Lousy pay, little respect, measly or no benefits or pension? Fight back: UNIONIZE!

Workers have always had to fight. From the time of the industrial revolution right up until today, the people who make the capitalist system work … those who do the work that produces the goods and those who are the consumers who buy them … have had to FIGHT for a fair share of the profits.

Capitalism works best when the people who invest their capital get a good rate of return AND when the workers get a good rate of return on THEIR investment of labour, time and commitment.

And for decades the system worked well: companies that thrived shared the wealth produced with the people who produced it: fair wages, health benefits, decent pensions … NOT , in most cases, because the bosses wanted to share fairly, but because they were forced to by unions in their workplaces or the fear of them forming.

The benefits to society were enormous: workers meant something to their employers; companies rewarded loyalty and longevity with job security; families were able to survive with only one parent working;  even young people could afford to buy homes.

Hard to believe now, but back in the 1980’s almost 40% of Canada’s workforce was unionized.

And unions made that system work … by protecting employees at unionized sites and influencing how workers were treated at non-union sites as well.

Globalization has changed all that.

To too many companies headquartered overseas … or to too many Canadian companies trying to compete with them … workers in North America have gone from being assets to being liabilities; stubborn troublemakers who won’t work for $1 a day, who insist on lunch breaks, workdays of less than 12 hours, and even  days off.

So the global corporations shipped the jobs out whenever and wherever they could, to dictatorships or countries where leaders and government officials are almost totally corrupt and where millions live in desperate poverty … PERFECT for exploitation.

And big business learned well from their experiences overseas.

Thus began the insidious habit of hiring employees here for only 32 hours a week, instead of offering full-time employment, so they could pay less than fair wages; avoid supplying  even basic health benefits, let alone vision or dental care or short or long term sick leave, and certainly extending few or no retirement benefits.

And, of course, fight off any union that would stand in their way … often with the help of right wing bought-and-paid-for governments that made it harder to unionize, easier to de-certify and largely became oblivious to unfair labour practices, unsafe working conditions and even threats and intimidation directed at workers who dare to stand up for anything!

And what has 20 years of globalization brought us?

While the profits of many, many corporations have soared,  the taxpayers have been forced to assume a much larger share of the social burden …. health, housing, assistance and even retirement/survival support.

Today, most often, both parents must work just to survive; most young people hold two or even three jobs just to put together enough hours, at low pay rates, to support themselves; and buying a home is just an dream for far too many … unless they win a lottery.

And unionization in Canada has dropped dramatically.

In a recent article in The Vancouver Sun, Jock Finlayson of the Business Council of BC said the portion of Canadian employees in unions has now dropped to less than 30 per cent;   only 16 per cent of workers in the private sector; with only the public sector, at 70 per cent, still holding a high unionization rate.

My old union, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union (130,000 members) and the Canadian Auto Workers (190,000 members) voted last month to merge into a single union.

Critics see that as proof of the declining power and influence of organized labour … coming together as kind of a survival move; I am hoping it is something more.

Canadian unions MUST embark upon a HUGE organizing drive, helping young working people to fight for 40-hour jobs, with benefits and to take back some of their own dignity on the job, when abusive managers or bosses raise their ugly attitudes.

Young workers are the key: they MUST become Union Revolutionaries to fight the war against their eroding working conditions, pay and treatment!

I want them to know it’s risky: nothing angers lousy management more than word that a union drive is under way, and it could cost unsuccessful activists their jobs. But if it’s a low-paying job with little or no benefits and little respect … there are likely plenty of others like that around.

And take it from someone who has been there, the benefits if successful, like fair wage negotiations, better working conditions and job security, are well worth the effort.

I realize there are some who say unions were great at one time, but no longer serve their purpose or are needed.

Just look around you at how our standard of living, benefits, full-time work and job security has declined as unionization has declined.

And imagine where working conditions, salaries and benefits are heading … if unionization continues to decline.

Organize!  For the Union makes you strong!

Happy Labour Day.

Harv Oberfeld



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31 Responses to Lousy pay, little respect, measly or no benefits or pension? Fight back: UNIONIZE!

