By Past President Joanie Cameron Pritchett
They say that difficult economic times breed class resentment. Unfortunately, it’s the wrong class that usually gets targeted.
We’ve been hearing a lot lately about how labour unions, and many of the policies they helped develop, such as public health and education, health and safety regulations, and benefits and pensions, have supposedly caused the recent economic crisis and the growing public deficits and debts in countries throughout the western world.
Welcome to the bizarro world of neo-conservative economics.
In a time when ideology speaks louder than facts, unions and the gains they have won for workers are among the chief targets of employers and Big Business, not only because they interfere with their profits, but because they supposedly “hurt our economy.”
The fact is that the most successful economies in the world with the highest incomes and living standards have strong labour movements and political environments that have allowed unions – as well as progressive economic and social policies – to persevere.
Economic growth and jobs depend on a strong middle class. Businesses don’t create jobs when they have more money in their pockets. If that were true, unemployment would have vanished decades ago. They create jobs when they have customers at their front door, and the best way to do that is ensure workers have good incomes, strong benefits and pensions they can depend on.
Businesses don’t create jobs when they have more money in their pockets. They create jobs when they have customers at their front door, and the best way to do that is ensure workers have good incomes…
But don’t tell that to conservative politicians. Supposedly, the thirty years of corporate tax breaks, free trade, privatization and financial deregulation that helped to create an economy where the rich and powerful on Wall Street play by their own rules aren’t to blame. Instead, it’s the fault of wage earners, many of whom have seen their real wages decline in Canada over the past three decades.
This isn’t the first time that workers and unions have been blamed for the consequences of corporate greed, and it won’t be the last.
Right up until 2010, our current federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was touting Ireland – Ireland! – as a low tax “model” for Canada to emulate. In fact, the Emerald Isle was a poster child for privatization and free market deregulation right up until two years ago, when it suffered a major crash and now struggles with an unemployment rate of 15% and a massive public debt.
Yet many media pundits still insist that countries like Greece, Italy and Spain have suffered from “socialism” and “tax and spend policies” that have put them into debt. When in fact, it’s the social democracies of Scandinavia, which have higher rates of taxation, government regulation, unionization rates of over 85 percent and far more generous benefits for workers, that have some of the lowest deficit, debt levels and unemployment rates in the entire western world.
All this begs a question to the so-called financial experts on Wall Street: do you know any labour unions that caused millions of people to lose their homes, trillions of dollars worth of lifetime savings to be wiped out overnight, and a financial crisis in the banking system not seen since the Great Depression?
We don’t either.
Labour unions and working people didn’t cause this financial crisis, and we’re not going to pay for it.