TWU Steps up the struggle against Telus and "Replacement Workers"
… The Telus Lockout Continues
By Ivan Drury
I'm going for decertification of the union."
- Telus CEO Darren Entwistle…
"One day longer!"
- Telecommunication Workers' Union picket slogan
Telus workers, CBC workers and Hospital workers all have two major things in common. First; they are all workers who are under attack by their bosses. Second; their bosses, all acting under the pressures of seeking greater profits in an international marketplace that is crushing weaker capitalists in fierce competition between monopoly corporations, are carrying out these attacks with their primary goal being breaking the union of their employees.
This struggle for the right to organize and for a strong union, is currently being led by the Telecommunication Workers Union (TWU) but it is destined to be a common struggle of all working people in Canada. And if the defence of the TWU is critical to the future of the labour movement in Canada, and to the rights of all working people; truly we have entered a new era of struggle for the rights of working people. It is no accident either that the very time that every boss in Canada has begun to seek the surest ways to cut costs and increase profits (scaling back wages and benefits of workers), that these attacks would be led by axe wielding maniacs seeking to behead the labour movement. If we allow them to succeed in their mission to decapitate the TWU, then all other unions will fall beneath the guillotine and workers in Canada will be set back by decades, both in the rights, wages and job protections we have won through previous struggle and in our ability to carry out future struggles in our own defence.
The historical fight for the right to organize
The struggle for the right to organize and hold unions is nothing new, but perhaps it is because it was won so long ago, it is difficult to recognize. When the labour movement first stood on its feet 70 or 80 years ago in Canada and the US, it was met with fierce attacks from the bosses and the government. The first strikes were organized around the simple demands of recognition of the unions by the companies, for the right to collective bargaining and the right to organize. The company would immediately hire, out of the massive leagues of the unemployed, scab workers. Then, when the newborn unions blocked jobsites and beat back the scabs they were met with deployments of company thugs, often made up of armed gangs of deputized businessmen and managers, and government thugs in police and army uniforms. The union workers armed themselves in self-defence and battles shook the streets, all in the name of the right to organize.
The ruling class capitalists were faced with a rising class polarization where, despite massive slander campaigns against the unions as "communists" and "gangsters," support for the strikers spread throughout the entire working class like a prairie fire and massive support rallies were organized. In an effort to break the strike and the unions, the companies issued bonuses to workers who would betray the union and cross the picket line and penalties to those who would not. It was only through following the principles of unity and solidarity that these maneuvers by the bosses were defeated and these critical strikes were won. This was more difficult the longer the strike went on, because workers and their families grew hungry and their confidence would begin to wane. Knowing this, it was critical that the strike be strong, that no scab be allowed to pass, and that the ranks of strikers not be allowed to diminish. The stronger the strike, the faster it would be possible to break the company and win. The bosses also knew this, and would do everything they could to keep business running, to buy time, tire the strikers out, and wear the union down.
For both sides it was a desperate struggle. For the unions and the workers it was a struggle for survival, and for the bosses it was a struggle for more profit off the backs of the workers. The victory of the unions set the entire future of the labour movement in the US and Canada.
Yet the struggle is not over; and now it seems that this dramatic stage in the history of the labour movement is about to be replayed. Faced with an international economic crisis, once again, bosses are attacking workers and trying to strangle unions in pursuit of greater profits. And, in self-defence, workers and unions are struggling for their survival. The TWU lockout sets the opening scenes of this play and, as before, the entire future of the labour movement and all working people hangs in the balance.
"Replacement Workers" are the enemies of workers
"The TWU submits that with that many managers [14,000!] TELUS has the resources and therefore the ability to perform bargaining unit work during a labour dispute. Therefore, the TWU submits that the only reason TELUS is using replacement workers on the huge scale that it is (ie. many thousands) is with the hope and intention of 'busting the Union' in violation of Section 94(2.1) of the Code."