  1. Merv Adey says:

    I’ve disagreed with you more than once recently Mr. O….glad we’re back to normal. Others will argue that globalization has forced this on us and no turning back…to a degree they are right. But unions do have a place in ensuring respect for labor in all sectors.

  2. G. Barry Stewart says:

    You pinko Commie, Harv! LOL!

    People say it’s the entrepreneurs and capitalists that make this country work. Without them, we’d have nothing. Partly true.

    But put a thousand entrepreneurs and capitalists on barren land and say “Go to it!” and see what happens.


    Without a motivated and skilled workforce, nothing would get done… or bought.

    It’s a symbiotic relationship — and the union movement can help make it a healthier one. Without it, the boss is holding too many of the cards.

    It does need to be sensible unionism, though. Good training, good communications and good leadership are important.

    (Response: Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against responsible capitalism. I was lucky in my career, almost until the end, to work for very good, fair, caring employers and in 1989, actually opposed a unionizing drive at BCTV. But under new ownership and management, despite it being hugely profitable enterprise, things changed drastically, so in 1998, when others decided to trry again, I supported the effort, despite the risk I faced. We succeeded and I served as Vice President for 8 years. Capitalism CAN work well for owners, investors and staff …but when staff are treated like crap and denied fair wages and benefits, a union can make them stronger! h.o)

  3. Mo says:

    Unions are the best tool that workers have. Without those workers are chattels or slaves.

  4. G. Barry Stewart says:

    BTW, one of my sons, who works on site preparation in the Lower Mainland, came home with news that his boss was getting tired of having guys doing the same job, at all sorts of rates of pay — and he wanted to maintain a dependable, committed workforce… so HE asked THEM to unionize!

    They obliged. Now many get better pay and benefits.

  5. 13 says:

    Harvey, you have never been so dead on the mark.From begining to the end your post is deadly accurate. I agree with all of your sentiments. But and there is always a but I see a few problems and not problems you might expect. I have belonged to three private sector unions. The Teamsters and the CAW are the last two. BRAC was thirty years ago and they were absorbed by the steel workers. I am currently a member in good standing of the CAW.
    So the problem as I see it is the unions have gone soft. Litigation and govenment legislation have made them shadows of there former selves. I can already hear the rhetoric ” the union is only as strong as it members” This was once true but not anymore. Both the Teamies and the CAW are guilty of sitting back and waiting for workers to come looking for a union. In this day and age they need to be in the driveway of xyz corporation with union cards. They need to be there 24 hrs a day 7 days a week untill the organization drive is a success. This costs MONEY. This requires voulenteers. The unions dont have the money and it isnt easy getting people to leave there job to sit in a driveway in the rain and winter months. They are also up against people that have come from parts of the world where the thought of a picket line is so unrealistic that theyhavent got a clue what to do to unionize.
    On one organizing drive I stopped an Indo Canadian trucker and asked him to sign a union card. I was happy that he took the card and signed it without any question at all. He even thanked me but before he gave me the card back he stood on the side of his truck and said” sure Ill join your union pal, but good luck with the rest to these drivers. There just happy to be out of the blueberry fields” . He was right. For every one driver that signed a card ten refused. Scared that they would loose the driving job and end up picking berries.
    Add to this the fact that the Port of Vancouver has introduced a license system. In order to obtain a port license you have to sign away your right to strike, protest, or even behave in any way that the port doesnt approve of. Sure its a load of crap but neither the Teamsters nor the CAW have the balls to take the Port to the supreme court. They realize that it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to wage a war that many of the non union drivers would not understand. In 2006 after the last Port shutdown the CAW had about 1300 members. The Teamsters maybe 700. About 1/2 the trucks on the port were unionized. Today the CAW has about 200 and the Teamsters about 200 and the number of trucks has increased to almost 5,000.

    So even though the Port has agreed to enforce the terms of the 2005 Ready Report on all truckers union and non union alike they havent. And once again they thumb their nose at the truckers because they know that the unions cant afford to go to court and make the Port honor their commitment . Never mind the thousands of non union truckers that are scared to loose their port license at the drop of a hat.

