Robyn Benson, PSAC

Labour on the line

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Even a paranoid,” Henry Kissinger once remarked, “can have enemies.” There are times, as I see the anti-union clouds gather, that I wonder—can things really be that bad?

C-377. C-525. Trial balloons about abolishing the Rand formula. A law requiring fair wages to be paid by federal government contractors, repealed. Destructive games played with the collective bargaining process. Ontario Liberals joining with Progressive Conservatives to gut a union agreement.

Well, now, that’s quite a bit of anti-union bias by government in a fairly short time. No paranoid delusions here, but actual legislative initiatives.

Yes, things are really that bad, and they’re liable to get worse. Check this out. Government agencies running around on our dime to get people to say what they want to hear? Say it isn’t so.

“Unionization, particularly with respect to the manufacturing industry, and access to skilled workers were the labour issues most frequently identified by the key informants,” the report concluded; “Canada’s unionization rate is 31.2% nationally and 27.8 % in Ontario as compared to 11.4% in the U.S. Especially in the manufacturing sector this discrepancy is a concern for investors.”

There’s no real shock there. But it’s virtually impossible to de-link this oh-so-convenient “report” from C-525, an anti-union bill coming up this Fall that would make it possible to decertify a union when only a minority of the workers want to see their union go.

Now, we know this stuff is rubbish. Unionization is good, not bad, for growth and the economy. Higher union wages translate into more money spent in the community, creating more jobs and prosperity. In the US, so called “right-to-work” states like Oklahoma have miserable wages and shrinking economies. But in the short term—which is all that some employers and investors are interested in—anything that gets in the way of a large, quick profit should be removed. When too many companies pursue that strategy, however, they are weakening our communities and the economy, and, in the long run, even hurting their own interests.

“The biggest problem I’ve met with by employers is labour,” says Conservative Blaine Calkins, the backbench MP who proposed Bill C-525. Well, that’s blunt enough. Labour—that is, the working men and women of this country—are the enemy, according to this representative of a government busy compiling lists of them.

Now, it’s one thing to make windy and foolish speeches to the base. It’s quite another to use legislation as a bludgeon against workers’ basic right to organize—to turn the clock all the way back to pre-Confederation times. Our founding (Conservative) Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald, after all, referred to anti-union laws as “barbarous”: and it seems that the barbarians are even now at the gates.

“Stay out of politics,” demand conservative politicians—who have no problem at all getting political with us. So, no, thank you, we won’t. If the effectiveness, even the existence, of our unions is being threatened, we owe it to our members to get politically involved to put a stop to that. But more importantly, the members owe it to themselves.

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on September 24, 2013 8:55 AM.

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