Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Social Justice and Right to Work

The debate continues about workers rights and the so-called right to work. Yesterday, it was revealed that Ontario's Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak planned to campaign on an aggressive anti-union platform in the next election.  His plan, according to various news sources, is to undermine unions through a right-to-work plan.

Right to work laws allow individuals to opt-out of paying union dues upon being hired by an employer. Supporters argue that right to work laws allow individuals to determine where their money is spent.  If an individual doesn't like that a union donates to anti-nuclear campaigns, for instance, they can opt-out of union dues (incidentally, this was the very issue in Lavigne v. OPSEU where the Supreme Court of Canada upheld mandatory dues requirements as consistent with the Charter of Rights).  

The problem with this argument is that it takes the "collective" out of collective bargaining.  There is no possible way that a worker can negotiate with an employer on an equal footing.  Even the most skilled workers lose their capacities to negotiate with an employer over time as skill sets are constantly changing.  The changing nature of labour skill is not a naturally occurring phenomena.  Rather, changing skill sets are imposed in the labour process by employers seeking to appropriate relative surplus value (or the value created by new technologies). The result has been a continuous process of skilling (through public institutions like Universities) and as Harry Braverman showed decades ago, de-skilling through standardization and mechanization of the labour process.  In this process, workers are at the mercy of employers unless they can resist unilateral change to their workplace. That resistance occurs collectively.

The only way that the power imbalance can be addressed is through collective representation.  Perhaps one of the most essential components of collective representation and collective bargaining is to take wages out of competition so that employers cannot force workers to compete through lower wages. Right to work laws seek to weaken collective representation which weakens the ability of working people to maintain more of the surplus from their labour.  In other words, as the American Federation of Labor shows, right to work will lower wages and living standards for all. That being the case, right to work laws can never be defended as just.  These laws are simply a way to weaken workers' rights in the workplace.        

No comments:

Post a Comment

Respectful comments are welcome. All comments are moderated by the blog author.