Thursday, 13 December 2012

It’s not the political right that’s killing unions!

                                                                  Making another car!
 Dear Readers,

This morning, I bring you verbatim an article by Thomas Walkom of the the Toronto Star who, while admittedly a union member, Thomas reflects on the self-inflicted demise of the union movement. My response is below and below that is space for your comment. As I mentioned in an earlier post, this is shaping up to be the quintessential issue for the next two years, at least so my best advice is to put your seat-belt on and get your pen warmed up!

For the conservative right, trashing unions is great sport. The fun just keeps happening. On Wednesday evening, Conservative MPs (with the exception of five brave souls) pushed bill C-377 through the Commons. It’s designed to tie unions up in red tape and — its backers hope — embarrass labour’s leadership.

A day earlier, Michigan’s Republican-dominated legislature rammed through a so-called right-to-work law aimed at weakening unions in that state. And Ontario Conservative leader, the rollicking Tim Hudak, says if his party wins power he’ll scrap what’s known as the Rand formula — which requires all employees represented by unions to pay dues.

Meanwhile, Conservative backbench MP Pierre Poilievre is agitating for Canadian right-to-work measures that would hamstring unions under federal jurisdiction, particularly those that represent public sector workers.
All of this comes as Conservatives and their media allies rage non-stop against what they call union bosses.

In the Commons last week, backbench Conservatives levelled almost as many attacks on “union bosses” for sins they didn’t commit as they did on the New Democrats for their non-existent support of a carbon tax.
So it’s no wonder that the unions are worried. This federal government has a hate on for organized labour. And if Hudak wins in Ontario, the hate could spread.

But labour’s real problems go far beyond the provocations of the right. Indeed, what little research does exist suggests that right-to-work laws have little effect. One classic study, published in the 1975 Journal of Political Economy, concluded that the effect of U.S. right-to-work laws was mainly symbolic and that other factors better explain why unions have had such a tough time in places like the U.S. south.

Another piece earlier this year by the publication Investors Business Daily came to similar conclusions. It noted that the rate of unionization among employees in the right-to-work state of Nevada, for instance, is well above that of many pro-union jurisdictions and exceeds even the national average. What’s really killing unions is not the political right. It is that, for too many workers, organized labour is no longer relevant.

In 2011, federal figures show, 31 per cent of Canadian workers overall were unionized. Of these, the vast majority are middle-aged or older. For younger workers between the ages of 15 and 24, the rate of unionization is just under 16 per cent.

Moreover, union membership is concentrated increasingly in the public sector. Only 16 per cent of all Canada’s private sector workers are members of labour unions. When Conservatives rant on about the fat-cat public workforce, they find a ready audience.

The reasons for all of this are well-known. Manufacturing, which had been the bedrock of unionism, has collapsed in North America. Part-time and contract employment are the new norms. Unions — which understandably pay attention first and foremost to their own members — haven’t lobbied hard enough to tighten up the employment standards legislation that allows these low-wage practices.

Nor have most unions figured out a way to deal with a new kind of workplace, where people no longer labour in large factories and where strikes can be circumvented by technology. The Canadian Autoworkers and their soon-to-be merger partner, the Communications Energy and Paperworkers, say they want to expand their reach into the ranks of the unemployed and underemployed. We shall see how that works out.

But until labour addresses these fundamental issues, the hardest of hard-line Conservatives will continue to smirk and poke. They are jackals circling their prey. They can’t bring the beast down themselves. But they eagerly anticipate its collapse.

Note to readers: Most Star writers, including me, are members of the Communications Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada. Managers, who determine what is published in the Star, are not.

                                                   It's more than a's called a job!
my response.....

While Thomas Walkom's quasi-apology for the demise of the Canadian labour movement generally, and in particular, Ontario union bosses, (as he puts it) may bring a tear to one's eye, Thomas scored a bull's eye when he observes that organized labour is no longer relevant. The fact remains that these same union bosses have turned their raison d'être into an anachronism, all on their own! Stephen Harper, Rob Ford and Tim Hudak didn't just happen! In the mind of the taxpayer, these three were created by the union bosses as a public antidote to protect taxpayers from disastrous union policies that failed miserably!

