- Barry Eidlin argues that Canada's comparatively stronger trade unions have led to a far more equal distribution of income than exists in the U.S., and discusses what we need to do to reinforce that tendency:
In a recent article and forthcoming book, I put forth a new theory: Canadian unions remained stronger because they were better able to retain a legitimate social and political role as defenders of working class interests. By contrast, U.S. unions got painted as a narrow “special interest.”- Which isn't to say there's a lack of reason for optimism in the U.S. (where Patrick McGeehan reports on the spread of the movement for a $15 minimum wage), nor for concern in Canada (where Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports on the failures of Ontario's employment standards enforcement system in its job of ensuring that workers get paid).
These different roles for labour weren’t just rhetorical. They were built into how unions are viewed by the legal system and political parties, and even how unions viewed themselves. While U.S. unions’ “special interest” role de-legitimized class issues, eroded workers’ legal protections, and constrained labour’s ability to act, Canadian unions’ “class representative” role gave class issues greater legitimacy, strengthened legal protections, and imposed fewer constraints on labour.
It’s important to stress that Canadian unions didn’t adopt this “class representative” role because they were more radical than their U.S. counterparts, and Canadian labour law didn’t stay stronger because of more sympathetic governments. Rather, it was the result of a labor policy designed first and foremost to keep labour unrest in check. For example, while unions’ ability to strike was restricted, so too was employers’ ability to replace strikers or interfere in union certification campaigns.
The dynamic that this policy framework created reinforced for labour the importance of mobilizing to win demands, as opposed to finding sympathetic political allies from whom to seek favorable treatment. For employers and government officials, it reinforced the importance of a strong labour policy to discipline unions.
What broader lessons can we draw from this comparison of U.S. and Canadian unions? The key point is that if we want to do something about runaway income inequality, we need to address the power inequality that underlies it.
At a policy level, that means laws that level the playing field for labour. But more broadly, it means that we need to talk about the working class. Politicians, union officials, and other civic leaders talk far too much about a mushy – and somewhat meaningless and outdated – “middle class.” They need to acknowledge the real and growing class divide between the wealthy and the working class.
- David McLaughlin wonders whether this fall's election will be the last under Canada's antiquated first-past-the-post system. And Kelly Carmichael and Ryan Campbell make the case for mixed-member proportional representation as a far more fair and democratic alternative.
- Finally, Stephanie Levitz reports on the United Nations Human Rights Committee's recent review (DOCX) of Canada's deteriorating human rights record - with Bill C-51 raising particular concerns. And Fram Dimsham points out how the Cons' terror legislation might criminalize the work of journalists (whether by accident or by design):
Even before C-51’s passage into law, Henheffer said that freedom of the press in Canada was under attack, citing Harper government restrictions on media access such as that experienced during press conferences and increasing difficulty in accessing information.
Now that C-51 is law, Henheffer said that journalists would face additional difficulties in doing their job in reporting stories related to national security or street protests such as those against the G20 five years ago, as the government could selectively target people to ensure their own agenda dominated the headlines.
Journalists covering protests have already found themselves under arrest, such as New Brunswick reporter Miles Howes, who in 2013 was detained at an anti-fracking demonstration on suspicion of uttering death threats against an RCMP officer, but some believed that the real reason was his asking too many questions regarding hydraulic fracking in Atlantic Canada.