Pro-Choice Unionism
Pro-Choice Unionism

Pro-Choice Unionism

September 1 st 1996

What if we were forced to join the NDP . . . or any other political party for that matter? No doubt there would be rioting in the streets. So why is that when a fundamental freedom is denied to millions of Canadian workers, no one bats an eye?

The fact is that many workers employed by a union-organized company have lost a fundamental freedom—the freedom to associate, or not to associate. As a condition of employment, most workers must belong to the union and pay dues, or lose their jobs. Construction companies whose employees did not join the "right" union are prevented from working on certain jobs, even publicly-funded projects.

The Work Research Foundation has began an initial one-year project, which we trust will be extended for a three-year time span, of education and public relations designed to create media and public discussion of the freedom of association issue and its effects in the area of labour relations. The main theme is that compulsory unionism is wrong and needs to be replaced by voluntary trade unionism.

Our planned strategy involves three distinct but complementary activities. The first is to create newsworthy events designed to attract attention to the issue. The intention is to commission qualified and respected persons to conduct research on a specific question related this issue. This will include sponsoring luncheons with high profile speakers, posting round tables with prominent business and labour leaders and releasing short digestible reports on our findings. These events will be timed for exposure at least every three to four months.

The first major project will be a survey of Canadians attitudes towards unions as democratic institutions. Professor Reginald Bibby of the University of Lethbridge, a well-known sociologist, will provide the leadership for this survey, and results will be released to a number of interested parties, and especially to the media.

The second project, will be to draw attention to and highlight events that are presently ignored, especially the impact of compulsory unionism on ordinary working Canadians. We plan to publicize various practices and events at least weekly, or more often, that demonstrate an ongoing denial of free association to Canadian workers. They include, restrictive bidding on projects, exclusive working agreements, subcontracting clauses in collective agreements, intimidation tactics by unions, and a host of other instances of coercive unionism. We look for information from you and the wider public to let us know of specific instances of restructive union and/or company practices.

The third strategy will be to develop networks of persons and organizations whose understanding of the issue and its importance will assist making it an issue of public concern and discussion. We plan to establish a network of journalists, scholars, and organizations that have an interest in, not only the issue of freedom of association, but also in the need for developing an alternative to adversarial labour relations.

These three strategies will be conducted concurrently. It speaks for itself that all of this requires an immense amount of work, and we gratefully acknowledge the receipt of a grant from the Donner Canadian Foundation which will assist us in this project. For more than twenty years, the WRF has existed as a part-time operation on a shoe-string budget. We survived because of the commitment and dedication of our supporters who believed that it was important to raise a Christian voice in this area of society.

With the additional funding initially for one year, the WRF is finally moving toward becoming a full-time operation. In addition to stepping up my involvement as research director, Ray Pennings will serve half time as the project director. We will also be hiring a full time assistant to handle media relations.

This project is a big step for the Foundation. Although it is made possible by the grant from the Donner Canadian Foundation, we need to rely on your financial support more than ever. We are still $75,000 short of our budget for this project.

New relationship

We are convinced that this is an opportune time for stepping up our activities. It is becoming more evident that the old-fashioned adversarial type of labour relations needs to be replaced by something different and much more positive. A new relationship based on mutual respect and trust is now needed more than ever. Not just because in these difficult times it makes such economic sense, but because as human beings created in the image of God, we are all deserving of dignity and respect and are duty bound to deal justly with one another.

A key ingredient of building cooperative relations is respect for workers' freedom if they choose to be represented by a union. Right-to-work laws that effectively eliminate unions will lead labour into a new dark age of abuse by employers. For unions, it's time to give workers their freedom back. They have been at the mercy of coercive union power for long enough.

Freedom of association affects all of us. To give it back to workers will require a united effort. But it's worth it. Because freedom is indispensable for maintaining a just and civilized society, and we should not let it slip away by indifference and neglect.

Harry Antonides
 
Harry Antonides

Harry Antonides came to Canada in 1948, initially working as a farm hand and railway labourer. After over a decade working in a chemical plant in Sarnia, Ontario, Harry joined the newly forming Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) in 1962 as a field representative. By 1970 Harry became director of research and education. In 1974, he was a founding member of the Work Research Foundation (now Cardus) and publisher of their sole publication, Comment magazine. A prolific writer and dynamic speaker, Harry delivered lectures all over North America and published numerous articles, reviews, and essays. He is author of several books on Christianity, labour, and economics, including Multinationals and the Peacable Kingdom (1978) and Stones for Bread: The Social Gospel and its Contemporary Legacy (1985). Harry is retired and lives with his wife Janet in Willowdale, Ontario.

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