Mar 312015

Written by Solidarity Halifax supporter Judy Haiven and member Larry Haiven. Both are professors in the Sobey School of Business, Saint Mary’s University. Originally published by The Chronicle Herald.

Healthcare Sol Hal

Protestors from health care unions and other sector unions protested outside Province House last fall after the Liberal-dominated government introduced its controversial health care legislation. (ERIC WYNNE/The Chronicle Herald)

The Nova Scotia government and its four acute health care unions have finally resolved their dispute over which unions represent which workers in collective bargaining. The British Columbia model of “bargaining associations,” floated by the unions last summer, and rejected by the government then, will now be the order of the day. Was this the big victory for the workers that some commentators claim?

Certainly, the government showed an embarrassing ignorance of labour relations; it appeared overly ambitious and less than competent in re-drawing the map of bargaining. And it did back down. But recent events must be seen in light of bigger labour issues.

Over the past 30-odd years, despite a few periods of economic woe, the average wealth of Nova Scotia (gross domestic product per capita) has increased by over 50 per cent. Despite hand-wringing by pundits and government commissions, we have become better off — roughly equal to New Zealand. Not too shabby. Problem is, the wealth hasn’t been shared.

Over those same years of the province becoming richer, the average real (correcting for inflation) weekly income of Nova Scotian workers actually dropped. Unionized workers generally have not done better. The new wealth created has moved inexorably to wealthy holders of capital. That’s right, the people we’re now told should be paying lower taxes.

The only workers successfully resisting the race to the bottom are those with a competitive skill set and valuable credentials: nurses, teachers, professors, and allied health professionals (like registered technologists and therapists). Not only do they have mobility, but withdrawing their labour, individually or collectively, is a palpable threat. And they are organized into professional societies, and into strong trade unions with whom employers must negotiate.

Beyond pay, a range of professional issues, like autonomy, scope of practice and quality of service, spurs their militancy.

Many are popular with the public. Teachers instruct our children. Nurses care for the ill. Crown attorneys prosecute criminals. Technologists administer radiation treatments to cancer patients. If they’re fed up enough to strike, public opinion is as likely to side with them as with the government.

Not only do they resist recruitment to the government’s austerity agenda, their pushback encourages other workers to push back, too.

That’s why the Nova Scotia Liberal government decided to put its very heavy hand on the scales of collective bargaining.

First came Bill 37 a year ago, constraining the right to strike for a wide swath of public workers. Its “essential services” provisions are so strict that the act itself contemplates negotiations becoming meaningless. Whether the law will withstand the Supreme Court of Canada’s new muscular protection of collective bargaining and the right to strike is anyone’s guess.

Next, with Bill 1 last fall, the government declared a war of annihilation on perceived Public Enemy No. 1, the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU). Too clever by half, the government drafted the law so a third party could only, in the words of mediator/arbitrator James Dorsey, act as “simply an usher showing everyone pre-assigned seating.” That Dorsey frustrated this Machiavellian project is a tribute to his experience and legal expertise but also to the government’s hubris. Faced with the exact opposite of what it intended, the government sensibly reached a deal with the unions.

But the next act in this play will now commence. Later this year and next, government will preside over negotiations with big groups of public sector workers. Rather than taxing back some of the bounty reaped by capital, the government is eyeing savings from teachers, civil servants, and health-care workers.

Will the groups of skilled workers with clout submit meekly, or will their anger and militancy redouble as the government attempts to balance the provincial budget on their backs?


Note: Articles published by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.

Mar 302015

Download PDF here.

