Monday, September 03, 2012

Monday Morning Labour Day Links

Assorted content for your Labour Day reading.

- The Star comments on the place of the union movement in the face of a determined push to silence workers:
Given the challenges ahead, and all the ground that’s been lost so far, it remains to be seen if the new union will succeed in building “a powerful social movement fighting for all working people.” But the takeaway is that on this Labour Day, unions still have the vision to imagine a better life for working people, and the will to try to bring it about. The long march continues.
 - Meanwhile, Craig McInnes recognizes how bleak a future where the corporate right manages to trash the labour movement would look:
Whether the decline in union membership is seen as a benefit or simply inevitable, what's often lost in the economic debate is the value of unions to the communities in which they operate.

There are the historical benefits that we take largely for granted that were achieved for everyone through long and difficult struggles - the weekend, for example.

But there is also the ongoing benefit of higher wages. Using data from the 2011 Census, the Canadian Labour Congress calculates unionized workers in Vancouver make an average hourly wage that is, at $27.09, almost $5 an hour higher than non-unionized workers. That benefit - seen as a negative by the Fraser Institute and other commentators who view life only through the business pages - makes life easier for unionized workers and their families.
If the demise of unions means ordinary working people can't aspire to be consumers, to achieve a reasonable standard of living, it's hard to imagine the communities we have built on that expectation can continue to thrive.
- And Judy Halven observes that what we need is to focus on creating good jobs for Canadian workers, rather than unstable, low-paying jobs for the benefit of multinational employers:
Thinking about Labour Day 2012, we need to turn our attention to limiting “bad” jobs and increasing “good” jobs. “Good” jobs have good pay, full-time hours, benefits, pensions and more. We can remind ourselves about the $260-million forgivable loan the Nova Scotia government gave to Irving Shipbuilding for the federal shipbuilding contract. While some “good” jobs will no doubt be created, they will go to semi-skilled and skilled tradespeople — mainly men. Though some women will get jobs on site, the majority of new jobs for women will be created in the restaurant, bar and service sector. These jobs usually pay minimum wage, plus tips, and could be considered “bad” jobs.

Wealthy people seem to know all about “good” jobs, as they tend to have them. The average income for the richest one per cent of Canadians was $405,000 in 2007. Between 1997 and 2007, the richest one per cent (246,000 people) took almost one-third (32 per cent) of all growth in incomes. In addition, the tax system is making them richer. In 1948, the top marginal tax rate on incomes over $250,000 was 80 per cent. In 2009, that rate was cut almost in half to 42.9 per cent for incomes above $126,264.

This Labour Day, we need to work to eliminate the obstacles for the 99 per cent who want to make a decent living in this province, obstacles such as low wages, part-time work and large handouts to corporations. The Occupy movement’s message — “We are the 99 per cent” — is as true for us today as it was a year ago.
- But on the bright side, Dean Baker notes that Canada can still serve as a positive example of the value of organized labour - at least, compared to our neighbour to the south:
When the Employee Free Choice Act was debated in 2008, the anti-union groups argued that majority sign-up (which was a major provision) would lead to workers being stuck with unions they didn't want. Their story was union thugs would intimidate workers into signing union cards against their will. 
The differing experience in Canadian provinces over time gives us a simple way to test this claim. If workers were intimidated into signing cards, then we would expect to see a higher rate of de-certifications in provinces after they have put in place laws allowing for majority sign-up. 
In fact, there is no evidence at all that there was a rise in de-certifications after majority sign-up was adopted. In several provinces the de-certification rate fell after majority sign-up was allowed. This would seem like pretty solid evidence against the "union thug" story. 
All of this matters because if we chose, we could make US labour law closer to Canada's. That might over time bring us somewhat close to Canadian unionisation rates. 
People who care about inequality should have this at the top of their agenda. In our bag of tricks to reverse the upward redistribution of the last three decades, higher unionisation rates should rank near the top.

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