President Barack Obama had it right Monday when he told the people of Michigan that so-called right-to-work legislation is about politics, not jobs.
Such legislation, now in place in 23 U.S. states, undermines union finances by giving members the right to withhold dues, even though they continue to enjoy the rights and benefits of a union contract.
These laws are pretty effective in undermining unions. The unionization rate in right-to-work, or RTW, states averages just 7.6 per cent, compared to 18.6 per cent in the non-RTW states.
But independent research shows that jobs, even in manufacturing, do not flow to states that pass anti-union laws.
Governments at all levels in Canada have embarked on an austerity agenda that includes reducing public sector employment and efforts to privatize public services. This policy direction will slow economic growth, harm the quality of public services, and the loss of services will have a larger impact on low-income Canadians than higher income Canadians. Along with these other impacts, this austerity agenda will increase income inequality.
Increased inequality is a phenomenon that has affected many countries since the 1980s—industrial, emerging market and developing. At the same time, some countries have become more unequal than others. Thus, it is important to try to distinguish factors that have been at work universally from factors that have served either to retard or to exacerbate inequality at the national level. The latter category comprises, among others, income transfers, progressive income taxation and active labour market policies aimed at generating decent jobs and full employment. However, this note focuses on the former—the universal factors.