I crossed a picket line once. The Ontario Federation of Secondary School Teachers (OSSTF) in the Toronto area was on strike in 1983, and one of their demands was that union members be hired to fill night school and summer school teaching positions. They were concerned about quality of education: they didn’t want these courses to become second-class courses as a result of being taught by second-class teachers who were unqualified and inexperienced.
Well. I was qualified. More qualified than many of the older OSSTF members who got their teaching jobs when you didn’t even need a B.A., let alone a B.Ed. And I was experienced. In addition to about ten years of private music and dance teaching experience, I’d had a half-time regular day school position for one year and had taught a few night school courses the following year.
But more than that, I was enraged: what right does a person who already has a full-time teaching job and income (a wage that even at the lowest point is enough to support two people) have to an extra, a second, teaching job and income when there are so many without even a first?
Insofar as unions fight against abuses by management, I support them. It’s the have-nots pulling together against the haves. But more and more today, union members themselves are the haves – they have jobs. And when they take action to protect (only) their own members, as is their mandate, well, it’s the same old us/them thing, isn’t it? And it perpetuates, it doesn’t eradicate, class inequality.
If unions really want to honour their socialist history, they’d not be selfishly protecting their own but sharing. In Canada, about one in ten is unemployed. If those nine employed people gave up just four hours of their forty-hour work week, that tenth would be employed – and all ten would have a very adequate thirty-six hours a week income.
There’s something morally indecent about expecting the have-nots to support the haves, asking them to forego the little bit of income they could get as replacement workers (I prefer the term ‘bandages’ to ‘scabs’) in support of fringe benefits and pension plans for the regular workers. Pretty soon, unions will be asking the people in Thailand and wherever not to accept the jobs at Mattel and GM. And that’s crossing the line.