What About Freedom?
What About Freedom?

What About Freedom?

October 1 st 1989

Under the onslaught of a completely horizontalized (secularized) view of life, words and concepts have been diluted to the extent that they no longer mean what they used to mean, or that they no longer command the respect they should. One such word is freedom. Freedom is a gift of God that at the same time entails responsibilities and confronts us with certain limits. One of the precious freedoms of a decent society is the freedom of association. This is precisely an area in which trade unions have a very poor record. While they call themselves the defenders of working people, freedom and democracy, they reinterpret freedom so that they feel entitled to force workers to join and support unions.

But what about the freedom of those workers who strongly object to the ideologies and practices of certain unions?

When Shirley Carr, the current president of the Canadian Labour Congress, was asked what she thought of workers who could not in good conscience support unions with whose basic assumptions and policies they disagreed, she responded:

Well, there's a process. If they're not happy with their union, there's a provision in the constitution for people to lodge their complaints either to the leadership of their own union or to the congress; then I will investigate or have somebody investigate it to see if the problem can be straightened out.

As to whether the wishes of those who do not want to be part of the union power bloc can survive, Carr stated that such members have an opportunity to express their views at union meetings or via complaints to their union. Then she added, "But it's decisions made by the majority that rule; it's the democratic process." ("Viewpoint of a Union Leader," Faith Today, September/October 1989, pp.24,25)

Ask The Wasilifskys

Well, there is one husband-and-wife teacher team in Vancouver who tried to do just what Carr suggested. Justin and Nancy Wasilifsky, both members of the British Columbia Teachers Federation, objected to the BCTF's endorsement of abortion on demand. They are strong Roman Catholics who cannot square such a policy with their deeply-held religious convictions. They applied to be exempted from compulsory union membership. Before they made this application, they worked hard at changing the union policy. To no avail. This is what finally drove them to apply under the religious exemption clause of the B.C. Labour Relations Act. In the end, the B.C. Industrial Relations Council ruled in their favour because of the strength of their conviction and their honest attempts to have the union change its policies.

Meanwhile, the Wasilifskys encountered a great deal of hostility on the part of their union. Its leaders did everything possible to oppose the application. Some colleagues shunned them, the proceedings were dragged out to drive up the legal bills of the couple and the union tried to get them fired. Justin Wasilifsky said, "We knew from the beginning they'd play hard ball, and they did." All of this has disillusioned the Wasilifskys about trade unions. While originally they were ardent supporters and active unionists, they found out the hard way that, as Mr. Wasilifsky put it, "Democracy in the BCTF is a sham." ("A Crack in the 'Closed Shop' Wall," Western Report, August 28, 1989, p.41)

Representatives of the B.C. Federation of Labour and the Teachers Federation have vowed to continue their fight against the Wasilifskys and all other objectors to compulsory trade unionism. Spokesmen for the unions have called the ruling a form of anti-union abuse and a threat to union security. The B.C. Federation of Labour president has predicted that the Industrial Relations Council's decision will not survive on appeal. In other words, the struggle for the Wasilifskys is not yet over. While the cost of their efforts has been very high, in terms of financial costs (amounting to $25,000 in legal fees) as well as in emotional stress, they may well be faced with more of the same. One thing is certain, the stand this committed and courageous couple has taken requires strong convictions and steady nerves. Predictably and regrettably, very few will choose to walk this route. Which, of course, is the real intent of the harassing tactics by the B.C. Teachers Federation and its allies in the labour movement.

What this case clearly demonstrates, especially upon reading the full text of the 49-page Wasilifsky decision, is that there is something fundamentally wrong with enabling any organization to have monopoly control over employment. It again confirms that the mainline trade union movement, of which the B.C. Teachers Federation is a typical representative, has no regard for the rights and freedoms of Canadian workers who refuse to compromise their Christian commitment. Ironically, those who wish to deny the Wasilifskys their freedom will argue that the intent of collective bargaining law and compulsory unionism is to bring about industrial stability. But a "stability" that rides roughshod over the consciences of those who wish to defend the sanctity of life is a lie.

Harry Antonides
Harry Antonides

Harry Antonides came to Canada in 1948, initially working as a farm hand and railway labourer. After over a decade working in a chemical plant in Sarnia, Ontario, Harry joined the newly forming Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) in 1962 as a field representative. By 1970 Harry became director of research and education. In 1974, he was a founding member of the Work Research Foundation (now Cardus) and publisher of their sole publication, Comment magazine. A prolific writer and dynamic speaker, Harry delivered lectures all over North America and published numerous articles, reviews, and essays. He is author of several books on Christianity, labour, and economics, including Multinationals and the Peacable Kingdom (1978) and Stones for Bread: The Social Gospel and its Contemporary Legacy (1985). Harry is retired and lives with his wife Janet in Willowdale, Ontario.


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