    (Response: I’m not sure it’s the unions going soft, but the workers in them. Getting them just to attend a meeting is a challenge, unless it’s a vote on a striek or agreement. Few are willing to volunteer .. many of them preferring instead to spend a lot of criticising and complaining about those who do! And active unionists can pay a price on the job (I did) …but the tremendous satisfaction you get from helping others stand up for their rights or against bully bosses is well worth the struggle. h.o)

  6. But the unions are part to blame for a lot of this too, Harv. It is the unions who want to put mothers to work, who put down women that want to stay home with the children. I’ve recently been cut back to 32 hours/week, because the union allowed it, and that is with 26 years seniority. Nor will the union let the members see the seniority list, telling us only where we stand numerically, claiming it is a privacy matter! The unions too, tend to promote all kinds of social policies that I am opposed to and their standard excuse is that they voted for it democratically, which is B.S., they do it internally without informing the members of what will be on the agenda. And that is when they inform you at all, of meetings. The unions are every bit as greedy and political as are the companies that employ us. The unions are losing their place in the work force because they have failed to protect their members in the really important matters of employment. Wanna talk about the unions in Quebec? How many union bosses run off to private clinics in the U.S. or else where for medical treatments? What happens in trade with countries like China is the result of so-called free trade, but then who is buying all the crap at WalMart? And it is so-called union boys who are always defending the communist countries as worker’s paradises.

    (Response: I hope you attend union meetings and demand to knbow WHY they allow the company to cut peopel back to 32 hours, WHY they don’t publish a seniority list and WHY they spend a lot of time on social issues that are usually just far-left wing rhetoric (often anti Israel, anti-US etc. but never criticize Russia, China, Cuba,Arab countries etc.) and have nothing to do with the work place. And if you don’t get the answers you like, run for union office: I’d bet there are a lot who believe what you do and would support you. h.o)

  7. Jim says:


  8. D. M. Johnston says:

    Unions have been demonized in our tight little fascist economy, simply because they are a stumbling block in worker domination.

    Such things as health and safety rules, honest pay and worker respect would not exist were it not for the unions.

    With the extremely wealthy 1% have absolutely no respect for anyone, unions are more important today that ever.

    Sadly the anti people governments we elect today take their marching orders (and reelection cash) from the 1% and the 1% want to crush the unions for the ultimate goal of complete worker domination.

    (Response: It really angers me when workplaces and employers are found guilty of infractions and ignoring safety rules … after very long investigations and difficult and very costly prosecutions … and nothing happens to them….no jail time, no seizure of property or factory. Hopefully if the NDP is elected, they will toughen this up. h.o)

  9. D.G.B. says:

    Henry Ford knew the value of his assembly line employees. They were going to be his customers as well by paying them enough so they might buy the product they were making. Not enough employers follow “Henry Ford Economics” to understand there’s a symbiosis between employee and employer in order to make things work, and to make the country’s economy to work well for everyone. Shareholders are but a third of the whole and are equally as important, but without the customers who make the product or the customers who buy – you have nothing but worthless stock paper. Happy Labor Day

  10. kootcoot says:

    Count me as agreeing with Merv, it is a joy to agree so wholeheartedly with one of your posts for a change. During my working life I’ve been self-employed, and a wage slave both union and non-union. As with any organization involving humans I found a variety of conditions in each situation, but the prevailing attitude in BeeCee that unions are some greedy special interest that needs to be demonized, while the corporate elite are considered almost altruistic with no “special” interests of their own is absurd.

    The current attitude of the Republicans and their clones in Canada (the Harper Government(tm) and our BC LIEberals) that the road to success is cutting taxes, especially on the rich, is the road to success and that the uncertainty about regulation under Obama (and Harper’s evisceration of environmental protections) is the cause of our economic woes is complete hogwash.

    The reason corporations aren’t investing (except in resource exploitation) isn’t fear of Obama, but the fact that there is no market for goods other than necessities because there is a vanishing middle class with no disposable income beyond those necessities, if they have even that.

