Only real union provides real representation

Re: "It's time for unions to re-evaluate needs of workers and adapt accordingly; Attitude overhaul necessary to regain their much-needed place in society," by Colin McComb, Ideas, Sept. 12.

It's time for the truth about unions in Alberta. Unfortunately, we got nothing like that from Colin McComb's opinion piece.

McComb failed to identify his background as a former representative for the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC). Why?

Many readers understand that the CLAC is not a real union. Perhaps including his former association with that organization would shatter his arguments for how unions should change. He says unions should not be involved in politics, but fails to point out he has a background in political marketing and campaigning.

McComb has a problem with democratically run unions making donations to political parties, but he has nothing to say about donations from corporations, whose spending far outweighs that by the labour movement.

He implies that unions love to strike, but the truth is that unions rarely strike. No worker wants to live on meagre strike pay instead of collecting a real wage. Striking is a weapon of last resort - but to surrender that weapon will leave workers powerless to defend themselves from bad employers who slash their wages or raid employee pension funds.

McComb paints an outrageous picture of union leaders as Marxists plotting an uprising. This is so out of touch with the labour movement it makes you wonder if he has delusions he is Joseph McCarthy, trapped in a 1950s witch hunt for Reds under his bed. McComb would have us go back to an era when workers had to bow down to employers, instead of being treated with the respect every person deserves.

A flip through a few contracts CLAC has negotiated on behalf of workers is evidence of this: employers being able to lay you off with no notice; no CLAC representative needing to be present for disciplinary meetings with a worker; employers and the CLAC being able to change anything in a collective bargaining agreement to be competitive.

One clause in a CLAC contract sums up their approach to dealing with employers: "In the event that consultation fails to resolve a matter of contention, the union agrees that the decisive word resides with management, unless specifically abridged, deleted or modified by this agreement."

That's CLAC-style labour relations. Some employers seek out the CLAC because they know it will mean they can pay lower wages, offer fewer benefits and impose lower standards on workplace safety.

If workers want real representation, and to ensure fairness in their workplace and a fair return for their labour, they need a real union.

Real unions have no trouble debating their role in Alberta. We do have a problem when those who argue against us do so from behind a smokescreen of omissions.

Douglas O' Halloran, president, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 401

Edmonton Journal, Letters to the Editor, Tues Sept 27 2011

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