The day before thousands of people gathered in London to support Electro-Motive's locked out workers, Jim Stanford wrote in the Globe and Mail that labour is facing a brave new world:
In the current bargaining environment, companies (especially multinational firms) hold the best cards. And executives are increasingly willing to precipitate their own work stoppages – through management lockouts – to enforce demands for lower wages and benefits.
A recession -- particularly this one -- always puts management in the catbird seat. High unemployment gives workers few options. That's where government could play a crucial role. In 1935 -- in the middle of the Great Depression -- the Roosevelt administration passed the Wagner Act, which gave workers something they had never had before -- the right to organize. It also set up the National Labour Relations Board to act as a mediator in labour disputes.
The Harper government, of course, has gone in exactly the opposite direction -- as its response to both the Canada Post and Air Canada strikes makes crystal clear. And it has been absolutely silent about the situation at Electro-Motive. Selling oil is on its radar. Canadian manufacturing jobs aren't.
There is a clear agenda behind the government's response. And the results, writes Stanford, will not be good for the Canadian economy:
This trend is troubling, for macroeconomic as well as ethical reasons. As employers ratchet down compensation, income shifts from consumers (who spend every penny) to corporations (which sit on a growing pile of uninvested cash). That undermines aggregate spending and weakens the recovery. And the more employers succeed in driving down wages, the greater the danger of setting off a cycle of deflation in wages and prices (such as the one that bedevilled Japan for a decade).
The prime minister claims to be an economist. But that claim -- like so may of the other things he has said -- does not stand up to scrutiny.