Comment: Lousy pay, little respect, measly or no benefits or pension? Fight back: UNIONIZE!
Workers have always had to fight. From the time of the industrial revolution right up until today, the people who make the capitalist system work–those who do the work that produces the goods and those who are the consumers who buy them–have had to fight for a fair share of the profits.
Capitalism works best when the people who invest their capital get a good rate of return AND when the workers get a good rate of return on THEIR investment of labour, time and commitment.
And for decades the system worked well: companies that thrived shared the wealth produced with the people who produced it: fair wages, health benefits, decent pensions. Not, in most cases, because the bosses wanted to share fairly, but because they were forced to by unions in their workplaces or the fear of them forming.
The benefits to society were enormous: workers meant something to their employers; companies rewarded loyalty and longevity with job security; families were able to survive with only one parent working; even young people could afford to buy homes.
Hard to believe now, but back in the 1980s almost 40% of Canada’s workforce was unionized.
And unions made that system work by protecting employees at unionized sites and influencing how workers were treated at non-union sites as well.
Globalization has changed all that.
To too many companies headquartered overseas (or to too many Canadian companies trying to compete with them). Workers in North America have gone from being assets to being liabilities, stubborn troublemakers who won’t work for $1 a day, who insist on lunch breaks, workdays of less than 12 hours, and even days off.
So the global corporations shipped the jobs out whenever and wherever they could, to dictatorships or countries where leaders and government officials are almost totally corrupt and where millions live in desperate poverty–perfect for exploitation.
And big business learned well from their experiences overseas.
Thus began the insidious habit of hiring employees here for only 32 hours a week, instead of offering full-time employment, so they could pay less than fair wages; avoid supplying even basic health benefits, let alone vision or dental care or short or long term sick leave, and certainly extending few or no retirement benefits.
And, of course, fight off any union that would stand in their way, often with the help of right wing bought-and-paid-for governments that made it harder to unionize, easier to de-certify and largely became oblivious to unfair labour practices, unsafe working conditions and even threats and intimidation directed at workers who dare to stand up for anything!
And what has 20 years of globalization brought us?
While the profits of many, many corporations have soared, taxpayers have been forced to assume a much larger share of the social burden–health, housing, assistance and even retirement/survival support.
Today, most often, both parents must work just to survive; most young people hold two or even three jobs just to put together enough hours, at low pay rates, to support themselves; and buying a home is just an dream for far too many, unless they win a lottery.
And unionization in Canada has dropped dramatically.
In a recent article in The Vancouver Sun, Jock Finlayson of the Business Council of BC said the portion of Canadian employees in unions has now dropped to less than 30 per cent; only 16 per cent of workers in the private sector; with only the public sector, at 70 per cent, still holding a high unionization rate.
My old union, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union (130,000 members) and the Canadian Auto Workers (190,000 members) voted last month to merge into a single union.
Critics see that as proof of the declining power and influence of organized labour–coming together as kind of a survival move; I am hoping it is something more.
Canadian unions MUST embark upon a HUGE organizing drive, helping young working people to fight for 40-hour jobs, with benefits and to take back some of their own dignity on the job, when abusive managers or bosses raise their ugly attitudes.
Young workers are the key: they must become Union Revolutionaries to fight the war against their eroding working conditions, pay and treatment!
I want them to know it’s risky: nothing angers lousy management more than word that a union drive is under way, and it could cost unsuccessful activists their jobs. But if it’s a low-paying job with little or no benefits and little respect, there are likely plenty of others like that around.
And take it from someone who has been there, the benefits if successful, like fair wage negotiations, better working conditions and job security, are well worth the effort.
I realize there are some who say unions were great at one time, but no longer serve their purpose or are needed.
Just look around you at how our standard of living, benefits, full-time work and job security has declined as unionization has declined.
And imagine where working conditions, salaries and benefits are heading if unionization continues to decline.
Organize! For the Union makes you strong!
Happy Labour Day.
Harv Oberfeld is a retired journalist and broadcaster. This column originally appeared in his blog, Keeping It Real. Reprinted with permission.