(click on the image to read the Tyee’s article)
Throughout my working years I was party to discussions about the role of unions in relation to their members and to the community as a whole. Some felt that the advancement of the economic well-being was paramount in the union’s business to the exclusion of all else. Of course, this being a teacher union, there was also a faction who felt that the social climate was of concern, given that there is so strong a link between the conditions of the learning environment and the well-being of the teaching force, not to mention parents and the broader community. The Tyee has a piece today about the concerns of unions relating to jobs in the energy sector, a discussion that may drive the wedge that separates economic and environmental well-being in the debate about the construction of energy infrastructure. The trade-off, in the eyes of the energy companies, as in the vast majority of government circles, is that we have to accept huge environmental risks if we wish to have the prosperity that the export of dilbit and LNG would supposedly bring to our province. Thusly stated, the dichotomy is false and avoids the discussion of who “owns” the economy as well as highlighting the short-sightedness of those leading the discussion.
Had we chosen to be serious about jobs and energy, we would long ago have adopted the construction of infrastructure for renewable energy, using public funds as well as reworked taxes and royalties on fossil fuel development to set in motion a transition out of the era of environmental degradation and the rapid use of finite resources for the benefit of a small minority of the population, and into an era of the deployment and maintenance of all forms of renewable energy, paired with a truly effective recycling program that would obviate the need to extract much of the mineral wealth that is currently mouldering in landfills around the country. It would also be reassuring to see industrial production focused on truly durable goods, items made to last a lifetime and more, goods that, when broken, can be repaired and which, at the end of their useful life, can be easily recycled back into remanufactured replacements.
A quick look at economic gains made by unions might very well show that they are rapidly eaten up by inflation and by new taxes and user fees imposed by governments looking to reduce the load on their business constituency. Gains in working conditions and environmental concerns encourage broader hiring, keeping benefits in the local economy and social gains for society as a whole. We have to remember that the terms of economic discussion have, for decades, been set by a consensus of people schooled in and attached to the Friedman/University of Chicago group of free market freebooters, a group who barely manages to hold back the tides of discontent as they move us from crisis to crisis and who have produced as great a disparity of wealth distribution as has been known in recent history. They have also been the crew that dispenses the results of their efforts and have not spared the froth in letting us know what a brilliant job they’ve done for us, but there is so little truth in most of the reporting that it’s hardly worth the effort it takes to read it. The bar has been set so low that it wouldn’t be hard for us to do better, all the while keeping in mind that we want to still have an economy in mid-century and beyond. Our current course will lead to disorder and destruction, and unions can step up to help alter the course so that our children, grandchildren and later generations will be the beneficiaries of a decent living space and some equality of opportunity to participate fully in the business of society.