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    The Benefits of Unions

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    “Unions are groups of working people who join to talk to employers about wages and conditions of work instead of workers talking to employers on an individual basis. “1 Because they speak for everybody, unions can get a better deal for each worker than one employee could by negotiating with the employer.

    As seen in the short movie “WHY UNIONS?”, non-unionized workers talks about the unfair treatment they experience in the work place. Through collective action, workers formed unions so they could have a voice in deciding wages, hours, working conditions and dealing with the many problems arises in the workplace. Unions are not just organizations trying to get more dollars and cents or better working conditions for people who hold union cards. People who don’t enjoy the benefits of union protection get benefits too. “The labour movement was in the forefront of the struggles for public health care, for public education, for minimum wages, holidays and employment conditions.

    “2 1 D. Martin, Form War To Peace, Canadian Labour Congress, Quebec, 1991, P. 17 2 Notes On Unions, Canadian Labour Congress, Quebec, 1992, P. 1 P. 2 UNION NOWADAYS “Unions are like businesses: their success depends upon attracting and retaining buyers (new members).

    Recently, one of the major problems faced by the union movement is that few Canadians understand what services unions come into public. “3 The public also don’t know the union is also helping Canada in other parts of areas such as economy, etc. The public think that the only time unions come into the public’s eye is as a result of strike or withdrawal of services. This is because of the impressed strikes held by the union workers.

    The memorable one would be the strike held by the Toronto Transit Commission workers back in September 1991. The lack of transportation resulted in inconveniences among the public. The Canadian public becomes upset over conflict. The strikes make the public forget about the contributions of unions in other areas. “From a marketing perspective, the union movement has positioned itself like the nuclear industry — it receives attention only when it is about to blow up, melt or leak. “4 Five important needs for union movements are: 3 Alistair Davidson and Ian Mckinnon, “Unions need to study marketing,” The Globe and Mail, May 8 1984, Business section, P.

    8 4 D. D. Carter, Canadian Industrial Relations In The Year 2000, Industrial Relations Centre, Kingston, 1992, P. 50 P. 3 1) job preservation 2) health preservation in the workplace 3) day-care 4) retraining 5) financial negotiations on behalf of members “Union leaders and members must become as sophisticated as management to support the attempt by Canadian business to survive fierce international competition. “5 There are about four million members of Canadian unions and 10.

    5 million members of co-operatives. There are two choices: traditionally, unions have only tried to increase their members’ standard of living by negotiating a higher wage, more benefits or fewer hours. “The union movement has played an important role in the past in the formation of new institutions such as credit unions. Today, new demands on the union movement will force it to examine its strategic choices. “6 Above all, the union movement must structure itself to aid the survival of Canadian industry and Canadian jobs in a fiercely competitive world market.

    5 Bryan D. Palmer, Solidarity: The Rise And Fall Of An Opposition In B. C. , New Star Books, 1987, P. 63 6 Peter Sinclair, Unemployment: Economic Theory And Evidence, Oxford Press, 1987, P. 215 P.

    4 CANADIAN LABOUR CONGRESS At the national level, the “organization of unions” is the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). The CLC is the central body in Canada and is composed of about 85 national and international unions representing about 2. 2 million workers. LABOUR’S SOCIAL OBJECTIVES “The social objectives of the Canadian labour movement are a reflection of the aims and desires of a large segment of the country’s working population. “7 In some ways, the objectives are related to the economy. The objectives are: Health Programmes – the lack of available health care to all Canadians caused the labour movement to redouble its long-standing efforts to have a national medicare plan by which needed medical services would be available to all Canadians whatever their financial means.

    Medicare as a system of universal health care must be regarded as a public service and not merely as an insurance programme under which only a limited number of services are available. 7 Notes On Unions, Canadian Labour Congress, Quebec, 1992, P. 5 P. 5 Pensions – Unions have been consistently negotiated improvements in pension plans. By statistics, only 41. 4% of employed Canadians (50.

    1% of men and 33. 7% of women) belong to company pension plans. The CLC is convinced that an upgraded universal plan would eliminate any fear and want from old age. Poverty and Regional Disparities – The CLC has continually drawn attention to the unjust disparities existing among various sections of Canadian society and among different regions. Human Rights – The Canadian Labour Congress has devoted considerable effort to combatting discrimination and protecting basic human rights. Education – A basic human right, education must be available to all Canadians.

