I was struck when reading the coverage of the DELPHI concessions of how few labour victories there have been in recent times. Perhaps labour victories are so common that they no longer make the news. Most likely, however, the DELPHI reality is getting close to the norm in the U.S. and Canada.
It seems like a lifetime ago that Bob White co-ordinated a split in the United Auto Workers to form the Canadian Auto Workers—a union based on opposition to organised labour making concessions. On one side were those that felt that concession bargaining would preserve jobs and the overall benefits of collective bargaining. On the other side was the view that giving up what had been the result of generations of struggle would not benefit either existing workers or the labour movement as a whole.
Since then unions, including the CAW, have negotiated/accepted cuts. This has not stopped factories from closing or preserved jobs on a long-term basis. Workers that believed that their sacrifice in hard times would be recognized when times got better found themselves disappointed.
With collective bargaining weakening, there is also a weakening of concepts such as fair wages to be part of any contract with a government agency. In the city of Toronto, for example, a substantial number of city councillors are calling for contracting out of unionised work and even an end to the policy established in 1893 calling for fair wages, for the most part for those employed by companies providing services to and for the city (staff of non-profit agencies come to mind as not actually being included in fair wage commitments).
This weakening of the power of organised labour has an impact on almost everyone. From workplace health and safety issues to increasing vacation time to pushing for better social benefits, improvements in the quality of life both in the workplace and beyond are far more likely to occur with a strong labour movement than with a weaker one.
And you don’t build a movement by giving up what you’ve achieved through generations of struggle.
I’d like a major victory for B.C. forest workers; I’d be overjoyed for even a fair contract for those working at the Journal de Québec. Without such victories, it is hard to push for better conditions for workers anywhere. It has been organised labour that has pushed the labour market to provide wages and benefits—the market place works both ways and improvements to the workers in some places does result in movement towards a better standard of living for others, just as labour defeats feed a downward spiral.