Manitoba premier picking fights with workers 100 years after general strike, labour leader says
Wage freeze laws, scrapping mediation services among 'anti-worker' policies, Kevin Rebeck says
A century after the Winnipeg General Strike rocked the city, Manitoba's premier is picking fights with unions and sowing "disharmony" between workers and their employers, a Manitoba labour leader said Wednesday.
"In 1919 they had a government that was very much anti-worker. It didn't believe in making it easy to join a union. It didn't believe that workers deserve to make a living wage," said Kevin Rebeck, president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour.
Rebeck spoke at an event at the Millennium Library, discussing contemporary lessons to be drawn from the strike, which is seen as a pivotal moment in Canadian history.
Under Premier Brian Pallister and the Progressive Conservatives, Rebeck said the provincial government has brought in a number of policies harmful to workers. These include indexing minimum wage increases to inflation rather setting a living wage, and passing a law freezing public sector wages for two years and then increasing only slightly over the next two years.
The Manitoba Federation of Labour has launched a court challenge over that law, arguing it infringes on the constitutional right to collective bargaining.
"We have a government that seems happy to be in court whether it's with us as a labour movement," or other groups, such as the Manitoba Metis Federation or the federal government.
"This government seems very much out of touch with not only workers, but with the business community," Rebeck said.
The province cut public mediation services, which worked to resolve disputes between unions and employers during contract negotiations. The government also ignored advice from labour and business groups which recommended raising the minimum age for people to enter the workforce from 13 to 14, Rebeck said.
When asked about Rebeck's comments, a spokesperson for Premier Brian Pallister issued a statement touting the government's promise to cut the provincial sales tax.
"Others in the past broke their promise to Manitobans and raised the PST to eight per cent, which hurt working people," the statement said. "We're focused on making life more affordable by lowering the PST to 7 per cent and continuing to lead our province on a better path forward."
Rebeck called it an "irony" that things have changed since 1919, when it was business-friendly groups like the Committee of 1,000 which pressured government to take action against the striking workers.
"And now the business community seems to have learned a lesson from that and see value in working together. But we have a premier a government that doesn't seem to care about that and is ignoring business and labour."
The Manitoba Federation of Labour and other labour groups have organized a series of events to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike.
With files from Darren Bernhardt