By Past President Joanie Cameron Pritchett
Another day, another attack on the rights of workers. The war on unions continues. Tell us something we don’t know.
This week’s edition of “Blame Everything on Unions and Wage Earners” is brought to you by Ontario Progressive Conservative leader and wanna-be Premier, Tim Hudak, who released a White Paper titled “Paths to Prosperity: Flexible Labour Markets.”
It’s a fine document of top-notch public relations, scapegoating and Orwelllian double speak, designed to blame the labour movement for the failures of our economy created by the banks on Wall Street and the major economic recession they gave birth to in 2008, which we’re still paying for today.
The document puts forth a typical mixed bag of pro-corporate policies, and makes some spectacularly ridiculous assumptions about workers and unions in Ontario today, including but not limited to:
• Creating what Hudak calls “flexible labour markets,” even though Ontario already has one of the most flexible labour markets in the entire industrial world, far more so than the relative “rigidities” of the European labour markets.
• Saying that the Conservatives can “return Ontario to prosperity” – by lowering wages, destroying benefits, attacking unions, raiding pensions, gutting social services, and firing thousands of civil servants, of course. You can make your own conclusions about how much sense that makes.
This isn’t the first time – and it certainly won’t be the last – that Conservatives have made workers and unions out to be the enemies of the state.
• Creating a labour atmosphere in Ontario much like the so-called “Right to Work” states in the southern U.S. – that have the highest poverty rates in the country, and where even many full-time workers have to rely on federal food stamps and other forms of social assistance to get by.
• Eliminating what Hudak calls “mandatory union membership.” Sorry Tim, there’s no such thing as “mandatory union membership” in Ontario, or Canada, for that matter. It doesn’t exist. That’s because in 1946, Supreme Court Justice Ivan Rand introduced a ruling that gave workers in a unionized workplace the choice of joining a union or not. There are eighteen year-old, labour studies students in universities in Canada who understand this. Getting something this wrong for a major party leader is just downright embarrassing.
It is true that unionized workers must pay dues to their union. This is to cover the costs of the union itself and the services it provides to its members. The dues are miniature compared to the enormous personal, economic and financial gains of belonging to a union.
When we go to the local store to buy groceries, we have to pay for them. It’s the same thing with belonging to a labour union. Accusing unions of “forcing” members to pay dues, like Hudak does, is like blaming grocery stores of “forcing” customers to pay for the food they buy. In fact, a vast majority of non-profit organizations in Ontario charge a fee to be a member. Rotaries, clubs, sporting teams, and membership-based community organizations all charge fees to join. What’s the difference?
In another particularly strange section of the White Paper, Hudak complains that Ontario has some of the slowest wage growth in the country, and that provinces like Saskatchewan enjoyed wage growth of almost 6% last year.
Wait a minute. The same document claims that when unions increase wages, it supposedly hurts our competitive advantage, forcing employers to flee Canada and create more unemployment. Which is it, Tim? Do increasing wages in Saskatchewan help or hinder economic growth?
The fact of the matter is that when workers make more, they spend more, which after World War II, helped create the middle class in Canada and sustain years of economic growth for all classes. You can’t create a consumer-based economy if consumers don’t have enough money to buy things.
This isn’t the first time – and it certainly won’t be the last – that Conservatives have made workers and unions out to be the enemies of the state. This time, however, it’s a lot more predictable, and the people of Ontario aren’t going to fall for it.