Arguments against unions are ideological, not empirical
TheStar.com – news/Queen’s Park – As Tim Hudak fights for his own job security as Tory leader, watch him try to sacrifice the job security of workers across the province.
Sep 05 2013. By: Martin Regg Cohn
The birth of Canada’s biggest union over the Labour Day weekend suggests workers are not about to go quietly into the night. But members of Unifor are in for a fight with Ontario’s Tories.
The Progressive Conservatives have always had a complicated relationship with unionized working people: At times working with them, at times against them.
Now, as Tim Hudak fights for his own job security as Tory leader, watch him try to sacrifice the job security of workers across the province.
An upcoming Tory convention is officially about party policy, not personal leadership. But in London later this month, delegates will also be deciding whether to hold yet another leadership review.
To survive, Hudak will try to win over dissidents with an ambitious economic strategy for Ontario: De-unionize to re-industrialize.
Undoing unions has been Tory policy since Hudak lost the last election and blamed big labour for working against him. He promptly appointed the most militantly right-wing member of his caucus, Randy Hillier, as the party’s improbable labour critic.
Together, they crafted a discussion paper, euphemistically called, “Flexible Labour Markets,” that delighted the business press last summer. And bolstered fundraising among bedrock supporters.
At its core, the plan would strip unions of the hard-won right to collect dues from everyone in the bargaining unit. Hudak would unravel the highly regarded Rand Formula, a made-in-Ontario compromise crafted by former Supreme Court judge Ivan Rand to settle a landmark 1945 Ford strike in Windsor.
In 1980, the PC government of Bill Davis sensibly enshrined the Rand Formula into law, on the grounds that everyone in a workplace benefits from the tough bargaining and strikes undertaken by unions to improve wages, benefits and working conditions. Years later, even the Mike Harris PCs maintained that equilibrium, recognizing that there should be no free-riders in the workplace who disown unions but profit from their impact.
Why then is Hudak trying to turn the clock back? He points to the rise of Right to Work states in the U.S., where right-wing legislators have triumphed against unions in a historical battle that has its roots in the Deep South. The movement has recently spread to nearby Michigan and Indiana, so Ontario must now graft this foreign ideology onto its economy to remain competitive, Hudak argues.
The benefits? Lower unionization rates and lower wage rates.
Oh, and supposedly more jobs. The Tories cite research from right-wing think tanks to bolster their case, most of which argues that job gains in Alabama or Texas can be replicated in Ontario if only we lower wages, which will happen if we eviscerate unions. (You could repurpose those same tired arguments against minimum wage laws, but let’s save that for another day.)
The latest research — or more precisely, riposte — comes from the far-right Fraser Institute, which showed a flair for provocative timing by releasing it on Labour Day. It concludes authoritatively that Ontario and B.C. could boost their economies by billions of dollars by bashing unions. Its anti-union role model for Ontario is none other than Oklahoma — a prairie state, population 3.8 million, ranked dead last for health care, whose economy is less than one-quarter of ours and has almost nothing in common with Canada’s industrial heartland.
Yet Hudak’s Tories promptly issued a news release highlighting the hard work of the Fraser Institute in putting workers in their place. The Ontario Federation of Labour countered with its own study this week that comes, predictably, to the opposite conclusion.
You can pick your study to suit your point of view, but it’s hard to disagree with the OFL’s bottom line: the arguments against unions are entirely ideological, not empirical. And while ideologues get bogged down by unprovable arguments about how destroying unions creates jobs, they ignore the undeniable benefits to workplace health and safety from unionization (which ultimately lowers hospitalization costs for employers and taxpayers).
Once you slip into the realm of slogans, it’s a slippery slope: Right to work, as President Barack Obama says mockingly, is “right-to-work for less money.” And with the recent anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, why not quote from the preacher himself on the peril of “false slogans, such as ‘right-to-work.’ It provides no ‘rights’ and no ‘work.’ ”
A belated Happy Labour Day.
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