GENERAL ARTICLES

WHAT LABOR WANTS

Should unions be regulated? Do they favor socialization? Here’s labor’s viewpoint, told by a CCL leader in answer to 20 questions

PAT CONROY,BLAIR FRASER August 1 1947
GENERAL ARTICLES

WHAT LABOR WANTS

Should unions be regulated? Do they favor socialization? Here’s labor’s viewpoint, told by a CCL leader in answer to 20 questions

PAT CONROY,BLAIR FRASER August 1 1947

WHAT LABOR WANTS

GENERAL ARTICLES

Should unions be regulated? Do they favor socialization? Here’s labor’s viewpoint, told by a CCL leader in answer to 20 questions

PAT CONROY

BLAIR FRASER

(1) Question—Whatare the immediate objectives of organized labor in Canada? Answer—Six immediate objectives are:

1. Full employment for all persons able and willing to work;

2. The highest possible living standards for the Canadian people;

3. A national minimum basic annual income;

4. Social services adequate to take care of the needs of the people;

5. Organization of all workers, by hand or brain, eligible to join labor unions; and

6. The laying of a foundation for permanent peace, so that the Canadian people may enjoy the fruits of their labor.

(2) Question How does organized labor intend to proceed toward these objectives? Do you intend to strike for (hem if necessary?

Answer— All labor groups intend to obtain these objectives, if stall possible, by peaceful negotiation, by représentations to governments, and by orderly methods of organization. Where it is impossible to secure these objectives by representation and negotiation labor may find it necessary to strike— but only as a last resort.

(3) Question Do you believe a contract between labor and management should he made legally binding on both parties? If so, how? If not, why not?

Answer—No. While both management and

labor must obey the law of the land, nevertheless it is my conviction that the less legalism we have in industrial relationships the better. Success or failure of such relationships will depend, not on resort to legal technicalities, but on greater wisdom on the part of both management and labor, and on the genuineness of their desire to reduce friction to a minimum and to introduce order into such relationships. To me, the possibility of falling back on some legal weapon as a means of adjusting a particular problem between the two parties would, by and large, result in widening the breach between them.

(4) Question—Should labor unions be incorporated, or otherwise made legally responsible for their actions?

Answer—All things considered, no. This is a question which does not affect unions alone. It also affects management. Basically, a union can violate a contract in only one way, that is by going on strike during the life of the agreement. Management may violate a contract justas many times as there are clauses in an agreement. Sometimes they indulge in this luxury. The incorporation of unions, making them liable for violation of a contract, would also cut the other way.

Should unions be incorporated and made liable, they would return the compliment and have management in court much more often for contractual violations than management would have labor. The result would be that both management and labor would be subject, not merely to legal processes, but to a legal vendetta by both sides, with a horde of lawyers taking over the field of labor relationships, and with management and labor being relegated to the status of outside agents

looking on while their own jurisdiction was being taken over by persons who have no other interest in the enterprise than a pecuniary one. Employers rarely conceive that this may happen. Nevertheless, that is probably what labor would do as a form of reprisal against employers, and the effect would be worse than the cause.

(5) Question—Do you think wages and working conditions should be made uniform throughout Canada in each industry? If so, how do you suggestthat plants with a narrow margin of profit could be kept in operation?

Answer—As a final objective, yes. The establishment of uniform wages and working conditions in each industry in Canada is a goal for which labor will continue to strive. Some employers also have had the same idea. Their viewpoint is that if they operate in an area where relatively high wages are paid, they are faced with unfair competition from similar industries in other parts of the country which may be paying lower wages. Consequently this is not a question which affects labor alone, but employers as well.

While uniformity of wages and working conditions is labor’s goal, I believe that it will have to be approached in different stages, to the end that a Canadian living in one part of the country will be regarded as being equally worthy as all other Canadians, and also with a view to introducing stability in production and distribution costs. It is impossible to generalize on the question of marginal plants. Each case requires individual treatment.

(6) Question—Do you favor the closed shop? The union shop? Is either essential, in your opinion, to a healthy trade-union movement? (In a closed shop the employer must pick new employees from union ranks; in a union shop, he can hire anyone, but the new worker must join the union in a given time.)

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Answer—Yes, in both cases. While I favor the closed shop where it is already in effect, it is not much of an issue in Canadian industrial relationships. By and large, where it is in operation, employers have agreed to it as a mechanism which is of as much assistance to them as to the unions concerned. Employers, especially in the construction industry, find it is an advantage to have the unions secure workers for them, since the unions have facilities for this, rather than depend on haphazard methods which do not provide an adequate supply of competent labor.

I am in favor of the union shop, because I think it contributes to good order in industrial relationships. If an employer wishes to know what his employees want, then I think that he would be a wise man to have a union speak for all employees, without reservation. In addition, there is the traditional argument that all of those who receive the benefits of a contract and of a union should pay their union dues—just as those who receive the services of municipal, provincial and fédéral governments are, and should be, obligated to pay their taxes for such services.

(7) Question — Do you believe the jurisdictional strike (a strike called during a dispute between rival unions) can be justified? The sympathy strike? Other measures that penalize employers who are not party to the dispute? If you don’t believe such measures can be justified, what remedy do you suggest to prevent them?

Answer—As a principle, I believe that the jurisdictional strike cannot be

justified. In Canada, of course, we do not have much of this sort of thing, as compared to the United States. However, the fact that we may have jurisdictional strikes between unions represents at least a degree of disorder among unions themselves, and they should be prepared to clean house in this respect by self-regulation of jurisdictional limits.

One major cause of jurisdictional strikes arises from the practice by many unions of widening their jurisdiction to such an extent that these jurisdictions automatically infringe on those of other unions. One does not have to be a prophet to see that unless unions, of their own accord, decide to limit their jurisdictions to their proper proportions, the community will step in and do some regulating itself.

With regard to sympathy strikes, labor is generally opposed to them, but often the sympathetic and co-ordinated action of employers brings a reaction in the form of sympathy strikes. If the cause is eliminated, the result will disappear.

(8) Question—Do you think mass picketing should be permitted? Should pickets be authorized by law to prevent those who wish to work from entering a struck plant?

Answer—I would be in favor of the elimination of mass picketing if employers were prohibited from practicing strikebreaking. Mass picketing is not a cause, but an effect—an effect of employers trying to break strikes or the fear of their trying to. If we wish to make a law which is just and equitable to both parties, 1 suggest that legislation be framed making mass strikebreaking a crime, and subject to this condition I would be in favor of prohibiting mass picketing.

It may be said that an individual should have the right to work during a strike. The fact is that since almost all of us are hired, not because we have rights, but because others require our services or wish to make a profit out of our labor, the so-called right to work during a strike has a purely subjective value. Personally I don’t think there is any such thing as “the right to work.” What happens is that seme employers seize on such alleged rights in order to break strikes. It is not the rights of the workers which are involved in this question, hut the motives of the employer who harnesses such alleged rights for his own purposes. In short, if we eliminate strikebreaking, we shall also eliminate the need of picketing.

(9) Question—-Should a labor union retain the right to strike when its employer is the government?

Answer—Since it is very difficult for one to foresee such a thing as a perfect government, it is my belief that workers should have the right to strike when they are in the employ of a government-—after all other methods of securing redress have failed.

The fundamental right of any person to withdraw his labor cannot, and should not, be interfered with. The remedy for the necessity of strikes by government employees is for the government: concerned to provide a good example to private employers by introducing conditions of work that render strikes unnecessary.

(10) Question—Do you think labor can achieve its aims within the framework of a free enterprise system? Or do you think it will be necessary to socialize all or a substantial part of the Canadian economy?

Answer—The ability of labor to achieve its aims within the framework of a free enterprise system will depend almost wholly on the ability and desire of free enterprise to serve the needs of the people. If free enterprise gets down to business and does a job for the people of Canada, it will have no need to fear that its existence will be in danger. On the other hand, if business or free enterprise does not recognize its own responsibilities and serve the people, then all that labor or any other agency can do will not prevent the laws of evolution from taking effect—which will mean that the socialization of industry will inevitably follow.

