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Change Happens ... but Unions Don't!

The world that we live and operate in today is incredibly different than the world of 100 years ago ... it is incredibly different than the world even 25 years ago! More to the point this world will be very different again 25 years from now.

A recent example might be the manufacturing industry in Canada ... perhaps in the Western World! In the last 10 years we have seen emerging nations take over the manufacturing of many of the world's goods because they can do it cheaper, and in some cases better! In the same way many thousands of information technology jobs have moved from the G6 countries to emerging countries. Both of these recent phenomena are products of our "global economy" and the ability of companies to take advantage of less expensive, qualified labour. Tens of thousands of people have seen their jobs evaporate with this phenomena.

What about the communications world ... some of the features available on your iPhone would be considered fodder for a science fiction movie a few years ago. So, with this kind of advance will people need "home land lines" in the future? Who would have predicted a few years ago that Nortel would be on the brink of bankruptcy and Bell Canada would be for sale? Do you think people in this industry have been affected?

We are reading about the plight of the three big auto makers ... Henry Ford would turn over in his grave. What used to be the pillars of the US economy are again teetering on the edge of obsolescence. Not only are the thousands of people who work for these companies affected, but whole communities that are dependent upon the "local plant" for employment are being devastated.

New opportunities arise as times change. Smart companies from the industrialized nations are taking advantage of the changes in our global economy and with technology to reposition themselves for success. They grow their knowledge based capability locally, invest in intellectual property and partner where appropriate. New markets emerge with tremendous potential ... have you looked at the biotech world lately? The pace of innovation and change in that world outpaces even the technology world ... by a large margin!

All of this change happens fairly quickly, but as a factor in our day to day lives we don't really SEE it ... which can be dangerous.

In a world that changes this fast you cannot afford to keep blinkers on! We ALL need to be open to new ideas and to the possibility that things can be done differently. Just because it has always been done a certain way does not mean that is the way it will always be done. Every now and then I am struck by how obvious this is, and yet how many people just don't seem to get what it means to them. I am particularly struck by how "behind the times" many unions are.

I live in Ottawa and last night the OCTranspo (bus drivers and mechanics) union voted to continue a bitter strike that has seriously affected the whole city. They have been out for a month ... that encompassed the Christmas Holiday period, plus a major hockey competition The World Juniors, in addition to several local large events. The disruption at a personal level has been terrible, the affect on businesses and productivity could be devastating. These workers are VERY replaceable. They are unskilled people who drive buses. They are being led by a union that has its blinkers on ... demanding its "rights" in the middle of what promises to be a nasty recession.

I read that Ontario's Elementary teachers are considering going on strike.

The teachers assistants at York University are on strike and are approaching a point where the students there today could lose this whole year!

Unions in the 21st century need to "get it"! I still think there is a place for an organization that protects the rights of their workers ... but that should mean helping their employers to keep and create good jobs. It should mean educating their members about the risks presented by a global economy. It should mean providing training and support to their workers so that they bring more value to their employers. It should NOT mean blindly fighting for MORE, when MORE will mean lost jobs, lost productivity and eventually lost employers.

Unions that operate with the "old school" mentality hurt our country's chance to compete in a global economy and hurt their members ability to get and keep jobs.

Change is the only constant ... will the unions ever get it? I hope so, but I'm not holding my breath.