Tuesday, 27 November 2012

We Have a lot to Thank Unions For

Over the years unions have been subject to a great deal of negative press. A campaign has been waged against unions to undermine the importance of concerted organization. Unions have been accused of being irrelevant in today’s labour market, of harming employers and damaging the economy. Of course, none of these accusations can withstand more than a modicum of scrutiny. This will be discussed in future posts, but for the moment we thought it would be appropriate to remind people that we all have a lot to thank unions for. Below are but some of the myriad benefits the labour movement has brought to all workers, unionized or not.


Lower Hourly Work-Day

 

The Nine-Hour Movement was an international workers' effort to secure shorter working days. Beginning in Hamilton in 1872, the demand for the 9-hour day spread to other cities and provinces. The Nine-Hour Movement marked the first time Canadian labour organized. Out of this Movement came a unified protest, tactics of resistance, and persuasive “working-class” leaders. The Nine-Hour Movement united union and non-union workers.

Though the Nine-Hour Movement ultimately failed to achieve its ends, it was not a complete failure. The Movement represented a crucial beginning in the recognition of the labour community’s capacity for self-governance. Immediately after the 1872 Movement, working-class activists won major concessions, such as the passage of laws strengthening workers' bargaining position with employers.[1] Laws were passed to legalize unionization, and Canada was also made one of the first countries in the world to limit the work-day.

It could be argued that at least partially based on the impression and awareness of the common interests of the labour community raised by the Nine-Hour Movement, Canada ratified the International Labour Organization Convention of 1919. The Convention secured a 48-hour work week for all Canadian workers, with some limited exceptions.

Labour Day


After Unionization was legalized, the protests of 1872 became an annual event. After the U.S. also adopted the annual event, it became known as “Labour Day”[2]. 

The "Union Threat Effect"


It’s common knowledge that unionization and collective bargaining has a positive impact on workers’ wages, but it’s less commonly known that unionization also has many positive impacts on wages for non-union workers.

In industries and/or occupations where most of the workplaces are unionized, there is often a spillover benefit to non-union workers from the accomplishments unionized workers have fought to attain. To forestall unionization, employers of non-unionized workers often meet union standards or, at least, improve the compensation they provide and labour practices they follow beyond what they would have otherwise provided if there had been no union presence. This is sometimes called the “union threat effect.”[3]

Leading by Example


A non-union employer does not always need a threat hanging over them in order for working conditions to improve for all workers. Through union efforts workplace norms and practices have been established that have become standard throughout the economy. Working conditions and wages have been improved for the whole workforce. Union wage-setting have set wage standards that all workers have come to expect from employers.

Numerous benefits, not least of which those for pension and health care, were first attained in the union sector. These benefits then became more standardized so that we now frequently see non-union workers enjoying these benefits. The grievance procedures used by unions, which afford due process in the workplace, have often been imitated in non-union workplaces. This provides all workers with greater workplace rights, protections and job security.







Note: We would like to thank and credit the Progressive Rambler blogspot for the picture.


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