The Canadian Auto Workers’ president showed up in support of Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty today. He told workers at a CAW organized Bombardier factory in Thunder Bay that the Liberal government has been good for them and for workers in Northern Ontario.
This will really piss off Tim Hudak, the Conservative Party leader. He hates that unions are able to engage in the public debate over which political party will best protect the interests of workers. Hudak has tried the courts to stop unions from criticizing him and his party, but that didn’t go so well. Here is the decision of Justice Swinton dismissing the P.C. Party’s attempt to have a union-led coalition ruled a violation of the Elections Act. The P.C. Party was ordered to pay the unions’ legal costs. Ouch. I’m sure Hudak wouldn’t mind if the unions supported him. But they don’t, so he would like to silence them.
Since they haven’t been able to silence the labour movements’ critiques of their policies through legal action, the Tories are now saying they will try a different tact if elected. Their platform says this:
We will introduce paycheque protection so union members are not forced to pay fees towards political causes they don’t support.
In other words, the Tories are going to try and cut off the funds that enable unions to participate in public debates. If unions don’t have money to pay for T.V. ads, radio spots, and billboards, they won’t be able to critique Tory policies. Brilliant!
This idea of cutting off money to unions has long been a strategy of anti-union politicians and workers. A key policy question is whether it is appropriate for a government that doesn’t like unions criticizing it to use law to try to starve the unions and thereby silence them?
Historically, the participation of unions in political and public discourse has been considered an important part of any democratic state. Corporations spend huge bucks on lobbying politicians and trying to influence public opinion. Unions pale in comparison in terms of available funds and political influence. But they are one of the only institutions that have any resources to put out a different message than the corporate lobby.
That is why the Supreme Court of Canada said this in (Lavigne v. OPSEU) an earlier attempt by a union member to opt out of paying dues towards political causes he disagreed with:
Unions’ decisions to involve themselves in politics by supporting particular causes, candidates or parties, stem from a recognition of the expansive character of the interests of labour and a perception of collective bargaining as a process which is meant to foster more than mere economic gain for workers. From involvement in union locals through to participation in the larger activities of the union movement the current collective bargaining regime enhances not only the economic interests of labour but also the interest of working people in preserving some dignity in their working lives.
But what do you think?
Do you agree with a law that would (somehow) permit any individual to opt out of paying dues towards their unions’ political speech?
Do you think that law would advance or detract from informed public discourse during political campaigns?