Monday, September 5, 2011

LabourDay's May Yet Come Again

I'm always shocked when I hear people - frequently working class and rural Canadians but many middle-class business types - rail against unions and, because they're unionized, public servants as if they were fat cats. They never seem to remember in their rant that they might not be making even the meagre wages they are had it not been for the union movement's elevation of working stardards in general. Would there be such a thing as minimum wage standards without the union and civil rights movements of the 20th century? Historical amnesia or, more likely, ignorance.

Of course, unconsciously if not consciously, they want to bring the fat cats down to their common level rather than find a collective way to rise to the better working conditions of union members - which ought to be the stardard to which all workers, whether in the private or public sector, aspire. They also fail to recognize that the core principle of capitalism - and hyperbolically so with corporate capitalism - is exploitation in the name of profit, a process in which real people are merely one of several production components, but the category most ripe for compromise if not deep exploitation in these recessionary times.

Not to mention the appalling increases in CEO's salaries and bonuses on the backs of these culled and compromised workers and the shrinking real value of their wages over the past 30 years or so. What is startling to me is how readily the middle managing underlings under these CEOs do their bidding, failing to recognize that they too are part of the great capitalist exploitation wheel. There is absolutely no point in arguing with the anti-union perspective of business types, be they corporate or small-business, who obviously see unions as a threat to both their power and profit.

Yes, unions can be abusive, dictatorial, misguided, and tenacious; but, in general, despite their failings, they remain the last guard against further exploitation of real people in their effort to maintain humane working conditions, sensible hours of work, reasonable wages, and half-decent pensions and benefits.

Many argue that in our gobalized economy and the resulting massive shift in North America away from manufacturing towards service industries, unions will wane even further. Perhaps. But perhaps, too, unions will make a comeback in this age of significantly increasing "unemployed, under-employed, and anxiously employed." Barbara Ehrenreich, quoted by Jim Coyle in his Toronto Star piece on 04.09.11)

Labour's Day may yet come again.

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