Tuesday, January 27, 2009

McGuinty Wrong To Force CUPE 3903 Back To Work

In a recent article published at The Gods of the Copybook Headings, Publius provides Canadian conservatives with a timely reminder that our principled rejection of compulsory unionism does not, in fact, oblige us to support Dalton McGuinty's plan to force the members of CUPE 3903 back to work at York University. In reality, McGuinty's plan to end the 'deadlock' would set a dangerous precedent in terms of the government's ability to impose itself upon strikes in industries deemed to be 'essential' (a constantly shifting standard, invented and defined by the politicians citing it for their causes).

The following is a rather lengthy excerpt from Publius's article:

In an ideal society the right to strike - an extension of the right of voluntary association - would not need to be curtailed. Even, if by some strange happenstance, a private company were able to obtain a monopoly over public transit in Toronto - something which never happened before the creation of the TTC nearly ninety years ago - they would risk having their market position undercut by competitors. While no one can throw up a parallel subway system overnight, the city's rail lines (currently used for freight and commuter rail) might be put into use in a matter of months. Bus service could probably be established even more quickly. The mere threat of a competitor can make both management and labour think twice about the costs of a strike, a reality private companies must confront daily. The TTC doesn't have to worry about a drop in fares as does a private company, for thousands of commuters there is really no alternative and much of any potential shortfall is covered by the City of Toronto or Provincial Government. Union workers cannot be laid off, and their employer is not in the business of turning a profit.

How then has Dalton McGuinty extended the logic of "essential services" to a university? There are no private universities in Ontario, all receive some degree of government funding, but all collect tuition from students. There are some 22 in the province, three in Toronto alone (with another two with campus in the city). Southern Ontario has one of the most dense concentrations of post-secondary institutions in North America. There are plenty of alternatives to a York University degree. Nor does York provide any type of specialized training not available elsewhere, as say does the University of Toronto. There is nothing life or death about getting a university degree. Many students may lose their year because of this strike. This is no doubt a great inconvenience but it is also a hazard of everyday life. It would be legally doubtful that the students could sue York for the financial loss incurred by the strike. In the marketplace, such as it exists, for post-secondary education a student, seeing that York is an unreliable service provider, can switch to a different institution going forward. If a year is lost, having not provided the service as promised, York should be compelled to refund tuition, at the very least.

The danger of the Dalt's unwarranted extension of government power, fully supported by the political zombie that is John Tory, is the precedent being established. Before an essential service was a government monopoly in a life or death industry, or essential to living in an urban environment. Now it is anything deemed important enough by the provincial government.
As provincial funds flow freely into the coffers of GM and Chrysler, watch for the first attempt by the UAW or CAW at a strike, or even a minor job action. How long before the automotive industry is declared an essential service? The logic of "essential service" is driven by a related concept, "public service." Government monopolies deny first the right of competitors to challenge their market position, they then deny their workers' right to strike. The contagion, as we are seeing with the case of York University, soon spreads to other sectors of the economy. This is a bleak precedent that deserves to be condemned.

I whole-heartedly approve of the author's reasoning on this question. Although I am certainly no friend of CUPE 3903 or the thuggish practice of compulsory unionism, it is not the government's role to force a resolution in disputes between employees and employers.

This situation at York University, however, is an object lesson demonstrating the price of making deals with the devil or the government. CUPE 3903 is a perfectly despicable collection of thugs and bureaucrats and their tactic of using the state as leverage against the evil overlords of the administration at York University has back-fired here. By allowing the government a role in unionization, they have invited the state to impose itself upon both sides of the arrangement: employees and employers.

So, although I cannot say that I feel sorry for CUPE 3903, I do agree that Dalton McGuinty's proposed actions are unacceptable. Yesterday, Publius cross-posted his article at Dust My Broom and I made the point another way in the comments section:

It's a dangerous precedent to set to permit the provincial government to deem a university an 'essential service' and force the strikers back to work. However, I see two factors that complicate the issue: (1) the union is itself coercive (CUPE 3903 is a prime example of compulsory unionism, which is to say that contract faculty, tenured professors, and teaching assistants are given no option but to join CUPE 3903 upon accepting a position with the university - evidently, this is a violation of the freedom of association's corollary, to wit, the freedom not to associate which is encompassed by the practice of voluntary unionization), and (2) York accepts government money, blurring the line between public and private. As a consequence of these issues, the relationship between CUPE 3903 and the government of Ontario is not as clear-cut as it would be were the union private and voluntary.

Although I stand by this assessment, I concede that there can be no benefit to the cause of freedom in allowing Premier McGuinty to arrogate to himself the power to end a strike of a non-governmental and evidently non-essential service.

It behooves Canadian conservatives to think on these points before advocating for a knee-jerk reactionary anti-union position and, in so doing, allowing Dalton McGuinty to violate the rights of Canadian citizens.

ALSO: For more information about the evils of coercive unionism, please follow the link below:

The Myth of Voluntary Unions

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