When we are debating how best to build worker power through their unions it is usually in the context of winning demands at the bargaining table. But, under advanced capitalism, union power is mostly measured in terms of how badly we are losing. This is not useful as a metric for discussion of labour law reforms attempting to impose balance in labour relations between unions and capital. If we think of unions as structures of democracy, then we can shift the narrative around power simply to refer to winning or losing the battle for our own democracy. And, democracy, unlike worker power at the bargaining table, is entirely in the hands of workers. Socialists should focus on building democracy in discussion on labour reform. Then, no matter what we are able to win in terms of power at the union's bargaining table or reforms that raise standards for workers outside unions, we are helping to build the socialism we want.
To avoid the need to rebuild our democratic organizations -- and thus waste valuable time -- we must defend our current institutions of democracy. We must defend them even though they can, from time to time, be lead by flawed individuals -- we are human, after all. It is not the people we defend as leadership can and will be replaced, but the institution. This defense is part of the historical fight for our right to practice and perfect our own democracy. (Photo by Randy Colas on Unsplash)
Rising inequality, US anti-union laws crushing organized labour south of the boarder, and the slow unrelenting decline of union density here in Canada has renewed the focus on labour union organizing. The response from the leadership of the movement has been focused – rightly – on changes to law regulating labour unions that make it harder to organize. However, changing labour laws will not undo the slow decline in union density alone. Unions will also have to actually go out and talk to workers, sign them up, establish a local, bargain a first agreement, and enforce those terms.
The response to the rise in the visibility of income and social inequality has meant that the general population is starting to pay attention to this shift and the struggles of precarious workers. However, like any political struggle, the solutions to these struggles differ depending on ones politics and position within the economy.
In Canada, there is a two step process for most workers to form a union. There is a card signing process which acts as a poll asking workers if they want democracy in their workplace. Then, if enough of them do, there is a vote asking those same workers if they want workplace democracy through a union.
With the prospect that the Conservatives could lose this federal election and be replaced by a left-wing NDP government, it is important to start considering the legal changes that should be made to better protect Canadian workers.
Liberal Senators say Bill C-377 is 'one of the worst bills we've ever seen' and have pledged to sit through the summer to try and defeat or delay it. Conservative Senator Hugh Segal has called the private member's bill targeting unions 'immature, ill-conceived and small-minded'. And yet Harper's Conservatives gave the bill its full support, forcing it through the House of Commons and threatening Senators who don't vote for it.
Labour, organized into politically active and democratic unions, is essential to the support for all other social justice movements. It is why the Conservative activists in Canada and around the world are so hostile to them. No matter what nonsensical reason right-wingers put forward, their main reason to attack unions is to undermine the most powerful opposition to their regressive agenda.