Shirley Carr, President, Canadian Labour Congress
THE TRADE UNION OUTLOOK ON SERIOUS CONCERNS OF THE 1990s AND BEYOND
Chairman: Sarah Band, President
Honoured Guests, Head Table guests, members of The Empire Club, ladies and gentlemen.
Shirley Carr is a leader of men and women, in a world where men have ruled by fiat and fight. Shirley Carr is no stranger to either of those influences.
She is as familiar on the picket line as in Parliament; on the steps of Whitehall or the White House. She is the leader of a congress of labour organizations which represent the welfare of 2.2 million members.
She is the first woman ever elected to represent a national labour organization, and has led it as president for the past four years.
She is up for re-election at the Canadian Labour Congress Convention in Montreal in May. Odds-makers have her at five to one to win. Those who know her have her higher than that. And for good reason. Here is a person who has made Charlotte Whitton's words prophetic, if not charitable. I know the men here today will forgive me. Ottawa's former mayor said, "She must do twice as well as a man to be thought half as good. But it's not too hard to be twice as good as a man." And, while those words were not written about our guest, they seem to fit.
But, lest I paint this tremendous person in the wrong light, let me speak of her other achievements. She is an Officer of the Order of Canada. She has honourary doctorate degrees from four universities. And she is a Fellow of Ryerson Polytechnical Institute. This, in recognition of her outstanding work on behalf of workers in Canada and throughout the world.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my great pleasure to introduce a pioneer in the international labour movement, the President of the Canadian Labour Congress, Shirley Carr.
Thank you very much. Well, with an introduction like that, one wonders whether they should just sit down and bask in all that glory, but thank you very, very much. And yes, it is true that there's an election time coming, but there seem to be elections coming up all over the place in this country. Some which I might make a comment on and others that I'll just leave alone.
Ladies and gentlemen, I want to say to you that it's a great opportunity for me to be here to address the meeting of The Empire Club. I was asked to sign the register out there and there's a spot there for comments. At first, I stood up and decided I wouldn't put anything there, but then I decided, "No, it's not like me to walk away from some spot I could make a comment on." So, I wrote in there, "At last."
Now, when I was preparing to speak before an audience like this, I was saying to myself, "What will I say?" I could be flippant and say some things that I get chastised for from coast to coast, but then I thought, "No, today maybe I should be a little bit more serious." When preparing to speak before an audience that, shall we say, does not exactly share one's perspective on the world, one has some options. You can either aggressively stake out your position on all the issues that divide, tossing in, of course, the corresponding criticisms, or you can focus on those areas that do or can offer some convergence of views, or you can dodge the dilemma altogether by commenting on those weighty matters that Canadians turn to every day like 'the weather'--and hoping that nobody notices.
Well, I'm not sure how my remarks today will be categorized, but I begin with the assumption that your invitation was based on an expectation of hearing the trade union outlook't on some serious concerns of the 1990s and beyond.
First though, and here I hope I'm not accused of pandering, I want to congratulate you. Yes, that's right--congratulate you--and the 'you' to whom I'm referring generically is the business community of Canada. I believe it is undeniable, whether one agrees with the results or not, that over the past 10 or 15 years , you have been enormously successfull in getting your socioeconomic agenda adopted by governments across this country of ours, especially the federal government, since 1984. And you have accomplished this for the most part more and more visibly, whether through individual corporate entities or through associations such as the BCNI, the CMA or the Chamber of Commerce. Nowhere, ladies and gentlemen, was this better illustrated than during the historic debate over CanadaAJ.S. Free Trade.
Now, naturally, I commend you with a mixture of envy--you've got more money than we have for one thing--and frustration because I haven't got the money to spend. After all, we've been on opposite sides of many battles. But my credit is not extended tongue in cheek. It really is most sincere to you. Because I believe fundamentally that the democratic process is best served when competing voices are fully open and attributable--when, to borrow a journalism phrase, there are no unnamed sources. The marketplace of ideas where people shop and to which they contribute, must be transparent if it is to have any real meaning in the context of decision-making across Canada. Your increasing willingness, indeed eagerness, to participate in the marketplace is, in my opinion, a welcome contribution to the formulation of informed policies.
Now, turning to issues of a more substantive nature, clearly when examining Canada alone there is no dearth of subjects, many of which are interdependent, each one of which deserves expanded discussion. Just listing some of them conjures up well-known points of debate--tax reform; the Goods and Services Tax and tax fairness; regional and gender inequality; unemployment and the retreat from the goal of full employment; the widening gap between the rich and the poor, between good jobs and bad jobs; the deficit and high interest rates; child care needs; unemployment insurance cutbacks; the impact of Free Trade, deregulation and privatization; the environment and workplace health and safety--you can pick any one of these and you have the ingredients for a point of view, not to mention an argument.