    The responsibility to present a well-rounded picture of all participating partners in the Canadian mosaic is a basic principle of an education system. Housing – The CLC suggests that the housing be regarded by governments as a social need and not as a regulator of economic activity Taxation – There CLC suggests that there is a strong feeling among union members that adjustments should be made to distribute more equitably the burden of taxes. Consumer Services – Efforts have been made to have the government undertake an investigation of the disparity between food prices paid to farmers and those charged to consumers. P. 6 HOW IT IS RELATED TO THE ECONOMY “Unions’ major objective is to bargain for a better wage. Labour is the basic element of a country’s economy.

    Without labour, there will not be products which are made in Canada. If the labour are treated unfairly in their workplace, they don’t have the spirit to work harder. “8 As a result, the quality of Canadian product will be dropped and lose the competition on the international market. Therefore, there should be an agreement between employers and employees. The employer side gets the maximum profit while the employee side still gets a satisfactory wage.

    However, Canada’s labour get higher wage in the world. Therefore, the cost of products are pretty high. Compare to the international market, the price of Canadian products are higher because of higher wages. Maybe it’s a by-product of the bargaining higher and higher wages. The Canadian products will lose their competitiveness in the market. It is one of the reasons why Canada is experiencing recession right now.

    Another issue which affects Canada’s economy is the free trade agreement between Canada and the United States. Through the process of this agreement, Canadian Labour movement has been trying to reject this proposal. However, the government still passed it. The labour movement is rejecting 8 David Edward, Times Of Trouble, National Library of Canada, Ottawa, 1983, P. 30 P. 7 it because they predict that the free trade will destroy the economy of Canada.

    Moreover, investors are transferring to the U. S. because there is lower cost. Free trade is another big reason for Canada’s recession.

    EDUCATION AND ECONOMY “Chart A ( provided at the end of the report), shows that the university tuition fee price index went up 120% for all of Canada in the past ten years. This is the result of the withdrawal of government funding. Individuals must pay the difference. Federal spending in support of education and training fell by 7.

    6% in 1990-91 over spending in 1989-90. The portion of the federal budget going to education and training has dropped from 7. 3% in 1985-86 to 6. 4% in 1990-91. “9 The share of federal funds going to provincial and territorial governments for education and training has dropped from 56% in 1984-85 to a low of 41.

    7% in 1990-91. The budget reflects that Canada is in a tough economic situation. Cutbacks are necessary in order to spend less money. In a sense, the budget is a mirror of the economy.

    An increase of services or spending indicates a good economic situation. A decrease of services or spending indicates a decline in the economy. One of the solutions 9 Cynthia Wiggins, “Death by 1000 cuts: Public services in peril,” CLC Today, 1992 February issue, P. 5 P. 8 to survive during a tough economy is to cut back on educational spending.

    “Some people believe that the government is heading towards the privatization of education. Education is considered to be a basic human right. The necessary educational programmes and funding must be put in place to encourage lifelong learning. “10 However, insufficient funding is being spent on education by the federal government. The labour unions keep protesting the retrenchment strategy on education.

    Knowledge means wealth to the country. If the workers are not well educated, they may produce poor quality goods. As a result, the country will lose its competitiveness in the world market. Similarly, the same theory can be applied to Canada. “If the retrenchment strategy continues, the public will cry out against paying taxes for insufficient government services.

    Labour unions continue to be concerned about the budget provided for education. “11 10 Riane Mahon, Canadian Labour In The Battle Of The Eighties, Canadian Labour Congress, Quebec, 1983, P. 168-169 11 Riane Mahon, Canadian Labour In The Battle Of The Eighties, Canadian Labour Congress, Quebec, 1983, P. 171 P.

    9 INVESTMENTS AND ECONOMY Investments are closely related to a country’s economy. Investment is defined as a property or other possession acquired or invested in for future income or benefit. Unions also establish funds to invest in business. Usually, the local union invests the fund in a business located in the same area. Each union uses the fund to promote the economy if possible.

    Examples are provided in a newspaper called CLC Today (February 1992 issue). The worker-owned Solidarity Fund in Quebec recorded its best year in 1991. The return on investment was 13. 04% for the year ending October 31. The cost of shares sold to workers in 1984 was only $10 per share.

    But it has increased to $14. 80 per share recently. Most of the shareholders are members of the Quebec Federation of Labour. Fund managers have invested more than $245 million in Quebec in the past seven years.

