Ed Broadbent was a former leader of the federal NDP. This is another critical analyses of the Hargrove's Magna deal pointing out the fatal weaknesses in such a union. It is from the NUPGE website. but it originally appeared in the Globe and Mail.
No place for phony, defanged unions
The right to strike is as important today as it was
when it was won by workers in Oshawa 70 years ago.
By Ed Broadbent
Founding president of Rights and Democracy and former leader of the federal New Democratic Party
In a historic Supreme Court decision last June, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote that it is unions and their power to bargain collectively that enable working people to enhance their "dignity, liberty and autonomy." With this collective power, she said, they gain "some control over a major aspect of their lives, namely their work." Her words were inspiring, precise and truthful.
Buzz Hargrove, president of the Canadian Auto Workers, is now attacking the very foundations of an independent union. He has proposed an agreement with Magna International that denies workers exactly those powers that underpin the right of collective bargaining, namely the right to strike and to elect their own shop stewards. Workers have achieved some control over their lives and places of work precisely because they have won those rights. Without them, in the significant imbalance of power that exists between management and labour, "dignity, liberty and autonomy" become hollow words. Other Commentaries
Mr. Hargrove's proposal eliminates worker-selected shop stewards. Instead, he proposes "employee advocates." Management would play a key role in selecting these "advocates."
The proposal also gives Magna what they want even more: a denial of the right to strike. Having completely defanged the power of working men and women, in language that can only be described as Orwellian doublespeak, Mr. Hargrove actually says his proposal offers "maximum worker participation." It is hard to imagine what "participation" means if it excludes the most basic democratic right to select your own representatives.
Fundamental human rights
It's not an accident that all three components of the International Bill of Human Rights recognize the right to a union. Nor is it insignificant that Canada has signed on to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. By so doing, Canada committed itself to recognize both the right to a union and the right to strike. In international human-rights law, these are as important as other fundamental human rights.
In democratic societies, there are two principal arenas of non-violent conflict over power: the state and the workplace. The international human-rights treaties have brought to the global domain what Western Europe, Canada and the northern United States had already put in place, namely a recognition that independent unions give ordinary men and women an important check on autocratic power in their places of work.
Political democracy entails the right to select or reject one's representatives. It enables us to pursue, share and exercise power in the conflict-laden real world of free citizens. Democracy in the workplace also requires that workers have their own representatives and some real power. Workplace democracy becomes a sham when unions lose their only instruments of power, the right to withdraw their labour and the right to select, without management approval, their workplace representatives.
The great period of peaceful and progressive change affecting millions in the North Atlantic democracies after the Second World War was the product of governments, on the one hand, and independent trade unions, on the other. In addition to progressive income taxes, governments added important social rights (universal pensions, health care, postsecondary education) to our tradition of civil rights. At the same time, the great growth of unions in Europe and North America ensured that both working conditions and shares of income for ordinary people became vastly improved. Having been born in Oshawa in 1936, I consider myself a fortunate beneficiary of the political and workplace struggles of the preceding generation.
The right to strike
The right to strike is important not because it's often used - more than 90 per cent of contract negotiations, in fact, are settled without a strike - but because it gives otherwise defenceless workers the capacity to strike, which conveys to management the message that they must bargain seriously and make a reasonable offer or suffer the consequences. No union deliberately imposes a financial burden sufficient to shut down a company. On the contrary, workers have an interest, which they understand very well, in keeping their jobs in place.
Mr. Hargrove is right to be concerned about the automotive industry. Indeed, the whole manufacturing sector has shed thousands of jobs, while the federal and provincial governments, unlike the Europeans and Japanese, have produced no elements of an industrial strategy. One thing is certain, however. Working people in Canada would respond to imaginative new proposals that could require their co-operation. But, unlike Mr. Hargrove, they should never acquiesce to a plan that would destroy their rights today - and, by extension, those of other workers tomorrow.
Undemocratic regimes have understood very well that independent unions have been a bulwark of democracy, defending not only the rights of their own members but human rights in general. These regimes have established bogus unions without power as a cover for their autocratic rule. Such phony, powerless unions have no place in a democracy.
In her analysis of Chinese court decisions after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, human-rights expert Virginia Leary observed that no academic or student received anything more than a jail sentence. In contrast, 45 workers were executed. Their crime was their demand for independent unions. As she pointed out, workers' rights in any given society are usually a bellwether for rights in general. During the 1990s, as head of Rights and Democracy, I found this to be a reasonable generalization about the state of global human rights. Where workers' rights are weak or non-existent, the same is likely to be true of other rights.
Seventy years ago, striking workers in Oshawa won the right to an independent union. That independence is no less important today, not just for auto workers but for democracy in Canada. NUPGE
(Originally published by the Toronto Globe and Mail on October 30