We’ve all come across people who are victims of tragic circumstances or events in their lives. Our hearts go out to those who have suffered grave illness or injury, lost a loved one, been subjected to abuse, or been taken advantage of by those of questionable character.
The vast majority of people who have been victimized eventually move on with their lives and experience a measure of healing, even though they may have wounds, both physically and emotionally, that they have to live with. Many experience tremendous personal growth, and some are even able to reach out and help bring healing to others who have endured similar pain.
Then there are those who seem to live as victims and suffer internally for extended periods of time—maybe for the rest of their lives.
I once met an individual whose best friend had been murdered in high school. I recall the story of that terrible crime. It was one of the most shocking stories to ever come out of the city I was born in. But what struck me was the fact that my friend was still living in the victimization of the murder 15 years after the event.
There is tremendous energy in being a victim. Victims get considerable attention from those around them. As they share their stories of what happened to them or what they have gone through, people listen and provide support and help. Some individuals feed on this energy and perpetuate it for as long as possible.
Unfortunately, this negative energy sucks the positive energy out of the victim’s friends and family.
Some unions are very good at perpetuating this victim mentality. They relish the negative energy it brings. Instead of focussing on the positive gains made for their members, they focus all their efforts on how their members have been "victimized" by the employer. They love to rant and rave about the terrible injustices done to their members when cutbacks are necessary to keep the enterprise going—and protect the very jobs their members depend on.
My favourite example is how some unions will fight to the death when an employer tries to tinker with the defined benefit pensions some of their members so richly enjoy—even when these pensions are no longer sustainable without sacrifices by current workers to help pay for them. They quickly pull out the “victim” card for these pensioners in their ranks, and try to shame the employer for picking on the “vulnerable.”
I’m all in favour of strong retirement plans for workers. That’s why CLAC provides a defined contribution pension plan and, for some members in western Canada, a group RSP plan. Both plans keep the money where it belongs—with the workers who earned it—without requiring others to pay for them.
The real victims aren't those who may or may not have their generous defined benefit pensions tinkered with somewhat to ensure sustainability without requiring others to pay for them. The reality is that over half of Canadian couples between 55 and 65 have no employer pension between them whatsoever, and many are entering their retirement years without adequate means to stay above the poverty line. They’re the real victims that unions should be trying to help.
Unions would do well to pull out the victim card only when it is truly defensible—not when they are trying desperately to defend rich gains that only a few enjoy at the expense of others.