Thursday, August 8, 2013

Working class

"I've never... dealt with such an unethical, immoral, disrespectful, highly profitable company like Caterpillar."

That was CAW chief Ken Lewenza when Caterpillar was busy turning $30/hr. jobs in London Ontario into $15/hr. jobs in one of the "right-to-work-for-less" states.

And what happened then?


Ken did the best he could to salvage whatever severance crumbs he could from the situation. The overall Caterpillar strategy of playing workers in one jurisdiction off against those in another was never remotely challenged.

Why not?

Workers in China have made huge gains in recent years. They have made such gains that within a few years Chinese wages will catch up to North American wages.


Because workers in China are not averse to tossing a factory manager from the plant roof from time to time just to let the management side know that they're serious.

Now I'm certainly not suggesting that we need to toss managers from the factory roof, but where all of the unions in North America have failed is in letting the other side know that they're serious. Back in the day, folks like Reuther and Hoffa were willing to go to jail.

That can happen when you're willing to assert yourself.

That can happen when you're prepared to say "no thanks, we're not ready to settle for crumbs."

A large part of the problem originates in the rank and file. I remember when I worked at Budd Automotive, where I was hired on my 18th birthday, guys would show up in dress shirts and blazers because they didn't want their neighbours to know they worked in a factory.

These were generally the same guys who, once they'd worked there a few months, would conclude that the union was holding them back.

Yup! They were slamming blanks into a press and pulling them out for five bucks an hour when the minimum wage was $1.50. The training for their job took about five minutes. But they hated the fact that they had union dues deducted from their pay!

There's still an awful lot of that going on. Well into the 1960's Newfoundland was happy to employ grade eight graduates to teach the grade one class. Now you need two university degrees to teach a grade one class. And you'll find teachers who truly believe that without their teacher union they could do better for themselves!

Yes! The government will happily double your salary if it wasn't for that damned union!

The truth of the matter is that there is no teaching job anywhere in North America that couldn't be done and done well by some eager recent graduate who is working at the mall for minimum wage and would see a $30 thousand annual salary with benefits as the pot 'o gold at the end of their rainbow.

Once we're in a mindset that accepts the logic of moving a job or replacing a worker just because somebody is willing to do that job for less, we're screwed.

And it is on this point that organized labour has failed us.

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