Rand Formula: Bitter strike, inspired resolution

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At the end of June, Conservative senators took what Senate Speaker Leo Housakos told the CBC were "draconian steps" to hustle through Bill C-377 just before Parliament's summer break.

The Union Transparency bill forces unions to provide the public with detailed spending accounts. This  places an unnecessary administrative burden on labour organizations, a burden other organizations do not bear, and constitutes an invasion of privacy for unions and their employees. Seven provinces have declared their opposition.

C-377 is just the latest anti-union position the right wing has taken.

In 2013, Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre campaigned to enable federally regulated unionized employees to opt out of paying union dues. 

Meanwhile, a Saskatchewan government consultation paper proposed abolition of mandatory dues check-off. But, under public pressure, Brad Wall's Conservative government withdrew these provisions from the final version of the Saskatchewan Employment Act.

Ontario Conservative party leader Tim Hudak also advocated abolition of mandatory dues check-off. But, after a February 2014 Niagara Falls byelection loss to the New Democrats, he dropped it from his platform.

Polievre, Wall and Hudak were all attacking a celebrated Canadian compromise, the Rand Formula.

On September 12, 1945, a month after the Second World War ended, United Auto Workers Local 200 members walked off the job at Ford in Windsor, Ontario. Major issues included union security and automatic dues check-off. The workers had won the war; they didn't want to lose the peace.

Mr. Justice Ivan Rand of the Supreme Court of Canada arbitrated. His creative award instituted a new form of union security: union dues are automatically collected by the employer from every member of the bargaining unit, whether or not they belong to the union.

This formula has since been confirmed and strengthened by key strikes and court cases.

In the 1970s, Ontario saw strikes begin over employers' rejection of the Rand Formula. Steelworker strikes at Canadian Gypsum in Hagersville and Radio Shack in Barrie and the Autoworkers' Fleck strike in Centralia were characterized by the use of scabs, civil disobedience and mass pickets. These struggles led to Ontario Labour Relations Act amendments supporting compulsory dues check-off.

In its 1991 Lavigne ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed that unions may use dues for social and political action. In 2001, in the Advance Cutting and Coring decision, the court upheld mandatory union membership in Quebec's construction industry.

In the 1997 BC Health Services decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the guarantee of freedom of association in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms "protects the capacity of members of labour unions to engage in collective bargaining on workplace issues."

In 2009 Alberta Labour Relations Board's Gerald A. Lucas ruled in Old Dutch: "the continued absence from the code of a statutory Rand formula is a violation of s. 2(d) [of the Charter]."

On Labour Day when we celebrate the gains of working people over the last 100 years, we should remember that they were not given out of generosity but out of struggle. As the philosopher George Santayana wrote, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

The Ottawa-based Workers' History Museum has a travelling exhibit: Bitter Strike, Inspired Resolution: Canada's Rand Formula available for purchase or loan. The WHM Rand Formula video documentary is scheduled for release this fall. For more information, go to: www.workershistorymuseum.ca.

Retiree Matters is a monthly column written by members of the Congress of Union Retirees of Canada (CURC) that explores issues relevant to retirees, senior citizens, their families and their communities. CURC acts as an advocacy organization to ensure that the concerns of union retirees and senior citizens are heard throughout Canada.

Photo: David Goehring/flickr

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