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I’m often accused of many and often grievous sins. Usually, I must admit, there is a grain of truth in the accusation but the one I recently received said: “so the unions are paying Moe Sihota’s salary – why are you so anti union?”

This isn’t the first time this or a similar accusation has been leveled at me but I plead NOT GUILTY!

The statement I made was one of fact. Many members of the NDP have been trying to minimize the clout labour has in their party. Many (including I’m sure the unions themselves) don’t agree with this. My point was that Moe’s salary caused offense to some NDPers in three ways – many people don’t like him, many are angry that the decision wasn’t approved by caucus and many don’t think such a payment should be made from outside the party by designation of the recipient.

I have belonged to several unions the most memorable one being in my father’s paper box factory to his not inconsiderable annoyance. Everywhere I have worked where there was a union I joined it whether compelled to or not.

When I ran for the Socreds in Kamloops in 1975  and 1979 I had a couple of union locals support me and in both elections carried North Kamloops, a heavily union district and in 1975 (when it was still in my constituency) Logan Lake which then was a mining town. Kamloops is a politically divided city and you don’t win without union members’ support.

My attitude towards Labour Unions was formed in Law School especially when I read cases like Quinn v. Leathem and Allen v. Flood which decided that unions weren’t unlawful restrainers of  freedom or unlawful conspiracies against employers. I had the great privilege of being in the same class as Tom Berger who has had a scintillating career as a labour lawyer, a champion of Native rights and a judge of the Supreme Court of BC. He was an MLA and leader of the NDP at one time.

We, as a class, were lucky to have the late Dr. AWR Carrothers as our law professor and speaking for myself, I could not help but absorb the discussions that often involved Berger and Carrothers. I well remember remarking, in an attempt to get Tom’s goat, that “surely the man who pays the orchestra gets to call the tune.” After class, Tom took me aside and as the patient and humour laced guy he is, told me why that aphorism had no validity. After all these years Tom has perhaps forgotten that day but he inspired a lot of us in law school and out.

My love of history took me to the Peterloo massacre and the Tolpuddle Martyrs:

On the Peterloo Massacre – this from The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition:

“Peterloo massacre: public disturbance in St. Peter’s Field, Manchester, England, Aug. 16, 1819, also called the Manchester massacre. A crowd of some 60,000 men, women, and children were peaceably gathered under the leadership of Henry Hunt to petition Parliament for the repeal of the corn laws and for parliamentary reform. The magistrates ordered the meeting to disband. A cavalry charge to aid the untrained Manchester yeomanry resulted in 11 deaths and injuries estimated at over 400. The government’s endorsement of the magistrates’ action created widespread indignation, which added moral force to the reform movement. The name Peterloo, later given the incident, was suggested by the name Waterloo.”

On the Tolpuddle Martyrs – this from Wikipedia:

“In 1832, the year of a Reform Act which extended the vote in England but did not grant universal suffrage, six men from Tolpuddle in Dorset founded the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers to protest against the gradual lowering of agricultural wages in the 1830s caused by the surplus supply of labour in an era when mechanization was beginning to have an impact on agricultural working practices for the first time. This was a particular problem in remote parts of southern England, such as Dorset, where farmers did not have to compete with the higher wages paid to workers in London and in the northern towns experiencing the Industrial Revolution. They refused to work for less than 10 shillings a week, although by this time wages had been reduced to seven shillings a week and were due to be further reduced to six shillings. The society, led by George Loveless, a Methodist local preacher, met in the house of Thomas Standfield.

“In 1834 James Frampton, a local landowner, wrote to the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, to complain about the union, invoking an obscure law from 1797 prohibiting people from swearing oaths to each other, which the members of the Friendly Society had done. James Brine, James Hammett, George Loveless, George’s brother James Loveless, George’s brother in-law Thomas Standfield, and Thomas’s son John Standfield were arrested, found guilty, and transported to Australia.”

I did not come from a union friendly family, to say the least. My support is from intellectual and legal reasoning. Of course I disparage irresponsibility wherever it shows up. In 30 years in media I have seen it necessary to criticize unions as well as companied and other institutions and points of view which demanded that someone “hold their feet to the fire”. I did a 39 part TV program called The Search where it was my job to contradict guests or t least express skepticism. What my own religious views are was irrelevant. (The Show can still be seen on JoyTV – Channel 10.)

The long and the short of it is that I support the trade union movement and despair rather than cheer the fact that they are, because of many factors, losing members and thus influence.

2 Responses to “Unions”

  1. John Wood says:

    Good article Rafe.
    I too, have been a union member all of my working life. I joined simply because that was the only support offered to the working man and I still have gratitude for the Union’s work over the years.

    Most people fail to recognise that the high standards we enjoyed for many years, were a direct result ofthe fighting and suffering of earlier union members, trying to get justice in a world without workers rights, compensation or benifits.

    The so-called union bashers do not acknowledge (through ignorance or otherwise), the important role the unions have had, in securing rights, benifits and conditions for everyone – even legislative changes in both provincial and federal governments.

    Tis a sad thing that Moe Sohota was brought on board by the payment of wages, for what had been traditionally a volunteer position. Even sadder it seems, that the latest problems suffered by the the NDP had escalated since his arrival on the scene – any connections I wonder ??

    Thanks for the interesteing article.

  2. Rod Smelser says:

    A good article to be sure. But as far as Moe Sihota is concerned, the dislike of him is the real burning wound for some, and even some of that is contrived because it just gave them an additional axe to grind against Carole James.

    I asked someone if Conrad Evans had been elected the NDP Party Prez, with background financial support from several small, green “organic” farmers in his Kootenay bailiwick, would there really be a fuss? He insisted that there would be, but frankly I doubt it.

    The financial arrangements should have been fully disclosed, but the anger they have aroused is wholly disproportionate to the paperwork issues involved.

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