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.