Amidst the continuing collapse of the corporate capitalist financial system, there is now a plot afoot to destroy labour unions in Canada and the United States.
Even as the bailed-out financial institutions in the U.S. scurry to opt out of the government bailout programs rather than accept limits on executive compensation, the governments in both countries are using the auto-sector bailout to justify an assault on what little is left of union power.
And that is bad news for both the middle class and the poor in both countries.
The ludicrous demands Chrysler Canada and the Harper-Ignatieff coalition are making of Canadian autoworkers are a threat to the very survival of all private-sector unions in both Canada and the U.S.
As Linda McQuaig pointed out in her Toronto Star column today, automakers are in trouble around the world. And autoworkers in both Japan and Germany are higher paid than those in Canada and the U.S.
But only in North America are autoworkers being asked to work for far, far less than the decent wages they worked hard to win over decades of struggle.
Yes, North American autoworkers have been well paid in recent decades. And that is something the entire working class should celebrate rather than envying. It’s not the autoworkers’ fault other workers are toiling for much less. In fact, the wages of other workers would generally be much less if not for autoworkers.
That’s because ultimately all employers must compete for the same limited skilled labour force.
If Chrysler Canada and the Harper-Ignatieff get what they are demanding of Canada’s autoworkers, the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) – which is Canada’s most powerful and most progressive private-sector union – could be crippled. And it would have a horrible ripple effect throughout the ranks of both organized labour and unorganized workers.
It is not unusual to hear politicians, journalists, broadcasters and corporate executives whine about unions allegedly having too much power. But nothing could be further from the truth. Without unions, two-thirds of the middle class in both Canada and the U.S. would join the ranks of the poor.
In Canada, without unions there would be no minimum wage, no Canada Pension Plan, no worker’s comp, no employment insurance and no universal health care.
In the U.S., without unions there would be no minimum wage, no Social Security, no worker’s comp, no employment insurance, no Medicare and no Medicaid.
Is that the kind of society North Americans want to live in?
And is Canada a test case for destroying unions in the U.S. as well? Unions may only represent a small minority of workers in either country but they greatly benefit a majority of workers everywhere.
Other workers who are cheering about the dilemma of the autoworkers they envy should really be thinking instead of linking arms in solidarity with the CAW, because whatever hardship falls on Canadian autoworkers, will very quickly fall on all kinds of other workers, too.
It’s not blue-collar workers who should be accepting cutbacks, it’s the executives in Canadian and American boardrooms.