Nothing sets such stern limits on the liberty of the citizen as a total absence of money.
John Kenneth Galbraith
In 1994, all large American companies enjoyed an 11 per cent increase in profits. That same year they eliminated 516,000 jobs. The largest downsizes were effected by companies like Mobil, Procter & Gamble and American Home Products that achieved the largest increases in profits.
Richard Gwyn, Toronto Star, January 5, 1996
For a good portion of my stint as a municipal civil servant, I was grievance officer or negotiating committee member for CUPE Local 907. In addition to these cheerless and thankless tasks, my dues supported local delegates at an endless round of conventions, workshops and seminars.
Between times, like my ‘brothers and sisters’ everywhere, I indulged in the 'evil management' vs. 'good of the union' head game.
The administrative staffers we fancied we were going toe-to-toe with were having an even better time. Without exception, they dismissed unionists as boorish people given to primitive gesticulations, carping and featherbedding. This jaundiced view, however, did not prevent our percentage-based settlements from being translated across the union – management divide and applied to their already larger salaries – which grew larger still by leaps and bounds
In spite of my repeated suggestions that we negotiate straight, across the board sums, I must report that the CUPE rank and file never faltered in their efforts to achieve equity by getting as much as they could for themselves every step of the way!
'Working class' populations must grasp the nettle: as presently constituted, the trade union movement cannot cope with automation, off-shore labour and neo-conservative rhetoric trading upon the size of the public debt.
Indeed, administrators and politicians are doubtlessly glad to have unionized workplaces in place these days. Unions are a wonderfully convenient scapegoat to blame for every economic reversal. And when these reversals require downsizing and outsourcing, contracts and negotiating committees are on hand to deliver the news to their often startled and dumbfounded members.
If unionists wish to secure a future — and continue as a de facto benchmark benefiting both non-unionized workers — they must invent new strategies. They could begin by discarding their hierarchical structure in favour of community based networks of union locals. Then they should finish the long overdue business of unionizing the rest of their members' economic needs.
After discarding provincial and national affiliations, unions could amalgamate 'horizontally' with sister locals in the same region. For example, Local 907 (no longer CUPE Local 907) could join with other locals in the area and form something that might be called: The Hastings County Regional Union.
Such affiliations would facilitate locals supporting one another in new and exciting ways.
Along with revitalized picket-line tactics, regionally-affiliated union locals would enjoy political and economic leverage. They could lobby municipal and provincial politicians in ridings wherein members vote, boycott corporations, engage in mutual aid, form educational links with industry and schools and organize part-time workers... a population, in Canada alone, of about one million.
More importantly, the locals comprising regional unions could act as bargaining agents for their own members and other consumers, including the retired, the unemployed and those on welfare. For decades, the vertical affiliation model has reduced unionists to toothless solidarity with 'sister locals' in remote places.
Finally, and more than a little ironically, widely achieved regional unionism would dissolve many difficulties afflicting industrialized nations. Corporate and political decisions are presently driven by micro-economic calculations recommending automation, relocation or off-shore production – as if domestic markets would remain stable even so, as if others were not indulging similar computations. When many corporations make such decisions, employments vanish or are downgraded, demand languishes and the bottom-line benefits of cheaper production disappear.
Enhanced labour unionism, coordinated consumer bargaining, the capacity for effective boycotts ... would remind corporations hoping to service communities from abroad, or out of the productions of robots, of the importance of local well-being.
If labor unions do not implement such measures, corporations and neo-conservative politicians will continue to make destructive decisions regarding international trade, off-shore productions and automation. Technology and political alliances cannot be prevented from changing. The challenge facing people on the ground is to invent strategies translating these technologies and the global economy into distributed well-being.
The evolution of unionism into a community-based resource for workers and consumers would be an important beginning.