Canadians urge federal government to take a meaningful international stand on the right to strike

Canadians from coast to coast are calling on the federal government to seize a unique opportunity next month to take a meaningful stand at the United Nations for a measure that would reduce income inequality and help spread stability and prosperity in our own communities and around the world.

This dramatic opportunity centres around a decision about peoples’ right to strike that is to be made during the upcoming meeting of the Governing Body of the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO), which takes place March 12-27 in Geneva.

World’s employers would profit mightily, but at the expense of the rest of us

The group of employers on the ILO’s Governing Body are attempting to overturn more than 50 years of international legal precedents that recognize the fundamental right to strike. Employers will profit mightily if they succeed, but at the expense of working and middle-class families and communities around the world.

“Healthy unions do much more than simply ensure fair wages for their members,” says James Clancy, National President of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE). “Unions matter to everybody because they reduce income inequality, strengthen democracy, resolve conflict peacefully, and spread prosperity, safety and justice.”

“But they can’t do any of those things without the right to strike — it’s the only power they have.”

ILO’s worker and government groups could together block employer group

The right to strike hasn’t yet been lost at the ILO. The employers are just one of three equal groups represented on the ILO’s Governing Body: workers and governments are the other two groups. The workers have already stated clearly that they are opposed to any measure that limits the right to strike. The government group — which holds the deciding votes on the issue, and which includes a representative of Canada’s federal government — has yet to make its position clear.

“The Canadian government has made us proud many times for taking leading international stands for basic human decency and dignity,” says Clancy, “and we’re confident that it will do so again by strongly supporting the right to strike during next month’s ILO meeting.”

Supporting the right to strike won’t be difficult for our government. Canada is among 94 countries in the UN that have already enshrined the right to strike in their constitutions. Just last month, the Supreme Court of Canada reaffirmed the right to belong to a union and the right to strike are enshrined in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, stating that the “right to strike is essential to realizing … the values of human dignity, equality, liberty, respect for the autonomy of the person and the enhancement of democracy.”

Clancy urging people to write to the federal Labour Minister

Clancy has written to federal Labour Minister Kellie Leitch asking for her government to make a clear statement that Canada’s government supports the right to strike during the ILO meeting next month. Clancy is urging other Canadians to write similar letters to the federal and even their provincial governments. Click here for a copy of Clancy’s letter.

“The more support our government receives from Canadians, the more likely it will be to take the kind of strong leadership role that we will all benefit from and that we can all be proud of,” he says.

In his letter to Leitch, Clancy also asked that she take part in the international day of action to defend the right to strike, which will take place on Wednesday, February 18, by making a strong public statement reaffirming the government’s recognition of basic human rights. The day of action is being promoted by the International Trade Union Confederation(link is external), the global union federation representing union members around the world, including all the members of the Canadian Labour Congress.

“Making a strong statement on February 18 would just be a gesture,” Clancy acknowledges. “But it would be a gesture that would help Canada assume a leadership role on basic human rights, heading into the ILO meeting.”

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