Monday, August 22, 2011

NDP Leader Jack Layton, dead today, at 61

From website, published December 7, 2003, inserted into, August 22, 2011, the date of the death of  Jack Layton, NDP Leader
Workers Need a Real Say

"It is very important that workers have a real say over the conditions in which they are working," are the first words from Jack Layton, leader of the federal New Democratic Party, in an exclusive Work that Works interview.
He acknowledged that he would have been more able to treat the subject of workplace cultural health in his former life as he lectured to university students about the sociology of work for 26 weeks at a stretch. Now both interviews and speeches are measured in 20-25 minute slots, and because "leaders are expected to address the news of the day", there are not that many references to the subject in his public addresses.
His claim for the workers' "real say" over their working conditions is especially relevant, "given the clear evidence conducted on the assembly line that even that form of work is not necessarily the only way" to perform the required tasks. "Unfortunately, there are still employers who don't see it that way [that workers deserve a real say] but hopefully, as the global South continues to develop, it won't take as long for them to introduce worker fulfillment initiatives as it has taken us…and we have seen some backsliding recently in our workplaces," observed the national NDP leader.
In answer to a question about redressing the backsliding, "Some form of worker organization is the key, both as spokesperson for workers and for bargaining power. We need them to protect worker rights, and pensions, and we have certainly seen an erosion in that area recently. We do not want to see a return to the kind of 'wild west economics' that has been rearing its head," he urges.
There are two pieces of legislation on the House of Commons Order Paper dealing with the subject of workplace health. The first, a private member's bill sponsored by Bloc Quebecois member Monique Guy, would apply the same kind of anti-strike-breaking rules to federally regulated organizations as is currently available in Quebec and "used to be in force in Ontario, but was removed under the Harris government, along with a lot of other needed things," according to Layton. This legislation brings some incentive to management to negotiate seriously, because they cannot turn to strike-breakers in the event of a strike, and "there is more of a level playing field, given the legitimate right of the workers to withdraw their services and shut the operation down, in the same manner that the employer might choose if they didn't have to face such legislation," he explains.
The second piece of legislation facing the House is called the West-Ray Bill, named after the Nova Scotia mine where a serious explosion resulted in the miners having to pay the "ultimate price". ["After all the experts, both inside and outside the mining company, warned of impending danger to the miners if specific steps were not taken."]
Putting the bill into perspective, Layton continues, "This bill would establish a higher level of management responsibility and culpability for working conditions, including the board of directors, rather than leaving it to a crew foreman who might have very little power to implement change, without the support of the mine leadership."
Will either one of these bills pass the house?
"That depends on whether the Liberals will prorogue the session when Mr. Martin becomes Prime Minister, or continue sitting. We have taken the position, as a party, that the House should continue to sit, but we're skeptical that they'll agree."
Another piece of action that might be considered came by analogy from the NDP leader. He borrowed from his previous experience on the Toronto Board of Health where, when Spadina district garment workers were concerned about the impact of their work hours on their pre-school children, the city, in co-operation with the workers and the management, established a high quality day care right in the neighbourhood where the workers could be with any child if s/he became ill. This step reduced the workers' stress considerably because they knew their children were safe and under adequate supervision.
To address the question of workplace health and worker stress, in general, Layton suggests, "We need carrots, sticks and training, much of which can come from the trade union models which already do much work in this area in health and safety, health promotion and worker awareness."
"I agree that the Canadian habit of nodding our heads in agreement that something should be done, and then proceeding to do nothing or very little about the issue, is one of the contributing dynamics in the picture," Mr. Layton commented, "and perhaps the subject will become a topic in more of my speeches in the future."
(Work that Works thanks Jack Layton, the national leader of the NDP, and his media liaison, Karl Belanger, for making the time available for our interview.)
On this very sad day for Canada, the NDP, and the House of Commons, and Mr. Layton's family, we mourn the death of Jack Layton, a man whose contribution to the country will never be measured in the number of bills he passed as Prime Minister, nor in the appointments he made to Cabinet. After all, it remained his dream to win 24 Sussex and the PMO and as Vince Lombardi, Coach of the Green Bay Packers, whose name graces the Superbowl Trophy, once famously said, "We did not lose; we just ran out of time!"
A similar phrase could apply today to Jack's passing. A professional, conscientious and diligent voice for ordinary Canadians, amidst a cacophany of quite loud banter among political combatants, Jack will be remembered for his decency, his good humour and for his persistence in the face of serious political obstacles.
He never tired of championing ordinary folks, and in his case, this was not merely a political phrase, to capture the vast demographic of the "middle class" but rather those in union halls, those on factory assembly lines, those in delivery trucks, in retail stores, and those whose income constituted the bottom half of the income scale. A former instructor at Ryerson (University), Jack wore the mantle of mentor to his students, to his colleagues on the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and among his colleagues in the House of Commons.
We will all miss his irrepressible smile, his unflagging good humour and his predictable common sense, guaranteed whenever and wherever he spoke. And the country is indebted to his family for their participation in making him a gift to all Canadians for which we will never be fully able to repay.
If young people need and seek role models, they need look no further than Jack Layton, whose legacy will remain his integrity, his courage, his ambition for the cause of others and his non-abrasive person and presentation.

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