Saturday, July 28, 2012

To Circulate...

Guest Column in the Toronto Sun, July 23, 2012
‘Flexible’ labour means ‘cheap’ labour

Sid Ryan, President, Ontario Federation Labour

Prepare yourselves for lower-wages, fewer benefits and frequent job changes because middle class wages and job security are relics of the past, according to Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak.  After all, it is a dog-eat-dog job market out there and only the lean and mean will survive.

If you believe that, then perhaps it is time to pack up and move to Indiana … or better yet, follow Hudak’s plan to move Indiana up to Ontario.

This is the vision of the future that is prophesied by Hudak in his party’s latest White Paper on “flexible labour markets.”  The Tories’ new platform unveils an economic scheme that is centered on reduced public services and cheap labour.

To accomplish this, Hudak plans to abolish a century’s worth of hard-fought workers’ rights and make workers compete amongst themselves. The main thrust of his argument is that unions have outlived their usefulness and middle class wages and benefits are driving employers (predominantly in the manufacturing sector) to pull up stakes and take their business south of the border, where they have their pick of anti-union jurisdictions in which skilled workers earn scant more than minimum wage.

Hudak pooh-poohs the gains unions have made for all workers — whether by pushing up wages and living standards, creating health and safety laws, winning maternity leave or securing a shorter work day – as battles of a by-gone era. Instead of rights, pensions and fair wages, Hudak says that what today’s workers really need is “flexibility.”

Perhaps Hudak dreams of a modern day Grapes of Wrath, where workers will shuffle from one low-wage, precarious job to another, competing with each other in a race to the bottom. This is what he means by “flexibility” and, just as it was in post-Depression America, it is the path to perpetual poverty, not prosperity.

If you don’t believe me, consider that Hudak’s biggest bugaboo isn’t with Caterpillar Inc. which closed down its London, Ontario diesel train plant earlier this year after profiting from provincial and federal corporate tax cuts. No, Hudak reserves his ire for the 500 skilled workers of the London plant who refused to accept a 50 percent pay cut from a company reporting an historic fourth quarter profit bump of 58 percent (the highest yearly growth since 1947). According to him, it’s their fault that the lucrative company relocated production to Muncie, Indiana where the average worker will be feeding their family on $13.50 an hour. In a nutshell, Hudak’s advice for working families is: make yourself competitive by matching the lowest going rate. So much for the promise that billion-dollar government investments in corporate tax cuts would “trickle down” to workers through new jobs and wage gains.

But maybe it is all a matter of perspective. You see, for Hudak, “prosperity” means turning Ontario into a low-wage, regulation-free haven where corporations rake in profit at the expense of Ontario workers, communities and the environment.

“Flexible labour” is cheap labour and he proposes to bring Indiana-style laws to Ontario to drive wages down for all workers. So the next time that you hear Conservatives sounding off about unions, ask yourself whether average working people – that means you and your neighbours — are more likely to be better off if you work together or if you compete against each other. Seems to me the only thing Hudak is really worried about is that the rest of us might not buy into his politics of division.

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