A Defeat that Smells of Victory

Last night, the House of Commons defeated Bill C-257, “An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers),” by a vote of 177 to 122. All NDP and Bloc MPs, about forty Liberals, and one brave Conservative voted in favour.

Although the Bill did not pass, the labour movement’s efforts on this issue have achieved at least three important things:

First, labour developed and demonstrated its capacity to wage a coherent legislative campaign. C-257 is the first time in a very long time that unions have mounted a co-ordinated push for a particular piece of federal legislation. Given that a couple of provincial NDP governments have never implemented anti-scab legislation, getting it to third reading through a Conservative-dominated Parliament must be viewed as a considerable success.

Second, the C-257 vote has pinned down the political parties. The fact that a large minority of Liberals voted for the Bill is a credit to the hard work done by union advocates, but provides little grounds for optimism about a possible future Liberal government. Of the front-bench Liberal MPs – the ones who might be part of a Dion cabinet – only one-quarter voted “yea”. With the Bloc opposing a $10-per-hour federal minimum wage, it is clearer than ever that the NDP is the federal party that can be counted on to fight for workers’ interests.

Third, Bill C-257’s goal was not only to protect the ten percent of workers in federally-regulated industries, but also to set a national standard that provinces might adopt. In opposing C-257, several business leaders and right-wing politicians argued that, while anti-scab legislation is fine at the provincial level, it would be inappropriate in vital federally-regulated industries. Having these people on record that anti-scab legislation is fine provincially will be helpful in keeping this protection for the thirty percent of Canadian workers regulated by Quebec and BC, and in attaining it for the sixty percent of Canadian workers regulated by other provincial governments.

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