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"More than 50 years ago, the United Nations included the freedom to form a union among fundamental human rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But the Bush administration and leaders in Congress have aligned themselves with corporate special interests to promote policies that erode workers' rights. The Bush administration, in fact, is fighting to strip collective bargaining rights from hundreds of thousands of federal workers."

Kokomo rank and file meeting

I didn't write that preceding paragraph, in fact it's quoted from an email petition form, that I recently received from the AFL-CIO e-Activist Network. Of course I agreed with the sentiments expressed, so I filled in the form that substituted for my signature and clicked the button that would send it instantaneously to the U.S. Congress and President Bush for their careful consideration.

Trouble is, as my index finger gently left-clicked the button, I could not dispel a feeling that here was a fine piece of hypocrisy at work. You see, it's not enough that big business and government are in league to screw the working class out of their International Human Rights, it also seems that many of our union leaders have to get in on the act too. Because, when they negotiate contracts that contain two-tier language, they are parties to a violation of our right to equal pay for equal work, a right that is clearly spelt out in the same Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a declaration that clearly states that "everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work", see UDHR article 23(2). (

But it's not just big governments, big business and the big AFL-CIO unions that are caught up in this madness to abolish equal pay for equal work. This disease has so riddled the small union of which I happen to be a member (Brewery, Winery and Distillery Workers), that there is not a contract under our jurisdiction, that does not contain this effrontery to human dignity.

Fortunately though, not all business unions are necessarily tarred with the same brush. Here are some inspiring passages from the Canadian Auto Workers' Collective Bargaining Convention, 2005:

From chapter 4,

"Nothing will destroy a union faster than inequality between union members. This is why two-tier wage agreements (through which employers try to "buy off" existing union members by cutting wages for new or junior employees only) are a devastating concession for any union to make."

And from chapter 6,

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"One gimmick making a comeback these days is two-tier wage agreements, which have been negotiated at some major companies in the U.S. and Canada. Employers use a two-tier wage system to cut long-run costs, by convincing today's workforce to sell-out the next generation. Companies propose that new hires will be permanently paid less, or that benefits will be reduced or eliminated for future hires - while claiming that existing workers will not be affected. This may seem like a seductive argument: the employer gets what they want, and there is no pain for the existing membership. But in the long run, two-tier systems destroy the historical gains of the labour movement - and they destroy the internal solidarity of the union.

As time goes by under two-tier systems, there will be a larger and larger number of lower-tier workers doing the same jobs, side-by-side, with their more senior colleagues - but working for less pay and fewer benefits. A two-tier agreement creates a permanent generation of "second-class" members. How will those "second-class" members view their union? There is no more dangerous threat to the union. Under no circumstance will the CAW accept two-tier wage agreements. We must be wary, as well, of "back door" methods of introducing a two-tier system - such as through new-hire wage grow-in schedules that extend far beyond the length of a collective agreement."

This firmly stated position is in sharp contrast to the UAW leadership that has warmly embraced two-tierism. The CAW split away from the UAW in 1985. The Canadian union disagreed with the UAW leadership's trajectory toward "partnership" with management and granting of concessions to keep the companies "competitive." (source =

So what is the rank and file to do when the leadership goes awry? Well firstly it's important to have a vigilant membership that attends meetings and ensures the accountability of those it delegates. Perhaps another answer, is to look at what the UAW rank and file are currently doing to counter the anti working class actions of their leadership. You could check out this page to get started (, and follow the video and audio links. Be patient, some of these video files are rather large and take some time to download, but it's a wait worthwhile.

In Solidarity,
John Barker

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Nov 2005