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La négociation sectorielle : une panacée?

Bernard Brody


L'auteur commente l'article de Normand Cinq-Mars«  Négociation locale et négociation sectorielle » Relations industrielles, volume 25, numéro 3, 1970.


Industry-Wide Bargaining : A Panacea?

There seems, over the past few years, to have arisen in Canada a grawing interest in Industry-wide bargaining. In Québec the government has explicitly stated its intention to encourage (through legislation) such a type of structure.

A large number of advantages are alleged to flow from this « rational » approach as compared the traditional plant or local bargaining relationships.

The author recognizes that such a shift could result in certain improvements, In the event of layoffs or complete plant shutdowns older workers may obtain wider bumping rights if the seniority unit is thereby enlarged. In this way the average age of the disemployed may drop, the age mix of the unemployed having been altered. Since retraining and mobility programs are likely to be more successful with younger workers, this change could represent a social gain. There remains of course the thorny issue of equity and compensation for the losers.

Industry-wide certification - accompanied by appropriate changes in the majority requirements - may also extend the opportunity of collective bargaining to new sectors where plants are too small, turnover rates too high, and employer power too extensive to permit workers to even think seriously of unionization under the present regime.

We should not underestimate the attachment of workers to seniority as the only meaningful proxy for job security. Enlargement of the seniority unit, to the extent that it heightens the state of insecurity of all but the older workers, will have to be compensated for by other ingredients of the job security concept. One such response might be that the (federal) government adhere honestly and explicitly to its 1946 commitment to maintain a full employment. Tight full employment combined with a meaningful and active manpower policy program would create the kind of environment in which workers do not fear dilution of their present seniority arrangements. Recent performance of our governments, mysteriously stricken with a pathological inflation phobia, have driven worker job securitybelow tolerable levels !

One of the « advantages » seen to flow from industry-wide bargaining is a reduction in the number of strikes. This is a simplistic mathematical truism. The strike unit would of course be larger and the man-days lost would thus not be expected to fail. Of great interest here is that strikes would shut down entire industries rather that single plants. This more complete interruption of product flow would surely increase the « public interest » element in such a conflict. This would promote greater direct government intervention in collective bargaining, an undesirable development on almosta priori grounds alone. While on the subject of eliminating or reducing strike activity, it is necessary to point out that it is wholly illusory to pretend that this is necessarily desirable. Surely strikes are but one form of costly industrial conflict. Indeed, if enlargement of the bargaining unit does mean a reduction of strike activity we should anticipate that conflict will merely change its form. Among these other (substitute) forms of conflictual activity we find ;

(1) a lowering of worker morale (frustration) ;

(2) a reduction in effort or productivity ;

(3) an increase in grievances;

(4) an increase in turnover rates ;

(5) an increase in absenteeism ;

(6) an increase in spoilage and breakage ;

(7) an increase in accident rates ;

(8) an increase in thefts;

(9) an increase in sabotage ;

(10) strikes that do break out (legal and illegal) will tend to be more violent.

These aggressive manifestations result in increased costs of production, and where possible, increased prices. In the end, all parties in the market pay the price whether the conflict is open and explicit or hidden and implicit

The most potent argument against industry-wide bargaining is that it inevitably results in an upward displacement of the locus of power within the union hierarchy. The many advocates of the broader structure underestimate the dangers for the trade union movement of an even greater centralization of power than exists today. Most members are already alienated as citizens, as workers, and we are asked to witness a further alienation of the individual as union member. If a more concentrated power base is indeed imposed, this author predicts that the lower echelon leaders and the rank and file will create a (n) (informal) parallel structure while the existing unions will care for the « social » welfare rather than the narrow members' interests. Unions are institutions whose first (and almost only) role is to advance the interests of their members. They are not intended to occupy themselves with the « common good ». It is a matter of the allocation of private resources on the basis of a priority ranking.