UNIONS AND POLITICS – Why Should We Get Involved?

IBEW PAC Toolkit

Engaging people in politics is a difficult task. Many people are politically apathetic. In the majority of provincial and federal elections, nearly 40% of eligible voters do not vote, while between 60-70% of eligible voters do not cast a ballot in municipal elections. Shockingly, in some areas, the number of those who vote can be as low as 5-10%. The participation – even among those engaged in politics – is often limited and passive. These people will vote, but would never consider volunteering on a campaign, and while they may follow some issues, they choose not to discuss them publicly with friends, family, or co-workers. Therefore, it is often argued that we live in a country where only a minority of individuals are actively engaged in the political process. People ask, why should unions be involved in politics? This is a message commonly used by our adversaries and anti-union organizations. It can be difficult to overcome that negativity and understand why political action is important to the labour movement in general and union members in particular.

Businesses, unions, advocacy groups, non-profits, community groups, and individuals are all working to promote legislation or outcomes that are favourable to their interests. Those outcomes can be detrimental to the interests of working families and IBEW members. A prominent example of this is Bill C-377, lobbied for by Merit Canada, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) and other anti-union groups. Individual votes are important and your vote should count. Your voice should be heard. Unfortunately, the individual power of one voice and one voter is often lost to corporate lobbyists, who use the vast resources at their disposal to advance their anti-union agenda. Just as workers stand in unity to organize their workplace, we need to stand together with a uni#ied voice to elect a government that will defend the best interests of working Canadians.

Canadian law also recognizes the right of unions to be involved in politics. In the Lavigne v. Ontario Public Sector Employees Union (http://www.sgmlaw.com/en/about/Lavignev.OPSEU.cfm) (OPSEU) Supreme Court case, the majority ruled that compulsory union dues do not violate an individual’s rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (CCRF). Therefore, unions have the ability to use union funds to support political parties – similar to corporations. Governments, however, retain the power to prohibit political donations from trade unions and corporations, as has occurred federally. Furthermore, the ruling argues that businesses have a different set of interests from that of workers, and workers, by way of their unions that represent them, have a right to influence and shape the political and social arena through the use of union funds.

We are not anti-business. In fact, in some sectors like construction, we act like partners with our unionized contractors. We are cognizant that business interests do not always align with the interests of workers or our members. If we are not actively involved in politics, then we surrender control of our lives to others – others who will have little regard for our interests.

IBEW lobbying efforts are necessary to ensure that our members benefit from a profitable private sector in a more balanced way. The best way to have a positive change is through political action. We hope that you will see how important it is for IBEW members to get involved in the political process and even join or volunteer with your Local Union Political Action Committee (PAC).