Why Are Canada's Unions Siding With the Government Against Workers? | Opinion

The Freedom Convoy protests in Ottawa are entering their third week demanding Justin Trudeau lift the vaccine mandate for truckers reentering the country. The convoy and protests, which over the weekend blocked the Ambassador Bridge, a major artery in U.S.-Canadian commerce, is the biggest working-class uprising Canada has seen in a generation. Which makes it all the more notable that Canada's unions have been completely absent.

Organized labor has by and large opposed the truckers. From the Teamsters to CUPE, Canada's largest public sector union, to the Steelworkers of Canada, union leadership has sided with the government in supporting Trudeau's vaccine mandates.

"The so-called 'freedom convoy' and the despicable display of hate lead by the political Right and shamefully encouraged by elected conservative politicians does not reflect the values of Teamsters Canada," the Teamsters said in a statement. "The disruption, bullying, and display of deplorable symbols of hate and bigotry have gone on long enough. It's time for the mob to go home, and it is time for local authorities in Ottawa to see that they do so peacefully and expediently," CUPE wrote.

You can see in these statements how union leadership has repeated the government's smears and outright falsehoods, which took one Confederate flag and one swastika flag and ballooned them into the lie that the protest was full of white supremacists. This lie was spread by Trudeau himself, who called the protest "a few people shouting and waving swastikas." And it was pushed by federally subsidized media and then workers own unions, which smeared the protesters while lending support to provincial political parties who have been openly hostile to the aims of the Freedom Convoy.

Even the leader of Canada's Federal NDP, which profess to be the party of "workers," has denounced the Freedom Convoy. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh went so far as to denounce those provincial premiers who conceded to the Convoy's extremely reasonable demand and have begun to drop their COVID restrictions and mandates.

How to explain unions jumping on the bandwagon to smear workers?

Many have used this fact to further malign the protest, claiming, like Trudeau, that it doesn't represent workers but rather a fringe minority.

But that's not what what's happening. What we're actually seeing playing out is the explanation for why union representation has been waning for decades, especially in the private sector. Can you blame workers? What use do we have for labor leaders who so easily dismiss the concerns of the wider working class like this, especially on a question that is so fundamental to everyone: Do we have the right to make our own medical decisions and to have sovereignty over our own bodies?

If union leaders would rather side with the government on this question, is it any wonder why workers can't trust them and would rather not join a union?

If the right to work hinges on whether or not we submit to a mass moral panic around a virus that is on the wane, then what is the point of having leadership that's on the wrong sides of these questions?

mandate freedom

The truth is that the Freedom Convoy came out of nowhere. It took everyone by surprise in how quickly it grew and gained widespread public support. It more or less blew the doors off of every labor institution in Canada. Left behind by this spontaneous and mostly decentralized movement, unions, politicians, and other "leaders" in society could not control the Freedom Convoy. But more importantly, they could not take any credit for the successes the protests have piled up. So they have chosen instead to vilify them.

The government can't admit it because they have dug in too deep, but the majority of Canadians are over the pandemic. They want an end to vaccine mandates and COVID restrictions lifted. And nothing can change that simple fact—not Ontario Premier Doug Ford calling the protest in Ottawa a "siege" nor Trudeau reportedly planning to invoke the Emergencies Act—which gives the government broad powers for 30 days—instead of being a real leader and meeting Convoy organizers.

The absence of union leadership at the truckers' protest doesn't prove that most workers aren't behind the truckers; it proves how distant that leadership is from the people it pretends to represent.

It's time for union leadership to stop sucking up to politicians who are completely detached from the working class. It's time for them to return to representing the material interests of their members, rather than socially signaling to professional managerial class strivers and email jobbers their support for the cultural affectations of these groups.

Bodily sovereignty and the right to work without submitting to government overreach should be a top priority for labor leaders if they wish to increase their faltering membership numbers and halt their ongoing descent into irrelevance.

Because with or without them, we will stand up for ourselves. We're just not going to take it anymore.

Gord Magill is a trucker with over 25 years on the road across 4 different countries. You could once find him on Twitter @ghostofgord.

The views in this article are the writer's own.