Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Unions' Self-Inflicted Problems

Although I spend most of my blogging time on my other site, Politics and Its Discontents, I still occasionally post here, sometimes cross-posting on both blogs. the following is one I posted today on my other site, but I feel it does have some relevance both to education and to the promotion of critical thinking skills:

Allow me to be unequivocal from the start: I am a strong believer in unions as virtually the only effective means of countering the depredations that employers would inflict upon their workers if given the opportunity. However, I also believe that in some ways, unions are their own worst enemies, an opinion I formed as a member of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation during my teaching career.

Like many if not most institutions, unions have become highly political in both their structure and their treatment of members. My own experience with my former union was that they had little time or respect for those, like me, who expressed opinions that challenged their positions, especially since I was not a member of the executive. I suspect it is this refusal to both respect and to cultivate the 'ordinary' union member that poses a threat to the union movement's future greater than any that might emerge from so-called 'right-to-work' legislation that is becoming increasingly popular in the United States.

I was prompted to reflect on the topic this morning during breakfast as I read The Toronto Star. A story entitled Construction union pays $10 million to buy off employees reveals a curious kind of union-busting tactic within a union framework that has been employed by the Labourers’ International Union of North America in Toronto.

The first four paragraphs of the story read as follows:

The continent’s biggest construction local is spending more than $10 million to muscle out its own staff and their new union.

In a twist to the explosive political infighting that occasionally flares up in the labour movement, the Toronto-based Labourers’ International Union of North America Local 183 is buying out about 80 employees with lucrative financial packages after they joined another union.

Several insiders say the move will effectively snuff out the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 2, which represents Local 183 staff, because replacement members won’t have any allegiances and will eventually decertify it.

“It’s disgusting what Local 183 has done to get rid of them and the union,” one insider said Tuesday. “It’s a good example for non-union companies. If you don’t want a union, just buy off the employees.”

The rest of the story describes the political machinations within the local and how the staff joined a rival union to try to circumvent revenge firings that regularly ensue when staff has backed the wrong candidates for union elections. Indeed, there is even a tactic discussed in the story reminiscent of the show-trials popularized by Joseph Stalin during the 1930's.

I hope you will read the entire article to get the full flavor of union politics.

No comments: