So it would appear that Stelco is in serious trouble. Their largest client is just about to cancel their largest contract, and why? Because the company can't guarantee that they'll be able to deliver on it. Because they can't guarantee that their workers won't strike. This is the perfect example of the awful mess into which modern Canadian businesses have fallen. Unions are too strong, corporate entities are too weak, and as a result, Canadian business loses.
In the beginning, there was a real need for workers unions. Unscrupulous corporate leaders would enforce long hours, unbearable work conditions, and low pay - and what could the working class do but comply? Enter the unions to balance the board. Wages increased, workplace safety standards were raised, and workers weren't forced to accept whatever the management tried to shove down their throats.
But we've come a long way since 1900.
Now, workplace safety is government regulated. Minimum wage is government mandated. A market system that values workers as a commodity has been set up so that businesses must compete to hire them. All that unions were formed to achieve has come to pass. So why do they persist?
Because unions did what most organizations do: they expanded. At first, it was a necessary security feature. If only one section of a company went on strike, management could just fire them all and hire new people; but if a company's whole workforce went on strike...or if all the workers in an entire industry decided they'd had enough...well that was a different story.
Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. So these unions continued to grow, and eventually they began spreading into different trades - steelworkers were now seen striking alongside teachers, who were striking alongside bus drivers, and so on. Occupations that had very little to do with one another were now joined at the proverbial hip, and the massive organism that is the Trade Union began to wield incredible power, both economic and political.
As growth increased, outside leaders were brought in to run the unions - people who had no actual stake in the company or the workforce themselves. These third parties worked for the union itself, and pocketed their paychecks out of the duties paid by the members. Suddenly, there were more reasons to go on strike than ever before. Reasons that didn't necessarily involve the best interests of the workers. Nowadays, it seems like certain unions will strike at the drop of a hat (yes, Teachers, I'm looking at you). And of course, these organizations are so interconnected that if a strike goes on long enough, it will drag other unions into the fray, in an attempt to bring more pressure to bear.
It has reached the point that companies like Stelco, the largest steel manufacturer in Canada, are threatened with bankruptcy. Their clients, GM in this case, need assurances that they will receive their orders in full and on time. And since Stelco can't control the union, they can't guarantee their products' delivery.
And what happens then? Stelco loses its contracts, and is forced to - wait for it - fire all of its workers.
So unions go on strike to demand better wages (nevermind that union-wages are already inflated) and better work conditions (which are now regulated by government standards) under the assumption that the businesses must cave to them in order to stay alive economically (for who can run a steel mill without steel workers?). But now it has gotten so bad that corporate leaders are faced with economic death either way. If they refuse the demands of their unions, they can guarantee the contracts; but they'll lose their workers, and lose the contracts after their workers leave. If they crumple under the unions' pressure, they keep their workers - but there's no job for them to do, because they've lost the contract.
Either way, Stelco is dead in the water.
Unions are too big, too powerful, and too self-centered (instead of worker-centered). They were once necessary organizations that worked for the betterment of the market. They were once run by people who understood that if the union can negotiate with the company, and help the company perform above and beyond expectations, then everyone - including the workers - would greatly benefit. But now? Now the unions are staffed by people whose jobs are primarily to make sure they still have jobs. To make sure that the workers continue to need the union.
Can you say 'conflict of interest'? The ultimate goal for the union (like that of the police department) is the eradication of the need for a union. Now that it has been achieved, the union is naught but an oversized self-serving deadweight, and it is dragging all those involved into the economic grave.
Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be any easy way out. Corporate leaders are just as human as union leaders, and both groups will always look to make a profit whatever way possible - even at the expense of human decency. The union is needed to balance the power of the company. But the key word is balance. If the union grows overlarge, the scale tips; and no matter what union propagandists would have you believe, a tipped scale is bad news either way.
I see a future of destruction for Stelco. Maybe they'll survive it, maybe they won't. The government will eventually step in with corporate welfare, I'm sure, but the damage is already done. I can only hope that those with power recognize and learn from the mistakes of their predecessors.
But I'm not gonna hold my breath.
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