(11) Question—Would you favor continued operation of a nationalized industry, regardless of whether it is profitable or efficient? If, for example, Nova Scotia coal mines were nationalized, should they be run at a loss indefinitely?

Answer—As a whole, Canada has an artificial economy, with a large number of important industries of the nation being subsidized or protected in one form or another. Protection for industries in Canada has become the accepted practice. Nevertheless, I am not in favor of any industry being subsidized unless it can be demonstrated that it is being efficiently operated and that all parties involved in the enterprise are doing their utmost to get the most out of production. I would say that after the industry has demonstrated that it is doing its best then the importance of the industry to the economy of the nation would be one of the deciding factors in determining whether or not protection should be granted,

(12) Question — Should an employer deal with a union he knows to be Communist-led? What is your solution for the whole problem of Communist activity in labor unions?

Answer —Since the Communist Party, under the new name of the Labor-Progressive Party, is a legal entity in Canada and its members have the same legal status as aLl other citizens, I do not see how employers can refuse to deal with a union which

is led by Communists or members of the Labor-Progressive Party,

The solution of the problem of Communism is not one that is peculiar to labor unions. The Communist problem is not merely a labor problem, but a national and international problem. Communists have infiltrated into almost all forms of human activity. There is no ready solution for this problem. We cannot eliminate an idea by persecution or prosecution. The history of ideas indicates clearly that legal resort as a specific method of eliminating them has been relatively unsuccessful.

It is true that, because of what the Communists term our “bourgeois sentiments” and our adherence to the concepts of right and wrong, we are at a distinct disadvantage in fighting Communism, whose advocates are willing to use any possible means, however ruthless, in the endeavor to reach their objectives.

Nevertheless, I believe that, since the basic promise of Communism is that it will introduce a better system of life for the people than now exists, we must demonstrate that we can do this without resorting to Communist methods. In short, if our system is to survive the attacks of Communism against it and if trade unions are to do likewise it is essential that we become just as earnest and just as aggressive in doing a much better job for the people than the Communists can do.

(13) Question—What should be a labor union’s role in politics? Should it take an active part? Affiliate with any party? Canvass? Contribute to party funds?

Answer—The role of labor unions in politics should be exactly the same as that of business. Business is the motive force of our existing old-line parties, since these parties depend upon this source of monetary support for electioneering and to maintain their activities. Business also takes a leading part in the selection and support of candidates. Consequently, if this practice is good enough for business, then it seems to me that the example provided by business should be followed by labor. It should participate in the affairs of any party whose views it can support. Otherwise, labor is not rising to its sense of responsibility or citizenship, or making a full contribution toward the general welfare.

(14) Question — What is labor’s responsibility in maintaining industrial efficiency? Specifically, would a labor union favor technological improvements, even if their short-term effect was to deprive union members of jobs?

Answer—Labor’s responsibility in maintaining industrial efficiency is to make the most effective contribution toward maximum production.

Largely because the average working man started to work very early and becomes tired of hard work before he reaches middle age, unions are in favor of all technological improvements that can be applied, even if the short-term effect is to deprive union members of jobs—with the important reservation that those deprived of jobs must be assured sufficient income to maintain themselves at a decent and healthy standard of living.

While it is true that most of us require work to keep us out of mischief, nevertheless a job is not an end in itself, but merely a means to an end— that of making a livelihood. Provide the means of livelihood, and labor will go along with all the technological improvements that may be applied to industry.

(15) Question — Do you believe there is justification for the practice of having union men collect pay for work they do not do? Do you believe there is justification for union restrictions on a worker’s output?

Answer—The answer to this question is that since, as a general rule, workers are not paid sufficient moneys for the work they do, it is very difficult for me to conceive of a general situation where they are paid for work they do not perform. In most cases there are no restrictions on a worker’s output, and unions do not ordinarily believe in them. Where they are adopted it is because of conditions that create fear in the mind of the average worker that he is working himself out of a job. The cure, therefore, would be to eliminate the fear, and the elimination of any existing restrictions would automatically follow'. In a specific case, that of “featherbedding” (make-work regulations, e.g., two men to run a oneman streetcar), my objection to it is not that moneys are being paid for spurious services, hut that labor is being wasted.

