The Future of Labour in Canada

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In most media circles, the title ‘The Future of Labour in Canada’ is almost always asked as a question and not as a statement:  ‘what’s the future of labour in Canada?’

While I’m not a labour expert, I’m more optimistic and I don’t see it as a question.  It’s an opportunity.

It won’t take Harper and the rest of the country’s neo-cons to destroy every facet of organized labour in this country and we’ll all be poorer as a result.

Weekend work, no benefits, rental housing instead of ownership are just a few simple examples of what an economy without basic rights to earn just a little bit more holds for all of us if we don’t start to take action in this country.

For the record, I’m not a unionist, but every day, I enjoy the contributions that folks on the line have made over time towards my lifestyle and I do try – in my own little way – to thank them whenever I can.

This poll on rabble.ca asking what labourers should do provoked this blog entry.  Feel free to answer the poll yourself, but my preference is this suggestion:  occupy the plant.

While I know it’s not a realistic solution, we have to remind ourselves that Canadians have invested in this plant, the City of London has made commitments towards it and by definition (admittedly, a thin one) and one could argue that we own that plant.  It’s ours, we should occupy it and we should kick Caterpillar out of this country.

Again, it’s very unlikely that this will happen.  Our government, like or not, doesn’t support this and would sooner send in riot police to protect the plant before acting as moderator to a potentially awful situation for the City of London.

It speaks to a bigger consideration when it comes to the future of labour in Canada.

Historically, most labour organizations have made significant advances when it comes to their own personal gains, but we’re about to witness the evolution – forced for sure – of Canada’s labour movement.

First, take the idea of a union out of the equation.  For now.

All of us need to ask ourselves what options exist for Canadians to make a better living, assuming for a moment, that unions don’t exist.

In a classic capitalist scenario, there’s stuff like basic wage rates, benefits and even stock options for a lucky few, but when we’re talking about people working for massive international organizations like Costco or WalMart, those examples just become ridiculous.  There’s no way ‘Joe 6-pack’ or ‘Sally Single Mom’ will ever have any leverage over these kinds of institutions.

Second, cut the big companies out.  No, not in a violent, vendictive kind of way.

We need to decide that it’s time to shift our economic fortunes towards people that matter and the only way we’re going to do this is if we truly understand who’s local and who’s not.  We have to turn our back on the bigger forces of globalization and find ways to enjoy and support the undercurrents.

Third, all of us need to consider and pursue a different business model:  the co-op.

2012 will be the ‘Year of Austerity’ brought to us by the likes of Rob Ford and Stephen Harper, but they’ll ‘discover’ that there is no ‘gravy train’ and will have to make draconian cuts once they’ve pretended they’ve lifted a few rocks called ‘efficiencies’.  The resulting insults to all Canadians who have relinquished control to these liars will hopefully incite some response, but that response will be weak and will not have the impact needed to alert Canadians that our standard of living is about to drop down a deep shit hole.

2012 is also the International Year of the Co-op.  For those who haven’t heard of this business structure, a co-op is essentially a worker owned, typically local organization that earns and keeps revenue locally.

It is jointly owned and democratically controlled.

And co-ops offer the only hope for Canada’s labour movement.

There’s no choice.  The age of animosity must come to an end and the age of ownership must begin.  Labour has no choice but to adapt.

Finally, the voice of labour – the NDP – must adapt as well.  The fortunes of the NDP will quickly dry up when Harper and Ford and others kill unions.  Relying on a dwindling base is foolhardy, at best.  Becoming a central force behind the growth of co-ops in Canada will ensure longevity and loyalty from those who’s fortunes rely on strong, local economies.

The NDP could add co-ops in a productive way to their platform:

  • Create favourable tax status considerations for new co-ops, including reductions in co-op tax rates and the tax on transfers to owners (similar to preferential dividend policies)
  • Allow Canadians to add co-ops as investments to their RRSPs
  • End preferential tax policies for larger, non-co-op corporations (eg. WalMart and so on) and increase their tax rates
  • Begin a national education campaign addressing these fundamental opportunities

I’m sure there are lots more options. We just have to work together.

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