Martin Luther King

Happy Labour Day! Get ready for a propaganda onslaught against the rights of Canadian working people by “business federations,” “taxpayer groups,” “economic think tanks” and other fake-grassroots weeds cultivated in the corporate grow-ops of the “conservative movement.”

All the signs are there. It shouldn’t take the Oracle at Delphi to put together what they mean.

For example, moments before Labour Day, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business published the results of a “survey” purporting to show high support for U.S.-style “right-to-work” legislation in Canada.

The CFIB is pure AstroTurf. It’s a fake-grassroots group that no more represents Canadian small businesses people than the Canadian Taxpayers Federation represents taxpayers. If they dispute such views, these groups should provide copies of their membership lists and funding sources. In the mean time, take their pronouncements with the appropriate grain of non-iodized salt from a non-union salt mine.

Indeed, these groups and the characters that run them are virtually interchangeable. For example, Danielle Smith, now leader of Alberta’s Wildrose Alliance, was once employed by the Fraser “Institute,” later by the CFIB. All three, of course, back “right-to-work” legislation.

Anyway, the CFIB release makes the dubious claim 84 per cent of Canada’s small-business owners support its view employees in unionized workplaces should not be “forced” to pay union dues.

The Globe and Mail credulously repeats this assertion, based on a poll of the group’s paid-up members, virtually word for word. Of course, there was nary a breath of explanation from the Globe’s stenographer about the “Rand Formula,” the way Canadian labour law prevents “free-rider” employees from opting out of a union their co-workers have democratically chosen to avoid paying dues while reaping economic benefits from the union’s accomplishments. That wasn’t in the CFIB’s press release.

Who knows, a majority small business owners may have responded this way. After all, the wording of the survey seems designed to mislead, as does its heavily airbrushed portrait of European labour laws. Moreover, as a class, business owners may be reflexively unsympathetic to workers’ rights. Presumably the minuscule portion of Canada’s small-business operators who are CFIB members take an even harder line. Like the rest of us, they have been recipients of 30 years of steady market fundamentalist propaganda in our mainstream media.

So it’s possible this nonsense has been repeated sufficiently to persuade 84 per cent of the nation’s small business operators. Still, enough business people have a commonsense understanding of economics and an ability to do the arithmetic, not to mention union members in their families, to make it unlikely the results of this Russian ballot really mean what the CFIB says they do.

Dubious polling notwithstanding, the CFIB launches into the right’s standard call for U.S.-style “right-to-work” laws, which despite intentionally misleading rhetoric about “freedom,” “rights” and “choice” are designed to deprive working people of the right to bargain collectively and make economic gains.

Such laws, indeed, add up to the “right to work for less.” (Interestingly the CFIB doesn’t use the term “right-to-work” — evidence the Canadian public is onto this particular scam.) Such legislation provides, as Martin Luther King famously explained, “no ‘rights’ and no ‘works.’ Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining.”

In taking this position, the CFIB unsurprisingly echoes identical positions taken by all the usual suspects — including “conservative” political parties, institutes, associations, federations and comfortably taxpayer-funded academic think tanks at public universities.

In fact, the economic effects of work-for-less legislation are pretty well known, which leads one to suspect that even many paid-up CFIB members aren’t really paying attention to what “their” federation stands for.

Here’s what “right-to-work” laws do in the 22 U.S. states that have adopted them:

— Lower wages for everyone. (The average worker in a right-to-work state makes about $5,333 US a year less than workers in other U.S. states, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, quoted by the AFL-CIO.)
— Lower health and safety standards. (According to the BLS, the rate of workplace deaths is 51 per cent higher in these states.)
— Lower wages for women, plus increase the pay gap between men and women.
— Lower wages for workers of colour.

— Lower consumer spending. (Because union wages mean higher pay, workers have more to spend – duh!)

It should come as no surprise, then, that the poorest states in the Union are also those with right-to-work laws — including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina. The sweatshop U.S. territory of Guam, which outrageously can label its products “Made in U.S.A.,” also has work-for-less legislation.

Just in case they can’t do the arithmetic, the CFIB’s “small business people” should remember that if working people have less money, more of them will be forced to shop at Wal-Mart to save a buck or two, driving a few more small business owners to the poor house.

This will be OK with the CFIB’s members, presumably, if they value power over prosperity — at least until they end up working as non-union Wal-Mart greeters themselves. But they should ask themselves if the CFIB is acting in their interests when it advocates this sort of stuff.

Why now? Other than the season, that is.

It’s hard to know for sure. The right may have a sense time is running out for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s unprogressive Conservatives. Anti-union rightists may also want to find a way around the June 2007 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada enshrining collective bargaining rights in the Charter before it starts creating legal precedents.

Above all, one suspects, market fundamentalists realize that after two years of recession exacerbated by their own ideological folly, their ability to sell this baloney is suffering from a widening credibility gap.

So count on it. They will push now and push hard, while they can.

Happy Labour Day!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe...