Unions must place themselves on the side of the population!; Unions must call on their members to get vaccinated!; Unions must come back to the negotiation table!; Unions aren’t negotiating in the interest of their members!; and so on!
If those phrases sound like old worn-out slogans to our ears, they still are practical and efficient for putting the donkey cap on others. In the present case, the union organizations.
The events of this fall events have given us a few examples on which to reflect.
First example: the Treasury Board president, Sonia LeBel, unilaterally decreed new salary conditions for daycare centres’ educators while strikes and negotiations were ongoing.. If the negotiations weren’t moving forward, it was the unions’ fault. Meanwhile, thanks to the shortage, improving the educators’ salaries was urgent, but only for theirs.
Another example: the one-month deferral of the deadline for mandatory vaccination of healthcare personnel, for which they were quick to lay part of the blame on the union organizations.
Some even went as far as to say that we were responsible for the “victory” of the antivaxx and thus, that the union organizations are going against the general interest of the population.
Is it frustrating to hear the same hodgepodge of simplistic comments about the unions? Of course! And believe me, I’m the first to want to talk back!
But like the saying says, it’s better to think twice before you speak… Getting angry, fighting back or getting offended, as legitimate as it might be, is also putting yourself in reaction mode. Most of the time, it’s also putting yourself in a situation where you don’t control the message. Especially when the answer comes with nuances, like it was the case with mandatory vaccination.
In short, being in reaction isn’t a strategy. It’s playing the game of the government, that wants at all cost to confine the unions in an adversarial role. With me or against me, but sharing the solution is not an option!
So how to do unionism differently with a government who does old politics?
I’m a unionist and I’m proud of it. And I can’t recognize myself in the archetype of the “radical” that is sometimes associated with those who get involved in the union movement. Being in contact with you daily, I also know that you and I are not bullies!
Our credibility and leadership as union organizations come down to our capacity to promote our ideas, which are precisely in the common interest, to the solutions and propositions we put forward. It also comes down to our mobilization capacity. We have ideas and solutions. And very good ones at that! We just need to get on with putting them forward more, to talk more and better about them.
This is what needs to guide our reflection for the next public sector’s national negotiation, which, let’s not forget, will happen in less than a year.
The imposition of new conditions on the educators while the CPE personnel’s negotiation was ongoing was a response to the strikes and a government’s strategy to halt mobilization. It’s a lesson we must remember.
To do unionism differently, we need to think outside the box and act outside the beaten path. To be continually in reaction is a trap. We need to get out of it and instead place our pieces differently. It’s a simple question of strategy.
It will require a lot of work, introspection and, most of all, a review of our habits and practices. But as for everything else, we’ll make it together.