(16) Question—Do you oppose or favor incentive pay? Profit-sharing plans? Labor-management production committees? Why?

Answer—The general labor attitude with regard to incentive pay and profit-sharing plans is that they are not a satisfactory substitute for a proper and sufficient living wage. Too often such plans are conditioned to low basic rates and may be so complicated that they frustrate the average worker.

Incentive plans may be applied, perhaps, if they are reduced to the utmost simplicity, and are complementary to a satisfactory wage rate. But average workers who are paid a fair wage rate will do a good job without being burdened by complex incentive systems which may only leave them bewildered and unable to do a good day’s work. Pay the workers the highest wage possible and you will have the finest incentive that can be devised.

The Canadian Congress of Labor and the labor movement as a whole have supported the introduction of labor-management production committees on the grounds that these committees increase production and also assist in building better industrial relationships. We think that the tradeunion movement has done some good work in this respect during the past several years.

(17) Question — What changes would labor make in Canadian labor legislation?

Answer—Labor would like to have a uniform nation-wide labor code. This should set minimum wages, maximum hours, minimum standards of sanitation and safety. It should include effective collective bargaining legislation which would really outlaw company unions, and which would be enforced without the necessity of going through long-drawn-out court proceedings, with their infinite opportunities for employers’ lawyers to wriggle out from under. Labor wants compensation benefits raised to 100% of earnings, and wants the coverage extended. Unemployment insurance protection should be extended to all wage earners and salary earners; benefits should be liberalized, especially for workers with dependents.

(18) Question — What is labor’s recipe for job security in slack times? Do you advocate the annual wage?

Answer—We advocate democratic economic planning to prevent slack times. This does not necessarily involve socialism; but it does involve at least the degree of government planning and direction suggested by Lord Beveridge in his “Full Employment in a Free Society.” A guaranteed annual wage cannot do the job by itself but can make a substantial contribution and would be an important part of any satisfactory plan. The recent Latimer Report in the United States makes this clear.

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(19) Question—Do you believethere is any point at which labor’s progressive demands for higher wages and shorter hours might defeat their own purpose by stimulating higher prices? If so, how close to that point has our present wage-hour structure brought us?

Answer — 1. Higher wages and shorter hours do not necessarily mean higher labor costs. They may bring about so much greater production per manhour that they actually mean lower labor costs. If wages are very low to begin with, this is almost certain to be the effect; if they are very high, the effect would be less marked. In between, increased productivity will help to offset an increase in wages. In this connection it should be recognized that Canadian wage levels are on the average not high, and therefore there is room for wage increases to a considerable extent without affecting prices.

2. Labor cost is only a part of the total cost of production. So even if labor cost does go up, the price need not go up. It will depend on the industry’s margin of profit; on whether management tries to raise prices enough or more than enough to cover the increased labor cost and on whether there is any effective public control of prices or monopoly profits or both.

Just how far Canadian industry can or will raise wages and cut hours without raising prices so far as to cancel out the benefits to labor will vary from industry to industry. I should say that in most industries the possibility of raising wages and cutting hours without increasing prices, or with very slight increases, is considerable. Whether management will take advantage of the possibility or just try to charge all the traffic will bear is another question.

(20) Question—What position do you see labor taking in the Canadian community if your aims are realized?

Answer—Labor, representing as it does large masses of people, must play an ever-increasing part in community and national affairs on all levels. A healthy democracy is one where the greatest number of the people share in determining its policies. The day is gone when responsibility for the welfare of the nation should be borne by a small minority of persons who because of a superior financial standing dominate the affairs of the people.

To the end of establishing a healthy democracy, labor should co-operate with all groups in the community in the endeavor to eliminate the multiplicity of abuses and black spots in our national life, all the way from inadequate wage rates to slum housing conditions which are a disgrace to our nation.

With increasing organization, labor is becoming more capable of co-operating in the task of making this a country of which all Canadians may be justly proud. Labor would like to demonstrate to the world at large that Canadians have the heart and the intelligence to put Canada on a level of wholesome and happy living which will not be excelled by any other nation. ★