Where is the Union Movement in the Olympic Resistance?

The room would be today’s British Columbia, where local and imported rich folks are enjoying an 8-billion-dollar, taxpayer-funded party, while a few thousand protesters challenge its moral legitimacy after years of corporate/government attacks on the poor, unions, public education, healthcare, seniors, children, etc.

And the no-show elephant would be the BC trade union movement, the once-fearsome champion of the working class and of all the underprivileged in our society.

Where the hell is labour in the anti-Olympic protests in Vancouver?

The utter absence, not only of the movement’s formal leadership, but also of any visible sector of its hundreds of thousands of members has to be a source of elation to the greedheads who have pillaged this province for the past ten years. Their joy at moving from a state of being virtually unopposed by unions to one of being COMPLETELY unopposed by unions can only be matched by the profoundly sinking hearts of those who struggle for social justice — both inside and outside the labour movement.

During the pre-games decade, Native people, women, welfare recipients, the homeless, the sick, the disabled, the elderly, and youngsters at risk have gotten the fiscal back of the hand from Gordon Campbell’s Liberals and Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. But the labour movement has gotten its teeth kicked in several times — notably, but not exclusively, in the defeats of strikes by ferry workers, heath care workers, and teachers. (Of course, top union leaders who cooperated with the government in ending these strikes probably don’t see them as defeats.)

In each and every government spending cutback, sell-off of provincial or national assets, attack on union rights and benefits, slackening of environmental protection, abridgement of human rights, or military escalation both Campbell and Harper have had one main goal in mind: to shift public wealth into corporate hands. The Vancouver-Whistler 2010 Winter Olympics, once the hoopla hangover has lifted, will be universally seen as the single largest operation advancing that goal.

Many people see that simple truth now. Opinion polls on the eve of the games showed that most Lower Mainlanders knew the Olympics were only for the benefit of “the elite” in our society.

A few of us have decided to protest, hopefully disrupt, the circus. Many, getting accustomed to the other side winning, just throw up their hands in resignation.

A few media-quotable deep thinkers gush, “Why be negative. The money’s already spent. Why not enjoy the party (on TV, presumably)?” (I’m thinking I’ll try this line of argument the next time I rob a bank.)

Unlike all of these, however, the union movement has sat mute, far away from the sidelines. And this is consistent with labour leaders’ “middle-of-the-road” position seven years ago when some members were urging a united opposition to the Olympic bid in the face of Campbell’s legislated contract-busting and projected massive public sector layoffs. (The games might create some jobs in the building trades, hospitality sector, and public transit, you see.)

No overt union opposition to the bid seven years ago amounted, in practice, to tacit support for the easily predictable looting of the public treasury and related attacks on many British Columbians, including many union members. No overt union opposition now, no alliance with Native people and anti-poverty activists, equates to support for the obscene circus. And it bodes ill for the unions’ abilities to defend their members (or anyone else) against the coming years of government/corporate attacks that will begin within weeks.

Gene McGuckin is a retired paperworker and lifetime member of CEP Local 1129.