    It also doesn’t help that for the elite greater profits can be derived faster from their complex slice and dice financial games than by actually producing goods or useful services. For an accurate description of vulture capitalism writ large read Matt Taibbi’s piece in Rolling Stone (available online) – Greed and Debt: The True Story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital

    I hold St. Ronnie Raygun and his pal the Iron Bitch responsible for starting this ongoing attack on the working folks and the middle class that has now been underway for over three decades.

    There hasn’t been a Labor Day with much to celebrate for awhile now!

    (Response: Gee, if too many agree…I may have to rethink my position! h.o)

  11. 13 says:

    Just curious? Larry Bennet about your cut back to 32 hrs. Do you still get full benefits? Does the cut back in hrs effect your av? I know of a non union company that allows full timers to go to 32 hrs in order to help junior workers. It is by choice and they keep all their benefits.

    In May of 2013 when the Dix gang gets power maybe they will reverse the anti union wave and make unions (not just public sector) relevant again. Allow closed shops. Allow manditory union membership. Allow secondary picketing. Allow contracts to union companies only. Allow unionized workplaces to only let union card holders onto the worksite. (this would help fix the Port problem). Allow unions to fine members that dont vote or attend mtgs. Get rid of the right to work legislation. Allow secret ballots when voting to join a union.
    I fear that the NDP will do little or nothing other than pander to the public sector unions. This is safer to do as the government employees will work for the NDP so they wont be pissing of big corporations.

  12. Ian Fromme-Nelson says:

    Kudos, Harv! Now THAT’S Keeping It Real!
    Have a great week!

  13. r says:

    both sides need to be realistic.
    compensation has been excessive.BC Ferry ?etc
    Happy Labor Day.

  14. CGHZD says:

    Wow, I didn’t think you had it in you Harvey.
    Great post.
    There is a excellent story on BC union history in the Sun this weekend by Stephen Hume.
    I don’t usually buy this rag but sometimes scan the headlines on my way out of the store and was intrigued with a feature on the front page “The future of labour in BC”. Interesting read.

    Unions are needed more than ever now, not complacent unions, but fire breathing raise hell unions. With today’s online communications mediums telling and getting the union story out is a lot easier than it was 100 years ago. Union leaders and unions need to educate their members and the public on the hardships organized labour endured to get to where we are today.
    Including a good dose of labour history in our schools might enlighten the iPhone finger twitching population as to how change comes about and that they have a franchise to do the same.
    CBC had a good story of the Steel Workers first contract back in the late 1940’s that has disappeared from their archives but can be tracked down by contacting the producer Bob Carty. It was called “On the Line” and is a very good example of the adage that “change comes from the bottom up not the top down”.

    (Response: Of course I have it in me: I became union rep when I was going to university in Montreal and worked the summer at Expo 67; I not only was on strike at The Vancouver Sun for EIGHT MONTHS, but unlike many other reporters did not take temporary work elsewhere, and reported from the Legislature in Victoria for The Express strike newspaper and even picked up bundles of papers at the bus depot and distributed them in Victoria stores/hotels twice a week, collecting the $$ for the union; and served as VP at BCTV, after the newsroom was unionized. Very proud of all of that but you know I keep it real never just suppport things blindly … so I’m also prepared to criticise when I feel unions are wrong. h.o)

  15. Harve – Used to be at the negotiating table for several years, mainly as an unelected presence to make it look like it was all on the up and up. Of course there were phone calls made back and forth between the company and the union that I wasn’t part of, and I understand that. Also, the unions claimed that the release of the seniority list tended to cause a lot (and I mean – a lot) of scheduling problems with everyone whining that they had more seniority than so-and-so and etc. and etc. ad nauseum. I understand that, too! And 13, I have not had (so far as I know) rights or benefits rolled back, but my roll back to 32 hours was most definitely not voluntary. This was about older employees making more per hour, than new employees, and it is only smart to cut back on the older, proven employees. This is not okay! And as far as I can see, ours is the only union I know of that has never acquired for its employees a pension plan, and that doesn’t think the men and women deserve shift differentials. Still, I do have a choice, I could go non-union and likely do better.

