Tuesday, June 15, 2010

When capital goes on strike why is there no outcry?

by Joe Anglin
On June 25 the Alberta Wildrose Party will hold their AGM in Red Deer. Amongst all the political posturing, handshaking and speechmaking the party faithful will at some point settle into adopting policy. One such policy up for consideration is a motion that states, “A Wildrose Government will restore education as an essential service under the Labour Code ensuring that no child’s right to an education is denied by school strikes or lockouts.”
The wording of the motion caught my attention, because it only focused on the labour code. This is not unusual because typically conservative ideology and specifically the extreme right-wing element of the ideologists are generally less than supportive of union activities or labour unions in general. However, I found it fascinating because the motion could have said “No child’s right to an education will be denied by reason of lack of funding”, or “a child’s right to an education will be protected by the Alberta Bill of Rights.” I personally prefer the wording of the latter because it actually elevates the rhetoric of a “child’s right” into an actual protected right both labour and capital would be required to respect!
Observing the balance of labour with capital in a society that professes allegiance to free market principles is in many ways a study in irony. There seems to be a prevailing pattern that the more a person professes to the ideology that the market reigns supreme in all matters, the more anti-labour [union] they tend to be. The irony, in very simplistic terms, is baffling. A labour union is technically a democracy that pools individual labour resources together to maximize the benefits for its members. In contrast a corporation is technically a democracy that pools individual capital resources together to maximize the benefit for each investor. In a union each member has a vote. In corporation each share represents a vote. There are many other similarities [and differences] contrasting unions to corporations as an institution, too many to list here.
The question I ponder is why is labour [labour unions] generally criticised or vilified when there is a strike [withholding labour], and there is rarely any criticism levelled at a corporation if they withhold or withdraw [strike] capital? For example: most recently Alberta’s government was faced with the threat of a capital strike when it attempted to raise royalty rates. There was no criticism levelled at the corporations threatening to leave Alberta for better drilling privileges in Saskatchewan. This was generally accepted as an unquestionable market right to withhold capital. The irony is the capital strike threatened, had a far greater potential negative impact on Alberta’s economy as a whole, than any teacher’s strike could possibly achieve. There was no outcry or threat of adopting policies to ensure that an individual right to sell their labour was denied by a capital strike. The fact is drillers wanted to drill, and the government wanted the resources extracted. How is it that a company that withholds investing capital for a better return is viewed as somehow different than a teacher who withholds labour for a better return?
For the record, I am in favour of identifying essential services such as the ones that doctors, nurses and teachers’ provide. I just do not adhere to the prescribed doctrine that only labour should be held responsible for the delivering the service. There is a balance to managing essential services. Labour without capital [funding], and vice-a-versa, is powerless to deliver the service. If the balance has to be struck in practical terms, then it should be struck in terms of policy. The Wildrose faithful would be wise to question the words they chose in adopting policies, if they truly want to represent the middle political spectrum of the province. It is all about balance.

Joe Anglin
(403) 843-3279
Rimbey AB

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