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Sex-selection abortion and the attack on unions

Carolyn Egan

March 29, 2013

The House of Commons has passed a bill which would force unions to make financial disclosures that are not required of corporations. This is a clear attempt to silence labour organizations and put pressure on them not to involve themselves in political campaigns. It has yet to be voted upon in the Senate.
This is one more attack on the labour movement in this country. We have seen the federal government legislating airline workers, rail workers and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers back to work, and more recently the imposition of collective agreements on teachers in Ontario. These moves to take away the right to strike as well the right to collective bargaining are intended to further contrain any attempt by working people to defend themselves and to take on the fight against the austerity agenda.
Trade unions have played an important role in many campaigns for women’s rights. The struggle for reproductive justice is one example. During the fight to overturn the federal abortion law one of the first organizations to come on side was the Ontario Federation of Labour.  After a strong floor fight the delegates overwhelmingly voted to support a woman’s right to abortion. This led to many unions following suit and they provided material and financial resources to the campaign. Their assistance was very important to the success of the struggle.
Recently a committee of the House of Commons voted not to allow a Conservative private members motion to come to the floor, deeming it to  be “unvotable.”  Motion 408 was an attempt by anti-choice MPs to have the House take a stand against sex selection abortions. It was the most recent of many private members motions or bills attempting to create barriers to women’s access to abortion. A strong response from the pro-choice movement and allies in the trade unions exposed the real intent of the motion by anti-choice MPs.
The pro-choice/reproductive rights movement in this country has been gathering strength in recent times, holding significant celebrations across the country on the 25th anniversary of the Supreme Court Morgentaler Decision which overturned the federal abortion law. 
There was also a Pan-Canadian Day of Action in the fall and a strong movement in Prince Edward Island demanding abortion facilities be established in the province. Many young people are getting involved and trade unions have been playing a significant role.
Recently Canadian Auto Workers Women’s Committees across the country rallied against an anti-abortion caravan that was making stops in cities and towns as it traveled.  The presence of the CAW and other unions contributed to the failure of the anti-choice events.
The strength of this reemerging movement and the role that it has played in pushing back private member’s motions has not been lost on the Harper government. A split has developed in the Conservative caucus with anti-choice MPs criticizing the Prime Minister because of our success.
The Harper government would like nothing better than to muzzle the unions and stop them from throwing their organizational weight behind progressive movements. The sex selection issue is just the most recent example of how we have been able to resist attempts to roll back gains won by the women's and trade union movements.

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