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PSI North America Labor Rights Seminar

12 February 2014
PSI Canadian and United States affiliates gathered in Washington, D.C. on January 30, 2014 to discuss the attacks on labor rights in North America. Affiliates shared experiences and current strategies for pushing back on conservative political efforts to roll back rights to unionize and collectively bargain for millions of public sector workers. The discussion was framed by several presentations that analyzed the attacks and highlighted effective strategies for confronting them.

Dr. Gordon Lafer from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and the University of Oregon Labor Education and Research Center (LERC) analyzed the sources of legislative efforts to outlaw public sector unions in Canada and the United States, with particular attention paid to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).  His presentation drew upon his latest work, “The Legislative Attack on American Wages and Labor Standards, 2011–2012.”  Lori Wallach, Director of the Global Trade Watch at Public Citizen presented an inventory of the many different international trade agreements now under negotiation as well as the record of earlier versions, including NAFTA and CAFTA-DR. She emphasized the extreme approach to investor rights codified by these agreements and encouraged everyone to understand these rights and other provisions currently under negotiation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, EU-Canada, EU-USA, and Trade in Services Agreement, as orchestrated attacks on the public sector and public control over public services.  Blaine Rummel from AFSCME and In The Public Interest showed how effective messaging can bolster support for the public sector and heighten opposition to “out-sourcing,” as the best term to categorize privatization efforts.  Blaine explained in the United States context that messaging matters and registered voters are generally supportive of public services and public sector unions especially when “out-sourcing” threatens accountability, transparency, and democratic control over public services.

Affiliate leaders composed a panel to further discuss the attacks. The panel included remarks from Paul Moist, President of CUPE, Régine Laurent, President of FIQ and Paul Booth, Special Assistant to the President of AFSCME.  The panelists shared their experiences with the attacks on their memberships and agreed that mobilizing members and effective messaging to the public was critical in undermining efforts to roll back unions and undercut funding for public services.  Together, affiliate attendees agreed that PSI plays a critical role in calling attention to these attacks, promotes the exchange of information and experiences around the world and throughout North America, and serves as coordination point for future collective actions.  Attendees encouraged PSI to deepen its information exchange and coordination work in the future.  Moreover, the Canada and U.S. affiliates agreed to draft a resolution to frame collective efforts to fight back against union busting and the outsourcing of public services.

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