People seem grateful that the workers' movements of the past brought us fair hours, fair wages and safe working conditions but, today, public opinion is waning.
According to a recent article in the Vancouver Sun, private sector union membership peaked in the 1970s, and has now fallen by about half to 17 per cent.
Public sector unions remain strong in size but are blamed for everything from government deficits to government service inefficiencies. Union workers are maligned for their better than average salaries, their gold-plated pensions and their other benefits. Meanwhile, union bosses are criticized for arbitrarily using union dues for political action.
And, in recent years, governments across the country have forced their employees to accept significant concessions and even job losses.
Some argue that on Labour Day 2013, unions have become weak and irrelevant.
Those criticisms are probably why the unions are fighting back with a public relations campaign which seemingly aims to justify their existence.
Here are some examples of recent releases published by organized labour:
From the Public Service Alliance of Canada:
The last twelve months have seen unions – particularly public sector ones – at the centre of an unnatural blamestorm around what ails the economy. And in the wake of this has been anti-union legislation so punitive that even Conservative-appointed senators feel it goes too far. Layered on top of this have been tens of thousands of workforce adjustment notices and service cuts.
We have another definition of fairness around here. It says that medicare and pensions should be available to all as a right of citizenship. It says that we have an obligation to raise living standards, wages and improve job security.
We will...continue to use and defend our right to use the tools we have at our disposal to advocate for fairness: collective bargaining, political action and membership mobilization.
From Jim Sinclair, B.C. Federation of Labour (published in the Vancouver Province)
Today's unions are focused on making work safer, and ensuring that an honest forty hour workweek pays the bills at the end of every month,while leaving behind a little extra for savings. Protecting the rights of individual workers when they are treated unfairly is of course another major focus. When it comes to working with governments, we are standing up for Canadian jobs.
When the BC Liberal government froze the minimum wage for nearly ten years, BC's unions mounted the campaign that eventually forced Christy Clark to bring BC's minimum wage in line with much higher rates throughout the rest of Canada. It's unions that are standing strong against corporate demands to lower workers' wages while corporate profits and CEO salaries reach record levels.
From Lana Payne, Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour:
Unions are the single most important counterbalance to corporate power and greed and to ensuring the wealth from our economy gets shared, rather than hoarded by the richest one per cent in society.
In recent years, inequality and corporate greed have dominated public discourse.
In our own province, a staggering amount of our GDP is siphoned off into corporate profits — 37 per cent on average since 2007. This is a staggering statistic and is considerably more than any other jurisdiction in the country — more than double the national average.
Are unions still relevant in 2013?
Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.
(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)
Are you a politics junkie?
Follow @politicalpoints on Twitter!