Thursday, July 19, 2012

Unions, equality and democracy

Right-wing commentators like to claim that unions undermine good economic performance. But respected organizations such as the OECD, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have shown this isn’t so. They have recognized that unions promote more equitable societies, and that countries with strong unions have less extremes of rich and poor, stronger public services and social safety nets, without adversely affecting good economic performance.
Here in Canada, unions have been and remain essential to our democracy.

In 1976, Canada ratified the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, both of which recognize the right to a union. We legally committed ourselves to recognize both the right to a union and the right to bargain collectively – just as important as other fundamental human rights.

These international treaties affirm that unions are an important means for workers to have democratic checks on power.

In democratic societies, there are two principal arenas of non-violent conflict over power: the state and the workplace. Just as political democracy entails the right to select or reject one’s representatives and enables us to pursue, share and exercise power in the real world of free citizens, democracy in the workplace also requires that workers have their own representatives and some real power.
In the United States today, unions represent just one in eight workers and less than 7 per cent of private sector workers. The decline of unions since Reagan is closely associated with the decline of middle class jobs, the rise of extreme income inequality, and growing economic insecurity and poverty.

The U.S. states with weak unions have lower average wages – $1,500 less per year – and greater inequality than the country as a whole. Meanwhile, U.S. states with relatively strong unions such as Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Iowa boast unemployment rates of 6 per cent or less and superior social outcomes.

We must expose recent attacks on the labour movement for what they really are: a coordinated assault on the existing democratic rights of unions.

Canada’s stronger unions have helped ensure we have less extremes than in the U.S. (falling wages tend to be limited to the middle-class) and have certainly not undermined our economic performance, comparatively.

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