War on labour

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If you don’t hate unions, chances are someone close to you does. A relative, friend or neighbour, perhaps.

Union-bashing has been a favourite pastime since the age of the Industrial Revolution. These days, however, its popularity seems to know no bounds.

And that’s troubling, because no matter how over-sized or obstructionist or even corrupt some unions may become, the principle behind them should remain sacrosanct in any society that respects human dignity.

In the United States, unions are lame ducks. Last year, the state of Wisconsin stripped bargaining rights from its public-sector unions, rendering them impotent. Several states have since instigated so-called “right to work” laws, a euphemism for legislation that takes away the most fundamental tool unions possess: mandatory membership.

Canada has also seen a rise in anti-union policy under Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The Conservative government has repeatedly either legislated or threatened to legislate workers back to their jobs without a moment’s consideration.

Now, there’s Bill 377.

The controversial private member’s bill passed final reading in the House of Commons Wednesday by a margin of 147-135. Five government members voted against it.

The law forces all unions to disclose financial information to the public, including naming anyone who receives salaries or disbursements in excess of $100,000. That amount was raised from $5,000 in answer to privacy concerns.

“I think this is a significant privacy intrusion, and it seems highly disproportionate,” privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart told The Globe and Mail about the original bill.

And Stoddart still says the amendment is not good enough.

No kidding.

Imagine, for the moment, MPs were faced with a bill that forced political parties to disclose disbursements conducted outside campaign periods. That would include private contracts and salaries paid to fundraisers, pollsters and other operatives over the course of the year.

Imagine, even, that private companies were required to post finances in a similar manner.

One thing’s for sure: a lot more than five Tory MPs would be voting against it.

In short, on top of raising privacy concerns, the law is discriminatory. It could well face legal challenges on both fronts.

In this province, the hypocrisy would be even more stinging, since the Dunderdale government no longer discloses the full details of benefits to public appointees, let alone private ones.

The federal Conservatives and anti-union lobbyists argue the laws will increase transparency and uncover corruption in the union movement. That, of course, can be said about any sort of disclosure measure.

In truth, it’s just one more example of right-wing idealism driving legislation, with little or no thought given to balance and fairness.

Organizations: House of Commons, Globe and Mail

Geographic location: United States, Wisconsin, Canada

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Recent comments

  • a business man
    December 19, 2012 - 14:56

    Yes, I came on here a few days ago talking about how I want to reward the state of Michigan with jobs because they became a right to work state. I have not announced a closure of a Canadian office yet, but I will soon. that said, I must point out that GM has announced that they will be moving close to 1000 jobs to Michigan from Oshawa, ON. Why, for increased efficiencies. they will be making the same cars for less, and their profits will rise. Does anyone think that this happening a few days after Michigan's right to work legislation passed? I don't. The point is that as a business owner, I have loyalty only to myself. My employees are not important, and easily replaceable. Canada has to compete or more jobs will go. I for one will not keep jobs in Canada to give other people (strangers) a nice life. I will move jobs to make my life nicer. And while people may think I am a jerk, note that GM just did the same thing. At the end of the day, honestly, business owners and shareholders are in it for themselves. Employees are just tools. The US seems to realize and is changing the union laws to be more competitive. And today, they scored 1000 Canadian jobs. I might even buy some GM shares, because this is a good business decision.

  • Ed power
    December 18, 2012 - 09:58

    "Another (yawn) Payne anti Harper diatribe. Most likely copied from the union must read handout" says Ginn, reading from his Conservative Party of Canada List of Approved Anti-Labour Talking Points. While he did paraphrase the "Million Dollar Salaries" CPC Approved Talking Point - "drawing your six figure salary" - (award five points) he neglected to include the mandatory "Union Goons" and "Union Thugs" CPC Approved Taliking Points (deduct ten points) and will soon be getting a phone call from Head Office for this unforgiveable oversight. Better luck next time, Ginn.