    (Response: There’s no doubt that unions are not perfect, and I was happy at BCTV that our members did not make big deals of all the little rules … like who puts on the microphone or who gets every assignment or which editor to work with etc. But it sure felt good to know people could not just be pushed around or never get raises. As for going non-union, that could work (I was treated very well at BCTV for 20 years without one) …but when ownership or management changes .. BE CAREFUL. We lost 54 people before we unionized … and without a union, you have NO protection if a new boss just doesn’t like you or figures, at say 50 years old with 20 years on the job, you’ve worked your way to a higher salary and could be replaced by two younger cheaper people … so out you go just as your kids enter university! h.o)

  16. Robert says:

    I listen to the guy on at about 8:35 am every morning with his comment on NW. We can’t afford unions our taxes might go up. Don’t tax companies. Wages are too high. Unions are BAD. If the talkers on NW and in the papers had their way no wage increases for anyone but the elite, no taxes , and the big question how will we pay for the NDP ? As far as I can see the talking heads want us all to work at minimum wage so the companies can continue to soak us. I never hear an explanation as to who is going to buy the goods and how can we buy the services if we all work for that $10.25t an hour that companies say they can’t afford to pay.

    (Response: It’s because of views like that expressed on the radio by Michael Campbell that we NEED unions. A dozen studies over the past decade have proved the rich are getting richer and the rest of us are falling further and further behind … but to listen to him, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that WE are at fault for just trying to keep up with inflation! He’s a disgrace…but the biggest disgrace that NW lets him rant every weekday morning and afternoon without a counterpoint opinion: no wonder their ratings have fallen! h.o)

  17. CGHZD says:

    Here is a link to the story on the early days of unions by Stephen Hume from this weekends newspapers. Excellent read.

  18. Being as it is Labour Day, it may be a good time for the unions and the NDP to apologize to the people of Canada, and the working people thereof, for illegally giving (and taking) money for political reasons, while loudly accusing the Conservative Party of so-called Robocalls (when in fact, it was the Liberals who were caught doing so.). And being a media person Harv, have you been surprised to see that it has almost gone unreported in the MSM.

    (Response: It was reported … but frankly, I suspect they ALL get away with as much as they can … and only worry about it AFTER the votes are counted. But I guess I’m cynical. h.o)

  19. John says:


    You’re right. You have to attend the meetings.

    Some of the the folks I hear complain the most are the ones that don’t go to the meetings and don’t ask the questions.

    Everyone needs to be informed and kept on their toes. That’s why there’s meetings!

    Know the issues, be respectful of others and don’t try to ambush the reps!

    (Response: And the strongest, most effective unions are those where there are lots of volunteers for committees or to run for office. Believe me, management are watching and if they think no one is really supportive or highly interested in taking part … they see that as union weakness and you will be in for difficult negotiations the next time around. h.o)

  20. Norm says:

    Michael Campbell brother of Gordon Campbell both flawed individuals!

  21. Mo says:

    “He’s a disgrace…but the biggest disgrace that NW lets him rant every weekday morning and afternoon without a counterpoint opinion: no wonder their ratings have fallen! ”

    I have despised that smarmy faced jerk for years. what a waste of bandwidth he is…

  22. 13 says:

    Harvey, labour day draws to a close and its back to the union grind tomorrow. I noticed in the Sunday Province the RAT UNION CLAC has an add that they are 50,000 strong come and join. This rat union does more harm to the union movement than any union buster could ever dream of. They give scab workers a legitimate union card all the while protecting any signatory employer from the employees.
    If you want a real hoot go to the CLAC website and read how seniority is bad. How overtime should never be as onerus as time and a half.

    By the way neither the Teamsters or the CAW have a pension plan for Port truckers that are owner ops. We also pay are own WCB. No holiday pay either. We do have medical dental and disability plan. Kicker is we pay the entire monthly premium. The employer pays nothing. So Mr Dix you have a lot of work to do.

  23. Kyle davidson says:

    Thankyou for this post Harvey….one of your best ones ever!

