Sunday 4 May 2008

My name is Daniel, and this is a pro-labour rant

I have had numerous discussions with staff that make statements such as "Unions may have had a place in the past, but now just collect dues" and "I wouldn't want to work where there's a union". This then results in a rather odd dichotomy of the issues where the pro labour position is argued by management, and pro management argued by labour.

I think that some of the anti-union sentiments today are a result of some of our brightest and engaging minds employment where there is either a certain uniqueness and/or shortage of the well qualified; specifically areas in sciences and high technology. This puts the highly skilled labour at a superior bargaining position over their less skilled brethren, in so much as they are aware of their own value, they know it, and management knows it.

These knowledge workers are capable of negotiating their own agreements and often have not lived long enough to understand the benefits of working collectively nor the good karma enjoyed from using their superior position to the benefit of those on lower rungs. 

Another reason for anti-union sentiment is that little appears to have been done by Canadian unions to stem the tide of jobs being exported of this country and the U.S. Across Canada and the U.S. the sector of employment that was always the broad shoulders of the labour movement, manufacturing, has had its ranks thinned by the exporting of their labour to countries where the costs are less. Newer employment sectors such as call centres, and rote software programming* both of which sport interchangeable skill sets (CSR for CSR; programmer for programmer), are also having their jobs exported to countries where the costs are less.

(*rote software programming is a growing service industry where the systems analysis and system architecture and design functions are performed by a highly skilled domestic staff that prepare specific, standardized specifications that are implemented by teams of low paid foreign programmers.)

This is of no coincidence. The reason why TD bank and others have call centres in India is not because the good citizens of India have better bank skills - are not more qualified to transfer funds, but because India does not have the same labour laws as Canada, nor its unions! The reason why Apple Computers and others have manufacturing in China is not because the Chinese can design better computers, Apple has its computer design team in California, it's because China does not have U.S labour laws nor its unions.

It is important to not misunderstand what this means. The problem is not TD bank, nor Apple Computers. These are corporations that operate according to a very specific principal that they must obey: "maximize shareholder return". That is the guiding rule of all corporations. It is also the reason why any discussions of "de-regulation" is never in the best interests of the citizenry or labour. It is only through legislation, regulation, and labour contracts that a corporation's activity can be restrained.

In Canada we have specific labour laws, we have minimum wage, overtime after 40 or 44 hours of work per week, we have heath care built into our costs, safety standards, and injured worked insurance coverage. These are input costs to manufacturing in this country and they are input costs to running a call centre or rote programming shop. We, as the electorate, have stated that these are a justifiable imposition on employers operating in Canada. But what about sellers operating in Canada?

Why do we not hold any article, service, or benefit being sold in this country to the same standards? We allow TD to charge service charges to Canadians for services that are being provided by workers that are not covered by equivalent labour laws. We allow WallMart to sell widgets that were assembled by workers in China being paid far less than Canada's minimum wage. By allowing this of TD and WallMart we place domestic employers at an economic disadvantage, and force them to follow suit or be priced out of their market.

The ideal solution of course is for all labour, regardless of domain, to be covered by universal labour laws, wages, and standards. However, I prefer to advocate a realistic, achievable method that contributes to a global solution.

Canada and all countries with progressive labour laws must enact taxes or tariffs on all imported goods to bring up the labour portion to standardized costs. This would eliminate the competition that is based on the exploitation of labour, but rather leave competition on innovation and efficiencies of process. This is where labour unions, labour congresses, and other labour organizations can have a great effect. Campaign to bring this issue to the attention of the federal governments of Canada, the U.S. France, Germany, U.K, Sweden, etc..

With such laws universally enacted by progressive labour countries, any legislature of a non-compliant country would quickly deduce that for any remaining areas of export (where they had actual innovation or efficiencies), the monies collected by the labour equalization taxes could remain in the collecting country; or if labour law was to improve in the manufacturing country, be used to improve their country's wealth.

That's it for this rant. Maybe later I'll rant a bit on the U.S. and its making of profit on the sick.