure and healthcare. The weakened and underfunded public system could not help but fall into almost immediate duress when COVID-19 arrived.
To be completely fair, the workers in the system are of such a character that even in a system weakened out of government and corporate world complicity, these workers stepped up and saved lives, eased pain and diminished tragedy throughout each and every minute of their work.
Pointing out so much of the obvious is not the intention of this letter. It is intended to lay claim to one message of clarity in all this. The Canadian labour movement, for its decades of advocacy on behalf of workers and adequately funded public services while calling for more Canadian manufacturing is better equipped than perhaps any other enterprise to be a leader in putting Canada on a post COVID-19 footing that sets us up for success. The corporate leadership of the last forty years along with their corporate friendly governments are not without the talents to move us forward, but there is no ultimate success without labour leading the way with solid plans for made in Canada solutions and properly funded public services and eradication of any form of the austerity agenda.
Dave Trumble, Vice President-Bruce
Grey Bruce Labour Council