My target, however, is somewhat broader and perhaps more abstract. It is based not only on the cumulative effect of the just-mentioned problems, but also on other aspects of Canadian reality in 1990--a reality that is far from comforting. It's a reality that includes a number of things--growing evidence of racial and linguistic intolerance in this country, which is totally unacceptable; constitutional impasse which is tearing our country apart; persistent sexism; and obviously regional tensions. In a word, divisiveness--divisiveness due to almost universal conflict due to uniquely Canadian development and due to relatively new features of our community. But divisiveness nonetheless.
Now, in my view, this state of anxiety is routed in large part in a growing sense of insecurity and vulnerability. It's a sense that, in turn, is a reflection of economic instability in the daily lives of many people in this country.
So, in pursuing this theme, I want to juxtapose the phenomenal scope of change taking place within the Soviet ,' Bloc. At first blush, this may appear paradoxical, but it's an extraordinary thing that's happening around the world and particularly there. And since last fall, political and economic changes that have swept across Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union have dominated the world stage. Everything else, ladies and gentlemen, save the marvellous and long overdue release of Nelson Mandela, has seemed like a sidebar of the "real" news and rightfully so. This is truly a historic moment in our time, in our lifetime. An insatiable thirst for democracy has propelled a people's revolution. It has exposed the tremendous cost in terms of personal liberty that an aggressive degree of state control can exact.
Where this revolution is headed is anyone's guess and for my purposes here, I'm frankly more interested in the West's reaction to events unfolding within its adversary's borders. How are we going to treat this as Canadians or as a nation? . And what also disturbs me is the unconcealed smugness in some quarters about the demise of the communist idealogy in practice--a smugness that basically translates into a triumphant refrain 'communism is dead, long live capitalism'. It may sound strange for me to say that, but I think you have to put it into the context of what I'm saying. It's as if the folly of one of this century's most powerful "isms" automatically translates into virtue for the other. I would dispute such a bold conclusion--and let me be very, very clear--I have no difficulty recognizing and accepting private enterprise as a beneficial fact of Western industrial society. What troubles me is the trend, led by the United States, Britain and West Germany, with Canada in lock-step, towards reverence for the market as the sole arbiter of wealth, production and distribution together with the diminution of government's role in that process. It is precisely this trend, ladies and gentlemen that is leaving in its wake much of the insecurity and the vulnerability to which I referred to a few moments ago, insecurity and vulnerability that is hitting individuals, hitting families, hitting communities and indeed entire regions of our nation.
To be sure, there are winners, too. There certainly are winners in this--Canada's richest city, right here. There is abundant evidence of that. But you don't have to search hard to find the other side either, the homelessness, the food banks and children and poverty. The legacy of an unrestrained market has been and will always be the entrenchment of inequality and the spread of a certain kind of social anarchy. To me, these observations are not connected to dogma. Rather they flow from a reasonable interpretation of human experience--an experience that has both an individual or personal dimension and a collective or social dimension. Preserving and strengthening these dual elements of our existence can be achieved only by applying a judicious mix of private freedom and collective well-being. In a phrase, our goal should be a society that bows neither to the state, nor to markets' invisible hand exclusively, but instead to the needs of people. I ask, have we failed to do that in this country?
Now, having offered some generalizations, I'd like to pursue more specifically some of the deficiencies that I perceive as intrinsic to greater and greater market reliance. And let me preface this by saying that I do not intend to harangue, which may be a surprise for some of you. Nor am I seeking agreement from you which, of course, comes as no surprise to you. I'd like to think I'm a realist and you probably will doubt that. My objective is to provoke at least some introspection about the conduct of business affairs and about our social and economic priorities.
- Among the flaws of an unfettered market, I would include the following: the inability to generate continuing and regionally balanced prosperity and employment opportunities; the failure to produce a socially acceptable and sustainable distribution of income and wealth; ignoring the adequate supply of essential human services to which all Canadians can have access; undervaluing those things that do not have clear market values attached to them, a prime example being the environment, and finally the tendency to produce unhealthy concentrations of economic, social, and political power.
Is this my critique alone? Is this the mutterings of someone quite blinded to the beauty and simplicity of market forces? Sometimes I wonder that. That's until I read things that I haven't written and I find out, much to my surprise that I'm very intrigued by the recent musings of one Giles Paquet, who some of you undoubtedly know as one of Canada's most respected economists, a leading proponent of the classical school founded upon market theory--was, that is, until a decade ago when he could no longer reconcile textbook analysis with the economic system it helps to perpetuate. Paraphrasing him, Paquet describes a society so rivetted to the operations of the market that it has permitted food banks to flourish, cities to expand needlessly and Canadian companies to be gobbled up by foreign multinationals. He portrays not only a discipline--economics--that counts and calculates rather than feels and cares, but also a society that has adopted particular yardsticks, one of them being competitiveness, one being efficiency and one being acquisition--those three as the exclusive measures of its success. And he illustrates with, first, economists who have failed to incorporate the cost of destroying the environment into their sophisticated computerized models. Another illustration: economists who live in a world of desires and trade-offs, where basic human needs such as food and housing are not taken into account; also, economists who rhapsodize about international competitiveness, while blithely ignoring nationhood, pride and sovereignty; and economists who can tell a society how to increase its productivity, but have little to contribute about a fair distribution of wealth. And the sorry part of this story, ladies and gentlemen, is that if the economists merely confine themselves to some ivory tower, their shortcomings might be innocent enough, but they don't. And consequently, far too many decision-makers end up mouthing the bean-counters' slogans and implementing policy derived from them.
