Why Unions Should Remain Nonpartisan
Election season is here, and many unions advocate for one party or another
By Wayne Prins, Executive Director
Ah, election season in Canada. The airwaves, social media feeds, billboards, and newspapers are abuzz with the latest policies, promises, and politicking.
We are surrounded by messages from politicians and special interest groups seeking to persuade us that a particular political party is worthy of our support.
Most unions are among those interest groups that campaign fervently in support of—or opposition to—one political party or another. They strongly encourage their members to vote as a block and spend significant time and resources trying to persuade the rest of the voting public that a particular party is good or evil.
But there are three good reasons why unions would do well to stop their partisan political ways.
First, by choosing to be nonpartisan, unions free themselves from the obligation to follow a single political ideology, platform, or public policy agenda. As a result, they can work freely with the government of the day and politicians from all parties to advocate effectively for legislation that matters to their members and to all workers.
They can support bills put forward by private members and by the government alike. Rather than being agents perpetuating the needless animosity that underpins so much of our political discourse these days, they can instead be agents that bring politicians from all sides together to support effective public policy.
Second, unions should respect the diversity of political opinions that exist among their members. This election campaign features many issues that fall outside of the workplace, issues where union members will have different opinions.
According to an Ipsos poll (September 11-13), the top four issues this election are healthcare (35 percent), affordability (27 percent), climate change (25 percent), and the economy (24 percent). Internal polling done by some unions indicates that members’ voting intentions align closely with general polls across the country.
Third, workers join a union and pay dues for effective representation, both individually to protect against arbitrary treatment, and collectively at the bargaining table to negotiate for their interests. Their hard-earned dues should not be funnelled to support a party that they may or may not be in favour of but instead should be used to represent their direct interests in the workplace.
Being nonpartisan doesn’t mean unions should stay out of politics. On the contrary, unions can—and should—be politically active. They can work to advance their members’ and workers’ interests in a nonpartisan way by appealing to all parties and governments on many issues, whether free trade, changes to labour laws, health and safety standards, economic growth and development, and others.
It’s time for union leaders to recognize the diversity of opinion among their members and respect their right to contribute to and to vote for the political party and candidate of their choice.
On October 21, many union members will be supporting a different party than the one chosen by their union leadership. That’s something union leaders should think seriously about before spending their members’ hard-earned dues to play political favourites.