Unions And Democracy

Why is it that we as a society (especially in Western culture) will all agree that a democracy is far better than communism or a dictatorship, but when it comes to union vs. non-union it is anything but unanimous?

Like a democracy a union gives the people a voice.

If you speak out against safety or environmental concerns in the non-union world, like a dictatorship, there is a good chance you will no longer be around.

Both unions and democracies promote fairness and equality. Non-union and dictatorships tend to have much larger income gaps between the worker and executives.

Unions go hand in hand with democracy and freedom yet still a large portion of our population have been led to believe they are evil. Let’s look at some of the misconceptions commonly brought up against unions.

Union workers are lazy

If all people from Ireland have red hair, and everyone in the Netherlands love riding bikes then I guess every Canadian lives in an igloo and all union workers are lazy. It’s just one more stereotype that has been exaggerated far too often. It is true that sometimes certain individuals take advantage of the system and get away with laziness in the union workplace but that doesn’t mean that all union workers are lazy. The other thing to consider is that the employer has the right and ability to manage these freeloaders. When a workplace is unionized, it does not mean the workers are taking over and can do whatever they like. It simply means the employer will now have to work with the union and manage in a different way. Maybe in a non-union workplace, if an employee makes a mistake costing the company money, they could be fired on the spot. In a union environment they would have to be reminded of the expectations on the first offence and progressive discipline would have to be followed before they could be fired. Unions are not taking away the companies right to manage, they are just ensuring the employees are being managed in a fair and respectful manner. Take Costco for an example. They have a reputation for paying their unionized workforce quite well and have excellent employee relations. From what I’ve seen, Costco employees are not lazy in the least. They seem well managed and pleasant to deal with. Union or non-union, when a workplace is full of lazy ungrateful people with bad attitudes, the employer has to share the blame for their lack of effective management.

Unions are fundamentally non democratic

I read this one in an article the other day and actually did “lol”. The argument is that work places that have a union, force you to become a member and pay dues just to work there. It is not a choice and even if you do not believe in union values, you still have to join the union if you want the job. First of all, I just flip this argument on its head and say the employees have democratically decided to unionize. It was not forced, it was a decision made among everyone and even if some people are not entirely happy with the union environment they go down the path of consensus, because that’s what a democracy is. This argument could easily be tried the same way with the free world. Here in Canada, we have, over many years, democratically formed our laws and regulations. This argument could say, “Well if the free world really is free, I should be able to immigrate to Canada and drive my car 180 kph through town.” No.  We have democratically decided to create law and order which, by the way, includes the right to unionize.

Unions are no longer effective

When’s the last time you heard of a union walking off the job to protect a union broster? It doesn’t really happen anymore. Almost every union contract in Canada now states that there will be no walkout, sit down, slowdown, OT ban or any other demonstration of any kind through the duration of this contract. That language really does tie our hands from acting the way unions did in the past. If a worker was being taken advantage of and the company would not make things right, production would stop and things would get worked out very quickly. But just because we can’t walk off the job to protect our rights does not mean unions are ineffective; it just means we have to adapt to a new way of operating. The new way is nowhere near as dramatic or fast as a good old “walk out” but just like how I wrote earlier about how the companies need to learn to manage their unionized workforce efficiently; unions need to learn how to exercise their rights efficiently. These rights include filing grievances, meeting with company reps to come up with solutions and taking issues to arbitration if necessary. It is a long frustrating ordeal that is most definitely not glamorous but as we have just seen with the BC teachers’ federation, if the process is taken seriously and the time and patience is put in, we can be successful.

Unions are there for the betterment of society. They are not trying to get filthy rich of the backs of someone else, or take away your rights for their benefit. There are problems with unions that need to be resolved, but when it comes right down to it, we have a choice. Are we going to support the union movement in an effort to fix these issues and benefit society as a whole, or are we going to throw in the towel, hand over our rights to the corporations and hope they will take care of us?

I choose union.

Mike McKenzie

Right now we are competing with third world labor and the only winners in this game are the 1% at the top: the corporations and the billionaires. Social media has made the world a tiny flat place with no borders. We need to take advantage of this to end the competition and join together regardless of race, religion or geographical location. Our differences make us awesome and our unified voice will destroy inequality. The name “Riley” means valiant and courageous, it came from a Viking war hero who gave his life fighting for his community. The Riley Times will be the platform that connects us all together with security and democracy to protect our environment and employment. All of this is much easier said in one short phrase, there is “SAFETY n NUMBERS”.

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