Over the weekend, Conservative senators announced that they will re-introduce a bill which previously sparked rebellion in the Red Chamber. The bill would force unions to publicly disclose their spending. It's all part of a movement which began forty years ago. Murray Dobbins writes:
In those pre-corporate globalization days, it was conventional political and social wisdom that the economy served the nation, and by inference, the community and families. The Bank of Canada's dual mandates -- unemployment and inflation -- were still competing but full employment was one of the few shared policy objectives of all three federal parties. It wasn't until the early '80s that inflation took a serious bite out of the accumulated wealth of the West's economic elite. That changed everything and "inflation fighting" became the obsession of the West's central banks.
But more than that it also became the weapon of choice of free-marketeers like former Liberal finance minister Paul Martin who with the co-operation of the Bank of Canada used extreme inflation targets (and subsequent high interest rates) to actually suppress economic growth and deliberately create high levels of unemployment. Few people recall that under Martin's ideological war on inflation throughout most of the 1990s, unemployment hovered around 9 per cent -- higher than it is now.
Martin's war on inflation was actually a war on labour, justified by the signing of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and subsequently, North American Free Trade Agreement. It was all about global competitiveness and that meant driving down the cost and power of labour. Enforced high unemployment was perhaps the most powerful weapon, but dramatic cuts to Employment Insurance eligibility and the elimination of the Canada Assistance Plan (CAP) were effective as well. The CAP transferred money to the provinces and was targeted specifically at establishing a minimum national standard for welfare. With its cancellation and replacement with a lump sum (for health, education and welfare), the provinces radically reduced social assistance rates and shifted money into the politically popular items like medicare.
And the War on Labour continues to this day. It has reached the point now where the Harper government puts an end to strikes before they begin, based on the bogus argument that the economy is too fragile to permit labour disruptions.
The strategy is to keep workers anxious and living pay cheque to pay cheque:
Over the past few years, a stream of reports have revealed just what that sacrifice has entailed. It has even fostered the use of a new term to describe modern working life: precarity. The numbers are scary. The Canadian Payroll Association's annual poll revealed recently that 51 per cent of Canadian employees would be in real financial trouble if their paycheque were delayed by a week. A week. A quarter of those surveyed said they couldn't pull together even $2,000 to deal with an emergency. Almost half said they were spending all their income -- or more -- on basic family needs. The savings rate is now below 4 per cent -- it was 15 per cent in the 1980s. Personal debt is at record levels, some 160 per cent of annual income and no wonder: the real income gain of the average employee between 1980 and 2005 was a measly $52 -- two dollars a year. The only thing keeping many families afloat is rising house prices. But 17 per cent of mortgage holders will be under water if rates rise just 1.5 per cent.
Keep workers anxious and you keep them passive. And, if the population is passive, you can get away with anything.