  1. austerityThe Liberal government plans to continue its austerity agenda in the coming provincial budget. Austerity is the ruling class solution to the Great Recession of 2008. Instead of reining in the big banks and corporations, the ruling class seeks to blame working people for this economic crisis. It was finance capital, not nurses, teachers and bus drivers who crashed the economy. We didn’t cause this crisis, and we won’t pay for it.
  2. While full details of the budget will not be available until April 9th it is clear from statements the Premier and his Ministers have made, that they intend to inflict pain on the working class in Nova Scotia. This will likely include privatization of public services, rising tuition fees, ongoing freezes to income assistance rates, ongoing corporate welfare and the possibility of a health levy.
  3. The privatization agenda includes outsourcing maintenance of basic public documents like vehicle registration, land registration and more to private, for-profit companies. These are services that should be run in the public interest and not to generate profits for corporations. Even more worrying is the possibility that these services, which contain personal information about Nova Scotians, could be turned over to an American corporation and subject to the Patriot Act in the US. This is on top of cuts already made to public services in tourism and child welfare.
  4. On health care, the government is moving forward with plans to privatize home care services across Nova Scotia. This will be done through a process called ‘competitive bidding’. What this means is thousands of health care workers, mostly older women, will be fired and forced to reapply for their jobs at a much lower wage rates and with few or no benefits. This was done in Ontario and Alberta with disastrous results. Patient care will suffer. The Liberals are also talking about the possibility of a health levy. This would be a flat fee, of several hundred dollars, everyone would have to pay each year to access the public health care system.
  5. The Liberals continue to starve the post-secondary education system of the resources it needs. The government will allow tuition fees to increase again at our universities and college, while class sizes get bigger and administration salaries continue to grow.
  6. In the election the Liberals campaigned on a promise to reinvest money that had been cut from P-12 education under the previous government. Instead, however, they have announced education “reform” initiatives that do not provide any new funding, and tried to pit teachers against parents on issues such as snow days. Meanwhile, many Nova Scotian students are in junior high and high school classes of 30-38, and special needs continue to go unaddressed.
  7. When it comes to social assistance, the Liberals began their mandate by freezing personal allowance payments last year and are now having a Montreal-based corporation review the entire system. Social assistance payments remain well below the poverty line, damning tens of thousands of Nova Scotians to poverty. The Liberals have also begun closing rural income assistance offices. With the cuts that have been made to Employment Insurance by the federal Conservatives, more Nova Scotians will be forced to look at income assistance for survival.
  8. The Liberals continue the failed economic development policy of corporate welfare, which has been done by political parties of all stripes for decades. Recently, they gave $22 million to the Royal Bank, one of the most profitable corporations in the country. Corporate welfare will never develop our economy. Corporations come here, get the subsidies, and then leave when the subsidies run out.
  9. There are alternatives to austerity capitalism. Life doesn’t have to be like this. Through of a mix of public ownership, workers cooperatives, and non-profit enterprise, we can build a sustainable economy and keep more of our wealth here in Nova Scotia, instead of sending it to corporate shareholders in Toronto and New York. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – Nova Scotia Office has also published progressive budgets for the past 15 years. These budgets demonstrate that we can afford to invest in health care, education and eliminating poverty.
  10. We need a government willing to break with austerity capitalism and begin building a real future in Nova Scotia. If you are interested in building alternatives to capitalism, contact Solidarity Halifax and get involved in the struggle for justice. Another world is possible.


Mar 052015

The Radical Imagination Project and Solidarity Halifax are pleased to invite you to a conversation about the recent Greek elections.

Tuesday, March 24 from 5:30-7:30pm at Just Us! Coffeehouse, Spring Garden Road

5:30-6:30 – discussion with a grassroots organizer and scholar from Greece
6:30-7:30 – a discussion of the implications for Halifax, Nova Scotia and Canada.

Facebook event:

The election of the left-wing Syriza party in Greece last month has been hailed by many as one of the greatest recent challenges to the austerity agenda and a victory for Greece’s grassroots radical organizers. But what is the situation on the ground? What potentials and perils does the new government face? What is the scope of their political agenda and ambitions? What is their relationship to the autonomous grassroots movements in Greece (social centres, solidarity clinics, occupied factories, anti-privatization efforts, and more)? What lessons can we learn for our own struggles in Canada, and in Halifax?

Join us for a conversation with Theodoros Karyotis via teleconference, followed by a conversation about the implications for Halifax, Nova Scotia and Canada.

Theodoros Karyotis is a sociologist, translator and activist participating in social movements that promote self-management, solidarity economy and defense of the commons. A member of the Initiative of Solidarity with the Vio.Me. self-managed Factory, (]) and the Initiative 136 for social control of Thessaloniki’s water services ( He helps organize the annual Direct Democracy Festival, an international event that brings together collectives, activists and academics around the issue of constructing radical alternatives to capitalism from below. He blogs at



Mar 042015

Solidarity Halifax member Shay Enxuga reports on the ongoing Bill 1 saga for Rank &

Bill 1 protest outside the provincial legislature in Halifax, Nova Scotia

Bill 1 protest outside the provincial legislature in Halifax, Nova Scotia

The Liberals’ election promise of restructuring healthcare in Nova Scotia has turned into a prolonged battle between the government and the province’s four healthcare unions.

The drama began last April when the Liberals introduced essential service legislation, eliminating the right to strike for nearly 40,000 healthcare workers. Strategically hobbling the unions by taking away their most powerful weapon, the Liberals then introduced Bill 1, the Health Authorities Act, in October 2014.

Under the guise of streamlining healthcare, the Liberals have been very clear in their intention of consolidating healthcare bargaining into four bargaining units (nursing, healthcare, clerical, support services) and then assigning a union to each bargaining unit. The plan tramples the rights of workers to democratically choose their union.

