70% say unions too involved in politics

According to the latest opinion poll on the subject, the role of trade unions in the civil society is as much misunderstood as ever by the great unwashed.

Unions themselves don’t seem much the wiser, concentrating, as they do, so heavily on collective bargaining.

Not much original comes out of labor agreements. So many people in all walks have them, doctors, university professors, school teachers, police, firemen, candlestick-makers and even preachers, to say nothing of the business professions.

All right in their place but not much that’s new, affecting the general condition, comes out of their deliberations at a bargaining table.

The Angus Reid Strategies poll does acknowledge that 50 per cent of Canadians believe unions are important and 72 per cent believe they effectively improve incomes and working conditions, although they’re less appreciated when their activities cause difficulties in other people’s lives.

Another 70 per cent think unions are too involved in politics and 48 per cent say they have too much influence.

Actually official labor has narrowed its influence, to its own disadvantage.

It has limited its options to a single political channel, the New Democratic Party which, like other parties, is bound by a tight ideology in order to have a functioning motif distinctive from all the others.

In doing so, they weaken their chances of molding policy among others more likely to form governments.

The options in a modern society are much wider.

The ballot box is only the starting button for a democracy, indeed the least of the power levers.

Its purpose is merely to put names on a government and then let all the special interests work their magic on the decision-making.

Special interests have long been the most important factor in government anyway.

No dynamic democracy can be without them, working the system, developing new ideas, creating pressures on each other in a great contest out of which emerges the closest thing to a consensus possible in the rough and tumble of public debate.

In this context special interests are simply other people’s interests, no less legitimate than your own.

Industry has its business councils, the professions their governing societies, seniors their retired persons’ associations and preachers their synods.

The lives of working men and women are so amorphous that they have no one or no similar body speaking for them – unless it’s the trade unions.

In the clash of special interests that gives life to national and provincial policy the question is not whether labor is too involved in politics, as the poll says, but how much influence is appropriate.

For that to be answered political involvement has to be labor’s most important contribution. More than contract bargaining, more than strikes, more than protest marching and certainly more than being a plague on anyone’s house.

It’s okay for trade unions to be a special interest.


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