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|THE GORDIAN KNOT - CANADIAN STYLE|
Cartoons in this series by Gordon Collins
if you like of the power of big unions, but remember that big unions
were created by big corporations. Can anyone imagine a small union
dealing with a large corporation the size of Imperial Oil or General
Motors? The idea is preposterous.
Scanning the history of the Canadian labour movement one can almost count on the fingers of one hand the number of memorable labour disputes of a violent nature which have occurred during the past fifty years. One can say, in fact, that the development of organized labour has been 'civilized' in the extreme. This development has not been characterized by the same ugliness that has accompanied union-management activities in other countries such as France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the U.S., to name a few. Why is it then that pamphleteers, labour observers, writers and industrialists alike ascribe to the labour movement in this country a militancy and violence that. simply doesn't exist? For instance, consider the following:
"Negotiating with a militant union," Professor says, "is like dealing with the Soviets." This was the headline in one issue of the Industrial Supervisors Institute news bulletin. The stated purpose of the article which followed was 'to provide a basis for discussion.' To this end the author posed a question: "How do you look at union leaders you deal with - gangsters out to do you all the dirt they can, short of putting you out of business, or as part of your work force?" Some discussion! It is rather like being asked the question. "Have you stopped beating your wife?" The quotation was from a U.S. professor at a U.S. university commenting on the U.S. labour scene. The I.S.I. bulletin, however, is a weekly pamphlet aimed at Canadian supervisors.
Again, at a recent C.I.M. meeting at Belleville, Ontario, Mr. K. H. Rapsey, president of Allan Bradley Canada Limited, said, "Free market influences are militantly stamped out by roving mobs of union picketers." Later, he said, "When mass pickets close down a plant by force or threat of force, their actions are both immoral and illegal. Massed picketing is like saying, 'Pay up, or else, which is the type of 'bargaining' used by the protection racketeer." On this kind of reasoning Rapsey bases his opinion that society is heading for a return to the feudal state.
It is no secret that W. P. Gutlander, president of the U.S. National Association of Manufacturers (an organization similar to the Canadian Manufacturers Association of which K. H. Rapsey is a vice-president) has just completed a 50,000 mile tour extolling the virtues of the free enterprise system. Along the way he aimed his shafts at the labour movement, no doubt telling his audiences what they wanted to hear. Rapsey's recent address just happened to be along the same lines and one can't help wondering if there isn't some connection between the two.
In any case, provocative statements of the kind quoted are enough to raise the hackles and bring out the flesh in goose pimples. Like clarion calls of alarm, they are sufficient to send all good managers, I imagine, scurrying off to man the ramparts with the slings and arrows of their outraged indignation. One good blast on the old trumpet and another battle in the continuing war between management and organized labour is engaged.
It is difficult to understand why managers, who claim to exercise restraint and objectivity in all things, seem to lose all sense of perspective when confronted with the matter of management-labour relations. There seems to be an ingrained prejudice - not entirely one-sided - concerning the aims, ideals and attitudes of the organized labour movement. As a result, an almost religious bigotry has evolved for which there is a special rhetoric of catch phrases, militant vocabulary, theories, myths and fables. It might also be pointed out that the 'case-hardened' champions of organized labour have precious little to crow about in this regard either.
One may as well quest for the Holy Grail as expect to find an unbiased opinion on the subject of organized labour. I mean by this that one must either accept the literature put out. by corporate-controlled publications or the diametrically opposed gospel of the trade union movement. For anyone interested in making an honest assessment of the current state of affairs in this field it is first necessary to dispel some cherished misconceptions.
MYTHS AND FABLES
First, the widely-held belief that unions are primarily responsible for, and the direct cause of, unemployment through excessive demands for wage increases is not supported by available evidence. Wage increases do not in themselves cause unemployment. If they did then other countries would have the same difficulties experienced in the Canadian economy. For example, the 1969-70 figures of wage increases compared with unemployment levels for various countries are as follows:
On the face of it these figures are impressive. To argue against myself I must note that if there is any relationship between the two sets of figures it is hard to find. Therefore, the best that can be said is that the point is only proved in a negative way. In other words, there must be some other factor, or factors, such as, for example, a rising economy, which makes the relationships interdependent.
