Can Ontarians Look Forward to the ‘Right to Work for Less?’

From the Active History Blog…

by CHRISTINE MCLAUGHLIN on JANUARY 14, 2013

The Hudak Conservatives have unveiled plans to bring so-called “Right to Work” legislation to Ontario. Following in the footsteps of American Republicans, Ontario’s Conservatives are seeking to unravel an agreement that has maintained relative labour peace in the province for over half a century. This has been painted as a ‘progressive’ measure that will ‘modernize’ what have been branded as ‘outdated labour laws.’ According to Tim Hudak, the goal is to “modernize our labour laws to get them out of the 1940s and 1950s and to 2012 and beyond.”

It is telling that history for Hudak here begins in the 1940s. To extend any further back would reveal this as the deeply regressive measure it is, which would pivot Ontario backwards to a period of limited working rights with lower pay and fewer protections in the workplace.

Orwellian-phrased ‘Right to Work’ legislation would strip the postwar accord that has informed Canadian labour relations since the end of the Second World War. More specifically, it would eliminate “the Rand Formula” in Ontario, a product of deep workplace discord that led to the growth of unionism, especially from the late 1930s into the postwar period. In an era of unprecedented strike waves, the Rand Formula was offered as a solution to quell workplace strife and bring industrial peace to Ontario. This formula emerged from a 1946 Ford Windsor strike when Justice Ivan Rand was tasked with finding a compromise between management and workers. Organized workers were given security through the ‘check-off,’ whereby union dues would be automatically deducted from unionized workers’ pay. Rand argued that since all organized workers benefited from their collective agreement, they should all be required to pay into it the organization that enabled these benefits.

The Rand Formula also deeply limited union power, making all strikes during the period covered by a collective agreement illegal and cementing management authority in the workplace. It made union leaders responsible for policing their membership, and subjected both unions and members to heavy fines in the event of illegal strike action. It initially spread unevenly through voluntary agreements between employers and workers, but it became law in Ontario in 1980 under the minority Progressive Conservative government of Bill Davis.

The Rand Formula has been a subject of intense debate among scholars of labour relations. Critics point to the bureaucratizing effects of a settlement that distanced union leaders from their membership, and drew workers into a legal industrial complex that hampered militancy in the workplace. Others point to the much-needed security this compromise offered, serving as an engine of growth in wages, benefits, health and safety in the workplace, and other important services for working people.

Few progressives, however, would harken for a return to the decades leading into the ‘dirty thirties,’ when the power imbalance in Ontario’s workplaces left more working people vulnerable to abuse, old age, injury and exploitation.

Progressive politics do not unravel past progressive measures; they should enhance and build on them. Even some staunch anti-unionists will admit that unions were necessary back in the 1930s and 1940s – does it not follow that a return to this legislative environment would also reinforce the conditions that made these vehicles for worker empowerment necessary to begin with?

Supporters of ‘Right to Work’ legislation tell us we need to be ‘competitive.’ But what game are we playing, and who gets to set the rules? Are we going to ‘race to the bottom,’ becoming a cheap source of disposable labour? Or would we like to maintain our competitive edge as a desirable place to live and work, where millions from around the world have vied to enjoy relatively widespread ‘middle-class’ living standards? It is no coincidence that, like the Rand Formula, this broadly based prosperity is also a product of the postwar period; the former fueled the latter. A person’s ability to spend has long been dependent on their ability to earn.

Eradicating the Rand Formula would have a catastrophic effect on unions, and could lead to labour chaos in Ontario. As one editorial keenly opines, many citizens would undoubtedly opt out of paying taxes if given the opportunity; never mind that this could lead to the collapse of civil society. How many would not see the regressive results of these actions until they had already been realized?

The Hudak Conservatives’ proposed changes to labour legislation offers Ontarians little to “look forward” to when it threatens to catapult us back to a time when we had little to no rights in the workplace, lower wages, few benefits and poorer living conditions. This proposed great leap backwards serves as another example of why the “Progressive” doesn’t belong in Hudak’s Conservative Party.

Christine McLaughlin is a PhD Candidate in History at York University and Co-Editor of ActiveHistory.ca.

Call for Proposals for Forthcoming Book: In Solidarity: Academic Librarian Labour Activism and Union Participation in Canada

BOOK ABSTRACT:

With a focus on Canada, this collection will document the labour-related struggles and gains of academic librarians. It will provide historical and current perspectives regarding the unionization of academic librarians, an exploration of the major labour issues affecting academic librarians in both certified and non-certified union contexts, as well as case studies relating to the unionization of academic librarians at selected institutions. The volume will strive to include a broad representation of academic librarian labour activists and those who have rallied to the support of academic librarians in the workplace.

EDITORS: Jennifer Dekker, University of Ottawa (jdekker@uottawa.ca)

Mary Kandiuk, York University (mkandiuk@yorku.ca)

PUBLISHER: Library Juice Press

EXPECTED PUBLICATION DATE: 2014

OBJECTIVE OF THE BOOK:

This edited collection will gather the common experiences of Canadian academic librarians and situate them in a national framework with respect to unionization. It will examine the issues that have led to the formal organization of academic librarians, the gains that have been achieved, and the ramifications of those gains. A limited number of chapters exploring relevant issues from a non-Canadian perspective are also being sought in order to provide insight and comparisons in a broader context.

POSSIBLE TOPICS:

The editors invite chapters that describe activities undertaken by academic librarians, unions, and related associations that further the goals of librarians in the academy from a labour perspective. Examples of topics that would be of particular interest to the editors include:

  • Academic freedom cases involving U.S. academic librarians, for the purpose of comparing these to the Canadian setting;
  • Librarians and governance on Canadian and / or U.S .campuses;
  • Faculty or academic status of librarians in the U.S., including a comparison with Canada;
  • Successful mobilization or political strategies for unionization or labour actions of academic librarians;

Case studies of academic librarians asserting their collective rights in such a way that might provide inspiration or guidance for other groups;Labour action or the experience of strike within the academic library environment.

In particular, the editors would like to encourage chapters that explore the experiences of academic librarians from a labour perspective using a methodological framework as appropriate. Proposals that examine the issues from a theoretical framework are also welcome.

TARGET AUDIENCES:

The editors believe that this book will be of interest to academic librarians, labour historians, and those interested in academic labour or unionization of library workers.

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES:

Authors are invited to submit abstracts and proposals of 300-500 words to jdekker@uottawa.ca and mkandiuk@yorku.ca by January 15, 2013. Notifications will be sent by February 1, 2013. A draft manuscript ranging from 1,500-7,000 words will be due by June 1, 2013. Submitted manuscripts must not have been published previously or simultaneously submitted elsewhere. Following review, articles will be returned via e-mail for revision before final acceptance. All materials will be edited as necessary for clarity. All submissions should include at the beginning an abstract of no more than 150 words, highlighting the scope, methodology, and conclusions of the paper. Authors should follow the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th ed. (2010). We welcome contributions from scholars and practitioners alike. If you wish to discuss your contribution please feel free to contact us.

Submission of proposals should include:

  • Name of author
  • Title
  • Affiliation
  • Contact information
  • 300-500 word abstract