Myers Labour Conference: Executive Report

Myers Labour Conference
Winnipeg Manitoba / Victoria Inn
March 16-17, 2017
Executive Report
David Najduch

The conference has become an annual gathering of approximately 400 “unions members” who work representing a broad range of employees across the province. Over the last 15 years the conference has raised over $160,000 dollars in funds which have been donated to charitable organizations. The conference format involves break-out sessions dealing with a wide range of topics and plenary panels which are designed to deal with timely topics.

I attended the following sessions:

Thursday March 16, 2017 Sessions

  • Plenary: Our New Provincial Government-One Year In
  • Compensation for Job -Related Psychological Illness
  • Interactive Session: Investigative Meetings
  • Strikes/Lockouts Injunction and Picketing

Friday March 17, 2017

  • Plenary Session: Human Rights Law Update
  • Pensions and Benefits on the Bargaining Table
  • Plenary: Top Cases from 2016

Each provided a useful review of materials which have been covered in the past and highlighted a number new concepts or information. The session which was the most interesting for me was the plenary panel on Thursday morning. The title of the session was “Our New Provincial Government, One year on.” The panel consisted of Paul McKie UNIFOR Manitoba, Norm Gould President of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, and Lynne Fernandez from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

I have heard two of the three speakers prior and their message was consistent with previous presentations. The most interesting of the panel speakers was Lynne Fernandez. She works for Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and is the Earl Black Chair of Labour Studies at the University of Manitoba. She provided a concise picture of the ideology and rationale behind the current actions of various “right” wing governments around the world.

The following reflect my notes from her portion of the panel discussion, any errors or omissions are mine not hers.

Back drop is the Global Financial Crisis in 2008

  • 12-13 large financial institutions on the brink of collapse.
  • Caused in part by private lenders who pushed for governments to loosen banking / financial regulations. This leads to the sub-prime mortgage crisis which drove much of the 2008 crash.
  • 2008 collapse saw some financial institutions and companies require bailouts.
  • European Union and Central Banks loan large sums to the “PIGS” (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain) who are in deep financial trouble.
  • The banks push these countries into deep “austerity measures”. Debt becomes the monster which must be slain.
  • Same time significant transfer of private debt to public purse through massive government bailouts.

Austerity seen by the right as the only way to fix financial crisis and it consists of….

  • Cuts to public expenditures
  • Increasing of retirement ages
  • Cut benefits like education and health care
  • Increase unemployment
  • Push privatization of government services
  • Sell off government assets
  • Remove labour regulations…de-unionize work forces

Mantra of the austerity movement, “desperate times call for desperate measures”.

PIGS… 50%-60% youth unemployment, generation will never have full time stable work.

Analogy made by the presenter, Austerity like bleeding of the patient. does not work.

Manitoba Context

Premier…”All hands on deck”…. “Financial Crisis”……”Hydro Ticking time bomb”…. “Billion dollar deficit”

Current government wants to be “held hostage” by previous governments “mis-management” and over expenditures. Helps create the crisis mentality within the province. Needs the crisis mentality to push for dramatic changes.

  • Sets context for attacking workers / layoffs / wage freezes / making it harder to organize unions in Manitoba.
  • Bring down public sector wages.
  • Set the stage for the sale of Manitoba Hydro.
  • Move towards public private partnerships where governments pay private companies to build public buildings such as schools, hospitals and bridges.
  • Cut funding to community services / non-profits.

How bad is it in Manitoba?

  • International Monetary Fund / 3 IMF Economists looked at Manitoba.
  • Percent of Debt to GDP is a number use to indicate health of an economy… measurement of economic activity.
  • 90%-120% reflects a serious problem… Greece like.
  • Manitoba’s is 34% and can be considered “healthy”.
  • Manitoba is 4th best in the country
  • Not reflective of an economy or province in ‘Crisis”.

The context of the panel discussion which occurred was made much more real as the session was interrupted twice to announce the provincial government going to table the following two pieces of legislation;

  • Bill 28 Public Services Sustainability Act (wage freezes and salary caps)
  • Bill 29 Health Sector Bargaining Review Act (forcing multiple health care unions to merge.)

Her sense was it is important to manage government expenditures in a clear and responsible manner, but the sky is not really falling, my words not hers. The current “crisis” being pushed is less about a real financial problem in Manitoba and more about an ideological/political agenda.

If you are interested in seeing the conference binder, please let me know. There is a lot of thoughtful, well prepared information to read. I would also encourage all the Executive to consider going to this conference next year. The cost of two days’ substitute and the $350.00 registration fee makes this one of the most reasonable PD opportunities out there.

Submitted by:
David Najduch