Monday, September 24, 2012

Unions in a Democratic Society

A Response to the Consultation Paper on the Renewal of Labour Legislation in Saskatchewan

By Christopher Schenk

Labour law changes the Saskatchewan government is considering would result in lower wages, less workplace democracy and greater inequality, says a new report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).  The research was commissioned by the National Union of Public and General Employees.Regina —The Saskatchewan government’s contemplated changes to labour legislation as outlined in the Consultation Paper on the Renewal of Labour Legislation in Saskatchewan will have the perverse effect of lowering wages, undermining workplace democracy and contributing to worsening inequality in Saskatchewan, says a report released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).

With Conservative parties in several provinces favouring similar legislation, Saskatchewan has become the frontline in the battle to maintain historic labour rights. Unions in a Democratic Society: A Response to the Consultation Paper on the Renewal of Labour Legislation in Saskatchewan by Christopher Schenk, provides a critical review of the Consultation Paper’s orientation, namely its lack of recognition of the role of labour rights in advancing democracy, equality and economic justice. It also explores how the Consultation Paper fails to understand the historical context and principles behind several key features of the Canadian industrial relations system.

The following provides a few highlights from the report:
  • In most cases, unions are associated not only with improved efficiency but with reducing earnings inequality and contributing to economic democracy.
  • A core principle of Canadian labour relations and the Rand formula is the notion that everybody benefits and so everybody pays. Changes to this provision would mean the end of financial security for labour and a return to workplace conflict and uncertainty for employers.
  • Compulsory union dues should be seen as analogous to taxation. There is no distinction in principle between our overall system of government and the role of taxation within it and the mini-democracy of the workplace.
  • The democratic majority principle applies to both unions and government; if a majority of employees want a union they can vote for one under government supervision, have it certified, and everyone pays dues for the associated benefits. If a majority of citizens want democratic government they can elect one and everyone has to pay taxes for the consequent services. In both cases, those who do not support the policies and priorities of office holders have the option to maintain their views and run for office in the next election.
  • The attempt to distinguish between the economic and political use of union funds rests on the misguided premise that unions can represent the economic interests of workers effectively without engaging in any political activity.
  • American states that have adopted similar “Right-to-Work” (RTW) legislation earn $1,500.00 less annually than workers in free-bargaining states and have lower rates of employee-sponsored health and pension benefits.
  • Globalization has largely rendered RTW laws impotent. Today companies look offshore for cheaper labour costs. No matter how much wages are lowered in North America, there is always a cheaper jurisdiction somewhere else.
  • There is a virtual consensus that unions increase equality in contemporary society. The higher the rate of unionization, the more equality one finds in a society; the lower the level of unionization, the higher the level of inequality.
  • Approximately 15% of Canada’s growth in inequality during the 1980s and ‘90s can be attributed to declining unionization.
“In a period of widening inequality, restrictive labour laws are blatantly unnecessary and regressive. Saskatchewan and the rest of Canada need to move away from austerity policies and weak economic recovery and toward environmentally sustainable economic growth that allows those who need and want to work to do so in a more democratic, equitable society. Unionization contributes to this end and labour laws should respond accordingly,” concludes Schenk.

View full report: Unions in a Democratic Society: A Response to the Consultation Paper on the Renewal of Labour Legislation in Saskatchewan - Christopher Schenk

The full report is also available on the CCPA website:

For more information contact Kerri-Anne Finn, CCPA Senior Communications Officer, at 613-563-1341 x306, 613-266-9491, or

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