Monday, 22 April 2013

Happiness and our Working Lives

“Lieben und arbeiten” (to love and to work). This is the answer Sigmund Freud is alleged to have given when asked what a person should be able to do well[1]. To do these two things well is, of course, important to a happy and fulfilled life. While this might be true, I might be so bold as to posit that there are countervailing requirements placed on love and work that must be met before doing them well can bring fulfillment.

“Work” that does not pay a living wage or the security of which is always uncertain will not be fulfilling. At a minimum, job security and a decent living wage are crucial. It won’t be enough on a personal level to do your job perfectly if the work doesn’t allow you to pay your bills or if you might be fired at any moment. Doing work well in a job that allows a worker to live in a dignified manner is the truly important aspect of the latter part of Freud’s love/work equation. And as all union members know, it’s this latter part that has been under increasing pressure lately.

From the anti-union scrutiny of Bill C-377 to the repressive statutory requirements of the Putting Students First Act to the failure of Bill-168 amendments to limit employer reprisals to the vociferous calls for right-to-work legislation from certain corners of the government, organized labour has been assailed on all sides. All of these developments would seek to undermine the countervailing requirements placed on work if it is to lead to fulfillment.

But the bright spot amidst all of this darkness has been the response of organized labour. Not only have unions pushed back against these measures, they have shown restraint and respect for the process of labour relations even in the face of opposition that would disregard those processes. The high road belongs to organized labour and even if factions of the public have not recognized that before now, when the forces that assail unions inevitably turn their venom on non-union workers, people will recall the strength and solidarity of organized labour in opposing these forces and will take heart.

Organized labour has done a service to all workers in the past year by reminding government and business interests that there will be resistance to oppressive measures. People have been made aware that work may indeed be a four-letter word, but union isn’t. In protecting labour rights unions have done more than protect their workers’ rights, they’ve protected the rights of workers to working conditions that safeguard the opportunity for personal fulfillment – leaving time to work at love and to love their work.

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