Fun election last night. Congrats to Dalton and his Liberals for another win. Pretty impressive to win three elections in a row.
After the last Federal election, I did a post that got some people all hot and bothered (mostly Tory supporters). I pointed out that the Tories won a majority even though only 24% of Canadians voted for them. I was making a labour law point by reference to the political system. I’ll make the same point again using the Liberal win.
Quick, what percentage of eligible Canadian voters voted for the Liberals yesterday?
Answer: 18.5 percent. About 17% voted Tory, and about 11% voted NDP. Since only about 49 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, these are the numbers you get based on the percentage of votes cast for each party.
The labour law point is this: Our labour law model grants authority to unions to represent workers if they have the support of more than half of the workers. That’s called a majority. If a clear majority of workers at a given workplace indicate that they wish to be represented by a union, then the union becomes the representative of all of the workers, even those who did not wish to be represented by the union. So, in a workplace of 100 employees, if 51 or 55 want the union, then the union represents all 100. That is how a democratic process works, right?
But critics of unions and collective bargaining argue all the time that this process is “undemocratic”, because it “forces” workers to accept a union as their representative when they don’t want that. Once elected by a majority of workers, the union attempts to bargains rules (in a collective agreement), and if a majority of workers like what the union has bargained, they “ratify” the collective agreement in another majority rules vote (a ratification vote). If a majority of workers ratify the collective agreement, then the rules in it will govern all the workers, even those that did not vote for the collective agreement. This too is argued to be undemocratic by the anti-union folks, because it permits rules to be imposed by a majority “against the will of the minority”.
Whatever you say about the collective bargaining process, you will not persuade me that the process is undemocratic. Unions obtain their authority by constantly testing the employees’ wishes–they have to win certification votes, collective agreement ratification votes, strike votes, and “decertification” votes–and voter turnout in those votes is almost always 100% or close to it, in sharp contrast to political elections. The Liberals gain the authority to pass laws and run a province by collecting votes on behalf of 18 percent of Ontarians? The Federal Tories win a majority with the support of only 24% of Canadians.
So, are decisions by a union that have the support of a majority of workers more or less democratic than decisions and actions taken by a government that has the support of less than 20 percent of Ontarians?
Perhaps the argument isn’t that unions are ‘undemocratic’ (as commentator Dennis suggests), but it is that the rules that govern the setting of terms and conditions of employment shouldn’t be set by a democratic system at all. Perhaps the argument is that each employee should be able to determine their own conditions of work, without a union if they don’t want a union. That is a very different argument altogether. That is an argument against a democratic majority rules process, and in favour of another model based purely on individual choice. Fine, if that is the argument. Then we can debate whether democracy is unsuitable for some decisions. But tell me that a system is undemocratic just because the minority doesn’t always get their own way.
Would you prefer that option of whether to have your conditions of work determined by collective bargaining be an individual choice, as opposed to a democratically chosen one? How would that approach change how our model works in North America?