Stephen Harper’s class war against Canadian unions came out into the open Wednesday when the PM led the Conservative majority to pass the anti-labour bill C-377.

Every one of the 147 votes for the law that singles out union finances for discriminatory treatment by the government was cast by a Conservative. Every opposition MP and five Conservative backbenchers mustered 135 votes against.

Although technically a private members bill from B.C. Tory Russ Hiebert, there was never any doubt that the legislation was a government initiative. Opposition MPs had days earlier signalled to labour organizers that the vote on 377 was being informally whipped out of the PMO and was all but assured of passage.

In a revealing moment just before the vote on third reading, the Speaker mistakenly called for a party vote as if it was a government bill, rather than the usual procedure on a private member’s bill of a row-by-row vote where MPs vote as individuals according to their seating arrangement. The Speaker quickly corrected himself, but not before the PM stood to lead his party majority in what is undoubtedly the beginning of a Conservative crusade against labour rights.

When the bill inevitably passed third reading, smug Conservatives stood to applaud themselves and Hiebert. Looking down on the scene from the Parliamentary gallery, there was no doubt that the Conservatives were enjoying their accomplishment.

It was an ominous moment for Canadian labour and its meaning could not be mistaken. The labour movement was being served up as raw meat for right-wing union haters and merit shop contractors, and no amount of lobbying or any appeals to fairness and democracy would make a difference.

The NDP managed to rally some spirit and they gave labour critic Alexandre Boulerice, who had organized and filibustered against 377, a well-deserved ovation when he stood to vote. He turned to the very small band of us that turned out to bear witness, and sent us a clenched fist salute — a gesture of the fight yet to come.


Fred Wilson

Fred Wilson is the assistant to the President of Unifor.