Next Year Country Books is pleased to announce our first publication.
As Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party is posed to launch yet another attack on Saskatchewan workers and their unions through their “Labour Law Review”, Lorne Brown’s Trade Unions and Canadian Democracy provides a timely historical perspective on the role labour has played in the fight for democratic rights.
Submitted by the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour to the Court of Queen’s Bench when challenging Bills 5 and 6, Brown reviewed the role of labour in promoting and defending worker’s rights and democracy in Saskatchewan and Canada.
This short book is essential reading for labour and civil rights activists.
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Preface to Trade Unions and Canadian Democracy
This overview of the relationship of organized labour to the political economy results from a case heard before Mr. Justice Dennis Ball of the Court of Queen’s Bench in 2011. The Saskatchewan Federation of Labour (SFL) and intervener unions challenged the constitutionality of the Public Service Essential Services Act (PSESA) known as Bill 5 and an Act to Amend the Trade Union Act (Bill 6) passed by the Wall government in 2008. It was argued that both Acts violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by interfering with the right to strike.
I was retained by the SFL as an “expert witness” because of my experience as a labour historian. This essay constitutes my submission to the Court. The submission was unchallenged by lawyers for the Wall Government and the employers who defended the legislation.
On February 6, 2012 Justice Ball ruled that the Public Service Essential Services Act (Bill 5) was unconstitutional in that it “infringes upon the freedom of association of employees protected by s. 2 (d) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms”. He found amendments to the Trade Union Act (Bill 6) to be constitutional. While Justice Ball found the PSESA to be unconstitutional he suspended his ruling for twelve months with direction to the provincial government to make amendments to the legislation.
The overview provided in this submission tends to be somewhat limited in scope because of the exigencies of what was required for the case before the Court. However, I think the essay provides a useful introduction to the important role trade unions have played in defending the interests of not only their own members but of all working people and Canada in general. Indeed trade unions have played a major role in building and defending both political democracy and social and economic security. Medicare, Public education, universal suffrage, public pensions, statutory and annual paid holidays, hours of work, health and safety regulations, minimum wages, employment insurance, pay equity legislation are a short list of the many benefits Canadians enjoy thanks to more than a century of trade union struggle.
Trade unions, the welfare state and indeed democracy itself are now under constant attack. We must be ever mindful that an attack on trade unions is an attack on democracy.
Lorne A. Brown
Lorne Brown is Professor Emeritus at the University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. His research specialties include labour history and civil liberties.