However, Bill 1 has brought nothing but chaos and uncertainty to Nova Scotia’s healthcare system.


Arbitration to implement Bill 1 began in early December after mediated talks between the unions and the employer failed to reach a resolution about who would represent which workers. The arbitrator, Jim Dorsey, was originally given a deadline of January 1, 2015 to issue his decision. The deadline was then extended to January 19 at which point Dorsey only delivered a partial ruling.

A second round of arbitration began in early February, to ostensibly resolve outstanding issues, particularly concerning the crucial issue of union representation.

Dorsey’s Decision.

Last Friday, February 20, Dorsey issued a second, and again incomplete decision regarding Bill 1.

Rather than dictating which workers would belong to which unions, Dorsey upheld the principle of majoritarian rule. He argued that union representation must be selected by a majority of the workers.

Using this framework, he decided that only one union, the NSGEU, had a clear double majority – in healthcare. However, he also stated that the NSGEU would take the clerical bargaining unit as well once a local union merger and transfer were complete.

Contradicting the tasks assigned to him by the Liberals, Dorsey argued that, “Trade unions have distinct cultures shaped by workplaces, history, their membership and leadership. A union’s membership is its main asset, but its members are not considered to be commodities to be bartered.”

Dorsey did not come down with a firm decision with regards to the other two bargaining units – support and nursing. Clearly, he regarded this decision as unfinished work. At the end of the report he states that he retains jurisdiction as Mediator-Arbitrator and intends to return to resolve the outstanding matters.

The Government and the unions react

Joan Jessome, president of the NSGEU, initially welcomed the decision as a victory for workers and a vindication of democratic values in Nova Scotia. Jessome announced that Dorsey had awarded the NSGEU both the healthcare and clerical bargaining units. She also said that the NSGEU was prepared to work with the NSNU to draft an amalgamated union structure for the nurses bargaining unit, and do the same with CUPE and Unifor for support services.

However, only a few hours later, Health Minister Leo Glavine announced he would be firing Dorsey, and even mused about whether or not he would pay Dorsey in full for his work.

Glavine denied that the NSGEU had a majority in clerical and stated that Dorsey’s report did not make a decision in regards to the other three bargaining units. Instead, he announced that the government would “finish the job” and introduce legislation before April 1 that would determine which of the unions would represent the remaining three bargaining units. Glavine explained:

“Dorsey delivered his report, and notice what I said, he delivered his report. He did not make a decision on three of the bargaining units. This is not a clear arbitration. We know that arbitration brings final decisions. We don’t have final decisions in this report and that’s the disappointing part.”

“And now, as a government,” Glavine continued, “We will make it very clear who will represent who.”

Things Get Messy

If the government had fired Dorsey, he didn’t seem to get the memo. On Wednesday, February 25, Dorsey released another decision officially awarding the clerical bargaining unit to the NSGEU.

This second report caused the Liberal government stumble in their response.

Last Friday, Glavine had announced that the government would respect Dorsey’s decisions with regards to seniority, collective agreements, and classifications. They also stated that healthcare would be awarded to the NSGEU.

However, with Dorsey unexpectedly assigning the NSGEU two bargaining units, healthcare and clerical, the government was put in the awkward position of either going back on their statements or of showing their hand and revealing the true intention of Bill 1 – to assign workers into unions.

In an interview given to a scrum of reporters after Dorsey released his decision, Glavine said that, “Everything is back on the table. The Dorsey report was so inconclusive that we’re almost unfortunately at a restart on this whole area, so you know we are going to take that whole area and make a final decision.”

A Dark Day

Lana Payne, Atlantic Regional Director of Unifor, called the government’s decision to legislate workers into unions a “dark day” for labour and workers’ rights. “We had a solution. A solution that could have achieved what the government said it wanted. The challenge is that, I guess, that’s not what they wanted. They have another goal in mind. And that’s been an attack on union and on workers in unions.”

Danny Cavanagh, President of CUPE Nova Scotia, also spoke to the mistrust that this government has created among workers in Nova Scotia. “There remains today 24,000 healthcare workers that have no idea what’s going to happen to them any more than they did six or eight months ago. So, how can anybody trust a government that one day says we’re going to abide by the arbitrator’s decision and then essentially fires him part way through? Whenever something happens that they don’t like they threatened the legislative hammer to get what it is they like.”

“This has been very difficult for everyone,” says Janet Hazelton, President of the NSNU. “I think what’s disappointing is that there’s no clear answers still. People have waited until January 1, they thought, then it got extended to the 19th, then it got extended to another week of hearings, then it’s February 20, and six weeks from now something has to happen, and we still don’t know that answers to these questions.”


Note: Articles published by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization