RE: CUPW Strike

(This is an editorial I sent into the Times & Transcript in Moncton, NB. It's over 3x the suggested length of 250 probably won't get published.)

You’ve got mail. The Canadian Union of Postal Workers’ strike ended after an epic overnight debate on back to work legislation introduced and voted through by Harper’s majority Conservative government. The NDP endlessly filibustered the bill in effort to create time for Canada Post and CUPW to reach a mutually beneficial agreement. Negotiating parties unable to achieve resolution, the Harper Conservatives crafted prescriptive legislation for binding arbitration. Included in this bill, was a pay increase less than what Canada Post had most recently offered.

This intervention into collective bargaining is exemplary of an ideological conflict that has come to define the Canadian politic. Harper’s Conservatives claim to have acted on behalf of ‘ordinary Canadians’, small business, and charities by ending a disruptive strike. They also lay claim to the economic moral high ground suggesting that the wage their legislation prescribed was fair given the austere economic climate and comparable to other government negotiations.

Illustrated here is the ideologically motivated policy direction of the Harper Conservatives. Govern on behalf of the economy; govern on behalf of the rich. Unions are important mechanisms that facilitate surplus value of labour being more evenly distributed between workers and capital owners. While I approach unions with mild ambivalence, I acknowledge how they perform in important ways. The existence of unionized workplaces that may offer better benefits, wages, and schedules creates competition for a limited talent pool. To remain competitive with unionized workplaces, non-unionized workplaces must accordingly offer competitive compensations. Unions help create a strong middle class.

Harper’s Conservatives are governing in a style that will emaciate the middle class and increase income inequality in Canada. The wage imposed onto CUPW workers is a clear demonstration of Harper’s misunderstanding of the needs of Canadians. Austerity measures that see services cut, wages frozen or reduced, and smaller infrastructure spending foot ordinary Canadians with the bill of an economic downturn caused by some of the world’s wealthiest corporations and financiers.

A low-cost business environment is the goal of the Harper Conservatives’ initiative to create jobs. Complicit with this goal is providing a pool of cheap labour and low-taxes. This American style of governance is unsuitable for the realities of the Canadian economy. Our economy and population are minute in comparison to the US; further, we are primarily a resource country. Canada is in no way able to contend with the competitive advantages of US technology or developing world labour costs. A successful management of the Canadian economy needs to realize an alternative economic model that recognizes our separate identity from the US. The economic shift toward the service and knowledge economies needs to be embraced by our social planning. While one model of job creation is to create a latent pool of labour, a more suitable model for Canada is to create a latent pool of talent.

The transient and disconnected nature of well paid high-tech and creative jobs, such as design and writing, suggests that good jobs can exist wherever there is a pool of talent large enough to attract them. This concept operates in the reverse of the classic idea that people relocate to where jobs are available. Simply put, the task becomes to make Canada an attractive place for talented people who will in turn attract industry. Robust social services, health programs, and educational initiatives are factors that attract international talent to Canada and encourage our brightest to pursue their careers at home. Austerity measures forthcoming from the Harper Conservatives will reduce Canada’s competitive advantage in the competition for talent and steer us toward an economic model of an annexed US state.

Alternative to Harper’s policy direction, there are two systemic barriers holding the economy back from integration into the knowledge economy: education and unemployment. While the Harper Conservatives siphon social services and public wages away, ever fewer people are financially capable of retiring at the age of 65 (or younger). At the same time, some of the most promising students are unable to develop their skills because of the costs of post-secondary education. Canada could make a smooth transition to a knowledge economy by increasing seniors’ benefits to move them out of the workforce and create jobs; meanwhile, we can be creating a more accessible system of post-secondary training options to give Canada a competitive edge for talent.

So did the NDP fall out of public favour for supporting the CUPW? I don’t think so, I think they realized Canada has two choices for the economy, and they chose to support ordinary Canadians instead of representing the interests of corporations and banks. The difficulties the Harper Conservative direction for Canada will have on the middle class are largely unnecessary. The federal NDP and Liberal Premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty, have found common ground in calling for the abolition of the unelected senate. Perhaps new ways of taxing should be investigated; British Columbia and Ontario have recently harmonized their sales taxes, and Nova Scotia even raised their HST and has managed to not devolve into chaos. With 60% of Canadians voting against Harper’s Conservatives, the ideological economic reforms pursuant will be unrepresentative of the Canadian will and identity.

If we’ve learned from the CUPW strike, it is that the Harper Conservative vision of austerity is prepared to subsidize a tax cut for the wealthy with lost wages and services from ‘ordinary Canadians’.