(31 March 2009) - The same corporate 'experts' who flattened the stock market and triggered the economic crisis with relentless deregulation are now claiming that higher wages for workers is bad for the economy — Commentary by NUPGE president James Clancy.
The Financial Post has published a misleading article by Howard Levitt attempting to blame unions rather than corporate leaders and their accomplices in right-wing governments for the current recession that is causing economic havoc around the globe. James Clancy has written the following response.
By James Clancy
National Union of Public and General Employees
If it wasn’t so outrageous, Howard Levitt’s March 25 column suggesting that the current economic recession is the “inevitable consequence of unionization itself” could be viewed as comic relief that would be better placed in the comic pages of your newspaper.
Playing loose and dirty with the facts appears to be a favourite tactic of Levitt. As usual, his rant grossly exaggerates the situation while offering totally unfounded assertions to further his anti-union agenda. His expressed views seem to be void of the basic principles of journalism such as truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality and fairness.
Let's remember, Levitt is merely one of those corporate ‘experts' who led us to the stock market collapse with their calls for less government, less regulation and unfettered financial markets. Now they're trying to tell us that raising wages, growing our economy and putting more money in workers' pockets is somehow bad for the economy. Canadian workers' patience with the economic theories of the wealthy corporate interests that got us in this mess is wearing thin.
Economies benefit from unions
Except for a small group of people like Levitt, who are simply philosophically opposed to unions, the rest of us understand, whether we belong to a union or not, that economies benefit from them.
Unions provide workers with a decent wage so they and their families can enjoy a quality standard of living and financial security. Unions provide workers with comprehensive benefits — over and above legislated benefits and those provided by universal public programs. Vacations, extra medical insurance, disability and life insurance and retirement income are all areas where unions have negotiated enhanced provisions. Unions provide workers with job security and thus economic security for themselves and their families.
Beyond the economic benefits for workers and their families, unions have historically been a major force in humanizing and democratizing the economies of nations. Unions promote higher levels of economic equality and, in many ways, also encourage labour markets to achieve greater economic growth and efficiency.
Bargaining achievements such as paid time off the job, restrictions on overtime, early retirement provisions and job sharing arrangements have not only preserved jobs but have also created employment and enhanced productivity.
Unions also have a key role in promoting sound government policies on economic growth that benefit the whole community. Certainly, the economic crisis has shown us that private corporations focus solely on the narrow interests of making profits, not on the well-being of the country as a whole. By contrast, unions are broadly based. They reflect the broad interest of working people in having a prosperous economy.
World Bank and OECD agree
All of this has a positive impact on the economy. The growing body of empirical evidence shows that unions make a major contribution to higher economic productivity which benefits the community as a whole. This is not just recognized by the labour movement. It is now acknowledged by international financial institutions like the World Bank and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which have seldom, if ever, been sympathetic to the views of labour.
Levitt might not like unions for their efforts to look after the interests of working people over the interests of many of his corporate clients, but that does not give him the right to play with the truth and to use the Financial Post as his mouthpiece to practice the old familiar 'divide and conquer’ politics.
Perhaps he could learn a thing or two from U.S. President Barack Obama. Recently, Obama was quoted as saying this:
“I do not view the labour movement as part of the problem; to me it's part of the solution. We need to level the playing field for workers and the unions that represent their interests, because we know that you cannot have a strong middle class without a strong labour movement. We know that strong, vibrant, growing unions can exist side by side with strong, vibrant and growing businesses. This isn't an either/or proposition between the interests of workers and the interests of shareholders. That's the old argument. When workers are prospering, they buy products that make businesses prosper. We can be competitive and lean and mean and still create a situation where workers are thriving in this country.”
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE
Original Financial Post article on unions and the recession