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The Unlikeliest of Unions: Conservatives Look to Make Allies in the Labour Movement

Sep 09, 2020

There may be no more unlikely union than one between organized labour and the world’s conservatives, but there has been an increasingly loud chorus of right-leaning thinkers arguing for the improbable marriage.

“Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency has also sparked an economic re-think among conservatives in the United States who are trying to translate his appeal into a conventional policy document. On Labour Day, a group of right-leaning U.S. intellectuals released an open letter encouraging conservatives to park their suspicion of unions and give workers ‘a seat at the table.’

‘In a well-functioning and competitive market, participants meet as equals able to advance their interests through mutually beneficial relationships,’ the letter reads. Without robust unions, they argue, this relationship fractures.

‘Rather than cheer the demise of a once-valuable institution, conservatives should seek reform and reinvigoration of the laws that govern organizing and collective bargaining,’ the letter reads.

The open letter issued in the United States was spearheaded by American Compass, a think tank that tries to forge an economic consensus that weaves together family, community, and industry. The organization’s executive director is Oren Cass, an economist and former adviser to U.S. Senator Mitt Romney, who has been fervently pushing his ideas about re-orienting conservative politics around workers.

Cass’s think tank plans to publish a series of articles on the theme of organized labour, one of which will be authored by Canadian Brian Dijkema, who argues that trade union have historically been a conservative institution and only recently veered leftward.
At its heart, the union is a community organization, allowing people to ‘come together as equals to make the community a success and thrive,’ he argues.’The conservative movement has always been suspicious about the concentration of power and has been interested in restraining the abuse of that power,’ said Dijkema, a vice president of external affairs with Cardus, a faith-based think tank in Canada.’If you try negotiating — an individual worker — with your boss who hires you and has the ability to fire you, even if you’re protected by law, it’s not an equal relationship. No way. And it strikes me that we shouldn’t be afraid to make that relationship equal,’ said Dijkema.

In an op-ed in the New York Times titled, ‘the elite needs to give up its GDP fetish,’ Cass argued that these indicators are ‘entirely beside the point.’ Instead, policymakers should ‘realign institutions on behalf of those who have been left behind for decades,’ wrote Cass.”

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