Unions 'stand on guard' for middle class

All eyes are on the Middle East as a wave of popular uprisings sweeps dictators from power.

But there's another battle brewing closer to home that has more significance for working people in the U.S. and Canada.

It's a fight about democracy and whether North America will continue to have a viable middle class.

The most prominent battleground is Wisconsin, where hardline Republican Governor Scott Walker says it's necessary to strip middle-class, unionized, public-sector workers of their rights to bargain collectively in order to balance his state's books.

The truth is that Walker is using public-sector unions as scapegoats for problems that were caused by years of failed Bush-era policies.

It wasn't teachers or nurses who transformed the U.S. from a powerhouse into the sick man of the world economy.

That feat was accomplished by waves of de-regulation, budget cuts, trade deals and tax give-a-ways to the wealthy - policies that hammered the middle-class, impoverished schools and other vital public services and paved the way for the global financial meltdown.

The emptiness of Walker's arguments became apparent when it was revealed that almost all of his state's $140-million deficit is attributable to a $137-million tax cut given to corporations.

It's important to note that Walker is still calling for an end to union negotiating rights even though the unions have agreed to deep wage and benefit concessions.

So, if public-sector workers are ready to deal, why is Walker so hell-bent on killing unions?

Bankrolled Tea Party

It's because he - and people like the billionaire Koch brothers who bankrolled many Tea Party campaigns -understand something important about unions.

They understand unions are one of the last counter-balances to unbridled corporate power and conservative political dominance.

That's why Walker isn't backing down - he wants to use his manufactured budget crisis to stack the deck even more dramatically in favour of conservatives.

The good news is that most Americans understand that working people - union and non-union alike - need unions to protect the middle-class lifestyle that millions feel slipping away.

Despite massive and distorted coverage from media outlets like Fox News, a recent New York Times/CBS poll revealed that Americans oppose weakening union bargaining rights by a margin of nearly two to one (60% to 33%).

What does all of this have to do with Canada and Alberta?

In the past two weeks, the Sun and other major news outlets have published columns echoing the Tea Party attack on unions.

More ominously, the Tea Party's biggest funders, the Koch brothers, have significant interests in Alberta.

They are responsible for receiving and handling about 25% of the oilsands crude sent to the U.S. and they own Calgary-based Flint Hills Resources Canada.

Don't expect these guys to stay out of our politics.

In fact, they may already be funding the Wildrose Alliance and Tory leadership candidates (we can't know for sure because both parties refuse to reveal their donors).

War moving north

So, be prepared for the war on unions and the middle class to move north.

But rest assured, Canadian unions will be ready.

We'll make the case for quality public services. We'll defend decent jobs.

We'll remind the powers-that-be that, in Alberta, the only reason we have a deficit is because of massive and unjustified giveaways to hugely profitable energy companies.

In the battle to preserve Canada's middle class, Canadian unions will (as always) stand on guard for thee.

Calgary Sun, Thurs Mar 3 2011
London Free Press, Tues Mar 8 2011
Byline: Gil McGowan

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.