By Carmel Smyth
A punitive labour law popular with Tea Party politicians in the southern United States is catching on with many Conservatives in Canada.
Conservatives call it “Right to Work,” a term that irritates working people activists who blame it for significantly cutting wages in states where it has become law.
What usually happens in Canada now is if more than 50% of workers want a union, everyone in the same workplace pays dues, and joins the same union. This helps finance the collective fight to improve working conditions, and build better medical or pension plans, for everyone.
“Right to Work” (RTW) has nothing to do with the right to finding a job. It is a misleading euphemism for a law that means someone in a unionized workplace does NOT have to pay dues or join the union. BUT they are still guaranteed the same pay, and the same benefits that the union negotiates for everyone else who does pay dues.
As you can imagine, this creates animosity among colleagues, and makes it extremely difficult (and expensive) for unions to do their work. But then, that is the point. The only reason the law exists is to make it difficult for unions to help anyone. There is nothing else gained by this incredibly targeted law.
And it works. Unionization in the United States has dropped from over 35% of workers in the ’50s to under12% today, largely because of this type of harassment aimed at labour.
Another nasty side effect that is less known is that wages for EVERYONE in the states with RTW laws are significantly LOWER than elsewhere in the US. Because it seems having unions collectively fight for better pay, increases the pay for everyone, as there is pressure on non-union workplaces to keep up.
Knowing all this, it is scary how enthusiastically a handful of influential Canadian politicians are embracing and promoting this type of anti-labour legislation.
Notably, The Wildrose Party of Alberta, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s new Minister of State for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre, and Ontario Conservative Opposition leader Tim Hudak have been pushing RTW for Canada.
Those of us who understand the potential consequences of such laws are so dismayed at this, that we feel compelled to warn Canadians.
To that end, Ontario’s progressive, public service union (OPSEU) hired a former CBC foreign correspondent Bill Gillespie to head south, and listen to what American workers have to say.
The result is Made in the USA: Tim Hudak’s plans to cut your wages. Watch:
Carmel Smyth is CMG’s National President