Saturday, March 02, 2013

On social roles

The work (PDF) of the Saskatchewan Election Study in analyzing public views of unions is worth a read generally. But it's particularly worth noting that the element of union activity which the public considers to be most valuable is also the part facing the most regular attacks from Brad Wall and his corporate boosters.

Here's Loleen Berdahl and David McGrane on the comparative views of different union roles:
In so far as people perceive unions as narrowly defending the interests of their own members, the public reaction is negative. Indeed, almost three in five (58.1 per cent) respondents feel that unions generally ask for too much. However, the public is more positive regarding the broader role of unions, and a strong majority (64.8 per cent) feels that unions play an important role in promoting better working conditions and wages
Unions will not find a sympathetic public if they are perceived only to be fighting for more money for their members. To garner public support, the union movement needs to frame its communication around its struggles to improve the lives of all workers, and how they aid the most vulnerable in Saskatchewan.

In fact, those who aren't in the workforce (full-time caregivers, students, retirees and the unemployed) are some of the biggest supporters of unions.
And it surely isn't a coincidence that Wall and his party have tried to stifle the most popular (and arguably the most important) part of the role of Saskatchewan's labour movement.

For the most part, the Sask Party hasn't publicly argued that unions should be limited in their role of representing members in dealing with particular employers - even if its specific legislation has been far more extreme than the party's message for public consumption.

But it's been another story when it comes to the role of unions in promoting better working conditions and wages generally. Wall has personally launched broadside attacks against "politically active" unions in general, while his party has tried to silence particular unions who have dared to speak out. And Wall's corporatist cheerleaders have been happy to echo the message that unions should be prevented from doing anything beyond negotiating and enforcing collective bargaining agreements.

Fortunately, the Saskatchewan Election Study polling data offers a strong indication that the general public disagrees with Wall's desire to limit the scope of union activity. And the more the Sask Party tries to crack down on what citizens in general recognize to be an important service, the more likely we'll see the labour movement emerge ahead of Wall's corporate backers in the court of public opinion.

1 comment:

  1. Unions are doing a great deal of work that goes beyond the narrow interests of their members, the issue is how to communicate this to the general public.

    The media has zero interest in reporting these stories preferring instead to focus on conflict and of course the "greed" angle.

    On the political front we see this new "pragmatic" NDP is shy about being to closely aligned with labour.

    The only solution I see is to become more imaginative and militant, engage in acts of civil disobedience mount campaigns that actually engage the public.

    While risky I see nothing to lose for if we continue to behave as we have these past few decades we surely will not survive.

    The time for timidity and playing the game by their rules is over.