    They estimate that 23,000 jobs have been created or saved as a result. Another example is provided by unions in British Columbia. Government, labour and business in B. C. are establishing an investment fund for the province’s working people.

    The Working Opportunity Fund will be used to invest money in small and medium-sized B. C. businesses to help diversify the province’s resource-based economy. The government is going to contribute $600,000 in start-up money and a $2 million loan guarantee. These examples illustrate the importance of unions in the Canadian economy. P.

    10 ECONOMIC UNION “Canadians have greatly benefited from close economic integration. Canada’s economic and political union which allows Canadians to live and grow together in a common land, has generated economic gain for all Canadians. After the post war period, Canada had one of the world’s fastest growing economies. The reason is that the Canadian economy is flexible in adapting to change. “12 However, Canada, like other countries, is facing both internal and external economic challenges.

    By examining chart B (provided at the end of report), it can be seen that there has been a dramatic change in the distribution of world exports in the past 18 years. Overall, exports in many countries areas are decreasing. Much of the decrease has been absorbed by Asia. Asia is the only area that has increased its world exports.

    This could mean that Asia will be the leading export area in the future. This is one of the external problems Canada is facing. “Therefore, economic union is being set up to enhance the economy of Canada. Two key factors are: i) a high degree of economic integration 2) an advanced degree of political integration. “13 Economic and political integration go hand in hand 12 James Cronin, Work, Community and Power, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1983, pp 215-217 13 Solomon Barkin, Worker Militancy And Its Consequences, Praeger, New York, 1983, P. 330 P.

    11 because, to maintain a high level of economic integration, each party of the economic association must be able to modify its policies. Economic union with political integration also provides the structural basis for the sharing of income. The facets of economic union that facilitate the relatively free flow of people, goods, services and capital have had an enormous impact not only on the structure of economic activity in Canada, but also in raising Canadians’ incomes. Economic union raises productivity and incomes by making available a much larger market for producers in all provinces than the limited market. The size of the market made by economic union is also important for generating Canada’s bargaining clout.

    Canada is the seventh largest industrial economy in the world. “Economic union helps to smoothen the impact of economic shocks, such as the grain price shock of 1986 – to the benefit of all Canadians. This is accomplished by providing stabilization and insurance benefits to the provinces. The economic union provides insurance benefits in the Canadian regions.

    With the many industrial structures across provinces, the insurance principle is very important to the Canadian economy. The stability of Canadian economy gives benefits to all Canadians. “14 14 Statement On The Next Federal Budget, Ottawa, 1983, P. 12 P. 12 CONCLUSION Most people believe that bargaining is best accomplished by unions.

    However, unions get involved in all kinds of social activities. These activities influence the economy of Canada directly or indirectly. If there were no unions, Canadian workers would not enjoy being among the most highly paid labourers of the world. Without the unions, the privatization of education might become a reality. Other than bargaining for wages, unions also have to be socially responsible.

    But there is evidence that unions are helping people other than paid members. The prime objectives of the union is to provide better working conditions for workers. P.15 Bibliography 1 Barkin, Soloman, Worker Militancy And Its Consequences, Praeger, New York, 1983 2 Carter, D.D., Canadian Industrial Relations In The Year 2000, Industrial Relations Centre, Kingston, 1992 3 Cronin, James, Work, Community and Power, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1983 4 Davidson, Alistair, and Ian Mckinnon, “Unions need to study marketing,” The Globe and Mail, May 8 1984, Business section, P.8 5 Edward, David, Times Of Trouble, National Library of Canada, Ottawa, 1983 6 Mahon, Riane, Canadian Labour In The Battle Of The Eighties, Canadian Labour Congress, Quebec, 1983 7 Martin, D., Form War To Peace, Canadian Labour Congress, Quebec,1991 8 Notes On Unions, Canadian Labour Congress, Quebec, 1992 9 Palmer, Bryan D., Solidarity: The Rise And Fall Of An Opposition In B.C., New Star Books, Vancouver, 1987 10 Sinclair, Peter, Unemployment: Economic Theory And Evidence, Oxford Press, England, 1987 11 Statement On The Next Federal Budget, Ottawa, 1983 12 Wiggins, Cynthia, “Death by 1000 cuts: Public services in peril,” CLC Today, Ottawa, 1992 February IssueCategory: Social Issues

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