While not exactly the hardest of hard-line, even I could feel this coming! Reading editorials and letters in the Toronto newspapers about taxpayer dismay with mindless strikes and union bullying took their toll and began to turn the electorate off! You could hear it on the street corner, the shop floor and the cafeteria. Manufacturing, which had been the bedrock of unionism, collapsed in North America because the suspicion was, union bosses killed the jobs! Another way had to be found to lead our lives outside of union control and that is when Right to Work was born!! Starting with states in the south, industry began to withdraw from northern states and Canada for a business-friendly atmosphere. It certainly didn't help the union cause when this alternative employee/employer relationship began gaining so much southern taxpayer support. Slowly at first and then gaining speed, Right to Work crept north. For an example of a real, effective, no-holds-barred alternative in tough times, Ontario taxpayers would now need to look no further than to Michigan. Jeb Bush says this quintessential Rust Belt dinosaur has undergone an amazing transformation, thanks to Gov. Rick Snyder and local legislative leaders who have shown a willingness in the past two weeks, indeed in the past two years to make the difficult choices.

                                                                  Factory machine shop.

Michigan preceded the nation into recession, a victim of disastrous economic policies and a refusal by then state leaders to make difficult choices, especially those opposed by organized labour. Two years ago, Michigan taxpayers said enough was enough and voted for change, electing businessman and self-proclaimed political novice Rick Snyder as governor while sending a Republican, pro-business and pro-worker majority to the state House and a supermajority to the state Senate. This Great Lakes State has emerged from the “lost decade and the “reinvention of Michigan” has been nothing short of remarkable.

Leaders made tough choices and stood up to union bosses who long dominated state law-making. As a result, they rebuilt the state’s business climate and empowered local governments and public school districts to balance their books more precisely than at any time in recent memory. Indiana’s decision earlier this year to become a right-to-work state presented new challenges for Lansing. Job-makers, who only recently had begun re-examining Michigan as a serious option, were lured a few miles southwest to a neighbor with a dramatically healthier labour climate.

                                                                 Distribution centre.

Labour leaders like United Auto Workers President Bob King, who for two years enjoyed a working relationship with the Republican Mr. Snyder, compounded the challenge Indiana presented by pushing a constitutional amendment to give unions de facto veto power over state law. Voters resoundingly defeated the measure, but job-makers took notice of Big Labour’s power grab and willingness to spend more than $30 million to overturn state policy. Why run the risk in Michigan when Indiana offered such a different alternative?

Indiana’s labour reform and Big Labour’s power grab got Mr. Snyder’s attention. That’s why, in an earth-shattering move most observers thought could never happen, the Michigan Legislature last week approved freedom-to-work reforms, and Mr. Snyder signed them into law on Tuesday. The birthplace of Big Labour became the nation’s 24th right-to-work state.Mr. Snyder, as well as state House Speaker Jase Bolger and state Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, say freedom-to-work will help Michigan attract the new businesses and industries the state needs to compete in the 21st century. This not only will help the local economy recover faster it puts Michigan on a path to have a healthy economy for years to come.

                                                     An engine block being put together.

Mr. Snyder recognizes it is not enough for Michigan to survive. He wants Michigan to thrive and believes deeply that workplace fairness and equality legislation is an essential building block for Michigan’s long-term success. The move was not popular among labour apologists, who “occupied” Lansing. The UAW, AFL-CIO and others bused in a few union members from as far away as Chicago, Ohio, Alabama and even Ontario. Last Thursday, as lawmakers in labour’s backyard prepared to cast the most difficult votes of their careers. Some union activists stormed the Capitol building, while a few broke through sealed doors into the Senate chamber.

Police were forced to use pepper spray to protect lawmakers and made eight arrests as union apologists continued to threaten legislators, physically assaulted freedom-to-work reformers outside on the steps of the Capitol and did a little damage to the building itself. Like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and legislative leaders in both states, Mr. Snyder and Michigan lawmakers are focused on doing the right thing, undeterred by union violence. They have demonstrated a remarkable willingness to put Michigan residents and the state’s economy above even their own personal safety.

Right to Work is true leadership...that kind that Canada, and Ontario, in particular is in desperate need of, right now!


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