by David Anderson
On June 27th, 2022, the Deputy Prime Minister, Chrystia Freeland spoke at the 13th Teamsters Canada Convention. Her remarks included the need for and promotion of “strong unions” in Canada. I agree, with certain caveats.
As Thomas Jefferson once famously said, “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” So too is the price of good and effective union representation.
The necessity of a unionized workplace is a hotly debated topic with valid arguments supporting and opposing it. The debate’s nuance pivots upon the concept of a balanced workplace, let’s explore this idea.
Capitalism is the greatest economic system the world has known. Despite its shortcomings, as no system is perfect, it has created more wealth and raised the standard of living like no other.
At its core, pure capitalism is a survival of the fittest test, make a profit or cease to exist. Within that truth, extraction of the most whilst providing the least is the essence of profit. This applies every bit as much to the workforce as it does to the consumer or raw material supplier.
Left unchecked, capitalism becomes a black hole, consuming and growing to gargantuan proportions. It looses any sense of care for the consumer and employee alike. Clever ad campaigns and legal jargon cloud this truth, but it remains.
Trade unionism was born out of this unchecked growth, purposefully, deliberately, and sometimes forcibly, bringing balance to the corporate desire for more.
On paper, this need is obvious; the equation must be balanced providing relative peace in the workforce. The caveats that I caution with is: trade unions are administered by imperfect people having the same ego’s, selfishness and imperfections as the corporate master, government official or the employee themselves.
These flaws are unavoidable and simultaneously beneficial. Inexorable because human nature is flawed, honesty will expose this constant, thereby illuminating a path for use beyond evil. Beneficial due to the resistance provided. If fought against, it will develop the altruistic qualities inherent to all people. Without the resistance, the growth is impossible.
The idea of a “strong union” is one that is eternally vigilant to its purpose: to represent the worker with the full weight of collectivity, legislation, bargaining, and unwavering defense of the rights and betterment of the workforce. Historically, this has provided great gains for the quality, safety and remuneration of modern workers. A large majority of the jurisprudence and benefits enjoyed today are long standing victories that the modern union representative simply hangs their hat on.
Regardless, without the trade union, an expedient regression would transpire in working people’s lives because of the law of greed and extraction: take the most, give the least.
No system is without unintended consequences. Working as a collective with paid representation through the deduction of dues produces impediments as well as benefits.
Collective representation affords access to services advancing and defending the needs of the individual within the collective, unavailable singularly. The cost of legal counsel alone to utilize jurisprudence in defense rights is prohibitive to most. Collective bargaining also routinely produces better wages and working conditions than their non-union counterparts.
The non-union workplace has and does benefit greatly from the bygone efforts of unionists, whether admission is present or not.
Staunch opposition to unionization cites the ability of the individual to stand on their own two feet, reaping the rewards of their own efforts unencumbered by the flaws of others. There is truth to this. However, no individual can resist the pressure the corporation exerts. At the end of the day, all workers are simply parts in a grander machine, easily replaceable without remorse.
The corporation’s pockets will always be deeper than any one person’s, placing the likelihood of victory predominantly in the company’s realm.
Another presented barrier is a form of Stockholm Syndrome, whereby people develop sympathies for and defend their captors or abusers. That may sound harsh, but again, left unchecked, the darker side of human nature, and therefore the corporate culture, will prevail. The larger the system, the greater the likelihood of this occurring.
The professional union representative should be a fighter, an unwavering, unselfish defender. This person would accept the untruth of the world as unavoidable, thus honing their powers of perception, skepticism, and pushback on an ever encroaching system of control and self importance.
Someone who comes out of the ranks obtaining one of the most privileged positions in the Canadian workforce needs to work doubly hard on character maintenance and skills development. The field they enter is populated by cunning strategists, skilled manipulators, and the ever-present specter of corruption.
I’m sure many readers recant their own stories of representative failure, sadly this is true. As a dues-paying member, there is an internal balance needing to be struck between the accountability to the membership versus the plenary powers of representation. This requires education and vigilance on the part of the dues-paying member. Without it, the possibility of fiduciary, legal, or moral failure on the part of the professional representative increases exponentially.
There are systems accessible to assist in this accountability. Duty of fair representation complaints are possible, albeit negligible in their historical success due to the remarkably low bar representation is required to meet. Ultimately, the best way to ensure your representation is performing as designed is to be educated and involved in the law and process.
This is the counterbalance system called unionization. It is an imperfect system, as all are, but like capitalism, it is the best system out there and must be vehemently protected.
David Anderson has worked as a Truck Driver, Chef, Pastor, Counsellor, and in Program Development in the recovery community. Now he works to improve the quality of life through truth; he provides education and skills training in common sense, personal responsibility, quality decision-making skills and emotional management. David hopes Canada returns to sanity before the pending economic truth causes BC to be sold to China to cover the foreign-owned debt.