From Queen's Park to Parliament Hill, if there is one lesson that Conservatives have learned from Indiana, Alabama, Louisiana and other states where "right-to-work" laws have decimated worker representation and driven down wages, it is that attacking unions is also the best way to silence your critics. It has become standard training for every new conservative strategist: you cannot implement a cheap labour economy without neutralizing opposition.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has led the way by attacking the finances of any group or individual that dared to criticize his policies: de-funding church-based charities and immigrant advocacy organizations, smearing environmental groups and firing outspoken public servants. And now, Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak is taking a page from the Harper playbook by attacking unions.
Because unions have an independent source of funding they are far less susceptible to the state-sanctioned bullying and financial blackmail regularly meted out by governments in collusion with the corporate elite. By undermining dues collection at source, Hudak hopes to undermine workers' ability to oppose his agenda.
Last month, Hudak released his party's white paper on "Flexible Labour Markets" and, in doing so, opened up a new attack on generations of hard-fought workers' rights. In seeking to repeal the Rand Formula, Hudak opens an affront on workers' rights that even former premier Mike Harris was unwilling to touch. The Rand Formula is a basic tenet of workplace democracy that was secured nearly 60 years ago to ensure that all those in the workplace who benefit from the improved wages and benefits achieved by the union make the same financial contribution. While the law allows workers not to join a union, they are required to contribute to charity an amount equivalent to the dues paid by union members.
For more than two centuries, working people have pooled their pennies to form unions and then shared their resources with other workers at home and around the world. Far from examples of "losing focus" as Hudak suggests, union members are proud of their record in support of human rights internationally. Indeed, as Ontario's workforce has become more diverse -- and more international -- these traditions of solidarity have grown stronger.
For union members, sharing resources also means giving to charities. As only one of numerous examples, in 2011 working people across Canada contributed more than 50 per cent of the United Way's $500 million budget, through its partnership with the Canadian Labour Congress. In this light, Hudak's attack on unions is also an assault on all those who depend on the services provided by the United Way and other worthy charities.
But there can be little doubt that what really offends Hudak is the fact that union members pool their resources to participate in municipal, provincial and federal elections. When voters pulled the rug out from under Hudak's 2011 electoral campaign, he blamed Harris-weary union members for campaigning against him and running television ads to expose his agenda.
It is no coincidence that Hudak released his 20 page attack on basic workers' rights immediately after an Ontario court struck down -- for the third time -- his legal challenge against the Working Families Coalition ads. A defiant Conservative MPP, Lisa MacLeod (Nepean -- Carleton), told reporters: "we will continue to fight this in the court of public opinion." And fight they did -- issuing their call for all workers to be stripped of their collective rights.
Stripped to its core, Hudak's vision is not about "modernizing" the labour market in the interests of prosperity for all. He seeks to usher in an era of permanent uncertainty for all working people to the overwhelming benefit of corporations. To accomplish this task, Hudak must neutralize his opponents in every possible arena, from the workplace to elections.
Unionized workers may be the first on his hit-list, but rest assured, you or someone you care about is next in the line of fire.
Follow Sid Ryan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SidRyan_OFL