So, as you started closing up the cottage for the season — what a short summer! — and as you harvested your garden and started to watch the leaves fall yesterday, did your thoughts drift to the plight of the worker?
Labour Day, after all, is an annual holiday to celebrate the achievements of workers.
It originally gave workers the chance to campaign for better conditions or pay.
While traditionally, Labour Day was a chance to celebrate and promote workers’ rights with parades and picnics organized by trade unions, it’s now really the last chance to romance the summer and a chance to take a final breath of fresh air for students before entering the halls of academe.
And generally speaking, organized labour has little to celebrate these days.
The labour movement is at such a sorry state in Manitoba that our pro-union New Democratic Party government has, during its lengthy time in power, done what it can to prop it.
In a column in the Winnipeg Sun over the weekend, columnist Tom Brodbeck reminded us all that one of the NDP’s first orders of business after winning government in October 1999 was to usher in one of the most drastic pro-union omnibus bills in the province’s history. Bill 44 gutted secret-ballot votes, brought in forced binding arbitration and gave unions a wide range of new powers.
“It’s a sure sign the union movement has overstepped its bounds when non-union workers are forced into unions against their will,” he wrote. “It’s all fair and good to ensure those who want to form unions have the legal right to do so, as long as the process is done fairly and democratically.
“But what about workers who are forced into unionization against their will?”
But despite such heavy-handed efforts by socialist governments, the union movement is on the wane.
This is especially true in the United States, where more than 33 per cent of the nation’s workers belonged to labour unions in 1945. In 2010, that membership number had dropped to 11.9 per cent, according to the
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“From the 20th into the 21st century, the power of unions has gradually lowered, as the percentage of union workers has fallen precipitously,” Ohio University Prof. Paul Milazzo, who specializes in 20th century American history, was quoted as saying in an American trade publication.
“Try to unionize a company like Microsoft and you’ll just get laughed at.”
Milazzo said those factors, among others, resulted in a decrease among private sector unions and membership.
Today the majority of organized labour members are in the public sector — government employees.
In an article in the Winnipeg Free Press on the weekend, two stalwarts of the provincial labour movement — Brandon’s Errol Black and Winnipeg’s Jim Silver — argued that a major confrontation is shaping up between progressive elements of Canadian society and anti-union organizations in Canada.
The two board members of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives are concerned that core social-democratic values nurtured by Canada’s labour movement are being challenged by the organizations that march under the “right-to-work” banner in Canada.
Right-to-work laws forbid unions and employers to enter into agreements requiring employees to join a union and pay dues and fees to it in order to get or keep a job. It’s a growing movement in the United States and gaining notice in Canada.
“It seems we have conditions that constitute a perfect storm for the advocates of right-to-work laws,” Black and Silver wrote. “Most susceptible to right-to-work pressures are: Saskatchewan, where the Brad Wall government has taken a strong anti-union position; Ontario, with a minority government facing significant economic problems; Manitoba, where the Conservative opposition has signalled that, should it ever form government, it would go after labour; and the federal jurisdiction, where the government has no time for collective bargaining.
“These governments are taking advantage of the weak global economy to blame unions, public-sector employees and the unemployed for our woes.”
Well, the unions certainly haven’t helped.
Walk into any big-box store, pic up any product and look at where it’s manufactured.
Very likely not in North America.
And certainly not a union shop at the foreign factory where it was made.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 4, 2012