Advertisement
ontarionewswatch.com NEWSROOM

             Labour Keeps Its Distance From Guaranteed Annual Income, For Now…

 

 

By Brad James

A radical and simple concept:  an effective way to stop people from being poor is to give them enough money not to be poor. In a society as rich as ours, can’t we provide everyone with enough income to ensure their dignity and autonomy?

Discussion about a guaranteed annual income (GAI) is suddenly back in vogue. 

The idea of providing everyone with a guaranteed income paid from public revenue has grabbed attention in Canada at least twice before.  The GAI made an appearance as a proposal (in a very tightfisted form) in the 1985 report from the Royal Commission on the Economic Union and Development Prospects for Canada (better known as the Macdonald Commission). More positively, the encouraging results on health and education outcomes of a more expansive GAI pilot program in Dauphin Manitoba in the mid-1970s caused a lot of stir when they were finally made public in 2009. 

And now the GAI is back, sparked by at least partially by alarm about swelling income and wealth inequality.  Both proponents and skeptics are getting lots of play.

But one voice has been relatively quiet.  The labour movement, usually upfront and vocal on key social issues, has kept a noticeable distance from the present GAI discussion.

The Ontario Federation of Labour, the province’s largest labour group, has no formal position on the GAI, though it is now working on a GAI discussion paper.  The Canadian Labour Congress last addressed this issue back in 1988 with a call for an expansive and comprehensive GAI model. Neither the United Steelworkers nor Unifor currently hold formal policy stances on the matter, and CUPE believes that the CLC’s position from 1988 remains relevant today.

Labour’s caution is worth noticing, especially in Ontario given the provincial government’s announcement that it will kick a GAI experiment into gear in fall of 2016. Liberal governments in Quebec and Ottawa have been making positive sounds as well.

Why might unions, not known for shyness, be holding back?

One reason is that settled opinion about the core idea behind the GAI does not stick to predictable ideological lines.  Progressive opinion does not cohere in either direction.  On the other side of the spectrum, conservatives can be appalled by the idea of simply giving people money, or be infatuated with a GAI’s imaginable efficiency in delivering support to those who need it. 

Next, how a GAI might actually work is still a blank canvas. 

It could be designed to be pinched and parsimonious, or to too deeply erode other vital social programs already in place.  Alternatively, it could be layered into our existing social support landscape as a truly transformative initiative that could take a much-needed bite out of inequality and poverty.

So it may be prudent for labour to wait, to watch and to provide informed input as different models have their tires kicked

It is also likely that labour’s diffidence is rooted in valid worries about a GAI subsidizing lousy employers or distracting governments from making needed progress on policy initiatives to increase the supply of meaningful and fairly compensated employment opportunities for people who can work.  

Another speedbump is taxes.  A robust and comprehensive GAI that also did not cannibalize other worthy programs would require a big jump in government revenue.  And that would mean more taxes from a lot more of us.  Despite some encouraging signs to the contrary, unions are not strangers to the popular notion that tax increases are things that somebody else (usually the unloved pairing called “the 1% and the big corporations”) should pay.  Unions may simply not yet be ready to rally members around a GAI proposal to be paid by more contributions from those very same members.  

As well, how would a GAI impact labour’s collective bargaining power? 

On the positive side for labour, during strikes and lockouts, union members would have a credible income source in addition to their strike pay.

But a GAI’s subsidizing effect for employers might also move the bargaining power needle the other way. 

And finally, coming out squarely in support of an expansive GAI also may mean wrapping minds around a difficult admission that perhaps the primacy of the traditional labour market as the key driver of income distribution may be less and less important in the future. And that could require a challenging, almost existential contemplation about the very nature of unions in the future.

The issues are complex and risky, but unions will not stay for long on the sidelines in the reignited GAI debate.

The opportunities for either exciting social progress or for backsliding and retrenchment are too great.

 

Brad James is the Organizing Department Leader for the United Steelworkers Canadian National Office. He can be reached at bjames@usw.ca  Opinions expressed are his own.

 

Posted date : April 14, 2016
ontarionewswatch.com NEWSROOM
The Trudeau government's new budget, rather than delivering activist government as it promised to do, reveals a party that turns more and more conservative in power. Luke Savage weighs in.
March 23, 2017
Ontario's PCs and NDP are pressuring the Liberals to hold the line on school closures. But to keep them open, says Randall White, no one wants to pay the piper.
March 22, 2017
The Liberals government's proposal to cut energy costs by 25% is just shifting the actual payments to our children, warns Terri Chu.
March 21, 2017
A new report shows Canada is one of the lowest defence spending nations in NATO - we're 22nd out of 28. How much should we be spending? Mahoney, Capobianco and Belanger discuss.
March 15, 2017
A review of Ontario's labour laws is landing on Premier Kathleen Wynne's desk right about now. Brad James wonders if she'll use it to bring about greater fairness.
March 13, 2017
Finance Minister Morneau has announced he will bring down the Liberal government's second budget on March 22nd. What should be in it? Mahoney, Capobianco and Parkin debate.
March 08, 2017
Donald Trump, Brexit, and the French election: could swings to the right affect voters casting ballots in the Ontario's 2018 election? Randall White has more.
March 07, 2017
More and more asylum seekers are sneaking into Canada at non-official border crossings. Should Canada be cracking down on them? Mahoney, Capobianco and Parkin debate.
March 01, 2017
President Trump has done Canada a lot of favours already. Why, the best scientists and academics are headed our way! Terri Chu writes a tongue-in-cheek love letter to The Donald.
February 28, 2017
Trade, military co-operation and working women came up at the Trump-Trudeau meeting. But were the results substantive enough? Bird, Capobianco and Parkin weigh in.
February 15, 2017
Canada's western provinces may have grown fastest, but Ontario remains the country's most populous province, writes Randall White. There was good news for of its areas.
February 14, 2017
Canada has taken a soft-pedal approach to Donald Trump so far. Meanwhile, there are calls in Germany to prepare to treat Trump as a hostile dictator. Mahoney, Capobianco and Parkin on which way Canad
February 07, 2017