COLUMN

Unions: the new rich and privileged

The NDP’s labor-union sugar daddies and mommies are distinctly anti-business and antienterprise. They represent the politics of envy.

DIANE FRANCIS November 4 1991
COLUMN

Unions: the new rich and privileged

The NDP’s labor-union sugar daddies and mommies are distinctly anti-business and antienterprise. They represent the politics of envy.

DIANE FRANCIS November 4 1991

Unions: the new rich and privileged

COLUMN

The NDP’s labor-union sugar daddies and mommies are distinctly anti-business and antienterprise. They represent the politics of envy.

BY DIANE FRANCIS

My first book, Controlling Interest: Who Owns Canada?, in 1986, documented the potential danger of concentration of economic

power. My concern was, and will always be, that a handful of individuals with huge financial muscle could run everyone else’s lives and inordinately influence political events. Of course, the danger has lessened because the Conservatives brought in tougher competition laws. And besides that long-overdue development, many of Canada’s richest families, including those of Robert Campeau and Stephen Roman, who died in 1988, have fallen on hard times.

Now, the concentration of economic power to worry about is Canada’s powerful labor movement—ironic, considering that unions have always attacked the so-called rich and privileged. Now, the unions are rich and privileged. They enjoy tax-free status and other questionable entitlements that allow them to function like an unelected government that “taxes” millions by collecting compulsory union dues. To further leverage their power, they use those funds to finance their political arm, the New Democratic Party, and a host of pressure groups.

I’m not anti-union, and willingly joined one in the past. Unions have their place as champions of worker rights and conditions, but my concern is that their growing strength and awesome war chest give them lopsided influence in our society. And recent ballot-box successes garnered by labor’s political proxy, the New. Democrats, show that their influence has now become actual power. Instead of worrying about a handful of billionaires, who answer to bankers, shareholders and regulators already, Canadians should be concerned that a handful of labor leaders with financial muscle are in a position to run everyone else’s lives and inordinately influence political events.

The problem with the NDP’S labor-union sugar daddies and mommies is that they are distinctly anti-business and anti-enterprise,

due to some imagined and inappropriate class warfare. They represent the politics of envy and only one side of the economic equation. In addition, their ruthless disregard for capitalists and wealth creation will inevitably lower living standards by driving out capital or by frightening it off.

The union movement’s financial strength is breathtaking. About 3.8 million of Canada’s 11 million workers in 1988 were unionized, and that year unions collected $745.9 million in revenues, roughly Prince Edward Island’s 1990 budget. That dues figure has grown. The 1988 figures represented a 7.1-per-cent hike, even though membership rose by only three per cent. That year, money was earmarked mostly in salaries for union brass, office expenses, consultants, conferences and political support. Only four per cent was spent on strike pay.

Collectively, Canada’s unions have more influence and raw political power than all the country’s millionaires and billionaires combined. That is because they work in concert, unlike the business community, which largely divides its political contributions among Conservatives, Liberals and—now—the Reform party. Labor, on the other hand, is solidly

united behind the NDP, now elected in three provinces representing more than half the country’s population. Because of its alliance with unions, the NDP bears little resemblance to the old CCF party of Tommy Douglas, but is really a European-style labor party that slavishly follows labor’s agenda whenever it can get away with it.

Private-sector wealth, by comparison, now faces growing union firepower. Families or corporations must answer to bankers, because they are usually mortgaged to the hilt, to investor-shareholders and to regulators. Also, as Campeau and Roman discovered, fortunes can be lost rapidly through mistakes in judgment, economic downturns or political intervention. A comment by Noranda Inc. chairman Alf Powis illustrates how powerless huge empires really are. When asked whether he would leave Quebec after the separatists were first elected, he said: “My reaction is quite simple. I’ll just go to Quebec, pick up the mines and move them to Ontario.”

Business is handcuffed and is buffeted by change, but unions march on despite business downturns. That is because the unionized workforce is mostly in sectors—government services, health, education, monopoly utilities—that are almost bulletproof during recessions. Unions also skim off dues from workers at the country’s biggest, most successful manufacturing and resource companies.

Union power grows exponentially because anyone who wishes to be employed by governments or other unionized sectors has no choice but to pay dues to the sitting union. There is little competition between unions. Workers cannot opt out of paying union dues even if they dislike the job being done or the way dues are spent. Workers have no control over how their money is spent. A landmark decision by the Supreme Court of Canada this year ruled against an Ontario educator who took his union to court, under the charter, in order to stop a portion of his dues from being diverted to the New Democrats and social causes, which he did not support. Might ganged up against right in that case as the unions sent high-priced lawyers to present their case to the court against the educator and his lawyer, paid for largely by the National Citizens Coalition. Unfortunately, individual rights lost out to union privilege and the court ruled against the educator, as a result handing over to unions the power to tax workers and spend the money any way they wish.

My greatest concern is the domination, within the union movement, of leaders who represent those working for the nonprofit sector, governments or fat-cat monopolies. By far the fastest-growing, those unions and their leaders, by definition, have no bottom-line mentality, no business smarts and, as individuals, have never met a payroll or competed for market share. And yet they skim payrolls for billions in dues that they use to win votes for a party with policies that will greatly impair the world of business upon which we, and they, depend. Canada’s union movement is a leftwing version of the type of concentration of economic power I wrote about in 1986. And it is much more worrisome.