Robyn Benson: We’re union — and we’re not going anywhere

An op-ed by PSAC National President Robyn Benson, as published on iPolitics, May 2, 2013.

We’re union — and we’re not going anywhere 
By Robyn Benson | May 2, 2013 8:53 pm 

For several years now, the Public Service Alliance of Canada has been working on its members’ behalf to defend quality public services we all enjoy. This has included a number of campaigns, videos, press conferences, public events in communities across the country and meetings with Members of Parliament and decision makers at all levels of government.

We have engaged in this work because we have a duty to represent all members of the union and the important work they do in meeting the very real needs of Canadians.

When our members lose their jobs due to short-sighted and negligent cuts by government, their livelihoods and those of their families are negatively affected. But so is the prosperity and safety of the communities which they serve. When this happens, they expect, and demand, that their union stand up for their jobs and the services they have dedicated their lives to providing.

Recently, however, a number of organizations, including Merit Canada, have decided that unions should not be in the business of defending the interests of their members. They have used privileged access to high level decision makers in cabinet and specious arguments in the media to discredit the work of unions, and to propagate the myth that union members do not have the right to decide how their union operates or how their dues are used.

But Merit Canada represents employer organizations in the construction business. Its only reason for existence is keeping unions out of the construction industry. It has always advocated against unions, and cares nothing for workers, whether unionized or not. They are in it for themselves and their construction bosses, not workers.

Groups like Merit Canada are simply attempting to silence a voice of dissent. They do not like what unions such as the Public Service Alliance of Canada are saying about government policy, so they claim the language of freedom and human rights to try to quash those very same rights.

Unions, on the other hand, are democratic organizations which have a constitutional obligation to represent their members. This is inconvenient for the Harper government. We are mandated by our members to protect jobs and services that fuel our economy. On the other hand, the stated mission of the Conservatives, which is there for anyone to see in the various incarnations of the “Economic Action Plan,” is to cut jobs, cut services, weaken safeguards, remove safety regulations, remove protections for the environment and communities, and make it more difficult for workers and the middle class to make ends meet and retire with dignity.

Their economic record is abysmal by any measure, and their policies are designed with the sole ideological imperative of reducing the size of government at any cost.

So they send out their surrogates to distract and deflect and to attack anyone who might raise an inconvenient truth or challenge their policies.

After social justice organizations, international development groups, women’s rights groups, environmental organizations, scientists, government whistleblowers and Parliamentarians, unions are next on the list of targets they want to silence.

But unions will not go away easily. We will continue to represent the best interests of our members, and be champions for fairness, justice and the public interest. When the government cuts food inspectors, we will sound the alarm. When the government weakens environmental protections, we will declare ourselves against these measures. When the government dismantles health and safety regulations, we will stand up for those who depend on them. When the government cuts benefits and programs for veterans, women, the unemployed, ranchers, aboriginal communities, the traveling public, our armed forces, refugees or seniors, we will denounce them, repeatedly, and in as many forums as possible.

Why? Because our members expect us to do just that.

Robyn Benson is national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada