Throw off your chains

By Corky Thatcher

"So comrades, come rally. And the last fight let us face The Internationale unites the human race."

Dear fellow prisoners of want:

Happy belated labor Day. What did you do Monday to help destroy the outdated imperialist dogma that perpetuates the economic differences in our society? I must sheepishly admit to not doing my part to rattle the chains of greed. After all, I don’t think I could exactly be considered a comrade of unions.

Of course I believe people should have the right to form a bargaining unit or join a union. Critics of unions only oppose bully tactics and abuses of power.

In a recent National Post article, labor historian Mark Leier explains how labor unions don’t have the same power as their nemeses, "government and business." The "us" versus a faceless "them."

Leier complains about any restriction on striking, arguing that the right to strike should be unconditional. Is he right? The whole point of forming a collective bargaining unit was to prevent unreasonable demands from and an abuse of power by business owners. Unreasonable demands made by business owners should not be met, but union leaders act like all demands made by unions, no matter how unreasonable, must be met.

Are unions unable, with the power they have, to represent their workers? Do they need more? Should the right to strike be unconditional?

Abuses of power already exists, for example, forced unionism. Most provinces adhere to the Rand Formula that forces people to pay dues without requiring them to actually join, but British Columbia goes even further and workers are actually forced to join unions against their will.

Not only does mandatory union membership infringe on people’s freedom of association, but they can be fired if they refuse to join. Norma Janzen was fired from her job as a teacher in 1990 when she refused to join both the union and the British Columbia Teachers Federation, because her union negotiated a closed-shop policy with her school board.

Are there any limits on striking if politicians and police, fearing violent confrontations, let unions get away with illegal strikes? Steel workers were imported from London, Ontario to prevent Toronto Transit Commission workers from crossing the picket line. Certainly not all strikes depend on the threat of violence, but when it does, it makes one wonder whether picket lines are informational or merely a form of intimidation.

The lesson could be learned by listening to the lyrics of the Internationale: "No more deluded by reaction/ On tyrants only we’ll make war." Everyone should have the right to withdraw their own labor, but no one should have the right to withdraw someone else’s.

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