In the same area, fluctuations in a state's cost of living index are brought about by a variety of causes, among which the 'wage increase' factor plays a small though not insignificant part. Increases in cost of living stem from the unpredictable variables that govern the free enterprise marketing of crops, goods and services; from a country's monetary policies; from variations in government spending; from the incidence of war and conflict; and lastly, from the manipulation of production schedules by large corporations.
On the other side of the coin there is the equally cherished myth, held in the ranks of organized labour, that the 'labour content' of manufactured goods is but a small fraction of the total value of 'goods sold'. In the publication Shutdown, published by the Ontario Federation of Labour, it is stated that "The assemblers who put together a $5,000 car are paid $60 in wages - a very small part of the total cost of the car." This may be true, but to ask anyone to believe - as the statement infers - that the remaining $4,940 is profit (less incidental expenses) which accrued to the manufacturer is asking us to stretch the myth beyond its elastic limit.
One is very well aware that this is not what the commentator of Shutdown meant, but what was meant and what was wrote were two entirely different things. Therefore, at the risk of being branded as what I am not, by referring to one of the ideas propounded by Karl Marx in Das Capital, I want to apply his line of reasoning to the manufacture of an automobile.
The parts which go to make up a car (put together with $60 worth of assembly labour) come from other manufacturing plants from which they were shipped out as 'goods sold'. Those parts, so far as cost is concerned, were the product of a 'labour content' and 'bought-in material' value. The bought-in material came in turn from perhaps another factory or a fabricator or a steel mill. At each stage the value of the material was increased by the addition of a 'labour content'. By tracing everything back down the line we will finally reach the original source of the material. At that point it was 'free' in the sense that it was extracted from the ground as mineral ore or it was produced in some form by nature. The obvious point here is that in the last analysis it is logical to say of 'goods sold' that there are only two component parts which go to make up cost: those components are labour and profit and nothing more. Hence, the contention of Shutdown is unsound because it is based on a false premise. So much for myths and fables.
PART OF THE KNOT
One aspect of Canadian trade unionism which is neither myth nor fable is its connection with U.S. organized labour. Attempts to explore the strength of that connection with such organizations as the Canadian Labour Congress meet with the same sort of evasion that one expects of a Swiss banker. For instance, to the question, "Briefly, what advantages and disadvantages are there in Canadian union affiliations with US unions?" William Dodge, Secretary-Treasurer of the C.L.C., replied, "Briefly? You must be kidding!" One gets the impression that union officials are even more reluctant than corporate managers to give information or express opinions on this subject. Consequently, the investigator must rely on what scanty information is available. One source is COLURA (Corporations and Labour Union Returns Act).
The latest report of COLURA indicates that during the seven years from 1962-1968 the 'internationals' collected from Canadian unions some $208 millions and spent $128 millions during the same period on salaries, benefits, pensions and the like for Canadian activities. This left some $80 millions unaccounted for.
It is also clear that in many cases, for a variety of reasons, 'international' headquarters exert great pressure on Canadian locals to settle management-labour disputes and these pressures occasionally result in internal conflicts. But it is not the HOW and the WHAT so much as the WHY which should be of greatest concern to us. As indicated at the outset, the WHY of international cooperation among trade unions is of far greater moment than any other question. The answer is to be found in the structure, development and character of the 'international' corporations and industries with which organized labour must negotiate.
To begin with, the term 'multi-national', used to describe the corporation whose operations are world-wide, is a misnomer. 'International' more correctly defines the character of corporations which, based in one country, operate throughout the world. A multinational (corporation), surely, would be made up of many nations with no single nation or country holding a dominant position. By the same reasoning 'imitational unions' are no more international than the World Series (of baseball) is a world series. The international unions are, in fact, continental unions since their ties are confined to North America. This is an important distinction which one must make when comparing trade unions with business corporations.
