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"It's incipient fascism."

Bill 100 and the Nova Scotia academic landscape

by Miles Howe

Larry Haiven was amongst about 100 protestors who took to the streets against Bill 100, on April 27th in Halifax. [Photo: M. Howe]
Larry Haiven was amongst about 100 protestors who took to the streets against Bill 100, on April 27th in Halifax. [Photo: M. Howe]

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) - Under skies more reminiscent of what was once mid-March, but now apparently passes for the end of April, I walk with Dr. Larry Haiven from the department of management at Saint Mary's University. The speeches and march are over, the banners are rolled up, the sound system has been packed up and whisked away for the next rally. The upset energy of another hundred people in Halifax has poured itself into the city block-long Nova Scotia House of Assembly. The words spoken outside this house, in frustration and indignation, in the rain and outside the gates, generally seem to me more authentic, heartfelt and inspired than anything happening inside. It isn't as clear though, in terms of a 'Point A to Point B' narrative, how one acquires that elusive 'justice' by yelling at the building where legislation is passed in this province.

Haiven, in a professorial cap and gown made damp from a slushy dump of snow, is dressed to make a point, not for the weather. This latest protest over this 'Universities Accountability and Sustainability Act', bill 100, puts the bargaining power of unions within the provinces' academic institutions in jeopardy. This stands to impact thousands of employees – and students - not just academic staff. But there's something oddly regal about professors playing dress-up in the rain, as though one rarely catches sight of this learned plumage, let alone donned up in a street protest.

Under Section 8 of the bill, governing bodies of universities can submit five year “revitalization plans” to the provincial government. During the “revitalization plan” period, impacted unions will not be able to strike, or commence or continue any grievance against whatever is contained within the “plan”. Notably, no outside person or organization will be able to do anything to aid or abet an impacted union to not comply with the “plan”. During the period of the plan, no collective agreements may be struck between the university or its unions.

To Haiven and others, this Act won't stick, based upon its unconstitutional foundations. As much as they so clearly want to, this provincial Liberal government of Nova Scotia cannot simply remove Charter-protected rights as they see fit.

“Over the past fifteen years, the Supreme Court of Canada has made a number of hallmark rulings preserving the rights of union, not only to exist, but to do what unions do,” says Haiven. “So the right to secondary picketing, the right to collective bargaining, the right of workers to join the union of their choice – these are Charter protected. Then finally, just a few months ago, the right to strike.”

The right to strike, of course, was won earlier this year in a hallmark decision by the Supreme Court of Canada, based upon a 2008 challenge to Saskatchewan provincial law. Governmental limits on the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike must be minimal, says the Supreme Court. The Nova Scotia Universities Act, with its prohibition-style wording that even outlaws outside persons assisting an impacted union, likely would be laughed out of court. But a legal challenge is costly and lengthy, and plays into government hands.

“The problem is, that it will take four or five years before it makes its way before the Supreme Court of Canada, which will then say it's unconstitutional,” says Haiven. “They may order the government and the employers that use this act to reimburse, recompense, all of the damage they've done. But that's five years down the road, and therein lies the problem. You wonder why the government is even doing it when it's totally unconstitutional. But that's the reason...

“It'll take four or five years, and meanwhile you've put a freeze on everything. Let's say, you'll instill fear and hesitation in the hearts of university professors and other unions, and that's the purpose.”

There's more too. While Section 8 represents the greatest threat to organized labours' ability to navigate their academic workplace, Section 12 contains the blueprint towards revamping the university landscape into a near-perfect breeding ground for profit-driven programming. Plans must be submitted for knowledge sharing with the private sector, “including excellent collaboration between the university and industry.” In no uncertain terms, a “plan” must also include an analysis of cost saving opportunities that includes “the elimination, consolidation and specialization of faculties, departments and programs.”

“It's incipient fascism,” says Haiven, as we wrap his damp gown in plastic. “It's fascism, drip by drip.”

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So, I don't think "worse is better" but . . .

I think it could point to a new opening up in the ways workers struggle if the historic comprimise between "big labour" and capital finally and definitively collapses.
Like, I think it's not coincidental that many of the most powerful moments of labour struggle in Canada precede the Rand Formula. When workers literally fought (with bricks, with guns, with real hard pickets), their struggle had a pretty fundamentally different character than the current spectacle of peaceful demonstrations to lobby politicians, strikes that end when declared illegal, etc.
While I don't relish the criminalization of workers' struggles, maybe it's about time that workers started thinking seriously about which side of the law they want to be on.

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