When a “free vote” is actually not

The Globe and Mail makes me froth. Usually the reporting is good quality, and the writing isn't atrocious. But should I stray to the editorial pages, as I did this Saturday, the rabies symptoms begin. This time it's about Wal Mart.

The Globe and Mail makes me froth. Usually the reporting is good quality, and the writing isn’t atrocious. But should I stray to the editorial pages, as I did this Saturday, the rabies symptoms begin. This time it’s about Wal Mart.

The US retail giant closed one of its stores, in Jonquière Québec. Wal Mart closing a store is no big news. After they’ve sucked the life out of the local retail scene, Wal Mart routinely leaves.

But this was the first Wal Mart Рanywhere ever Рto have its staff in a union. The closure comes just as a second store, in Ste. Hyacinthe Qu̩bec, wrestles with the certification issue.

So where does the Globe come in? Well their Saturday editorial (sorry no hyperlink available) supported Wal Mart’s decision to close the store. Not because it wasn’t profitable (as I recall, neither the Globe nor Wal Mart contests the fact that the store was making money), but because the workers chose to join a union.

It’s not that the Globe has anything against unions per se (I’m sure some of their best friends are union members). It’s just that the decision to join a union is not made “democratically.” This is the Wal Mart company line too, by the way.

So a union organizer gets more than half the workers in a workplace to pay their membership fee, sign a union card and then they submit them to the labour board. The board compares that against the total roster (as supplied by the employer) for the workplace (as defined by the employer and wrangled back and forth between board, union and employer) and if the union has at least half as many cards as are on the roster, the union is certified.

Apparently that’s not democratic. (It happens to be the law in Québec and other provinces, but that’s immaterial). What would be democratic, according to the Globe, is if after getting the majority of employees to sign cards, there would be a campaign period followed by a labour-board supervised secret ballot.

That’s sort of like how it happens in the US. You know, where the rate of unionization is somewhere on the order of 12 per cent?

But how is going door to door, talking to every worker off the clock about their job and how they’d like to improve their lot, and getting them to be part of something undemocratic?

Apparently all this can happen in secret. And apparently union organizers can intimidate workers into signing the cards. These are the two reasons the Globe advanced. And they’re both rubbish in general and with respect to Wal Mart.

Unions often try to keep their drives secret from their employer to protect the volunteers who run them on the inside of the non-union shop. Employers often harass, intimidate, discipline and fire people they catch trying to form a union. Wal Mart certainly falls into that category. If anything the secrecy makes it more democratic because it allows workers to do what they feel is right without fearing for their livelihoods.

Union organizers intimidate people into signing cards. So they say. But even if it has been true, have you seen Marie Josée-Lemieux, the UFCW Wal Mart organizer? Slight, sharply dressed, she looks more like a high school principal than a thug. If I were a Wal Mart employee I’d just be worried she’d give me a detention.

Sorry. Demi-relevant and slightly genderized diversion. The fact is in card certification campaigns the employer can (and does) go around to individual workers too and get them to change their minds. A worker who changes her mind can then sign a form retracting their card.

Only when an employer does it, I suppose it’s called information, if you ask the Globe. See, the employer doesn’t have to be brash, in your face and aggressive. They can be nice and polite because employees know the employer has the power to put into play everything they say will happen if the workers vote for the union. Just like Wal Mart did in Jonquière.

I personally am waiting for the day when the Globe turns its concern about democracy over toward the corporate side of things. I can’t wait for them to argue that Wal Mart should be dissolved because the people of Canada didn’t get to vote on whether or not it should be allowed into the country to engage in predatory pricing, union busting and other capitalism-as-organized-crime activities.

There’s absolutely nothing democratic about a corporation. In trying to keep a union out, they’re trying to ensure that they can continue to keep their relations with each employee on the comfortable level of one employee versus one huge multinational where contracts talks are one liners: “take it or leave it, peasant.”

The corporation is insisting on a two-stage sign-up process because it wants another chance to have a go at initimidating workers back into silence and subservience because it failed to do so the first time. They want to draw out the process and use the significant means at their disposal to bribe or coerce those who’ve had the courage to stand up for themselves.

If democracy has anything to do with it, it’s the fact that democracy is bad for business.