Deal between union and company may increase wages, but at what cost?
The continued existence of independent and democratic workers’ unions, the traditional form of workers organized power, has been thrown into question as a result of the recent deal struck between the Canadian Autoworkers (CAW) and Magna International. The so-called “Framework for Fairness” as announced by CAW President Buzz Hargrove and Frank Stronach, CEO of Magna, strips away many of the rights that working people have fought for centuries to achieve.
The “Framework for Fairness” eliminates shop stewards - union members democratically elected by their coworkers to represent them in their dealings with management. In their place are “employee advocates,” who are assessed by a “fairness committee” made up of equal numbers of representatives from management and labour. Rank and file workers can not vote on these positions, taking away their right to elect their own representatives. Even worse, these so-called “employee advocates” are prohibited from viewing themselves as representatives of the union or employees.
According to the new deal, workers are even denied the right to directly elect the leaders of their own local union. Without independent, democratic representation in the workplace, workers’ interests are kept in line with bosses’ priorities. The obvious result is a silencing of workers’ voices and a rebirth of the company union controlled and infiltrated by management, that workers fought tirelessly against in the 1920s and finally eliminated in the 1930s. The removal of shop stewards has huge implications for building any sort of authentic workers movement and mobilizing the membership which is the real source of union power.
Arguably, the most shocking and disturbing element of the CAW/Magna agreement is that it permanently gives up the right to strike. The possibility of removing one’s labour is the one single bargaining chip that workers have in their dealings with management and is the source of workers’ power. Without the right to strike, workers are completely vulnerable to the whims of management and have no grounds on which to take a stand, weakening their position in an already unequal relationship. One thing we can be sure of is that workers in all sectors of the economy will face tougher negotiations at the bargaining table as the CAW/Magna deal has set a precedent that this is acceptable practice.
As working people, it is time to ask ourselves what kind of representation we want in the workplace and whether today’s unions are fulfilling their obligations to us. Unions are made up of workers and therefore, belong to us. In an economic climate where workers are up against multinational corporations and low-paid, part-time, temporary employment has become normal, independent organizations for workers is more important than ever. We must demanding accountability from our union leadership and reject leaders who fail to fight for our interests and sell us out to the bosses. Making concessions to management and sacrificing hard-won rights for workers is a dangerous game that is difficult to stop once it has begun.
There is a lot of anger amongst workers in the CAW surrounding the Magna deal. Hopefully they will be able to effectively channel that anger and take back their union.