Toronto city manager Joe Pennachetti, seeking to get some wind in his sails after having had a rough go of it since the strike began June 22, proudly announced this week that 615 CUPE members have applied to cross the picket line. (National Post - July 16)
Having lived through two strikes where my employer, the Government of Ontario, encouraged and paid bargaining unit members to cross the picket line as a way to both dampen the spirit of the strikers and to possibly even break the union, I have first hand insights into the use and impact of these tactics. One of the saddest days of my union "career" was the day in 1997 when, as local president, I chaired the meeting where our local stripped over 50 members of their membership for strikebreaking/scabbing. Since that experience, I've always said that scabs are the pitiful Frankenstein monster, while the evil Dr. Frankenstein was the goverenment and employer (one in the same in our case).
I didn't expect to have much to say about the Toronto municipal strike, let alone hurl any invectives against the Mayor but if the City is paying bargaining unit members from CUPE Locals 79 & 416 who cross, or try to cross, the picket line, then I feel compelled to comment because there are some lines which should not be crossed.
“No one has the right to bar them from their place of employment. The city should get an injunction. The pickets shouldn’t be allowed to break the law. We’ve just been too lenient with them.” said Councillor Doug Holyday (Etobicoke Centre.)
Miller has opened Pandora's box. Holyday's position is patent bullshit but he's riding shotgun in support of the Mayor's decision to invite strikers to become strikebreakers. If the shoe was on the other foot and the city had locked out its employees, do you think Holyday would be arguing that the locked out workers have a right to come to work and to get paid.
A bit of background. The second thing that Mike Harris did in 1995, after cutting welfare rates, was to introduce Bill 7. which reversed all of the labour law reforms made by Bob Rae's NDP in 1991. Among many pro-business changes made by Harris, employers were once again allowed to use "replacement workers" - i.e. scabs - during strikes. Harris legalized scabs and then used them months later against 50,000 provincial government workers who were forced on strike for the first time in their history (Rae changed that law too). Harris didn't break the strike or the union but this tactic did help to poison many workplaces in the years that followed (mostly in Toronto). (John Snobelen once told me to take a course and get over it).
However, despite Holyday's hollering, the law does not require employers to use scabs. Nor is there any right for an employee to strikebreak and get paid. Many companies do not use scabs to deal with labour disruptions because they know what a demoralizing impact it will have on the workers when they return to the job.
There are several kinds of scabs. But pure and simple, a scab is someone who crosses a picket line in order to do the work of workers who are on strike. There are outside replacement workers who are brought in for the duration of a strike and then usually (but not always) leave when it's over. There are agencies who recruit for such situations which are most often in the private sector.
Then there are workers who are invited to come to work by their employer while their colleagues are on the picket line. They are encouraged to cross the picket line in return for money. This divisive tactic is thought through by management in their strike strategy planning. It is not accidental. By encouraging scabs from within the bargaining unit, management tries to both weaken the picket lines during this strike by deliberately setting workers against one another and keep them divided so that the NEXT time the union goes to bargain, there will already be deep schisms - at least in some workplaces. It's about future power relations as much as it is dealing with the current situation.
Any CUPE members who cross the picket line to go to work (or get paid by the City for doing nothing), is by definition, a scab. This means that anyone who encourages, organizes or abets the use of scabs during a strike is a scab herder. And I'm afraid that the buck stops with the Mayor, who is the "senior manager".
The City's so-called "application process" is nothing more than scab-herding in my opinion and that is despicable. We experienced every kind of scab herding technique that the Harris common sense revolutionaries could come up with including underground tunnels, side doors, special shifts, vehicles with tinted windows, alternate assignments to other offices and injunctions if necessary. as a way to use the scabs to try and demoralize the strikers on the picket line.
Given that the Mayor was on at least a few OPSEU picket lines when he was a councillor, one would think he would understand the impact that such a mean tactic has on the workplace both during the strike and more importantly, after the strike.
All the City had to do was to say, that as a good employer, they would not use "replacement workers" and that all bargaining unit members would have to weather the storm. Instead, they CHOSE not to do that but to send out the message that anyone who crosses, or tries to cross, will get paid. That's scab-herding.
As if all of this is not bad enough coming from so-called progressives, on Tuesday, Cadillac Fairview terminated 61 striking maintenance and skilled trade workers at Toronto's TD Centre. They replaced them with scabs after locking them out on June 14, fired them all on July 14th after 5 weeks on the line and have now permanently hired the scabs to take their place. According to a CBC radio report I heard yesterday, there's a good possibility that the scabs are unionized which makes it even more complicated and ugly. Here's the facebook support group and CEP Local 2003 website for more information.
This is just what the some right-wing commentators and members of the public are suggesting that the City do. Just fire everyone and replace them with lower paid, probably non-permanent employees.
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