Opinion

NELSON: Public sector workers such as B.C. teachers deserve the right to bargain

Do public sector unions have a role to play in Canada?

It’s not that complicated, Andy: Public sector unions aren’t evil.

Public sector unions, like all unions, exist to allow workers to negotiate their conditions of employment rather than just leaving it up to the boss.

Are we supposed to be against that?

I know the neo-conservative script: Every public sector wage increase raises taxes.  The public sector consumes wealth rather than creates it. The public sector is lazy and entitled, yada, yada, yada.

None of these convoluted arguments changes the fact that workers have a basic right to collectively negotiate wages and working conditions. Period.

The idea that we are being fleeced by the pubic sector is a smokescreen used to obscure the real fleecing that’s going on, that of the middle class and working poor by right-wing governments and big-business interests.

But, getting off that soapbox, let’s work from the premise that public sector unions are, in fact, evil.

How would dumping public sector unions help us economically? How would it help address our biggest economic challenges: unemployment and the disgraceful income disparity that impoverishes consumers and kills business?

And if we dump public sector unions, I assume we would need some replacement bargaining process other than your first choice of returning to the feudal system where serf is slave.

To effectively replace collective bargaining, any arbitration mechanism would have to be binding. It would require a commitment by government and the collective agreement of workers — some kind of (dare I say it?) union.

And today’s austerity crazed governments aren’t willing to be bound by any arbitration, unless it’s within parameters preset by them.

Think tanks have tried to make it complicated, saying the public sector is a dragon to be slain and private sector endeavour is more virtuous than public service.

Nonsense.

Public sector workers don’t produce widgets or sell insurance but their services are collectively needed, their contribution quantifiable. Their purpose is public service, not private profit. Arguably, this is a more virtuous and valuable mandate than that of the private sector.

If we don’t want a particular public service, we (government) can decide not to offer the service any more.

But the workers who deliver the public services we have deemed necessary deserve the same basic right to collective bargaining as everyone else.

 

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