Ottawa – February 7, 2013 – Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre in his recent article “Unions ignore the Rand Formula”, published in the Feb. 6 issue of the Financial Post, demonstrates a very myopic view of the Rand Formula and limited understanding of the important role the labour movement plays in Canadian society.
It is misleading for Mr. Poilievre to claim as truth that “union leaders actually don’t like the Rand formula.” Without offering any proof that he as actually spoken to a single union leader – or for that matter a union member – Mr. Poilievre’s claim is baseless.
It is true that for a union the ability to participate in collective bargaining is linked to the principle of the Rand formula. The union is responsible for every member and if every member reaps the benefit of the union’s accomplishments at the bargaining table and elsewhere, then every member should contribute equally. There should be no free riders. Supreme Court Justice Ivan Rand came to this sensible realization in 1946 while settling a strike between the Ford Motor Company and its workers.
If one looks at the terms of the award in Justice Rand’s decision, he or she will see that it provided for a compulsory check-off system of union dues for general union purposes, which is contrary to what Mr. Poilivere asserts.
Mr. Poilievre in his argument around the Rand formula seems to be stuck in the 1940s and does not take into account how the role of unions in defending the memberships’ wages and working condition is increasingly undermined by global economic changes such as the ability of companies to move across borders and the willingness of various governments (including the agenda of the Harper government, which Mr. Poilievre serves) to pass laws suspending the rights of workers to bargain and to strike. These changes make it necessary for unions to become politically engaged to protect their members and their families.
There’s an old saying that unions can’t ignore politics because politics doesn’t ignore unions. For unions and the members they serve, nothing is achieved at the bargaining table that cannot be taken away legislatively whether through deregulation, privatization, free trade or direct political attacks. Case in point is the Alabama-style rhetoric coming from Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak about right to work for less legislation, and another is the Harper government’s blatant disregard for civil rights by using the state to quash the collective bargaining rights of Air Canada, Canada Post and CP rail employees. For the people at Canada Post, the back to work legislation imposed by the Mr. Poilievre’s Conservatives stipulated wages that were lower than their employer’s worst offer.
Instead of attacking labour organizations and their members, politicians such as Mr. Poilievre, Mr. Hudak and Mr. Harper should reflect upon the vital role unions play in our society. Unions are the premier institutions of civil society, promoting democracy in the workplace, economic and social justice and equality. They are organizations for winning rights and vehicles for exercising those rights. They are schools for democracy where workers learn they have a right to participate in decisions that affect them and their communities.
One of the most important roles unions play in today’s society is fighting the growing inequality. There’s a strong and well-documented link between declining unionization and growing inequality. The International Monetary Fund and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have both confirmed that broadly-based collective bargaining is the best mechanism to build the middle-class. In short, when workers, through their unions, are able to bargain freely for decent wages, benefits and pensions, they engage in a process that benefits society as a whole.
Mr. Poilievre fails to recognize that unions are democratic institutions. From voting on who leads the union, to collective bargaining settlements, to taking some form of political action, all decisions are made democratically through the participation of union members.
Former US president Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “It is one of the characteristics of a free and democratic nation that it have free and independent labour unions.” Perhaps Mr. Poilivere should take President Roosevelt’s advice to heart and become a voice for democracy instead of trying to tear it down.