THE BLOG
12/20/2013 05:05 EST | Updated 02/19/2014 05:59 EST

Who Really Represents Workers?

"Pick your battles" is a familiar refrain for anyone involved in politics, advocacy or any endeavour wherein opposing points of view will be competing for public attention. Most organizations will review issues and determine which are critical and which are not, and then fight for the most precious while conceding that others are perhaps not as important.

"Pick your battles" is a familiar refrain for anyone involved in politics, advocacy or any endeavour wherein opposing points of view will be competing for public attention. Most organizations will review issues and determine which are critical and which are not, and then fight for the most precious while conceding that others are perhaps not as important.

That is not the case with the labour movement in Canada. In recent months labour leaders have labelled every single policy at the federal and provincial level that sought to reform labour laws as a death blow. Proposed new financial reporting requirements for unions? That will kill the labour movement. Secret ballot voting for union certification in the public sector? That too will kill unions. Allowing unionized Canadians to opt out of the portion of their dues that funds political and social causes? Add it to the list of fatal blows -- along with increased penalties in Alberta for illegal strikes, the federal budget implementation legislation, open tendering of public sector contracts, and on and on.

It is not tenable for labour leaders to oppose every single reform measure, as if laws governing unions should be frozen in time. In addition, when campaigning against these bills labour leaders use inflammatory rhetoric suggesting supporters of reform are anti-worker or anti-middle class.

In reality, much of the labour reform being discussed is supported by the general public and, more importantly, union members. Take, for example, a private members bill at the federal level that would require unions to adopt financial transparency standards that already exist in other developed countries. Union leaders oppose it, but according to a 2011 poll conducted by Nanos Research, some 83 per cent of Canadians and 86 per cent of union members believe labour leaders should be required to disclose some basic financial information annually in exchange for their de-facto taxation power over unionized workers.

Another federal private members bill would require secret ballot votes for union certification in the public sector. The heads of Unifor and the Canadian Labour Congress oppose it, but a Leger Marketing poll found 80 per cent of workers support secret ballot votes on certification.

On the issue of mandatory union dues being used to fund a variety of political and social causes that have nothing do to with collective bargaining, union leaders again oppose any change. However, a Nanos/Labour Watch survey found that a large proportion of Canadians who pay union dues disagree with that money being used to contribute to political attack ads (72 per cent), political parties (67% per cent) or advocacy groups (63 per cent).

Ultimately we have a situation in Canada wherein union leaders are rejecting any suggestion that any aspect of labour laws be changed while demonizing anyone who suggests the same, even though their own members support reform.

That demonstrates that it is the politicians supporting reform efforts that are representing the true interests of workers and the general public, not the labour leaders. That being the case, one can understand why labour leaders are so fearful. Current laws give those leaders all the power, whereas the reforms mentioned above empower rank-and-file union members. Perhaps that explains the siege mentality currently forcing labour leaders to oppose all effort at reform.