Study Questions: Chapter 17
1. How did Karl Marx view work and what did he predict for the future?
Answer: Marx viewed work as the exploitation of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie based on their different relationships of the means of production. The means of production is how wealth is generated and includes land, labour (of proletariats), and capital. Marx believed that the workers would eventually, collectively, realize that they were being exploited by the bourgeoisie and would develop class consciousness and would revolt in a worker’s revolution. What would follow would be a society led by worker democracy. He called this the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” (pp. 451–452)
2. What is the primary purpose of a labour union and how does it achieve its goals?
Answer: The primary purpose of a labour union is to negotiate fair wages, benefits, and working conditions for its worker members. There are several ways they may seek to achieve these goals. One way is through collective bargaining, where the management team bargains on behalf of the employer while the union bargaining committee bargains on behalf of its members. If these negotiations are unsuccessful, a strike may occur, where workers withdraw services for a time or the employer may lock out workers, suspending pay and disallowing them to work until the dispute is settled. Other possibilities are that union members may withdraw all services but what those that are clearly spelled out in their contracts (called a work slowdown or work-to-rule). A wildcat strike may also occur where workers decide to strike, regardless of the thoughts of the union executive. (pp. 455–457)
3. What is neoliberalism?
Answer: Neoliberalism is a very conservative ideology that puts the rights and freedoms of individuals and big corporations ahead of the collective good of all citizens in a nation. For example, allowing free trade across borders is viewed by neoliberals as a good thing for all because all/any individuals are able to make money from this situation. However, it is only rich individuals and big corporations who are positioned to make money from this arrangement. Most people in Canada suffer under neoliberal policies by losing jobs, in this new freer market place, to cheaper workers elsewhere. But, as neoliberals would argue, that is their own (individual) problem that they are not in a position to exploit the situation. (p. 459)
4. What key points did C. Wright Mills make about unions and media?
Answer: In C. Wright Mills’ book The New Men of Power (1948), he discusses the relationship of mass media in the United States to unions. In this discussion he raises five important points. The first point he raised was that any union news is bad news. That media are not friends of organized labour and only report negative things, such as strikes, corruption, and violence, if anything at all. His second point was that news journalists allow a wide range of opinion about opposition to union activities (when they report them at all)—hearing opinions from government, public, and so on—but only, if pressed, report statements from union leaders that indicate possible support for the union’s activities. Mills’ third point was that media only cover union activities sporadically. Coupled with the fact that this coverage is also negative, it suggests a certain theme. So, where business “news” has weekly coverage, union activities are only mentioned periodically if there is negative story to report. None of the typical daily activities of unions (e.g., charitable acts or peaceful, successful contract negotiations) are ever mentioned. The fourth point Mills mentioned was that there are always many more people who belong to unions than people who own or operate businesses and yet “labour” does not have continuous media coverage whereas “business” does. Finally, Mills pointed out that in mainstream popular culture, the working class is invisible—there are few working-class heroes and fewer unions represented in most mainstream television, movies, entertainment, etc. (pp. 464–466)
5. What is the difference between pay equity and equal pay?
Answer: Men and women in Canada have rarely been compensated equitably for their labour. Women’s labour accounts for more hours of work than men’s when we take both paid and unpaid labour into account, yet Canadian women continue to make less money than men. In the paid labour force, there are two ways that this problem has been addressed. One is a simple equal pay solution, where women and men doing the exact same jobs, with the exact same experience and qualifications, receive equal pay. As obvious as this way sounds, it still is not always the case. The other, more complicated way of addressing inequality in paid labour is to use a pay equity formula. The introduction of pay equity takes into account that men and women are concentrated in different sectors of the labour market where men’s jobs historically have been reasonably (or over) valued and women’s jobs have unreasonably (or under) valued. This way looks at hours on the job, required education and experience, skill level and responsibility for managing others and so on, on a job-by-job basis, to determine a pay level for each job. (p. 472)