President's Commentary: Let’s not get distracted

"We could retake control of our own economy, rather than allow every major decision to be made by corporations in their own interests.  Imagine an economy that serves the people, instead of the current system where people serve the dictates of the economy — in reality, serve the dictates of large corporations." — Larry Brown, NUPGE President

By Larry Brown, NUPGE President

We live in complicated, even chaotic times. No wonder it can be a challenge to keep our eye on the ball.

In the US, the Trump administration seems to have become something like a long running soap opera – if the issues weren’t so serious it might resemble a sit-com.

In Britain, we saw Theresa May’s Conservative government lose its majority by 8 seats, with the future of that government hanging by a thread.

And back at home, our federal government says they are considering getting into the drone business, something that this country has never engaged in.

Big issues, to be sure, but should we allow them to distract us from the crucially important need to challenge income inequality?

Income inequality is a destructive force. We know income inequality weakens the economy, makes our society and our quality of life much poorer, causes illness and even premature death (the connections are well established).

We see that incomes and wealth at the top end have continued to rise rapidly. According to  Angel Gurria, Secretary- General of the OECD, “across the OECD, the richest 10% of the population now earn almost 10 times more than the poorest 10%, up from 7 times in the 1980s. And wealth is even more concentrated than income: the richest 1% of households in the OECD possess 19% of total wealth, while the bottom 40% own just 3%.  This has been accompanied in many cases by a fall in social mobility, which is related to deprivation becoming entrenched at a young age.”

 In May, Statistics Canada reported that while unemployment fell slightly this spring – partly because more young people gave up looking for non-existent work – wages grew by the slowest rate since the Agency started to track this information back in 1997.  The worst case of wage growth on record!

One of the groups that is hit the hardest is the young workers who are just starting out after years of studies.

With piles of student debt, these workers are looking for a good job to do more than just get by. How disheartening it must be for them to hear our politicians say “get used to“ the new job market, filled with precarious work at low wages, in occupations not even close to what they studied.  Really?

Young workers want to work.  They want to buy a house. They want to start a family.

It’s not just young workers, either.  Most working people in Canada have faced wage stagnation for the last couple of decades, with wage growth far lower than the increase in inflation and far lower than the increases in the wealth of our economy.  They are losing ground.

The truly maddening thing is that this problem is not so complicated and intractable that no one knows how to reverse the trend.  We’ve heard from various governments that they would tackle the issues of income inequality, but we are still waiting for real, long-term solutions that would push back the tide of inequality.

Our research shows that stronger unions — which means an end to the attack on labour rights, a strengthening of pro-union legislation — would indisputably lead to better income distribution, even to a stronger democracy.

Fair taxation would by itself lead to less income inequality, plus it would enable governments to have stronger social programs, better public services, which add to our quality of life and will lower income inequality.

We could retake control of our own economy, rather than allow every major decision to be made by corporations in their own interests.  Imagine an economy that serves the people, instead of the current system where people serve the dictates of the economy — in reality, serve the dictates of large corporations.

Creating good, stable jobs would allow young people, people living in poverty, and people working multiple jobs, to earn a living to care for themselves and their families. We need to be more focused on providing good opportunities for people, than on abiding by the corporate strategies that have the sole goal of increasing profits for the few.

Income inequality is not inevitable. We can create a Canada that’s prosperous and fair and leading the world towards healthier environments, healthier economies and more widespread equality.

The issue of income inequality cannot be dealt with off the side of someone’s desk, while attending to more “important issues.” We have the responsibility to keep gathering the evidence, keep building support, and to push our leaders into acting with concrete measures. The only way we can do that is by keeping our eye on the ball. 

In solidarity, 

Larry Brown

Larry Brown,
NUPGE President
 

Larry Brown is the President of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 370,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE


NUPGE

The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 370,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. ~ NUPGE

 

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