Thursday, June 7, 2012

Unions and Student Protests

For those who ponder why I would be less than thrilled with Quebec unions or why I seem to skitter along the political spectrum, the latest stories (in French, in English) about the role of Quebec unions makes it abundantly clear.  What people have long suspected is now quite apparent--that the big unions have been providing significant financial support to the student groups, funding their mobilizations outside of Montreal (subsidizing the buses), for example.

Why would the unions do this?  Of course, they take the stance that they support Quebec's left as a matter of principle.  Sure.  What that really means is that they will support anyone or anything that will screw over Jean Charest and the provincial Liberal party.  The unions have long hated this current government and have long been aligned with the separatists. 

I get it that unions were/are important for being some kind of counter-balance to the power of corporations.  Jacob Levy examines the pro's and con's of unions quite well, although I am not a libertarian so I do not exactly share his point of view (not a surprise to him).  So, I see their necessity, but I also have seen how the combo of strong unions and ties to one side of the political system can seriously warp things. 

The Republican readers of mine (all three of you) are probably gleeful about this, but this combo does not really exist in the US.  Unions are very weak and they are not so embedded in the political system.  Yes, many unions support the Democrats, but this support is weak at best.  They give some money but cannot promise voters.  They certainly do not disrupt ordinary life to make the government of the day look bad.  American unions cannot even mobilize their members that much on election day. 

When I lived in the US, I supported the idea of stronger unions since the political system favors the corporations.  After ten years in Quebec (actually, after a few months), I realized that powerful, entitled unions that are eager to disrupt, prone to sabotage, are hardly ideal.  That they jumped in on the side of students, despite the fact that this ongoing mobilization and the increasing debt crisis are both counter to the interests of their members, is hardly surprising.  Any chance to mess with Charest and the Liberals makes sense to them.  But given the polls, where the student movement is hardly popular, it is pretty clear that the unions' strategy of remaining in the background was their wisest decision. 

I wonder if the student organizers realize that they are a stalking horse?  Maybe if they went to classes?  Probably not--they will just consider themselves the vanguard of the proletariat. 

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