- From the TWU complaint to the Canadian Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) against TELUS' hiring of scab labour
"The second principle is that an employer cannot use replacement workers for improper and illegal purposes, such as to rid the workplace of union representation, as opposed to pursuing a particular economic goal or bargaining objective. Thus, the employer's use of replacement workers must not be used to undermine the union's representational capacity."
- CIRB Decision No. 271, Citing Section 94(2.1) of the Code, pph. 106-107
As soon as it was clear that a lockout would occur, just as in the first strikes for union representation, Telus's first act was to begin to hire scab labour. At first this was done 'in-house' and involved the re-deployment of the army of 14,000 managers and non-bargaining unit members to union jobs. Since August 15th Telus has hired more than 130 "contract workers" to management positions to cover the jobs of some of these managers busy doing union jobs. An August 27th letter to the editor of the Edmonton Journal explained this move in its title alone, "Telus strike [sic.] is taking a toll on non-union workers."
But this has not been enough for Telus's goal of breaking the union. Since July the company has begun an aggressive hiring spree of so-called "replacement workers" (traditionally known as 'scabs') to staff locked out union positions to keep business going and extend the lockout to break the union.
The following ad appeared in the July 24th edition of the Vancouver Province from the Telus Subsidiary "Key Telecom":
"KEY TELECOM: Immediate openings across Canada. All experienced craft I and R, Cable and Repair, Central Office Toll Desk, DCPower Vehicles / Tools, expenses supplied. Email: Resumes@keytelecom.net
And on August 17th Key Telecom signed a one year contract with "Evolve Technologies" in Surrey BC which stated that Evolve Technologies will provide its employees to Key Telecom to work as replacement workers for Telus at $34 per hour.
Similar companies that have placed similar ads and begun recruitment of scabs include: "Millenium Telus Services of Canada" in Kamloops and Cache Creek, "Ajlion Communications" through Monster.ca across Canada, "Neutron Telecommunications," "The Neutron Group," "The Bell Group," "RMH Call Centre," "Neucomm International" in the Phillipines, "Faneuil Group" in Winnipeg, "Adventis Personnel Group Inc." in Vancouver, and "Immigrant Services Society" - a government agency that dropped its promotion of scab work when confronted by the TWU.
Job fairs organized by Telus have also appeared at Vancouver universities UBC and SFU. Also targeting students, Telus keeps a posting on their website for "Coop Students" to get work experience through Telus.
On August 29th Telus even issued a press release bragging of $12Million in contracts through a new initiative of theirs, "CallCentreAnywhere." This strike breaking method, made possible through the technology developed and built by union workers, has them hiring scores of people ($12Million worth!) to work in Telus call centres from home.
The benefits of being a Scab: Selling your soul for an MP3 player
Telus is not particular to non-union members in the recruitment of "replacement workers" for TWU jobs. They have also launched a campaign to both bribe and intimidate TWU members back to work, across the picket line.
Telus has offered a premium "bonus" of $30 a day for every worker who crosses the picket line, plus... a free MP3 player AND a free cell phone! (and don't worry, if you already have a cell phone, Telus will pay for it for you!) Also included in this scab package is a dollar for dollar matching contribution from Telus for workers who cross the picket line to buy shares in Telus. That's right! You too can sell out the struggle of your brothers and sisters at work for a share in the blood sucking profits of Telus! Workers in Ontario and across Canada have been told that if they come to Vancouver to work for Telus as "replacement workers" they will be paid $35 an hour PLUS $200 a day to cover room and board costs.
These higher wages and benefits come from the company that has refused workers even a penny's wage increase almost six years, refused to negotiate a contract with the TWU for four and a half years and have already locked out their employees for two months in order to reduce costs by breaking the union and contracting out jobs for lower wages!
Threats against union workers
Honest workers who refuse to cross the picket line receive a different message. They've been told, by the CEO, president, vice-president and managers, "The day will come when the company is going to draw a line in the sand and after that day, employees who have not crossed the picket line will be out for a long time." In small towns in BC and Alberta, company managers have even approached striking workers' parents to "warn" them that if their son or daughter does not return to work then they will not have a job to return to. One TWU member who was given this message by his parents gave up and went to work for another company. Three days later he was told that Telus had contacted the boss at his new job and had threatened to cut all business with this smaller company if they hired this particular worker. He was fired.
