Shouldn’t the economy be working for all of us by now? After all, we’ve been swallowing the prescription of the world’s financial leaders since the ‘80s, yet our quality of life is going down. We see the harsh results everywhere.
People around the world, including the students in Quebec, are courageously defending their beliefs about what it means to have a reasonable standard of living and what it means to be an active participant in democracy. They want a future worth looking forward to.
Unions have a significant role to play in this regard. Unfortunately, the intense focus surrounding strikes has led to a highly distorted public image of the labour movement. Yet, according to Ed Finn in a recent article in The CCPA Monitor (a publication of The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, page 5, April 2012),
“All Canadians, whether they know it or not (and most don’t), live better lives because of the efforts of the labour movement.”
Some major union achievements:
· Grievance procedures that assist workers where they are being unfairly treated
· Engaging with employers in creating and maintaining healthy and safe working environments
· Campaigns against racism, homophobia, sexism and other forms of discrimination
· Programs that help workers struggling with mental health and/or addiction issues
· Raising the bar of wages and working conditions for non-unionized workers
Unions have also been in the forefront in opposing the privatization of public services. Evidence indicates that anticipated savings aren’t always realized and losing good union jobs has negative effects for many.
Recently, when Toronto City Council was considering contracting out the jobs of civic cleaners and janitors, their union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) contacted the CCPA to prepare a brief weighing the facts. Following the presentation, council deferred any action pending further study.
Five factors were shown to need further examination: (1) all aspects of the fiscal costs of out-sourcing; (2) lost government revenue because of the shrinking tax base; (3) increased costs of social programs to fill the fiscal gaps; (4) increased health and safety costs as a result of lowered cleaning standards and; (5) broader costs due to the downward spiral in social cohesion, marginalization and inequality.
I appreciate the work of the CCPA in conducting various analyses of government policies. It reminds me that, while the media feeds us ill-informed or biased opinions about the labour movement, unions are doing their part to hold back unfair economic policies generated by corporate-friendly governments. Next time we hear about “union bosses”, we need to ask ourselves in whose interests it is that workers have been legislated back to work without giving the bargaining process a chance to work. (The very fact that CP Rail knew there would be immediate back-to-work legislation certainly made them less enthusiastic in bargaining for a sound collective agreement.)
For years, the corporate sector has attempted to influence government policies. The current Conservative government, more than any other federal government in history, is buckling under this pressure. Deteriorating labour relations and the loss of good union jobs have been the result.
The involvement of the labour movement is critical to all workers to reverse this trend. Rather than bash unions, now is the time, more than ever, to give them our support. A rising tide might float all boats but it’s not corporate tax cuts that raises the economic tide for all – it’s good paying union jobs.
Let’s work together to reclaim Canada, promote peace and revive the dream of leaving the world a better place for generations to come.