More than a quarter-century ago in Canada, I remember receiving several letters and personally addressing a petition to both the Prime Minister and the House of Commons (the House of Representatives of Canada), asking them to establish workplace rights and an end to what we saw as arbitrary workplace layoffs.
Despite the government’s concern over workplace redundancy, widespread layoffs took place. I was part of what became known as the Ax-Busters.
On May 16, 1992, millions of Canadian dollars was paid to local companies, unionized or not, who had canceled “in areas of decline” employment contracts in Canada, a prelude to more than 27,000 layoffs that were forecasted. The ax had already been dropped on my family’s Pontiac LeMans.
When I heard about the Ax-Busters’ plan to stage their own series of in-area layoffs across Canada, I was poised to fly to Canada to join the Ax-Busters. However, a non-profit group I co-founded, National Occupational Relocation Planning Center (OUR Move), applied and received government approval to handle a delegation of executives who planned to develop labor-resource strategies that would save the lives of displaced workers.
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Back then, there was a great deal of support for axing “in areas of decline” employment contracts. How bad it was depended upon who you asked. The organization CAD to CAD: Affirms Unions and Eliminates In Areas of Decline, with research funded by private labor unions, was pushing for “toxic” contracts. That was a “sincere” effort, they said. This “toxic” industry which included Canadian National Railway, Canadian National Trucking Company, Royal Bank of Canada, Suncor, Royal Bank of Canada and other “international” banks, banks, and finance firms, had paid for studies that concluded that health care, social services, and housing costs would rise if they were eliminated, and that employees could receive compensation if they lost their jobs. To tell the truth, there were some flaws in that study.
Such a charade prompted my recent response to a question about my personal history of Ottawa’s hypocrisy and collective response to workers affected by a right-to-disconnect petition I had approached the government and the national legislature with some 25 years ago, when I was a newly-elected member of Parliament. It was then that I was called up to a political meeting where I got a letter of congratulations on winning the May, 25th, 1992, by-election in Alberta’s Liberal Central (the then-district of the Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who would later be humbled by his own shortcomings).
During the meeting, two people were apparently humiliated in front of the audience. One of the two was a lady who stood up to describe her story. A finalish report quoted her as saying: “We don’t have unemployment benefits [in Canada]. It is terrible. I don’t know what to do, but I am considering quitting. I didn’t want to do it and I don’t want to have the government give me money. [But] I don’t want to work.” And there I was sitting there and looking at that woman and trying to hear her story. And that is when I decided that maybe we should have organizations, a position where we could work on legislation and government policy. What I saw in the 1960s and ’70s that’s happened a second time in the ’90s [with the Ax-Busters]. And what I just saw [what one of my Ax-Busters] did [while travelling with us in 1992]– that to me, that is a disgusting tragedy. And it needs to stop.
Daniel Maloney recently served as a member of Parliament in the Canada-Iraq Parliamentary Caucus for Alberta.
If you enjoy articles like this one, you’ll be interested in checking out “The Real Eric Holder.” All of this in the context of the “Madam Neiman Fellows: Five Presidents whose titles no one’s comfortable with.” For articles like this one, go to Emmyllen Walling’s Web site at http://www.emmyllenwalling.com and look for links to the “Presidential Profiles.”