On top of threats and intimidation that honest TWU members will not have a "job to return to," workers on the picket line have had to face the 21st Century's version of the armed gangs of thugs that beat up strikers in the 1930s. Telus has spared no expense in hiring one of the most prominent and 'battle tested' of these gangs: "AFI International," a security firm whose main business is breaking strikes and busting unions.
The AFI International home webpage boasts, "Our core business is focused exclusively on services that enable employers to manage work stoppages due to strikes, lockouts or plant closures safely and securely." Scrolling down the sidebar of this mainpage is a column that features news about risks of unionization in different industries and how capitalists can act to stop them.
Rather than swinging clubs or shooting strikers, which would certainly be considered 'over the top' in today's 'civil society' (at least at this point in struggle), these thugs are armed with video cameras as well as conventional weapons. Their tactics focus on ridiculing, insulting, prodding and provoking picketers to catch their responses on tape.
While the Supreme Court has issued strict rulings restricting the ability of the TWU to picket, the courts and government have not extended these same limitations to Telus and Telus's security thugs, who have routinely provoked picketers with verbal threats and intimidation and physical assaults. Everywhere that AFI International goons have been deployed, there have been arrests of TWU members shortly thereafter for "assault" and "harassment". The union is then tied up in court and Telus is armed with more ammunition to use in slander campaigns against the union. Working people should not be defensive about these charges of so-called "assault" and "harassment". To the contrary, what is needed is a further mobilization of support from working people in support and defence of the TWU picketers. The heavier a picketline is with TWU members and supporters, the more "intimidating" it will be for scabs to cross, the more easily the picketers will be able to drive the thug squads away and the more quickly the lockout will be won.
E ARE WITH THE WORKERS!
At the beginning of September the Communication Energy and Paper workers union (CEP) announced that it was taking action against Telus as an unfair employer. The CEP's refusal to work on jobs for Telus means that they will block Telus from running ads in the Vancouver Sun, the Province and eleven other newspapers in BC. These sorts of solidarity actions are exactly what are needed to bring more pressure against Telus and give a clear message to all bosses that strike breaking and union busting will not be tolerated by unions or working people.
From the other side, a grim reminder of the high stakes of this lockout struggle has emerged. On September 15th more than 1,100 Hospital Employees Union (HEU) members walked off the job as their strike began against Health Care contractor 'Sodexho'. Sodexho won the privatized health care contract in a bid from the BC Liberal Government last year. After thousands of jobs were privatized out in a vicious attack on the HEU by the provincial government last year, the workers had to fight to gain representation by the HEU against their new, private sector bosses. The attack by the government was made with the intent to destroy the union, which only survived at all thanks to a massive labour mobilization. Today negotiations with Sodexho have been impossible, as Sodexho has said that the union demands are "far too high." The demands of the union? Pay raises to reach $14.90 over a four year contract - pay rates that would still fall far below the wages that these same workers made before their jobs were contracted out.
As the lockout of the TWU passes its second month mark, the factor of solidarity from other unions and working and poor people across Canada becomes more and more critical. All the maneuvering of Telus (hiring scabs/bribing workers to cross the picketline/bringing in goon-squads/threatening TWU members jobs/slandering the union in the media) are the tactics used throughout history by bosses who are trying to break unions. The historic and winning response of workers and unions has been to stand their ground against all these attacks, and unite and fight harder.
The original struggles and strikes for the right to organize and hold unions were won by the entirety of working and poor people standing together for their rights against the companies and bosses. In the 1920s and '30s these strikes were won against tremendous odds. Today, we are called upon to fight with this same determination and solidarity again, for the TWU workers, hospital workers, CBC workers, and all working people in Canada.
DEFEND THE TWU!
WORKERS UNITE AGAINST TELUS!
Back to Article Listing