  24. Meganhall says:

    Hi, this is great; an excellent post .Your posts are very inspiring and I’m looking forward to see more of your great ideas .Some of the the folks I hear complain the most are the ones that don’t go to the meetings and don’t ask the questions.

  25. Diverdarren says:

    Controlling government is the key to controlling the relationship between labour and management.

    And there is no labour choice at voting time in BC. You can vote for pro-business or you can vote for pro-social programs.

    The NDP of today is more concerned with getting junkies into tax funded housing, and immigrant special interests than for tax paying workers. A hard working bus driver or machinist has as much is common with the values of the NDP as he does with the Liberals. —Zilch-

  26. Ron R says:

    I used to be a staunch union member and volunteered for everything to strengthen the union, BUT, they have changed drastically over the last 30 years, starting with the union busting tactics used against trade unions at the start of the building for Expo 86, helped along by the ruling gov’t.
    From then on, unions, particularly in the trades that I worked and am familiar with, have turned into the very ugly bureaucratic sleaze that is our gov’t, with the grand poohbahs at the top the only ones getting ahead and keeping their gold plated perks while every hard working member has seen slashed wages and reduced benefits,
    I have personally seen my union, when I got injured on the job, do nothing to help me and literally kick me to the curb, saying they had no money to back a fight with WCB (worksafe), with the union poobahs voting themselves 25% raises over the 2 years that I was trying to get the union to help me.
    It took myself hiring a lawyer on my own dime to finally get redress from those parasites at WCB (another dirty organization).
    You would not get me to give another penny to a union as long as I live, though I feel we need them without the top heavy organization most unions have now.
    Why does Jim Sinclair make multi hundreds of thousands of dollars to oversee unions. That money could go a lot further in the hands of the members!
    Time for a big change or the workers are screwed, take it from one who has been screwed by both the union and gov’t.

    (Response: I have no doubt there are lots of horror stories out there of inept or biased union reps and ineffective representation. But does anyone really believe that, when dealing with unfair, underpaying or abusive management you could bettter alone!!! h.o)

  27. Bruce A says:

    I am another that doesn’t always agree with your posts – but I certainly agree with this one!

    (Response: So is that one in five, or one in ten or one in a hundred or ….. egads!! LOL! h.o)

  28. Julie says:

    Harper only wants, the very wealthy and the very poor. He doesn’t want the middle class so, the unions have to go.

    Harper likes Communist China’s concept, of a huge dirt cheap labor pool. Their people are paid dirt wages, while their government reaps in billions, off their backs. Child laborers earn, only pennies a day. An apple factory in China, force any who go to work there, to sign a statement, they will not commit suicide. Those are the working conditions in China. We all know about, Human Rights in Communist China. There aren’t any.

    Harper has already sold huge chunks of the tar sands to China. Harper has permitted them, to bring their own people to work the tar sands. Harper has said, China can bring swarms over, to build the Enbridge pipeline. China refuses to have the tar refined in Canada. They can pay their own citizens, dirt wages to refine the oil in China. The cheaper the process, the more money goes into Harper’s coffers.

    Harper has said. Canadian outfits are permitted to bring foreign workers over, and exploit them, for much less pay.

    We do not want Communist China in our country. We do not want to be used as a conduit, for China to pick up the tar. We want nothing to do with Communist China. Nor do other country’s. Communist China is showing their aggression, around the globe. That’s exactly who, Harper is selling us out to.

  29. e.a.f. says:

    great post! I agree, its unions which give countries a large middle class. If you look at a country which supresses union you are looking at a poor country.

    people need to be able to make enough money to live in dignity. Without unions it would never have happened. If unions disappeared to morrow we would be back to the way things were in the 1800s & first half of the 1900s.

    I grew up in the 50, 60’s & entered the workforce in the 70s. Life was good, people had work at fair wages. With a fair wage young people could purchase their own homes. Now that is an elusive dream.

    Thank you for writing the column.

  30. Rav says:

    Thanks for this Harvey! Very well written and a good description of the plight of the working class today.

  31. GV says:

    The following is interesting reading;


    Germany isn’t sinking the Euro!

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