  • Sid Peckford
    December 18, 2012 - 06:25

    If they receive tax write offs then they need to open their books as they have advantages by virtue of their position. Sid

  • ginn
    December 17, 2012 - 17:39

    Another(yawn) Payne anti Harper diatribe. Most probably copied from the union must read handout. They talk about democracy and in a lot of cases don't even allow secret ballots, anyway Lana keep drawing your six figure salary, per diems and other perks. When were you last elected??

  • Ed power
    December 17, 2012 - 15:27

    Thank you, Aunt Lizzie, for so aptly proving the point I made earlier. Your lack of knowledge with respect to the labour movement, the financial reporting responsibilities required of Unions to their members under the Canada Labour Code and the salaries paid to Union Executives (millions!!) is both appalling and disturbing. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, a lack of knowledge is inexcusable.

  • Aunt Lizzie
    December 17, 2012 - 00:21

    Unions used to serve a good purpose. In the early industrial age, they protected basic rights and made conditions livable for workers. Now, the unions themselves are big businesses, with their leaders and executives making millions of dollars from the dues they force their rank and file members to pay. They control access to jobs in entire sectors of the economy. They force workers to become union members and pay exorbitant dues, and they refuse to tell the workers where their money is going. Much of the money is used for political purposes that are not supported by the workers. In short, unions extort massive amounts of money from workers in return for access to jobs, in order to line the pockets of rich union bosses and their political friends.

    December 14, 2012 - 20:44

    Well, I hope the "Business Man" has a great Christmas, drinking his Dominion Ale and thinking of other ways, to pretend he is, who he says he is!! Guess what Business Man - nobody cares!! That being said , I hope a ghost of Christmas past ,Christmas present and Christmas Future invades your privacy on Christmas Eve , and hopefully in the morning, you will be a changed man. Great Posts Mr Business Man, I really enjoy them , so please keep them up in the New Year , so we can all laugh at your juvinelle rantings!!

  • Ed power
    December 14, 2012 - 15:57

    It would seem, judging from the comments here, that some people - people who aren't members of a union - are woefully uninformed of what unions are and what they actually do. Unfortunately, the well-funded political lobbying and PR campaigns that business and corporate interests have conducted over the past three decades have succeeded in convincing many uninformed and unthinking people that unions are the enemy, and that these same corporate and business interests who have closed factories at home, shipped high wage jobs offshore and banked their profits in overseas tax havens have their (the uninformed and unthinking) best interests at heart. So the same corporate and business thinking that thrived in the Gilded Age of the Robber Barons - the same thinking that brought the Great Depression, Trickle Down Economics, the Savings and Loans debacle of Reagan/Bush, Kenny Lay and Enron, Michael Milliken, Bear-Stearns, AIG Financial, and the sub-prime mortages and wonky financial instruments that crashed the global economy in 2008 - is alive and well in 2012, and has succeeded in convincing some people (the uninformed and unthinking) that treating workers fairly, and paying decent wages and benefits, is the root cause of the country's economic problems. Sadly, it looks like the same battles that our fathers and grandfathers fought to ensure that working people had the chance of a decent standard of living are going to have to be fought again.

    • a business man
      December 17, 2012 - 17:50

      I know what unions have done, and I thank them for it. Now that we have laws in place, we don't need unions. Furthermore, when it comes to my companies, I don't want to negotiate. I want to dictate, and as the owner of the company, I have a right to dictate. I don't want to find ways to make wages higher; I want to drive down the cost of labour, and do more work with less workers. Unions have the right to make me negotiate, so I choose to invest where unions are weak. That is my right.

  • KJ
    December 14, 2012 - 11:58

    While unions once served a valid purpose (40-hour work week, worker's rights, etc), these days they are nothing more than grotesque, bloated mockeries of their former selves. Unions are full of people who don't care about the quality of their work, or take pride in doing a good job, because they know they'll never be fired. They're full of people who are just killing time until retirement. They're full of people who are inefficient and just plain lazy. Want to know why the health care system is so messed up? Unionized employees. Want to know why air travel is such a terrible experience? Unionized employees. If my workplace decided to unionize and mandatory membership was implemented, I'd resign on the spot. Even a short strike causes workers to lose wages that will take YEARS to earn back, and they have no choice but to stand out in the cold waving signs and harassing people at their homes. F**k unions. TO ANY UNION SUPPORTERS READING THIS: Trim the dead weight, get rid of the indifferent people who drag everything down via work-to-rule and just plain laziness, get rid of the union leaders who rake in money hand over fist by making things difficult for employers. Your union leaders don't give a s**t about you, they're just there to get paid.

