Workers deserve respect, not quips during economic crisis

First published: March 13, 2009

It is both discouraging and disgusting to hear the attacks taking place against working people these days. In the face of a terrible economic crisis, bordering on a depression, the number of leaders in the community, in business and in politics expressing distain for those who get up every day and try to make a living is wrong.

What is more disconcerting is the lack of respect for worker and those trying to find work. The stereotypes of lethargic people sitting at home living off government handouts are little more than urban myth. And, while there are people take advantage of the system, these are not the majority. Yet, there are those who would continue to falsely propagate this falsehood.

When Federal Human Resources Minister Diane Finley told the House of Commons earlier this week the Tories were not interested in increasing Employment Insurance payments to make it “lucrative” for jobless workers to sit around the house, her comments should be met with disgust from Canadians.

No only did she demonstrate incredible callousness toward the thousands of unemployed workers, who are being laid off in droves by corporations trying to survive these tough economic times, but she also revealed the revulsion towards the working class felt by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government.

But the federal government is not alone. Premier Dalton McGuinty’s back to work legislation passed last week to end the York University strike is equally disturbing. It undermines the collective bargaining process and sends a message to employers across the province that the collective bargaining process is a joke.

For Northumberland County residents this leaves a sour taste and questions surrounding MPP Rick Norlock’s own position when it comes to recognizing the contributions of his own working class constituents. And, the same brush equally tars MPP Lou Rinaldi.

The current attitude towards working people and unions was played out recently on the editorial pages of this newspaper. An exchange of letters regarding local elementary school teachers demonstrated an unparalleled contempt that was neither useful nor necessary. Certainly, the rising cost of education is a legitimate concern for reasonable taxpayers. However, to vilify well-intentioned, hardworking, and dedicated educator is ignorant. Again, unionized workers are painted with the same brush based on a stereotype rather than the reality.

Economists have bemoaned Canada’s lagging productivity relative to other industrialize countries. Notably, the country’s productivity decline increased since the federal Conservatives took office. Some of the key reasons lie in the attitude of managers and the public towards employees.

Employees are asked to do more for the same pay or less wages. It is impossible to expect employees to do the job of two or more workers. The number of people putting in unpaid overtime only enhances a growing sense of exploitation. Then, there are the legions of part-time and contract workers, who are at the mercy of employers who pay lower wages, no benefits and hire or fire at will.
How can anyone expect people to be productive? And, if nobody respects hard work, then the quagmire only deepens.

Look at the York strike, as an example. Sure, it is easily to feel for the 45,000 students who were unable to attend classes. It is easy to be frustrated by hardship they face making up work, trying to finish the academic year and possibly unable to find decent jobs to earn enough money to return. But, it is equally difficult not to see how teachers would be angry because they work 15 or 20 years without a full-time contract, waiting year to year to know whether or not they have a job. These people never enjoy any security or benefits or other privileges associated with permanent work.

However, unions must bear a portion of the burden. Unions use methods that are more than 100 years old and do not serve the interests of a 21st Century workforce. If unable to find new approaches, then they will be the architects of their own demise.

American President Barrack Obama signed three executive orders last week to reverse many of the old policies toward organized labour that hurt working class people. He undid the policies that tilted towards employers, made it more difficult for government contractors to discourage union activity and he made sure that when a government contract changed hands, the old workers were offered their former jobs.

Sadly, what we have witnessed in the past two week in our own backyard is the exact opposite. President Obama made it clear that unions needed to be part of the solution if his country was to emerge from the economic crisis. Given the opportunity, Canadian workers would do the same in a heartbeat.

What must stop is the incessant snipping by those who disrespect working people and those who wish to work. Canadians are not lazy. Northumberland County residents are not indolent. Given the opportunity to step up and demonstrate their value, people across the county would rise to the challenge. What they will not do anymore is put up with the prehistoric attitudes of unenlightened employers and the backward critics who proffer the myths.

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