Unions Play the Partisan Game
/ Author: Wayne Prins
/ Categories: Guide magazine /
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Unions Play the Partisan Game

The temptation of trading favours is too great for those concerned more with power than fairness

By Wayne Prins, Executive Director

When it comes to politics, CLAC is strictly nonpartisan. We don’t make financial contributions or endorse political parties or candidates, coordinate members or staff to volunteer during elections, or tell you how to vote. CLAC staff don’t serve on boards of political parties in their professional capacity. 

As you read this you may find yourself saying, “Well, of course you don’t! Why would any union use money received from compulsory union dues to support specific political parties? That just isn’t right!” And we agree. It isn’t right. The membership of every union in the country is comprised of supporters of all political parties. It isn’t a union’s job to play partisan politics with their money. 

Why do other unions play the partisan game? Because there are political parties in this country willing—in fact, eager—to reward them for doing so. The temptation is just too great for both the union and the political party, and the favours paid back and forth are rarely noticed or fully understood by the public, which makes it easy to get away with.

Let me give you an example of what this looks like. The Building Trades Unions (BTU) traditionally align with the NDP. Numerous BTU executives also serve on NDP boards across the country. 
In BC, in exchange for their partisan support, the NDP government has given their BTU friends exclusive access to large public infrastructure projects, shutting out 85 percent of workers who aren’t BTU members. In the process, this favouritism also adds billions of dollars to the cost of hospitals, bridges, roads, and transit that British Columbians desperately need. This cozy deal has also served to accidentally prevent some Indigenous-owned contractors from working on publicly funded projects on their own traditional territory. You can’t make this stuff up! The issue is so egregious that the NDP was accused of perpetuating “colonialism coupled with cronyism” during Question Period in the BC legislature. The BTU are eager to leverage their political relationships because, left to their own devices, they are no longer competitive in the open marketplace. Without help from their political allies, they simply wouldn’t perform much work. 

Ultimately, the temptation to participate in such practices is a test of character for both the unions and the political parties involved. I can tell you with absolute certainty that even if a political party was prepared to reward CLAC with exclusive benefits in exchange for partisan support, we would politely decline. This is simply a practical implication of being a union based on strong values. 

Not surprisingly, unions that are less concerned with values and more entranced by power will arrive at a different conclusion. And when the political winds blow in their direction, they pat themselves on the back and tell each other how clever they are. 

But guess who will be the most nervous people on election night? Those who seek to exploit power suffer the most when they lose it. 

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