So okay, what's my point and what is the bottom line? Well, , what it is not is a blanket repudiation of the market economy; nor is it an assault on the private sector's central role within a market framework. What it is is a plea for recognizing that the prism of the market is not the only legitimate prism through which to evaluate economic activity and performance. And further, that to hold up the market as an unassailable in dicator of social and economic behaviour is to yield to it a,;' Preeminence that verges into recklessness.
Quite simply, the weighing of options, whether in the corporate boardrooms or government cabinet rooms, while it cannot ignore market signals, must also be answerable to other objectives--answerable specifically to those objectives that are unmet partially or totally by the functioning of the market.
I am struck and sometimes I'm even awed by the pace of change in our modern world. I am struck and even awed by the rapid transfer of technology by instant communication and information exchange and by the globalization of capital inherent in these developments which is creating a smaller and more interdependent planet. The potential for tremendous progress and emancipation is also there or it could be harmed. These changes can also be the cause of increased levels of alienation, an alienation from a seemingly mindless and heartless machine that can discard individual men and women as quickly and indiscriminately as it embraces them.
Control, involvement and belonging are crucial to human earning and yearning. To truncate, or worse, to deny them, is to undermine the soul of our existence and to invite a moral wasteland. It is exactly these needs, ladies and gentlemen, that have fuelled the democratization of Eastern Europe. It is exactly these needs that continue to nourish the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and it is exactly these needs that must inevitably be satisfied everywhere, including within the West's relatively free and materially advantaged societies. It is exactly what is needed in this country today. If the Prime Minister were to start speaking out on behalf of this country for a change, you would not see what is happening in this country taking place. Obviously, it's more important for the Prime Minister of Canada to be visible in the international scene than to the people of Canada, and that in itself is a tragedy. It's a mistake to assume that somehow people in power should be immune to people's aspirations for political and economic democracy. It's not safe to assume that anymore. It's not safe to assume in this country that we have political democracy when the very fabric of this nation is now at stake, when the very sovereignty of this nation is at stake, and it's not safe to assume across this country with a massive question of unemployment and insecurity that we do, in fact, have liberties and that we do, in fact, have equality. When people are disenfranchised from the economic mainstream, when they feel helpless and disconnected from the sources of their loss, they are doubly penalized. First, they are cut off from a fair share of society's production and second, they are left angry at the unseen market vagaries that contribute to their predicament.
So, I am left to conclude that our challenge--and I hope it is a shared challenge by all of us in this room--is to use all the tools at our disposal, public or private, to ensure that change is compatible with our social fabric, to ensure inclusiveness and to ensure balance between and respect for both our individual and collective welfare.
I happen to be involved in international affairs as the President of the Canadian Labour Congress and as Chairperson of the Commonwealth Trade Union Movement and I would like to say to the business community in this room that if you don't come alive as far as the European community is concerned in the opening up that's taking place and if we do not as Canadians help those countries to develop into the democracies that we need and we want and we've asked them to do, then Canada will take a back seat again. This is a vibrant country, rich in resources and rich in education and rich in qualifications and rich with ideas and rich with knowledge and rich with money in some spots. I know what we in the Labour Movement are going to be doing. We don't have money to help them in the investing side, but we sure do have money to help them at the grass roots level and we're going to be sending teams across the countries that are now opening up. I will head a delegation to go to Poland and to Czechoslovakia, to Rumania, yes and into the Soviet Bloc and into West Germany to see what we can do union to union and people to people to help them become democratic. And I say to the business community, you have to do the same thing. You have to send your teams in there to help them arrange or rebuild or to build new industries and new plants and show them how to manage them in a democratic way with the right to have a union, a democratic union. Because if we take a back seat to all of this, you will have lost a great opportunity and yes, you can make profits there as you should.
And then there's South Africa. I'm going into Namibia on Sunday where we are helping them to restore themselves into a democratic process. We are the grass roots. We can do those things. And there is the same commitment also from the democratic unions around the world to help South Africa build and rebuild with the infrastructure that is there. But my friends, those of you that have what is "power", you have to be ,there too, because if there was ever a time when we can help rebuild nations and be proud of it as Canadians have always been, this is the time. Don't say, "Let's wait for a little while--we don't trust". Don't be too conservative. You'll be left out. Have a good day and thanks a lot.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Alex Squires, Vice President, RBC Dominion Securities Inc. and a Director of The Empire Club of Canada.