I’ve noticed an increasing trend in political talking points that is perhaps best exemplified by a recent political move here in Ontario by the PC party to raise the same “right to work”, anti-union rhetoric that is currently sweeping through much of the conservative U.S. It is the classic shadow move to project your own inadequacies and weaknesses on your opponent. To do something unacceptable and culpable and then blame your opponent.
In the case here in Ontario, the PC party is trying to bring forth legislation that will cripple unions by making membership non-mandatory. Whether that is a good or bad idea is not what I want to discuss here, but let me just say that the power of unions to decentralize monetary resources is an important balance to the tendency of big business to centralize it, and the this kind of legislation would hobble the unions’ ability to effectively do that. Looking at the results of similar moves in the U.S. shows a decrease in both jobs and wages when unions become weaker. But that’s a debate for another time and what I really want to point out is basically true whether or not you agree with me on the value of unions. (I realize that the PC Party has stepped back from this idea, but not entirely and not in a way that is convincing that it is not on their wish list.)
In recent press releases by the Ontario PC’s, they make statements like “I wish the Working Families Coalition would actually come out and say what they’re all about, and that’s Big Labour.” The idea of big labour is laughable for a number of reasons.
First of all it is a recognition and spin of “big business” with all of its negative connotations, thereby projecting a negative meme normally attributed to their own party and ideology to the unions. What would Big Labour be? Likely, an association of unions working in tandem to meet their goals, …those being the fair wages of their members. It is, as I said above, the decentralization of wealth. Big Business is equally committed to achieving their goals, which is sometimes the growth of their own business , but in fact only when it maximizes profit. Banks, financial institutions and many large businesses have quite clearly dedicated that being able to show higher profits to shareholders is a higher priority than jobs, wages or even service to their own customers. Hence the centralization of wealth. When you look at those two Big Entities, there is a superficial similarity, in that they are organized to achieve specific goals, but the ultimate goals are different, if not entirely opposite.
Secondly, what exactly do we mean by “Big”? Does anyone really believe that the ability of unions to exert financial influence in any way rivals that of the business community? I think that would be somewhat delusional. The strength of union influence is the solidarity of their members, which is specifically borne out by their tactics of going into electoral districts and persuading voters what may be in their best interests. Just like the Conservatives to (on behalf of business interests).
The PC’s are trying equate their invented meme of “Big Labour” with the existing negative meme of “Big Business”, which is odd as the latter is their own stomping ground. The PC’s are trying to create the spectre of fear of the “Big” in “Big Labour” when, again, it is their own Big Business that is the real “Big” and the real threat. In both cases they are projecting negative memes from their own ideology onto their opponents and spinning it so it looks like they own them.
The PC’s have also stated, “…they have the sole purpose of trying to divert taxpayer dollars into their own pockets – into private members hands and away from public services. That’s what they’re all about. … They’re trying to get as much public money for their members as possible. That’s their job as union leaders. But I do take issue with their attempt to cover up who they really are, and the fact they’re doing that.” Once again we see a projection of PC memes onto their opponents with the aim of spinning them as negative. Substitute “Big Business” for the implied “Big Unions” in the above quotes and you have the exact criticisms that are most often leveled against the Conservatives. It is the Conservatives that have the track record of diverting funds away from public services. Just look at the Federal Conservatives and their recent closing of Veteran Aid Offices, just to mention one of a litany of available examples. I don’t even thing that most conservatives would contest this, as a corner stone of their ideology is smaller government. The glaring fact is that Unions represent the public service workers, perhaps more consistently than any other sector of the work force. That makes the above quotation hard to understand. In what way are they trying to cover up “who they really are?” Is there a union boss cartel somewhere? (Even if there was, it would be small potatoes compared to big business interests.) It is a mysteriously menacing and very unclear accusation meant to capitalize on the fear that comes with Big Anything and the centralization of wealth. …Which, again, is obviously PC stomping grounds, not the unions’.
We see this shadow projection in the U.S. as well, where it has recently risen to heights of absurdity. Take, for example, the recent government shutdown, engineered by ultra conservatives unwilling to pass legislation without attaching irrelevant contingencies to it. For a while there was even a significant wave of dissent within the Republican Party as the more responsible conservatives realized what they were actually doing. This dissent was quickly subdued, but still is evident within the Republican Party as they become more conscious of their image approaching the election. After clearly causing the government shutdown, and after it was resolved and things somewhat stabilized, the Republicans immediately began a barrage of talking points designed to deflect and project the blame onto Obama. They claimed that it was his refusal to compromise that caused the shutdown and there was an immediate sense of denial of any responsibility on the part of the Republicans. They weren’t willing to even share the responsibility; it was entirely projected and disowned.
This is typical Shadow behaviour. Projection and denial. I see it all the time in individuals, but I find it really interesting to see it in a cultural institution or ideology. I am not implying that Liberal or (in Canada) NDP institutions might not exhibit the same thing at times. I’m sure they do. I will go out on a limb, though, and say that the conservative mentality is slightly more prone to it, especially as there is an internal paradox between social and fiscal conservatives, which complicates the expression of the ideology.
Nor am I suggesting in my discussion of the “Right To Work” idea, that unions are infallible. They can, like anything else, become too powerful, misguided and even corrupt. There is no question of that. However that doesn’t mean that you throw the baby out with the bathwater. Unions are essential to the balance of cultural monetary distribution, at least until companies develop a stronger sense of responsibility for the well being of their employees and of society in general. Companies that do this often don’t have unionized workers as it is unnecessary and the workers aren’t interested. Unfortunately such businesses are still rare.