Solidarity Halifax member Mary Burnet writes open letter to Just Us! general manager Debra Moore in response to union-busting actions of the cooperative.
I’m writing to you as a long-time patron of Just Us, a worker in an independent business that has had a long and friendly relationship with Just Us and its employees, and as a person in the Halifax community with social justice politics who is trying her best to navigate a capitalist system. I’m also a property owner, a landlord to my housemates, a non-unionized worker, and a future law student. I’m identifying myself in these ways to say that I am fully implicated in capitalist property, workplace, and educational establishments. I’m not above them or able to exist completely outside of them, and I can’t think of many people in Canada who are able to do so. However, I’m still trying to do my best to be aware of my privilege and be conscious of the choices I make.
When you live in a capitalist society and have social justice politics, you often have to make compromises. When you’re looking for a place to live, a place to work, a place to buy food or a place to buy coffee, there are rarely choices that are morally and politically uncomplicated. For those of us who believe in equity and social justice, navigating a capitalist system often means doing our best to choose options that go against systemic norms of property and resource accumulation, hierarchical management and worker exploitation, and environmental degradation. However, these ideal options are not always available to us, and we are left with the moral imperative to simply do our best.
From the work Just Us has done in Nova Scotia and through its partnerships with fair trade producers around the world, it seems that in many ways, you and your co-op are doing your best to navigate capitalism and global inequity in order to support your partners, fellow co-op members, and the environment.
It’s not enough, however, for you to work for an improvement in the working conditions and job security of your fellow co-op members, but not of your employees. As a business in a capitalist economy with a tiered system of power and profit, you and members of the co-op profit from the labour of non-co-op workers, and you have the power to deny them requests for improved working conditions knowing that they have few avenues for recourse. While many non-unionized workers benefit from the historical efforts of unions in terms of the establishment of breaks, minimum wage and overtime, in many work environments this is not enough, and workers need the collective bargaining power of a union to ensure they are being treated justly. Apparently this is the case at your Spring Garden location and has also been so at the Wolfville and Grand Pre locations. Since this is an obvious pattern, it seems like it’s time for you to examine your business practices and see where the gaps are in your purported mission of “people and the planet before profits.”
As it stands, you’re not doing enough and you’re not doing your best. By firing two people who were key organizers of a drive to unionize employees at your Spring Garden shop and misrepresenting their dismissal to the media, you’re directly thwarting the efforts of workers attempting to mediate the oppressions of working in a capitalist system. You are upholding the oppressive power of capitalism, violating labour practice codes, and going directly against the social justice public profile of your business, which is a significant reason for many of your customers’ patronage.
Though I still support many of your business practices, I will not support Just Us financially until you reinstate Shay Enxuga and Elijah Williams to their previous positions, pay them for missed shifts, and recognize your employees’ right to form a union.
J. Mary Burnet
*I wrote this letter and sent it to General Manager Debra Moore on April 5, 2013. You can send your own letters to firstname.lastname@example.org
Originally published in the Halifax Media Coop.
Note: Articles published by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.