    • david
      December 14, 2012 - 13:41

      Unions originally did serve a very specific, legitimate purpose. Like all other political entities with the taste of success, they evolved into absolutely corrupt gangs extorting their members, embezzling funds, wielding illegitimate political power, and laying waste to labour-intensive industries. They have now institutionalized and perfected it to the point of ruining entire economies. And here we are.

    • chantal
      December 14, 2012 - 18:38

      Have a nice weekend. Courtesy of the Labour movement.

    • david
      December 17, 2012 - 12:56

      Yes Chantal...because lord knows getting some time off from work is the real problem here in Newfoundland. Notwithstanbding that piddly detail: "weekends off" was an achievement exactly HOW long ago? How many idiotic strikes over absolute, complete unrealistic BS have occurred since? ......my point exactly, so thanks for making it.

    • a business man
      December 17, 2012 - 17:53

      Actually, my workers are working on the weekend. I don't know if they will enjoy it or not, but they will get paid, and I will profit from their work while enjoying my weekend. I get to do so because my company is non-unionized. If it were unionized, the workers might be off and I might not profit. OR the workers might get a premium wage, and I may profit less. SO I will enjoy my weekend BECAUSE my company is non-union.

  • saelcove
    December 14, 2012 - 08:45

    These unions get tax breaks from the feds so yes open the books, what do they have to hide,,union rep making 150,000 a year there leader doubles that for sitting on there ass in the union office playing games

  • Colin Burke
    December 14, 2012 - 08:45

    Public service unions, like the ones Wisconsin had to deal with, are in a different category from most unions. Governing is not an economic activity, nor is working for government; where governing and working for government were properly done, as now they nowhere are, they would be regarded not as economic opportunities but as duties and men -- but not women -- would be conscripted to perform them when there were not enough volunteering to do that for remuneration set by law.

  • a business man
    December 14, 2012 - 08:00

    Firstly, this is not right wing ideology. This is democracy. Canadians gave the Conservative a commanding majority. If we want a pro-labour government, we would have voted for the NDP. I am a business owner, and I don't want to deal with unions. I am not interested in fairness and balance....I am interested a profits and its lucrative cousin, 'more profits'. Furthermore, this anti-union sentiment is not just from government....it comes for business owners like me who will never ever create another job in Canada until we too have right to work laws. Today, I am announcing the closure of a small unionized business in Ontario...the reason I am citing to the workers and the union is that 'even though this is a very profitable company, there are increased efficiencies and profits that can be attained by operating in a right to work state. I will pay lower wages, provide less benefits, and pay less taxes. The government there has given me a tax holiday, and a sweetheart deal on some property, and also a 'business investment grant' which is essentially is a gift to me for giving them jobs. Lastly, with the property that I acquired for next to nothing, I am also now a commercial landlord.' the reality even though I have been given so much in return for moving the jobs to a right to work state, I would have done it for free to undermine union workers AND to say thank you for the state's decision to go right to work. In fact, I also own a Windsor company....Michigan passed right to work laws this week, so I am hoping to shut down the Windsor operation and move it to Michigan by Jan 1. I don't want any grants or deals from them. I just want the privilege of operating on their right to work state, and I want to reward them for going right to work. What I love most is that as the owner of capital, I have the right to do what I want. Canada is not doing enough to curtail the power of unions. I will not create a company or jobs in a country where the worker has more power than me, or anything that resembles a power balance. I demand complete and unilateral control, and collective bargaining undermines this. So, I just create jobs in right to work states.