Thursday, August 14, 2014

Thursday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Nora Loreto reviews the Canadian Foundation for Labour Rights' Unions Matter:
Unlikely to convince someone who is anti-union on its own, Unions Matter provides the fodder for union activists to be able to make important arguments in favour of unionization. Even more important, the statistics and arguments in Unions Matter could be used by labour activists to convince the ambivalent of the fact that, yes, unions matter.

Section one, "Reducing Income Inequality Through Labour Rights," gives an impressive overview of the role that unions have played to reorganize wealth in Canada. As union density has dropped, Canadian society has become objectively more unequal. The data presented in this section demonstrates that the trend between union density and inequality is not casual, but directly connected.

Unions are not just agents of economic redistribution, though. In section two, "Promoting Democracy, Economic Equality and Social Rights," the articles examine the role that unions have played and should play in defending social rights and fighting against injustice. The section examines how, through activism rather than simply through structural redistribution, unions defend democracy and the human rights of all people, regardless of union membership.
Armine Yalnizyan ends her chapter by arguing that the greatest threat to income distribution is the profits amassed by the 1%, and that unions cannot necessarily stop this trend through collective bargaining alone. "Ultimately," Yalnizyan writes, "the long-term impact of unions on Canadian trends in economic inequality is primarily through their political action… and only secondarily through their direct impact on wages."

Indeed, building the necessary campaign to fight neoliberal and austerity measures will require unions to engage in political action. While Unions Matter might not provide union activists with a road map on how to do that, it does offer the requisite facts to shut down any anti-union, right wing argument that might be floating around the ether. 
- And in a prime example of what can happen when the balance of power tilts thoroughly in favour of corporations, Jodi Kantor writes about the complete control employers exercise their most vulnerable employees through erratic scheduling for low-wage workers:
Scheduling is now a powerful tool to bolster profits, allowing businesses to cut labor costs with a few keystrokes. “It’s like magic,” said Charles DeWitt, vice president for business development at Kronos, which supplies the software for Starbucks and many other chains.

Yet those advances are injecting turbulence into parents’ routines and personal relationships, undermining efforts to expand preschool access, driving some mothers out of the work force and redistributing some of the uncertainty of doing business from corporations to families, say parents, child care providers and policy experts.
Child care and policy experts worry that the entire apparatus for helping poor families is being strained by unpredictable work schedules, preventing parents from committing to regular drop-off times or answering standard questions on subsidy forms and applications for aid: “How many hours do you work?” and “What do you earn?”
(F)lexibility — an alluring word for white-collar workers, who may desire, say, working from home one day a week — can have a darker meaning for many low-income workers as a euphemism for unstable hours or paychecks. Legislators and activists are now promoting proposals and laws to mitigate the scheduling problems. But those who manufacture and study scheduling software, including Mr. DeWitt of Kronos, advocate a more direct solution: for employers and managers to use the software to build in schedules with more accommodating core hours.
- Meanwhile, weinenkel highlights how privatized probation services are turning poverty into a crime in and of itself.

- Bill Curry reports that the Cons' general public-sector vandalism is resulting in newly-unemployed Canadians seeing a delay in the processing of their EI applications, while Jason Kirby writes that a disastrously botched jobs report is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the destruction of Statistics Canada. And Colin Freeze discusses the Cons' broken promise to rein in an intrusive and unaccountable CSEC surveillance apparatus.

- Finally, Iglika Ivanova looks at how tax rates and revenues have actually changed over the past 50 years. And Jennifer Wallner and Daniel Beland respond to the Fraser Institute's spin with a dose of reality:
What the study fails to report is that, thanks to government programs, Canadians are paying less for many of these necessities. Government programs that are paid for by, you guessed it, taxes.
In 1961, there was no universal health care, limited public education, limited public transportation systems and the Trans-Canada Highway wasn’t even open.
Keeping careful watch on the quality of programs provided by the government and paid through public taxes is our democratic responsibility.
Failing to acknowledge the necessity of these programs and the individual benefits they provide through collective action is misleading at best, as it deprives us from the big public policy picture through which we should understand taxation.
The latest report on taxation is a case in point in using misleading information to infuriate Canadians about taxes rather than make them see the big picture about why taxes are the way they are in the first place, and how the major public programs they finance improve the social and economic life of Canadians.
As Oliver Wendell Holmes once claimed, “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.” This was the case in the past and this is even more the case today, regardless of what the Fraser Institute wants you to believe.

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