Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Hudak's leadership vision won't fix anything

This past Saturday, Tim Hudak retained his position as leader of the Ontario Conservatives, with Delegates of the party voting strongly against loosening the rules to more easily allow for leadership reviews. In the process, the Conservatives sent Hudak a strong signal of support. After the vote, Hudak pledged to stay the course, to continue advancing even the more controversial of his positions, saying: “I will not blink, I will not falter, I will not hesitate...”

Hudak likened Ontario’s economic situation to that of Detroit, a city which has had such a stunning descent into bankruptcy that the very hint of a comparison is enough to stoke fear. But Hudak insists the economy can be fixed, and he has a plan to fix it.

We all know what this means and it isn’t good, nor is it any kind of “fix”. Hudak has long been a vocal proponent of right-to-work legislation. We’ve discussed this type of legislation before – how it is designed to break unions, to disempower workers, to reduce wages and benefits for all workers and is, if anything, a right-to-work-for-less. The economists, Gordon Lafer and Sylvia Allegretto, add weight to this view.

They analyzed the impact of right-to-work laws after they were passed in Oklahoma. Lafer and Allegretto concluded that, though the Conservatives would have us believe otherwise, the result in Oklahoma was that companies left the state. Industries that depended on consumer spending on the local level experienced a decline in sales and hampered growth. Despite an exhaustive study, Lafer and Allegretto could not identify any positive impact that the right-to-work legislation had on employment rates. Lafer concisely summarizes the situation: “It will not bring new jobs in, but it will result in less wages and benefits for everybody, including non-union workers.” In other words, when workers don’t earn enough money to purchase goods, the local economy isn’t stimulated and slips into decline. It seems obvious, but that doesn’t seem to stop Hudak from vilifying the unions and arguing for a plan that would do anything but fix the economy. 

But there’s another component to this type of repressive legislation that’s worth discussing - right-to-work legislation plays a role in a broader plan to demoralize workers.

Unions do more than protect a worker’s right to a decent wage and to be free from discrimination. They also give workers the chance to take pride in their work and to develop a sense of solidarity and care for all those involved in the common cause of securing labour rights.

These things, on the most superficial level, are not good for the employer. Job security, a decent wage and pride in one’s work increase payroll costs and curtail an employer’s ability to cut costs on such things as worker safety. Better for the employer that workers are isolated - divorced from a common cause, working in soulless indifference. And if that causes the worker to hate his or her work, so what? With right-to-work legislation in place and unions broken, it would be no problem to simply cast such a worker aside and replace him or her with another whose options have been so limited by a legislated power imbalance that they’ll work for the same wage (or an even lower wage if possible).

This is to say that right-to-work legislation seeks to harm workers in their very dignity. It treats each worker as little more than a disposable cog in a gluttonous industrial wheel which would rather make the argument that the removal of labour protections will create jobs and ignore economic evidence to the contrary than to afford workers the very rights they’ve fought so long and hard for.

Seeing as how the spectre of Hudak’s leadership being reviewed was raised after the Conservatives lost 4 out of 5 August 1 provincial by-elections, voters seem aware that Hudak’s plans to “fix” the provincial economy aren’t sound. Only time will tell if Hudak will reach a similar awareness.

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