Over the past few years unions in Canada have had little success in organizing non-union companies, and even holding on to the gains achieved previously.
While many narrow-minded people applaud these trends, the rest should reconsider their opinion.
It must be acknowledged that in many instances unions have antagonized the public. There have been groups organizing the protests marching through the streets, shouting at passersby, and in too many cases joined in violent acts, such as overturning cars, setting fires in the streets, or blocking traffic. No matter how righteous their cause this angers the general public.
Teachers’ strikes may be justified, but the general public is outraged because their strikes are taking out their wrath on students.
As a result there have been many reasons for the decline in union membership, particularly in the private sector.
Companies have retaliated against flagrant abuses, alleging the strikers frequently have been engaged in unlawful picketing, trespassing and intimidating employees and the overall public.
Some argue that recent protests have less to do with convincing workers to join unions, but rather stirring antipathy towards the company. Forgotten often is forming a constituency that will ask hard questions of employers.
Nowadays many are confronting unions broadly. They must acknowledge that unions have won great victories in the past, winning higher wages and better safety standards in mines and factories. However, as the economy has shifted from heavy industries where huge amounts of capital have been invested, and where fairly easy to unionize, then companies where reluctant to be shut down by a strike.
Within firms with the most demanding unions, losses have incurred relative to the more moderate unions or no unions at all.
In the public sector by contrast, union membership has risen by double-digit amounts. Governments have no competition so they cannot go broke, except over the very long term. The politicians who negotiate wage deals with public-sector unions often are funded by the same unions. This is one reason why municipal finances are in a mess.
What is needed now is for unions to act more responsibly. In the past they have made great contributions to wage earners, but now their actions leave a lot to be desired.
The obvious answer is for the unions to be equal partners with management, as director and involved in decision making. That will enhance productivity. If unions become more accountable, they would fill a really worthwhile niche; they would benefit as would the entire economy.