By RICK EKAPUK
Shortly after the governing Liberal Party passed its austerity budget in early June, the right-wing opposition Progressive Conservatives sought to squeeze more out of Ontario workers through a full-frontal assault on labour unions.
In a “white paper” outlining their labour policy, the Conservatives propose to eliminate the requirement that employers deduct union dues from employees’ wages if requested by the union. Known as the “Rand Formula,” after Supreme Court Judge Ivan Rand who instituted it, this requirement has been a mainstay of Canadian labour law since 1946.
Some U.S. states have an equivalent rule, although it has recently come under sustained attack (in a grossly misnamed initiative known as “right to work”), especially in Indiana, where it was repealed in the spring. The trend is picking up in Canada too, with the Ontario Conservatives being the third provincial party to propose repealing the Rand Formula.
The Conservatives argue that repealing it will benefit workers by giving them the “choice” to contribute to unions or not. However, the concept of choice cannot apply to the Rand Formula, since it was brought about to fix a “free rider” problem. Deductions for union contributions are like taxes: just as residents are forced to pay for things like schools, roads, and law enforcement, workers must pay for the higher wages and other benefits that they enjoy from their union-negotiated collective agreements.
As York University labour relations Professor David Doorey rhetorically asks on his blog: “What if taxes were voluntary? How many people would pay them?… Soon no one would be paying taxes, and the government would go broke.” This is undoubtedly what the Conservatives wish for unions.
Another benefit of repealing the Rand Formula, according to the Conservatives, is that it will attract more employers to Ontario. But are Ontario’s labour laws really keeping them away? As Professor Doorey notes, the Rand Formula has not deterred notoriously anti-union companies such as WalMart and Target from rapidly expanding in the province; only about 15 per cent of private sector workers are unionized.
So why are the Conservatives going after the Rand Formula now? Ontario Federation of Labour President Sid Ryan says that it is a payback from PC party leader Tim Hudak for the role that union-paid ads played in his defeat at the October 2011 provincial election. Although this is easy to believe, the broader context should not be ignored. The Conservative proposal is the latest in a steady stream of anti-worker initiatives sweeping across our continent and the world, as the bills for the current financial crisis keep getting passed to the working class.
Socialists demand a stop to union-bashing and anti-worker austerity initiatives from the parties of capital. Supporting Ontario NDP proposed labour law reforms (to ease unionization) is positive, but not enough.
We need to deal with the economic crisis by strengthening the position of the working class here and around the world—which will require mass protest job actions.