Monday, December 16, 2013

Political donations as a form of job action?

There was an interesting op-ed in the Edmonton Journal this weekend by an Alberta doctor, suggesting that Alberta unions could respond to Conservative legislation like Bills 45 and 46 by regularly encouraging their members to make donations to opposition political parties.

Calling such action a “virtual strike”, Dr. Lloyd Maybaum writes:
Undermining the basic democratic principles of free speech and the right to assembly calls for drastic action. If the entire Alberta Federation of Labour, all 145,000 members, joined in a single virtual strike day, the $14.5 million donated would change the face of union negotiations and political process, not only in this province but across the country. 
Although it may be forbidden for unions to use the word ‘strike,’ whether it is called a virtual strike day, a political action day or Operation Nightingale, if the Alberta government wants to play hardball, a virtual strike will be a grand slam home run for the union movement.
My own sense of things is unions need both political and legal strategies to respond to Bills 45 and 46. As a colleague related at a holiday party, the labour movement in Alberta requires a government tolerant of organized labour in order to survive. Neither the Conservatives nor the Wild Rose really fit the bill.

Yet, the absence of cooperation among the centre-left (ND, Liberal, Alberta Party, Greens) effectively precludes electoral success. Further, many Alberta trade union members are themselves conservative. The upshot is that an ABC (anybody but conservative) approach is the most viable strategy to break the Tory stranglehold on public policy in Alberta--policy which is now aggressively anti-union.

Given that state of affairs, politically punishing the Conservatives (who seem to be facing a revenue problem themselves) by arming their opponents may be a useful tactic. This may force a re-evaluation of the utility of anti-union policies, it may trigger political engagement by individuals. and it may result in a widening of the political discourse in Alberta.

Yes, it is a bit odious that the only way individual’s can gain decent public policy is to “buy” it via political donations. But if that is the game (and I think it is in Alberta), organized labour and workers more generally ought to figure out how to play and win the game.

-- Bob Barnetson

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