It is a strange kind of innovation that removes tools that make unions more powerful against the power of corporations such as the right to strike. Innovating by increasing the power of union members are certainly a good idea. The Magna deal hardly does that. As other critics have shown the Magna deal is considerably more undemocratic than standard union operations. You would think that White would surely know that Frank Stronach an opponent of traditional unions would not sign on to the Magna deal unless he thought it was in the interest of his shareholders.
While it is true that other unions also lack the right to strike it is because they are in essential services and hence are by law deprived of that right. To compare this with the Magna case is just goofy. Similarly the claim that unions do at times choose binding arbitration is not a justification for the binding arbitration in the Magna deal. Traditional unions choose to go to binding arbitration. They are not forced to do so from the get go. THe situations are quite different.
White's apologia for his comrade Buzz is not very coherent. Maybe the fact that union representation has been on the decline for years says something about the "innovations" that have been flowing from the increased pressures of globalisation. Business unionism is bound to weaken under global competitive pressures.
THE MAGNA DEAL
TheStar.com | comment | Unions have to innovate to better serve workers
Oct 30, 2007 04:30 AM
A strong union leader must challenge employers to respect workers' rights and treat their employees fairly. But equally important, a strong leader must also challenge our own movement.
Unions can't stay static (employers certainly don't). Unions must always take on new issues, and find new ways of making progress. But recognizing those new realities, developing responses, and leading the movement in new directions is never easy. It often encounters controversy and sometimes division.
I am no stranger to controversy over new strategies and new directions. When I was leader of the Canadian sector of the U.S.-based United Auto Workers, we fought concessions in innovative ways and we had to fight with our own union to do so. In order to make real progress in the future we left the UAW and created a Canadian union, with a much more democratic and fundamentally different structure.
We negotiated agreements in new ways, when it made sense and strengthened our ability to represent workers. For example, in the late 1980s we crafted an agreement at the new CAMI assembly plant in Ingersoll which was radically different from our existing Big Three contracts in many ways – but which has proven immensely successful to the 2,000 people who work there.
Throughout that period and since then many of our decisions and innovations were very controversial in some parts of the labour movement. Yet in retrospect, those innovations were the right thing to do.
Given this history, I am not surprised by the controversy and – in some circles – criticism that has greeted my union's effort to build a new collective bargaining relationship with Magna International. However, I am surprised and disappointed by the arrogant tone of many of the critics. They forget and show no respect for Magna workers. It is they, not armchair critics or academics, who will make the final decision whether or not to approve this arrangement.
Many aspects of the CAW-Magna deal are fully consistent with standard union practice. CAW members at Magna will have a quality contract. Changes to that contract are negotiated every three years, and ratified by secret ballot. The contract is enforced by a dispute-settlement system that includes, as a last step, binding arbitration. Members get annual wage increases and high-quality benefits. They will be served by full-time local representatives, and benefit from the resources and programs of the national union.
This possible extension of fundamental collective bargaining rights to as many as 18,000 new members, at Canada's largest automotive company, would be very beneficial for the workers, the CAW and the labour movement. It occurs at a time when some other auto parts employers are responding to the industry's current crisis with an attack on workers' wages and benefits that is unprecedented – worse than I ever experienced in the 1980s.
But for Magna to accept these union rights, without opposing the union as other employers have fiercely done, some modifications were made. Most important, contract disputes are referred to binding final-offer arbitration instead of work stoppages.
Critics have attacked this as a sell-out that will undermine the whole labour movement. What nonsense. There are hundreds of thousands of workers – most, but not all, in the public sector – who do not have the legal right to strike, including 30,000 CAW members. Did those unions just throw up their hands and say, "Since we don't have the right to strike, we might as well give up"? No, they did not. Important gains have been and will continue to be made by those members and their unions.
Some bargaining units have even voluntarily accepted binding arbitration instead of work stoppages without being compelled by law. And elsewhere, where thousands of jobs have been lost, work stoppages are almost ineffective because of economic circumstances.
Unionization in the private sector has been slipping steadily for a quarter-century, down to around 17 per cent today. Strike frequency is a tiny fraction of the 1970s levels.
I think it is important to keep finding new strategies and innovations to make a positive difference in workers' lives, as long as workers have the ultimate say in determining whether they accept the union and the collective agreement, as they do in the CAW-Magna agreement.
When I had the privilege of being president of CAW, we challenged ourselves to build a new union that would do things differently than when we belonged to the U.S.-based UAW. Under the current leadership, the courage to challenge the status quo by new and sometimes controversial decisions is completely within the tradition of our union.
Bob White was founding president of the CAW, and is also past president of the Canadian Labour Congress.