Thursday, December 20, 2012

Thomas Walkom Today

The union movement is one of the last remnants of the great postwar pact between labour, capital and government.

That pact provided Canadians with things they still value, from medicare to public pension plans. Good wages in union shops kept pay high, even in workplaces that weren’t organized. Unions agitated for and won better health and safety laws that covered all.

True, union rules made it more difficult for employers to axe slackers. But they also ensured that when someone lost his job, it was for real cause — not because he or she had refused to sleep with the boss.

This brief excerpt from Thomas Walkom's column in today's Star serves as a timely reminder about both the historical and contemporary importance of the union movement. Entitled The teachers’ dispute and the war on wages, the piece posits that the Ontario McGuinty government's theft of collective bargaining rights under Bill 115 is really part of a much larger and endemic assault on good-paying jobs as governments and the corporate sector work together in advancing the latter's agenda.

One may rightly ask how an attack on public-sector workers advances that agenda. According to Walkom, well-paid teachers and other public-sector workers are a reminder of what is possible. As the writer asks, "How can employees be encouraged to accept the discipline of this new world when they see some, such as teachers and other public sector workers, still making good wages?"

Both federal and provincial governments, of course, are counting on the rabid resentment and antipathy against the public sector that is vigorously and consistently fanned by the business community.

And yet, there is evidence that the current Ontario teacher battle with the government, and the federations' argument that theirs is everyone's fight, is achieving some public resonance. A story by Robert Benzie and Kristin Rushowy reports that 49 per cent of Ontarians support the teachers.

If that is true, perhaps the collusive strategy between government and business needs revisiting.


  1. It would be nice to think, Lorne, that the public has begun to understand who and what is driving government agendas these days.

  2. As long as progressive newspapers such as The Star continue to get the message out, Owen, perhas there is hope.

  3. Until the teachers and public servants are ready to walk off the job in mass there is no sense even talking about a strike.
    That is the truth. To put it another way, so long as you are afraid of losing your house more than you fear losing your job and finding a new job you are little more than a slave and your owner can do as he pleases with you.
    Another point is the teachers and civil servants have much more economic clout than they realize. Schools free parents from the job of raising their own children. If parents had to educate and look after their children about half of the parents with children in school would have to quit their jobs.
    I doubt if the people running businesses want to see that many of their staff suddenly gone. I know they don't want to pay their employees enough to hire people to care for their kids either.
    Public service employees are the same thing. I can't imagine running a government office without any employees in it. But hey, OK, lets see how good the ministers are at doing it all themselves.
    Until your people are willing to show solidarity and ignore laws that say you can't quit working you wont get anywhere.
    Union or not union, aye, there is the rub.

  4. You make some excellent points here, Dan. Unfortunately, like most services, those provided by teachers are, I suspect, largely taken for granted. Their value to the economy, as you point out, is unfortunately only grudgingly recognized during labour disruptions.