Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Jeremy Warren reports on the origins of the Idle No More movement - recognizing it as an ideal example of how a few people resolving to take action can have a massive impact on public discussions. And Tim Harper notes that Stephen Harper may be forced to revise his 2013 agenda to address the movement's concerns:
It has moved beyond the angry flare sparked by the bill and has grown, fuelled by young aboriginals deftly using social media, to represent the latest iteration of the festering conflict that has marked the Harper government — its determination to economically exploit resources over the objections of environmentalists and aboriginals who believe this regime is running roughshod over its ancestral lands.

But there is more, something even more fundamental, because movement leaders count 14 pieces of legislation — dealing with everything from education to water quality to financial accountability — that they believe are the laws of an adversary.

“The government of Canada has not upheld nor fulfilled its responsibilities to First Nations, as committed to by the Crown including at the Crown-First Nations gathering of January, 2012,” said Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, in an open letter to Harper and Gov.-Gen. David Johnston.

Atleo, until now, has been the calm face of an increasingly angry aboriginal population. But last month he told Harper and Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan that any goodwill and spirit of co-operation from last January’s summit has been squandered.

Idle No More spokeswoman Pam Palmater says there must be a “fundamental shift” in the relationship between Canada and First Nations.

“The treaty relationship was about mutual prosperity and sharing of the wealth,” she says. “Only one treaty partner has been wealthy and prospered.’’
- Meanwhile, Andrew Hanon writes that care workers whose benefits are being siphoned off by for-profit employers may prove to be the new face of organized labour in Alberta:
Employees at Monterey place are among the lowest paid in the continuing care industry in Alberta. Most are classified as part-time so they don't qualify for health benefits. There is no retirement plan at all.

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, which began representing them in 2011, says there's no excuse for that. Alberta Health Services funds private operators for nursing staff wages and benefits at government rates, but Triple A is among a handful of companies that pay less and pocket the difference.

When the Monterey workers dug in their heels and demanded to be treated fairly, Triple A locked them out. Nearly five months later, they're still being kept from their jobs.
For many immigrants, especially women, the industry offers an opportunity to enter the workforce. Often, they start out in the kitchen or housekeeping and then advance to the nursing staff as health-care aides and licensed practical nurses.

However, this also offers some employers another opportunity to make their businesses even more profitable -- a workforce that can be exploited because of factors like weak language skills, lack of understanding of labour standards or even ignorance of fundamental Canadian rights.

For some bad actors in the industry, it's not enough to build a business model based on taxpayer handouts. They also have to pick the pockets of their own employees, hoping the workers won't know any better or be too intimidated to speak up.

That ruthless greed is why private seniors care is one of the fastest growing sectors becoming organized in the Alberta labour union movement. Turns out, this workforce of mostly kind, polite, family-oriented women is refusing to stand back and allow their bosses to take advantage of them, just like the miners and textile workers pushed back a century ago.
- But then, one might see the exploitation of care workers as just another example of how management theory has gone off the rails. Which brings us to Simon Caulkin's take:
The irony is that we know what makes companies prosper in the long term. They manage themselves as whole systems, look after their people, use targets and incentives with extreme caution, keep pay differentials narrow (we really are in this together) and treat profits as the score rather than the game. And it's a given that in the long term companies can't thrive unless they have society's interests at heart along with their own.

So why do so many boards and managers, supported by politicians, systematically do the opposite – run companies as top-down dictatorships, pursue growth by merger, destroy teamwork with runaway incentives, attack employment rights and conditions, outsource customer service, treat their stakeholders as resources to be exploited, and refuse wider responsibilities to society?

The answer is that management in the 1980s was subject to an ideological hijack by Chicago economics that put at the heart of governance a reductive "economic man" view of human nature needing to be bribed or whipped to do their exclusive job of maximising shareholder returns. Embedded in the codes, these assumptions now have the status of unchallenged truths.

The consequences of the hijack have been momentous. The first was to align managers' interests not with their own organisations but with financial outsiders – shareholders. That triggered a senior management pay explosion that continues to this day. The second was that managers abandoned their previous policy of retaining and reinvesting profits in favour of large dividend and share buyback payouts to shareholders.
Over the last decades, misconceived ideologically based governance has recreated management as a new imperium in which shareholders and managers rule and the real world dances to finance's tune. A worthier anniversary to celebrate is the death seven years ago this month, on 11 November, of Peter Drucker, one of the architects of pre-code management, which he insisted was a "liberal art". Austrian by birth, Drucker was a cultured humanist one of whose distinctions was having his books burned by the Nazis. In The Practice of Management in 1954 he wrote: "Free enterprise cannot be justified as being good for business. It can be justified only as being good for society".
- Finally, Don Lenihan compares the positions of Conrad Black and Andrew Coyne on foreign investment, and concludes that it only makes sense to recognize the limitations of Coyne's purely libertarian view of capital ownership while also establishing clear criteria as to when public intervention is required.

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