rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Tim Hudak looks to import anti-union politics from south of the border

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

Photo: Ontario Chamber of Commerce / flickr, Creative Commons

Tim Hudak recently turned to prominent Republican lobbying firm Greener and Hook for direction. It's a fitting move as the Progressive Conservatives most significant policy proposal comes straight out of the U.S. Right's empower big business and attack your opponents playbook.

Hudak has made it clear that if he wins the next provincial election he plans to make it illegal for employers and employees to agree to have union dues automatically deducted from every workers' paycheck. A Progressive Conservative policy paper released last summer says, "No clauses in any provincial legislation, regulation or collective agreement should require a worker to become a member of a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment."

Apparently, attacking unions' financial security plays well among the wealthy set. At an event that raised $2.1 million for the Party three weeks ago Hudak declared: "We will modernize our labour laws so that no worker will be forced to join a union as a condition for taking a job."

But, there's nothing modern about the type of legislation he's proposing. In fact, the movement’s roots are to be found in the racist backlash to U.S. president Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal labour legislation of the mid-1930s. While many businesses were none too pleased with this move to grant U.S. unions legislative standing, Southern segregationists were particularly appalled as they hated the way unions promoted worker solidarity across racial lines.

Prominent Texas oil lobbyist Vance Muse expressed the racist outrage at New Deal labour reforms when he said, "From now on, white women and white men will be forced into [labour] organizations with black African apes whom they will have to call 'brother' or lose their jobs."

In a bid to weaken labour law Muse spearheaded a movement demanding the "right to work." What he meant was the right to a job at a unionized workplace without having to join (or pay dues to) an organization that included black people. 

After post-World War II legislative changes granted states the ability to opt out of New Deal labour reforms, the move to outlaw union dues check off spread through the Jim Crow South. This prompted Martin Luther King to declare in 1961: "In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as 'right to work.' It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights."

While the movements racist beginnings have faded far into the background, banning automatic union dues check off has grown among US Republicans. In a major push into the former heartland of U.S. unionism, last year Michigan and Indiana became the first mid-Western U.S. states to outlaw the practice. (But, unions still have to represent all employees, including those who don't pay dues.)

The Republican Right calls this legislation "right to work" laws even though they in no way guarantee anyone a job. In response, many Americans, including President Barrack Obama, have called them "right-to-work for less money" laws. Studies show that U.S. "right-to-work" laws lead to lower wages, more dangerous workplaces and reduced rates of employer-sponsored pensions for all of a State's workforce.

Not wanting to be too closely identified with the Republican Right, Hudak's team has come up with a different, though similarly disingenuous, label. They've dubbed their proposal "worker choice reforms." Yet, in Ontarioworkers must vote to include universal union dues check off in their collective agreement so dues payment is no more 'forced' on workers than other benefits and wages as well as responsibilities contained in their collective agreement.

More generally, unions are democratic organizations. By law, a workplace only becomes unionized when more than 50 percent of employees in the bargaining unit vote in favour of doing so.

Outlawing automatic dues check off provisions is simply a way to weaken unions by encouraging individual workers to 'free-load' on their colleagues. Currently, all workers who benefit from the terms of a collective agreement pay dues and since unions are legally obligated to represent all employees equitably this seems reasonable.

While Hudak claims to be promoting "worker choice”, attacking unions' financial security is designed to weaken a civil society critic and empower big business. I'd bet Hudak's Republican lobbying firm knows a little something about that.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.