By Leo W. Gerard, International President, United Steelworkers.
This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.
President Obama went to Austin, Texas, last week in pursuit of an industrial and employment revival. He wants to launch manufacturing institutes to foster American innovation and job creation.
Republicans responded by ridiculing the president, in the same arrogant way that the blooded aristocrats on the British television series Downton Abbey scorned a chauffeur who sought to marry into the patrician Crawley family. "No opportunity for the downtrodden!" the GOP and wealthy vow.
Brian Lee Crowley’s recent column in the Globe and Mail shows that he's a glass-half-full kinda guy. He says we shouldn't be worried about unemployment because a) it's old-fashioned, b) Boomers had it worse (and now they're getting old) c) we're doing better than the U.S., and d) it's really only young people and immigrants that are unemployed.
This is a relief.
So I shouldn't worry that the Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey indicates that real average hourly wages have risen by only twenty cents between 2009 and 2012 (an annualized growth rate of 0.3%). Or, that at the same time, real median hourly wages have actually fallen, indicating that any wage growth has been limited to a few at the top end.
Hidden deep in the bowels of the Fraser Institute in Vancouver, there is an elaborate contraption known as “the Canadian Tax Simulator.” It generates the data for “the Canadian Consumer Tax Index,” an annual report that supposedly tells us how much tax is paid by the average Canadian family.
The latest report was released just before the income tax filing deadline of April 30. Taxes, we were told, are shockingly high as a proportion of family income, and now loom larger than spending on the necessities of life.
*CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY*
Last September, the Broadbent Institute issued a major discussion paper Towards a More Equal Canada, which addressed the issue of rising economic inequality. For every $1 increase in national earnings over the past twenty years, more than 30 cents have gone to the top 1% of earners, while 70 cents have had to be shared among the bottom 99%. Middle class incomes have now been stagnant for thirty years.
There’s no doubt that low-income people, especially children and their parents, are better off because of social unionism’s strong tradition in Canada. At all levels, unions take the lead in pressing for public policies such as decent minimum wages, fair labour practices and progressive public services that support families when they are in the labour force and when they are not.
We are at a socio-economic and ecological crossroads with governments at every level pushing an austerity agenda. Yet, in this moment of financial, economic, social, and environmental crisis, with the socio-economic and ecological shocks being felt in communities, the last and most enduring institution that represents the interest of workers – the labour union – is under threat from powerful vested interests.
There was a time when you wouldn’t walk into the local union hall wearing your organic cotton “Save the Whales” t-shirt, and also when you probably wouldn’t take part in the local Earth Day parade wearing a hard hat and well-worn safety boots. But fashions change and so do perceptions. Union members and environmentalists have discovered they have much more in common than anyone once thought.
Like with any relationship, the road from mutual mistrust to grudging acceptance to warm embrace has had its share of potholes. But what we have come to recognize is that our planet needs us – and not us and them.
The Fraser Institute has jumped into the plutonium-powered DeLorean and has gone Back to the Future with their latest report on Canadian taxes.
The Fraser Institute claims that the average Canadian family’s tax bill has soared by 1,787% since 1961.
While that’s a clear exaggeration that ignores inflation, what is astounding is that their numbers don’t even remotely hold up.
Sadly, in many ways nothing more powerfully and obviously underscores the critically important role that trade unions and trade unionists play in human rights struggles - around the world - than the grave abuses they so frequently experience simply because they stand up for the rights of workers or lead and take part in important social movements addressing wider human rights concerns.
“Union Communities, Healthy Communities” sets out the direct relationship between healthy rates of unionization and lower rates of income inequality. This is a critical factor to discuss in light of the current developing attack on unions in Canada. At a time when many provinces have been starting to address issues of poverty reduction, children's benefits and welfare reform; what little progress we are making will be quickly undone if "right to work" measures gain ground. Unions are not only a key force in mitigating income inequality but also in fighting against the growing trend to precarious employment -- contract, part time, no benefits etc. – that is multiplying the numbers of Canadians who rank among the working poor.