How often do we see an all night House of Commons debates over principles these days? The debate is over the very interventionist and deliberately provocative Bill 6 introduced by the Conservatives that would order an end to Canada Post’s lockout of its employees. The Bill referred the dispute to an interest arbitrator. It also fixed wages directly in the legislation at a rate lower than what was already on the table in the negotiations and directed the arbitrator to consider foremost the employer’s competitive pressures, which together create a disincentive for Canada Post to keep bargaining. The union estimates the legislated wage rates will result in a loss of some $35 million in wages for workers over 4 years compared to Canada Post’s last offer. Well, maybe the union could use that fact to persuade an arbitrator that the company has at least $35 million extra money to put towards the pension plan or other items on the union’s list of wants.
The NDP and Liberals have been fighting the Bill all night, and rumour has it that all the Tories need to do is remove the wage section (section 15) of the Bill, and the NDP would back down. But the Tories aren’t interested in compromise because they have a majority and feel confident that the 24% of Canadians who voted for them will be happy to see the government stick it to the Postal workers. They are probably right.
My students should spend a moment scanning the debates. You can read them on the government Hansard website here. One strand of debate is the argument that postal workers are asking to save benefits that most Canadians don’t have, and therefore, screw them! This is the jest of this editorial in the Globe and Mail:
Sure, collective bargaining rights are important. But in an environment where half the country is without employment-based, defined-benefit pension plans it is hard to imagine great public outcry for those who do have them and are seeking ironclad protection. Those of us who are our own pension plans have little sympathy and lots of jealousy towards the cushy annuities of our friends.
An NDP MP (Marc-Andre Morin) argued that that sort of argument has no place in Parliament:
Mr. Speaker, I have noticed something. I am sure that all across the country, in every bar, kitchen and living room, there are people who do not have a pension plan, there are people who do not have job security, and there are people who have lousy salaries. They will all say that union workers have it good and that they are overprotected. They will make comments that do not take every aspect of the situation into account. We can expect to hear that type of argument being made over a beer, but not in Parliament.
What do you think of the argument that many Canadians make to this effect: since I don’t have a good pension plan or health plan, and since I didn’t get a raise, unionized workers should not be able to strike to try and protect their pension plan, health plan, or raise?
This is certainly a theme in labour relations today. I hear and read it all the time. Since I don’t get that, neither should “they”. It happened during the debates about contracting out garbage collection. Politicians and pundits argued that since “most people” don’t have job security, then neither should the city’s unionized workers. Doug Ford announced that no one should have job security, as if that claim would make perfect sense to working people.
Unionized workers do have considerably better pay, benefits, and job security than nonunion workers. That’s because they and their members fight for those things. That used to be considered a good thing, a reason to join unions and support their struggle, a reason for governments to encourage unions, since decent pay and job security used to be considered good things not only for the workers themselves, but for the economy and society generally. Promoting a system in which workers can resist employer cutbacks and bargain improvements in working conditions used to be government policy. Today, the benefits unions bargain for their members are more often treated as a source of scorn, resentment and jealousy by nonunion workers.
Today, people take pleasure in knowing that other people are not better off then themselves. Canadians used to say “good for them, for fighting back and trying to bargain a better deal“.
Today, we say “those bastards should just accept whatever their employer gives them, like I do, and be happy they have any damn job. We should fire any bastard who goes on strike to protect their benefits.”
Do you align more with the latter perspective, or the former one?
Which perspective do you think benefits employees best? Which perspective benefits employers best? Which perspective do you governments should promote?