International corporations, then, have developed a hitherto unknown ability to shift production from country to country and continent to continent. Witness the U.S. auto-import agreements with Japanese and European manufacturers, designed to take advantage of lower labour costs in those countries. Similar agreements are to be found in the field of agricultural machinery and heavy construction equipment. In short, so far as organizational development goes, the unions are rank amateurs as compared with the international corporations, and cannot hope to compete with them to counteract the strength of international corporatism with any hope of success.
The leaders of the labour movement know this; the corporate leaders know it. And as though this were not enough for them to contend with, Canadian unions and their leaders find themselves being pulled in two directions. On the one side they are tugged by the demands of public opinion to break ties with their US brethren and, on the other, commonsense tells them they must strengthen those same ties if they are successfully to counter-balance the increasing strength of international corporatism. Union leaders frankly admit that this tug-of-war presents them with a dilemma.
DIVIDED THEY STAND
A recent article in the Toronto 'Globe and Mail' recognized this concern when Ronald Anderson commented, "British unions fear that the existence of multinationals" - the international corporations - "will weaken job security because production can be shifted to a factory elsewhere." In the opinion of many union officials and observers alike, the unions have no option in the long run but to both strengthen and convert continental ties into international ties.
Even among themselves there remains a sad lack in unity of purpose, which makes a mockery of the word 'union'. Disunity among unions is more often the case in practice and to illustrate this point one need only mention the recent Texpack dispute in Brantford. No sooner had the union which represented the disenchanted workers brought them out on strike than did a rival union leap into the breach to represent the replacement workers brought in by the Texpack management. Had there been any true unity of purpose in the labour movement such rivalry could not have occurred.
A group attitude is difficult to reduce to simple terms, but so far as one can gather, the attitude of Canadian managers towards organized labour is changing. Realizing that they are as much employees as hourly-paid people, this attitude tends to be more liberal than might be supposed. However, one needs to distinguish between the higher echelons of management and what might be termed 'rank and file' management. At the same time the liberal outlook should be qualified. One commonly hears opinions expressed which go something like, "Well, of course unions are necessary: look what they've done for the working man. Don't know where we'd be without them. But as for holding the rest of us up to ransom well now, that's another thing!" and in the next breath they criticize unions for depriving the public at large of its 'right' to have uninterrupted air service, transportation, postal delivery and the hundred and one other necessities of life.
There is a lack of consistency in this line of thinking, a sort of non-Euclidean logic which permits one to arrive at conclusions based on opposed beliefs which cancel out. Yet the obvious and unalterable facts remain: the union movement is part of our society; it serves a useful purpose, fills an important need. Unions should represent the interests of far more people than they do. Once we grasp these facts - obvious to the dispassionate eye - they are not easily ignored, and managers will have at last put themselves in a frame of mind to deal as intelligently with organized labour as they do with any other business. Trade unionists no more rove the streets in mobs than managers plot the overthrow of mankind behind locked doors.
In Sweden, in 1938, both management and organized labour got together to find a solution to the costly strikes which were then crippling the economy. The outcome of those negotiations was a thirty-year period of calm in which no major unrest occurred. We have a similar situation in Canada today: there is an economic crisis which is not being helped by the attendant labour unrest. It is high time the Canadian Labour Congress and the Canadian Manufacturers Association got together to discuss the future of the economy with mutual concern and understanding. Instead of the corporations sending their captains to lobby the Federal Government for 'better deals', and the unions submitting their earnest briefs to every committee under the sun, they would more profitably spend time getting together to solve a common problem.
Trade unionism is not the foe. The common enemies are poverty, unemployment, ignorance and want. Anyone with an ounce of sense can see that but, remember, there are none so blind as those who don't want to see.
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