Play the ball, not the man
With the Labour Day weekend approaching, it is incumbent that some response be made to the Letter to the Editor by Robert Stewart, which was published on Thursday, September 2, 2021. This, since the day offers a period of reflection on the key matters raised.
It should be noted that Bob — with whom I beg to differ — was one of my favourite teachers at the Sixth Form Centre in 1967.
Bob’s attack on trade unionism is summed up in his quote below:
“In short, the belief that trade unions have benefited workers… is tooth-fairy economics.”
I should report that I don’t have a degree in economics among my formal academic accomplishments. However, like my fellow students at Sixth Form Centre, as well as my mates in my North Shore neighbourhood, I have been blessed with common sense.
The reality is that the issue at hand is not rocket science. Let’s foster a community-wide dialogue on Bob’s thesis with an overview:
Bob contends that there is no correlation between wage earning and union membership.
Let use the US as a case study.
In the mid-1950s, 30 per cent of the US workforce was unionised. Starting in the mid-1970s, this began to decline because of the Taft Hartley Act and the anti-union legislative framework across the southern states. In addition, President Ronald Reagan took an aggressive anti-union stance, firing traffic controllers wholesale. American unionisation has fallen to less than 10 per cent.
Earlier this year, the Rand Corporation, the pre-eminent think-tank on policy matters and research for the US Government, published a report that spoke to economic inequality.
The report notes that there are stark differences in income distribution from 1945 to 1974 as compared with the period between 1975 and 2018.
The present US median salary is about $50,000. Had it kept pace with economic growth, that salary would have been between $92,000 and $102,000.
It is concluded from the detailed research done by Rand that over those decades since the 1970s that $50 trillion has been diverted from the bottom 90 per cent of the population to the top 1 per cent. This diversion would be owing to both wage levels, tax policies and profit margins.
As the US trade union movement declined, the level of inequality has skyrocketed. This manifested in the declines of quality-of-life indicators when comparisons are made between the US and other developed countries — eg, life expectancy, child mortality, etc.
While there has been some decline in trade unions in other countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, there has been a resiliency in their labour movements:
Iceland has 93 per cent of its workforce unionised.
In Britain, 23 per cent of the workforce is unionised and in Canada it is 32 per cent
While France and Germany have relatively low unionisation, 11 per cent and 17 per cent respectively, their employment and political cultures are much more collaborative than that of the US — which could be the subject of another conversation.
In fact, Germany is exemplary in this regard and our local labour “partners” may do well to consider exploring its model.
Denmark, Finland and Sweden have a unionisation rate of 65 per cent, along with the type of collaborative relations mentioned above.
All of these jurisdictions have much better quality-of-life indices than that of the US — quality of health, education opportunities, life expectancy, wellbeing indicators, etc.
In the spirit of “playing the ball and not the man”, let’s be hopeful that the opinion voiced by Bob Stewart has sparked a conversation that will benefit us all.
Happy Labour Day.
• Glenn Fubler represents Imagine Bermuda