After two weeks with my head in transcripts of the legislative assembly, I’ve come up for air to find that the Canadian Association of Financial Officers (a union) has issued a report examining “whether unions are still the same positive engine for social change that they once were” (p. 2).
There is nothing particularly Earth-shattering in this report, reflecting its fairly mainstream assumptions about industrial relations and the economy. But it does provide a useful (and current) rebuttal to rightist claims that trade unions are somehow holding back Canada’s economic performance.
The most useful point made this report is that the current “system” of worker rights and standards is not fixed. Rather, the “system” reflects a series of historical contingencies—accommodations made by employers and the state in exchange for stability and legitimacy—facilitated by workers (via unions) exerting political and economic.
Absent trade unions, the powerful would have significantly greater opportunity to alter working conditions we now deem to be “normal” in a manner that would advantage the wealthy and disadvantage most workers.
-- Bob Barnetson