Monday, June 27, 2011

What Wrath We Have Brought

There's no sources for today, if only because everyone should be aware of the situation without the need for a news report summarizing and talking about the issue.

What I would like to talk about today is the status of unions in Canadian society. I'm going to admit something shocking; growing up, I was always under the impression that unions were the bad guys. From everything I'd seen in television and movies, and from the occasional complaints of people like my dad, I was under the impression that unions were a 'force for evil'.

That unions protected lazy workers from being fired; that they would throw down a strike notice at the flip of a switch; and that above all else, they wanted more money for doing less work.

Of course, as I got older, I began to do my own 'research' into the idea of unions. This of course was hindered slightly as I've only ever worked one job where I was a member of a union...And even then, there was never cause to worry much about it.

And there is something that I have discovered: Contrary to popular (or is it just Conservative) opinion, unions are not the bad guys. In fact, unions tend to be the ones fighting the bad guys.

Allow me to take this out of morality terms and make it a bit clearer: Unions are the little guys; corporations are the big guys. In a sense, unions are the underdogs and are fighting to ensure that workers rights are not crushed by the corporate machine in the pursuit of the almighty dollar.

Let's look at the key difference:

Unions exist to protect workers; whereas corporations exist to create profit. Unions are formed by the people who are DOING the work, which creates the profit, in order to ensure that they are not only compensated fairly for their time and effort, but that they also have safe working conditions.

Back in the day, before unions, workers had no rights in the workplace. They were often working long hours, for little pay, and in dangerous conditions. Think back to the time of the Industrial Revolution; where it was cheaper to hire and train a new worker, then it was to give a raise to someone who worked there for years.

While safety improved, slightly, since the time of the Industrial Revolution and into the late 1900s; the corporate mindset did not. In many ways, the corporate mindset continues to exist in the Industrial Revolution. After all, the person who owns the company or the factory or whatever, often does not work there themselves...Yet, they see remarkable profit from the work done in the factory.

This is as true now, as it was in the late 1800s.

Now, I could stand up here and talk about Marx and Engels and the means of production...But, then you'd all just call me a 'communist' and walk away. I can assure you, I'm not a communist. (I might have been briefly in high school, but we all did silly things in high school.)

Back to the point: Unions were created out of necessity. Workers were not being adequately compensated for their time and their work, and safety conditions were still questionable. As such, the workers did the only thing they could: They came together and stood up to the corporations.

They arranged sit downs in factories, pickets, job actions, all the same things that we see from modern unions. And in the end, they actually won (in most cases).

Flash forward to today: In the USA, in various states, governors are openly declaring war against unions, removing the rights to collective bargaining and job action and numerous other methods of action that unions have.

Despite the USA battle being more prominent to some, Saskatchewan has been at war with unions since the election of the Saskatchewan Party and Brad Wall. Wall's government introduce essential services legislation, despite calling it unnecessary during the election, and has made some use of this legislation.

Furthermore, they were willing to call the Legislature back into session in order to approve back to work legislation on crop insurance evaluators, who were without a contract for two years. Let me expand on that.

The crop insurance evaluators were without a contract for TWO YEARS. I highlight that fact because they are not in a unique situation. Other government employees, from Sasktel to Doctors to Nurses to Teachers, are finding TWO YEARS to be the new minimum for attention from the Wall Government.

Many of our government employees have been without a contract for two years, or more in some cases. Yet, when job action is threatened, the Wall Government invokes the shadow of the essential services legislation (which is so intentionally vague that it could be applied to a dog walker) or back-to-work legislation.

There is a storm brewing in this province. The disdain that the Wall Government has shown for workers only proves that they are putting profits and corporations ahead of the rights of workers. This is further exampled by the fact that the Wall Government has cut programs which stress safer worker places, and Saskatchewan has seen some fairly high numbers of both worker injury and worker deaths since the Wall Government came to office.

However, the war on organized labour doesn't stop at the Saskatchewan-Alberta or Saskatchewan-Manitoba borders...It goes right to the Federal Government, as evidenced by the latest Canada Post strike.

As you all should be aware, Canada Post went on strike over a variety of issues that they just could not come to an agreement on with their employer. Chief among these complaints were payments reflecting the inflated cost of living within Canada, along with concerns over pensions and other benefits.

With the strike moving from rotating strikes to nation wide, the Conservative Harper Government made no short time in preparing back to work legislation for Canada Post. Despite efforts by the NDP to modify, and block, the bill it was passed and rushed through the Senate and approved by the Governor General on Sunday.

Now, to some people, this isn't a bad thing. After all, Canada Post gets a new contract and goes back to work with further disputes being sent to an arbitrator. However, the fine print says otherwise.

The union was asking for a raise based on the percentage required to match inflation. Canada Post countered the union with a lower offer, as corporations are inclined to do. But the Harper Government took it a step further, by including a provision that would increase pay LOWER than the offer made by Canada Post.

Let me try and put this in simpler terms: Let's say you ask your boss for a raise. You ask for a simple, let's say 3% raise. He counters with an offer of 2%. After some argument, your boss's boss agrees to give you a raise but at the rate of 1%.

That's more or less the case here. Despite Canada Post being willing to compromise and give their workers a slightly better, but not what they were asking for pay raise, the Harper Government undercut that offer and forced the workers into a contract that no one asked for and no one approved of.

Now, I've already mentioned the brewing storm of angry labour in Saskatchewan, but there is much more to this. If unions are stripped of the ability to defend their workers, and seek fair pay, then unions become obsolete. And if unions are gone, the economic landscape of Canada would look vastly different.

Right now the war is against public sector unions, under the guise of them being a waste of taxpayer dollars. But, if that conflict ends with the unions busted it is only a matter of time before private unions meet the same fate. Effectively, we are in a conflict between the rights of workers and the bottom line.

And I don't know about you, but for me people come before profits. This is not the 1800s; workers and people have rights, and no matter how hard people try, rights cannot be taken away.

We have a duty to stand with those who are fighting for the right cause; because if we fail to do nothing now, simply because we aren't in that union or any union, we will share in the defeat in the years to come.

As such, on the topic of solidarity, I'd like to end this post with a well known statement by Martin Niemoller:

"First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me."

1 comment:

janfromthebruce said...

Scott it was a great post.