Friday November 28, 2014

Strong unions mean a strong middle class


Dear Editor

One of the reasons that Canada was not been hit as hard by the global recession that began in the United States in 2008 is labour unions were stronger here than there — about 30 per cent of the work force here unionized, with only about 10 per cent there. That strength had led to the kind of society where the workman was generally deemed worthy of his hire, giving many — including non-union workers — the means to move into a larger and more robust middle class. That, in turn, led to a robust economy, in which, as Henry Ford once pointed out, workers could afford to buy the stuff being produced.

If it was not clear before, it is certainly clear now, that Stephen Harper's expressed desire to "transform" Canada includes eliminating the power of labour unions, which usually have supported the NDP or the Liberals, as part of the process of making the Harper Conservative Party the only party of power. Cutting the $2 per vote subsidy to political parties was another. Harper is moving Canada closer to minimal government for the people and maximum government for corporations, right-wing ideologues and the very rich The attack on labour unions became undeniably clear with the Harper government's arbitrarily stepping into the negotiation process to force unfavourable settlements for unionized workers at Canada Past and Air Canada last year.

The most recent example of the change for workers has been the shut down of Electro-Motive, a unionized plant in London, Ont., producing heavy machinery like tractors and train engines. After the workers there had refused a contract that would have meant a 50 per cent reduction in their wages —moving most of them out of the middle class — along with severe cuts to their benefits, the American company, Caterpillar, a company which had made its best profit that year, closed the plant. It is moving the entire production to Indiana, where they can get cheaper, non-union workers. Ironically, the Harper government had supported Caterpillar in its take-over of Electro-Motive earlier. On second thought, maybe the word "ironically," isn't entirely appropriate in view of Harper's plan to transform our society.

Over 400 unionized workers are now out of work In London and will probably be looking for any kind of work they can get. "A good start," Harper might say, as he contemplates his transformation plans.

Russell Lahti




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