19 August 2013

Undoing democracy democratically

As the Egyptian military brutally dismantles democracy in their country, other losses of democracy tend to pale in comparison. Yet when they involve people electing to disband their own democracy, they are nonetheless disheartening. At least to a democrat such as myself. Thus I felt no little disappointment when I read in the news of workers at Canada's only unionized Walmart, in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, voting to decertify their union.

Weyburn union-buster
The union—United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1400—was certified as the bargaining agent for the employees in 2008, but fierce resistance from Walmart (at one point it was found guilty of unfair labour practices) precluded reaching a collective agreement. With new labour laws in place in the province, a decertification drive was launched at the store and a vote held. The union sought to block the counting of the ballots, claiming the process was unfair, however the courts ruled against them. They have now been counted and the vote went overwhelmingly for decertification.

Other than worker co-ops, unions represent the only democracy in Canadian workplaces. Why, one wonders, would workers reject democracy? Is a giant corporation such as Walmart just too formidable? Do unions demand too much effort? Were these particular workers philosophically opposed to unions? Did they trust management more than their colleagues? Or did they just not give a damn? One clue may be that out of the 69 who voted in December 2010, only about 10 remain employed at the store.

In any case, perhaps we should not be surprised by the vote. Canadians are not, after all, terribly interested in democracy. Barely 60 per cent bothered to vote in the last federal election. In civic elections, it's often barely 30 per cent. And we persist in using probably the world's most undemocratic voting system at both the provincial and federal levels. So indifference to democracy in a Canadian workplace isn't unexpected.

The United Food and Commercial Workers aren't indifferent however. They have vowed to continue the organizing efforts at Walmart. I wish them, and workplace democracy, all possible luck.

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