Unions And Management: Let's Have A Go

Geoff Smith Portrait

BY Geoff Smith

POSTED ON MARCH 13, 2014

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Certainly (but please read the whole blog), I'm not a wild fan of the union ideology. With rare exceptions, they stick to the old methods. The employer is the adversary, every negotiation must result in more gains. There is little interest in new thinking, in rewarding greater skill or effort, in trying to work with employers to increase market share for the union or the employer against skilled, lower cost nonunion companies or countries. I believe strongly in working to protect high paying production jobs, and in rewarding people well for their efforts and achievements (our track record proves this) but we are not going to get there - we are not going to reverse the loss of union sector participation or key manufacturing jobs - with fifty year old confrontational thinking. (Several years ago, I was part of a meeting with union workers, leaders and company leaders. We got a great dialogue going about the real issues - trust me, tradespeople have never been averse to straight talk in both directions. I was ecstatic, but the unions refused to allow further direct meetings between the workers and the companies that actually employ them. I'm telling you straight.)

Instead of working with employers, the unions focus on politicians to protect decades old labour structures that can never work in a globalized economy. Pat Dillon (who just happens to be an Ontario construction labour leader) has raised many millions of dollars from all sorts of unions and delivered it to the politicians. As a result, Pat Dillon is one of the most powerful unelected people in the Province. His goal is extending and entrenching the status quo, and his influence is huge - I have no idea how this profound imbalance can be a good thing for anyone beyond the very short term. The nonunion sector prospers, the jobs continue to move elsewhere.

But 'Management' is hardly any better. As long as capitalist 'dogma' is that the only reason that a company exists is to maximize wealth for its shareholders, as long as they treat 'labour' - the very people who make their company succeed - as a commodity, hiring when they need to, cutting whenever they can and showing no loyalty beyond the next quarter, there will always be unfairness and there will always be unions. There probably should be. If I were a union leader, every time a company beat up on its employees I would hug the management, they are proving my union's worth to their own employees. Traditional 'boardroom' thinking needs to be not just upended, but thrown out the window - they have it exactly backwards.

Here's the big problem. Competing hi tech/low wage countries are challenge enough. We are on the cusp of a transformation in construction, manufacturing and every other industry. '3D Printing', new materials and IT are going to eat up traditional jobs by the thousands. You ain't seen nothin' yet. It's clear that soon buildings will be manufactured (here, or in China?) and assembled on site. It's happening all over Asia, Europe and very soon, here. And that's just my industry.

And yet, all over Canada, we stick to old time thinking, old time confrontations, old time politics, on all sides. If that doesn't change soon, the risks are huge for all of us. Anyone want to have a real conversation?

Thanks for reading (I really appreciate it).