Source: Teamsters Canada
Published: February 6th 2009
The debate over unionism’s relevance is not new. More than
ever, unions are being attacked by right-wing supporters or certain “Uncle Toms”
who like to make people believe that unionism is the product of quasi-religious
Uncle Tom is a character in a book by Harriet Beecher Stowe. The name is also used pejoratively for someone who, out of shame or opportunism, makes himself the mouthpiece of a person of authority and betrays his origins. I am using this ironic analogy to characterize certain columnists who are shouting themselves hoarse in an attempt to convince John Doe about the uselessness of unions. In fact, when one examines the situation with the slightest bit of objectivity, it becomes clear that organizations that protect workers have never been as relevant as in 2009.
Thus, the false arguments being raised by certain opinion leaders are nothing other than the extension of certain employers’ thinking that a unionist is a man to be brought down. Why would it be otherwise? Everyone looks after their own interests!
However, for the past few years, I have noticed that the circulation of narrow-minded, anti-union talk is intensifying. In particular, the union movement is accused of only defending the rights of its members, of being unconcerned about the fate of the universe, of protecting incompetent workers and cheaters, and of being closed to change.
Union achievements that benefit society as a whole
Health insurance cards, the protection of the availability of free healthcare, and the implementation of laws protecting the health and safety of workers are all struggles that unions have led and will continue to lead. The resulting victories benefit all citizens, whether they are union or non-union workers.
Is parental leave after the birth of a child or equal pay for women granted solely to union workers? Of course not! The entire population can benefit from these achievements, including the Uncle Toms of this world. Do you sincerely believe it is in employers’ interest to promote such progressive measures? I do not, in any case.
Among other recent union battles from which we all benefit today, let us mention the efforts made by union organizations to ensure that Canadian workers have access to extended employment insurance during this time of great economic uncertainty. In fact, without the concerted action of Canada’s main unions, Minister of Finance Flaherty would never have listened to—or heard—workers’ concerns.
In addition, for years we have been calling for an overhaul of regulations for the financial sector to prevent economic crises such as the one we are experiencing right now. Who caused this crisis? Certain leaders in industry and finance, ever-more greedy for profits at the expense of all Canadians. Who will benefit from this regulation? All citizens!
You’ve lost your job? Whether unionized or not, you are likely to benefit from the services of a reclassification committee. This initiative would have been unthinkable just a few years ago without the pressure that unions put on the government.
Joining forces for better protection
If employers join forces through chambers of commerce and employers’ councils, why wouldn’t workers also have the right to join together to protect their interests?
The sole aim of employer lobbyists who hover around governments is to promote the interests of their employers. Unions also lobby, but they represent the interests of hundreds of thousands of Canadians and their families! Consequently, all demands we have made to governments have been for the benefit of the largest number of people, and not for a few powerful individuals.
Certain CEOs receive salaries that are up to one thousand times higher than the average worker’s. Often, through cronyism with boards of directors, these individuals succeed in increasing their “base” compensation by hundreds of thousands of dollars. And without mentioning any other bonuses and benefits these directors receive, they are often very stingy when the time comes to reward the workers behind their fortune. Why wouldn’t unions also have the right to be demanding when negotiating collective agreements?
The myth of the incompetent union worker
The myth that unions protect incompetent workers is both devious and insulting. Do non-union companies have more competent workers than union companies? Where are the statistics to prove it? The global economic crisis paints a totally different picture of the incompetence of certain “workers”. For example, what about the greed of a fund manager who has squandered with impunity billions of dollars belonging to individual investors?
We are open to change
I personally have nothing against companies that modernize their methods to meet the competition, but not at the price of allowing employers to enrich themselves unduly at employees’ expense, or allowing them to do away with jobs for false reasons or increase productivity to the detriment of workers’ health and safety. Of course, the union movement will use all its resources to make such employers beat a retreat.
When we count up all the battles won by unions that have benefitted the entire Canadian population over the past years, I am not surprised that the uncle Toms and their masters feel the need to bash unions. Unionism is a threat because it protects the majority’s interests. Unionism keeps us from going round in circles because it puts the population on guard against the abuses of industrialists. Unionism irritates some because it is still here several centuries later despite all the efforts by employers to make it fail.
Could it also be that unions aggravate some because they disrupt an established order that benefits only a certain elite?