January 6, 2000

B.C. Fed President Jim Sinclair speaks at labour council meeting

Business leaders' vision for the future will take the province into the past, B.C. Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair said Wednesday.

Speaking at a North Okanagan Labour Council meeting in Vernon, Sinclair said the B.C. Business Summit, which has been pushing for more business-friendly legislation, and negotiators at the failed World Trade Organization talks in Seattle share a lot of the same ideas.

"As we head into a new century, they want to take us back to the old one," he told a gathering of about 40 people at the Village Green Hotel.

The WTO vision, said Sinclair, "celebrates greed. It celebrates the accumulation of money.

"When they look at the world, they see ... markets. The WTO wants to take more from people at the bottom and give it to people at the top."

The Business Summit is pushing a similar agenda in B.C., by calling for a lower minimum wage, an end to the tuition freeze, repeal of the anti-scab labour legislation and spending cuts.

"They want us to have scabs," said Sinclair. "Their answer to our economic problems in B.C. is to bring back violence to the picket line."

By calling for a reduced minimum wage for younger workers and an end to the tuition freeze, business leaders are saying to young people: "Work harder, work longer, get less."

The Summit also calls for a $1-$1.5 billion cut in government expenditures, said Sinclair. "What hospital will we be closing? What special needs kid won't have a teacher?"

The Summit's carrot for all these cuts is a tax cut, said Sinclair. "If you earn $40,000, you'll get $154."

Sinclair referred to some current labour disputes as examples of the agenda business is pushing.

After a year on the picket line, projectionists at Famous Players and Cineplex Odeon theatres recently received a new offer from their owners: Instead of a 60 per cent pay cut, as originally proposed, the companies are now demanding the projectionists take an 80 per cent wage cut.

In response, the B.C. Fed has launched a boycott against Sony, one of the theatre chain's owners.

Workers at several BCAA offices have been on strike for a year. Like the editorial employees at the Calgary Herald newspaper, who have been on the picket line since November, seniority clauses are the main contract issues. Companies want the right to determine layoffs by their own means, while unions insist seniority is the fairest way to determine layoffs.

"Seniority is the difference between playing favourites and dignity," said Sinclair.

Sinclair also warned against opening up the medical system to the private sector, as Alberta is considering and some B.C. business leaders are pushing. Universal access to medicare isn't the problem with B.C.'s health care system, he said.

Pointing to the United States, where much of the medical system is run by the private sector, Sinclair noted 45 million Americans don't have health insurance.

"They can't even get on a waiting list."

In B.C., the American experience would mean 149,000 children would not have health insurance. "Whose kids would those be? Not the wealthy. They would be working people's kids and poor kids."

Sinclair also found it curious that the labour movement's many achievements of the past century were rarely mentioned in the many reviews of the past 100 years on TV and in newspaper stories.

Labour unions brought in the eight-hour work day, weekends, overtime, health and safety standards and even launched the first social programs, he said. "Our activities have helped all working people. We've made some enormous accomplishments. We have a lot to fight for, but also a lot to celebrate."



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