There is no denying Canada’s labour movement is facing many challenges. Following the 2008 global economic crisis, the pressures being put on workers around the world, and their trade unions, has been at a level unseen since the great depression.
But the cynicism Canada’s news media displays towards the unions is unwarranted, and in many instances, completely baseless.
Take for example the recent convention of the Canadian Labour Congress. Over 4,000 labour leaders and activists from across the country gathered for a week in Montreal in what was possibly the largest union meeting in Canadian history.
It was a week of spirited discussions on issues facing workers and all Canadians. It also saw a hotly contested election to choose the leadership of the Canadian labour movement.
And it was virtually ignored by the reporters, editors and producers of Canada’s mainstream news outlets.
Granted, Canada’s news media is under its own pressures. Journalists, like all workers, are being asked to do more with less in a very competitive industry. While I could argue the news media has a duty to the public good – particularly the 3.3 million union members represented by the CLC – to make an effort to cover such a large and important convention, that is for another the day.
The more pressing and more insidious issue is the columnists and opinion writers who ignored the CLC proceedings, yet did not hesitate to publish broad, distorted and self-serving articles and columns in the guise of news.
Take for example, Terrance Corcoran, opinions editor of the Financial Post. While neither he, nor any reporter from his paper or its media conglomerate Post Media attended the CLC convention, he still brazenly published a column deriding and bashing the convention.
Armed only with what he could glean from social media and a few articles from other news outlets (who themselves did not attend the convention either), Mr. Corocoran managed to fill several column inches on the state of Canada’s labour movement.
All without talking to or interviewing one trade unionist.
If he had bothered to do so, his column may have been more accurate and factual.
His column prognosticated on declining union density in Canada’s private sector and on an overall basis. But he ignored the fact that amongst OECD nations, Canada’s overall density has basically been maintained over the past number of decades. A very different story than in the U.S. and many other countries, and one that doesn’t help support Mr. Corcoran’s well establish anti-union tilt.
Even when he does get a fact right, his interpretation is off.
While Mr. Corcoran postulates trade unions in Saskatchewan challenging the constitutionality of laws restricting public employees right to strike as a sign of union weakness, I would offer it is a collection of men and women, through their unions, advancing the argument that the Saskatchewan government is not above the law.
Corcoran correctly reports that Unilever has decided to close their Bramalea, ON operations and move them to the U.S., throwing 280 unionized workers out of a job. He concludes that belonging to a union didn’t help the Unilever employees.
But isn’t it more plausible they were victims alongside the other 500,000 manufacturing workers who have lost their jobs due to Canada’s trade deal concessions and our country’s absence of any discernible industrial strategy?
Irresponsible trade deals, big bets on the sale of raw resources, over-reliance on the Temporary Foreign Workers program as a wage subsidy to corporations – these issues all contribute to Canada’s decline as a nation that builds things, and were overarching themes at the CLC convention.
If any journalist is going to give Canadians an accurate picture of how these issues will affect them, is there no responsibility to offer different perspectives? Is there no responsibility to listen and understand the debate in trade unions on these pressing issues? Is there no responsibility to at least talk to a union leader before making pronouncements on their leadership?
While it does make our jobs as union leaders harder, this willful ignorance does not hurt us most. It’s the Canadian worker – union and non-union alike – who lose the most.
Without journalists reporting, they missed high level debates on Canada’s most pressing retirement security issue, that being Canadians growing anxiety about their not being prepared for retirement due to the absence of legitimate savings options. They missed rigorous debates on the future of Canada Post, income inequality in Canada, and our responsibility as Canadians to Indigenous peoples.
Granted, Mr. Corcoran’s views are more in tune with the readership of the Financial Post. But Canadians deserve a news media that accurately reflects public debate, and doesn’t just reinforce the prejudices and ready held opinions of their readers.
Canada’s unions are part of a modern and vibrant movement, one the delivers results to our members on a daily basis. It is a movement that stands for fairness for all Canadians.
It is fact that Canada’s trade unions push hard for rights for all workers and for a Canada that embraces programs like Medicare, public education and essential municipal services such as water and public safety.
On these key issues the values of the labour movement and Canadians align.
Ignoring these facts will not make them go away, nor will ignoring unions make us and the work we do go away either.