For many different people and for many different reasons, unions matter. But their key role—why they grew in the first place—is to help right the tremendous power imbalance the rich enjoy over the rest of us.
Our employers wield this power over our day-to-day, even minute-to-minute lives. They determine how much money we have, where we live, how we spend the bulk of our waking hours, and how much satisfaction we’re able to take from our labour.
The nation-builders of the 20th Century understood how dangerously imbalanced employers’ power could become and how unstable it could make the whole country—pushing up income inequality and along with it, crime, illness, and poverty.
So they enshrined in law our fundamental right to bargain collectively through democratic unions. Like every other human right, our labour rights give us the power to keep Canada on the path towards fairness, equality, and prosperity.
As our Labour Rights are violated, income inequality grows
But also like every other human right, our labour rights can be violated. Over the past 30 years, they have been violated often. Of the nearly 220 pieces of labour legislation passed federally and provincially in Canada since 1982, 212 have violated our labour rights by imposing contracts, outlawing strikes, and even restricting our ability to form a union.
Every time they our labour rights are violated, the power imbalance ticks back a little towards the employers, towards the rich. And with each tick, income inequality grows. According to research by by a group of UBC Professors in 2012, 15% of the increase in income inequality can be directly attributable to steady violations of our labour rights.