Labour unrest is spreading quickly in these days of “austerity”, and it’s beginning to hit home. Canada Post workers, who had been rotating job actions across the country, were locked out nationally this morning. Air Canada workers are also striking at the moment. And in Hamilton, the threat of a local strike of city workers is looming closer. If there’s no deal by Friday, we’ll begin to see garbage collection, parking enforcement and other services suffer soon. Federally, Harper is threatening to use back-to-work legislation to settle the Air Canada and Canada Post strikes.

As job action ramps up, so is the anti-union content in media outlets like The Spectator. On top of snide comments and weighted conclusions in the above articles, Howard Elliot posted a lengthy editorial criticizing the locked-out steelworkers from the USW 1005 for occupying the harbour’s lift bridge and stopping coke shipments from the former Stelco plant from being shipped to other US Steel facilities. There’s also this letter to the editor which accuses postal workers of being “coddled” for having benefits and a starting wage of $24/hour (which, by the way, is the national average for men this year). Of course, not all of it is this slanted (Emma Rielly’s piece, for instance), but you’ll rarely see other content without also seeing these reminders of the prevailing anti-labour orthodoxy.

Attacks on Unions taking job action are fairly common in the press. They’ll almost always write many heart-wrenching human interest stories about the “victims” of the strike, those who can’t have their garbage removed, or cars ticketed. They’ll focus on how “unreasonable” the demands of unions are and how “out of touch” these workforces are with the average Joe. They’ll muse about how unions are “shooting themselves in the foot” by turning away customers and hurting their company or industry. Absent from these discussions will be any real conception of labour history or broader questions of labour-relations. You’d never guess from these articles that most of the world is engulfed in similar brutal labour struggles right now. And of course, they’ll pretend that their arguments are based in “economic science”, and that these cuts in wages will paradoxically lead to “more prosperity”.

Wages are not a zero-sum-game – you can’t get more for yourself by taking from others. In this economy, nobody is an island. Cutting the wages of others in order to get a better deal for yourself doesn’t work if your income is also paid as wages. Not only does it undersell your own labour, but it forces others to work more to make ends meet, which floods the market with cheap work. It limits people’s spending and drives a demand for low-quality (often foreign) goods which destroys other local jobs. Creating a political climate where wage cuts are popular only makes this easier. This is, of course, why they’re doing it – and why higher-waged workers with strong unions like CUPE or the USW are being targeted. Wages are all about bargaining power, and if they can break that, then they’ll be able to make much larger cuts in the long run. Those who are resisting these cuts are fighting for all of us, and they deserve our sympathy, support and solidarity.

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