Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Unionization linked to prosperity, studies find

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Once your kids grow up, you send them out to make their way in the world. It's the way things are supposed to be, of course, but you miss having them around.

Until they come back.

For families across this country, this is the new reality. Despite doing all the things they're supposed to do -- getting the education and training they've been told they need -- young people are finding few opportunities to build the kind of stable livelihoods their parents enjoyed.

And that's forcing them to move back to their parents' homes, putting their lives on hold as they struggle to establish themselves.

It doesn't have to be this way. At Unifor, we believe a better Canada is possible, and it starts with strengthening the middle class.

I am currently travelling across the country talking to local leaders and activists about Conservative threats to labour rights and the middle class.

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the two are interconnected. The countries with the highest levels of unionization also have the lowest levels of poverty, the organization found.

Unions work to improve the lives of all working people, not just its own members. And the more secure unions are in a society, the more they are able to fulfil that role.

But unions are facing an unprecedented attack on their rights as Conservative politicians at both federal and provincial levels attempt to scapegoat organized labour for the challenges facing Canada.

The Harper government's Bill C-525, for instance, would make it easier to decertify unions in the federal sectors (such as broadcasting and transportation), by imposing biased super-majority voting rules. As I have been pointing out, if similar rules had existed for federal elections, not a single member of Parliament would have been elected.

Manitoba is not immune, even with an NDP government. Ontario Conservative Leader Tim Hudak wants to eliminate the Rand Formula there, which would put pressure on other provinces -- including Manitoba -- to do the same.

For Manitoba, the first province to implement the Rand Formula in 1972 requiring all workers in a unionized workplace to pay dues (but still decide for themselves whether to join), that would be a massive reversal in labour rights.

And in Alberta, the ruling Conservative party has made it illegal for some unions to even talk about striking.

These kinds of changes are meant to weaken unions, and that's bad news for all Canadians.

As unions gained strength and membership after the Second World War, hourly wages for all Canadians rose steadily and the middle class was established in this country.

But as unions came under attack in the early 1980s, wages began to flatline -- and at points even fell.

At the same time, we've seen rapid increases in temporary and precarious work, limiting the opportunities available to our young people. Without secure employment, youth cannot hope to enter the middle class. Instead, their lives remain on hold at a time when they should be building a future.

It's a cruel reality that this could be the first generation that's actually worse off than its parents. That's just not good enough. Unions played a vital role in building the middle class and will continue to do so.

That's what makes the Rights at Work campaign so important.

Hudak calls his proposed changes a modernization of Ontario's labour laws. They are in fact, a giant step backward that will pressure other provinces to do the same.

With its Rights at Work campaign, Unifor will make sure Canada keeps moving forward.


Jerry Dias is the national president of Unifor, Canada's largest union in the private sector with more than 300,000 members. Unifor was formed on the Labour Day weekend in 2013 when the Canadian Autoworkers and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union merged. Dias brings his campaign to Winnipeg today.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 27, 2014 0


Updated on Monday, January 27, 2014 at 1:45 PM CST: Fixes spelling of author's name.

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