06/22/2011 02:10 EDT | Updated 08/22/2011 05:12 EDT

Seeding Socialism: The Conservative Attack on Unions and Young Workers

We're seeing the beginning of a prolonged, multi-pronged attack on unionized workers by the Conservatives. Their anti-worker war machine is revving its engines. Sirens have sounded. The first missiles have been launched.

AP File

The federal election of 2019 should be a very good one for the NDP.. Why? Because there'll be a lot more socialists in Canada by then -- thanks to the Tories.

Right now, nobody is promoting socialism better than the Harper Conservatives. It's becoming one of their core competencies.

In recent days, the federal government has used its legal powers and media platforms to undermine legitimate collective bargaining processes at Air Canada and Canada Post. Openly siding with the managements of these corporations, the government has, among other things, encouraged the parties to keep wage increases low and to put a stop to defined benefit pension plans for new hires.

The unions involved don't like any of this, but have chosen to protect the benefit packages of their current members and retirees.

At this point, young workers have little choice but to accept their fate. They lack voice and choice. But, over the next decade, they will have time to regroup to fight these deals. And who will they turn to help them?

The democratic socialists: the NDP.

There's little doubt that we're seeing the beginning of a prolonged, multi-pronged attack on unionized workers by the Conservatives. Their anti-worker war machine is revving its engines. Sirens have sounded. The first missiles have been launched.

This is a war that will hurt households and communities that rely on unionized salaries and benefits. The multiplier effects of good jobs are always underestimated in public policy and discourse. Take them out of the equation, and local economies suffer.

It is also a war that could strengthen labour. Union leaders, most already committed progressives, will strengthen their resolve. It will be a long four years, and they will have to pace themselves. But this war might actually result in a more energized and united labour movement.

Then there's the rank and file union membership. Election results in union-heavy regions like Ottawa and Oshawa suggest that many union members voted for the Conservatives in the 2011 poll. After the layoffs and pain wrought by this impending conflict, it's hard to believe so many will do so again.

Meanwhile, the infection of economic inequality spreads across the nation. It is not lost on young workers that all the players making these decisions -- ministers and MPs, managers and older union members, even university professors -- retain their defined benefit plans. And young people won't easily forget.

Nor are they oblivious to the fact that the compensation packages for chief executives have risen to obscene and embarrassing levels. In 2009, when economic recession battered all sectors of the economy, each of Canada's top 100 CEOs averaged more than $6 million in annual compensation, according to a study by economist Hugh Mackenzie for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. And that's without factoring in their future access to millions of dollars more in stock options. (In 2009 Canada Post's CEO was eligible for a mere $640,000 a year in total compensation). Indeed, in this time of job scarcity, CEOs enjoy benefits-packages-on-steroids.

Furthermore, another CCPA study, led by Armine Yalnizyan, found that the richest one percent of Canadians accounted for one-third of all income growth between 1987 and 2007. This report ominously concludes that social inequality in Canada has reached levels not seen since the 1920s.

None of this is lost either on the 3.2 million Canadians who are considered by Statistics Canada to be low-income, or the 1.5 million who are officially unemployed, or the 3.2 million who work at low-wage, no-benefit, part-time, precarious work.

Few Canadians would disagree with the need to contain public spending or to find ways of making our public and private corporations viable in a changing world economy. But there are better ways of achieving these objectives that don't require full-scale warfare against unions and workers. Free collective bargaining is one of those ways.

There are better ways of solving the pension issue, too. Citing the work of economist Bob Baldwin, the Globe and Mail's Barrie McKenna recently pointed out that there are creative ways of designing pension plans that are neither traditional defined benefit nor defined contribution plans -- ways that can provide greater economic security for younger workers while still containing employer costs and risk.

But the Conservatives are not taking Canada down that road. They want war with labour. And they not only accept that economic inequality will grow -- they are committed to taking actions that will help to spread and deepen it.

So be it. They'll be gone by 2019.

Maybe sooner.