Should You Continue to Pay Your Union Dues to Your Union, or Donate Them to Charity Instead?

In George Orwell's 1937 book, The Road to Wigan Pier, we are given a thorough and detailed account of the working and living conditions of coal miners in the North of England just before the Second World War. Orwell spent time underground with the miners and he correctly described the work as "savage". He wrote that if he were to attempt the job for a living, it would likely kill him within a few weeks. He might have been correct about this, as each man underground moved nearly two tons of coal per hour, by hand, with pick and shovel, while working in areas where it was impossible to stand up straight.


The work that the miners had to do was brutal enough on its own. However, the work began long before the workers actually began to move coal. It was not uncommon that the men would have to travel underground for kilometers in order to get to their worksites, through tunnels that they could not walk upright in. Orwell describes the excruciating nature of this activity in some detail in his book. This travel time for the miners was unpaid work. The workers were also subjected to various "stoppages". Stoppages were wages deducted for things like the rental of lamps, the sharpening of tools, and the rental or purchase of other items required for the work underground. In some mines, the workers cheques were stamped - with a rubber stamp - 'death stoppage'. This was money deducted from the workers, by the company, for the widows of workers killed on the job. Orwell went on to point out that "The significant detail here is the rubber stamp".


Being killed on the job was not uncommon in a pre World War II English coal mine, and Orwell stated that it was so bad that "casualties are taken for granted almost as they would be in a minor war". He went on to say that everyone that he had talked to who had been working for any length of time had either been involved in a serious accident or had seen coworkers killed. Some miners died in explosions and some died from being crushed. Sometimes a miner would only be injured, but would then die because it could take two hours or more to get him to the surface. Some died in crashes while locked in one of the high-speed cages that lowered ten or so workers down into a pit. This would happen either from a mechanical malfunction or due to the carelessness of the man operating it from the surface.


I will not go into the living conditions of the miners, except to say that by today's standards, they were appalling. I would not do Orwell's book justice by attempting to condense his work on this topic into something short enough to be fit for an introduction here. So I only ask that you contrast the above summary with this well phrased concept from The Road to Wigan Pier: "Our civilisation, pace Chesterton, is founded on coal, more completely than one realises until one stops to think about it. The machines that keep us alive, and the machines that make the machines, are all directly or indirectly dependent upon coal. In the metabolism of the Western world the coal-miner is second in importance only to the man who ploughs the soil. He is a sort of grimy caryatid upon whose shoulders nearly everything that is not grimy is supported".


It is no wonder that the coal industry had much to do with the creation and growth of unions worldwide. The conditions that miners had to endure in the early days of coal mining would necessarily lead to solidarity amongst the workers. It is likely an innate human quality that causes groups of people under difficult conditions to bond and to make sacrifices for each other while knowing that the favour will be returned if needed at some point down the road. A labour union is simply an expansion of this basic idea and puts the idea into words and into codes of conduct. These codes are enforced through the same types of coercion that codes in any group are enforced. In the same way that a prisoner who informs on a fellow inmate is called a rat, the union member who continues to work while his comrades are on strike is called a blackleg or a scab and both would be under threat of serious violence and social isolation if caught. Here are the lyrics to an old English folk song that quite likely originated during an 1844 coal-mine strike:


It's in the evening after dark,
When the blackleg miner creeps to work,
With his moleskin pants and dirty shirt,
There goes the blackleg miner!

He takes his picks and down he goes
To hew the coal that lies below,
But there's not a woman in this town-row
Will look at the blackleg miner.

Now dinna gang near the Delavel mine
Across the way they stretch a line
To catch the throat and break the spine
Of the dirty backleg miners.

And Seghill is a terrible place,
They rub wet clay in the blackleg's face,
And around the heaps they run a foot race
To catch the backleg miner!

They take his duds and his tools as well,
And they hoy them down the pit of hell.
Down you go, and fare you well,
You dirty blackleg miner!

So join the union while you may.
Don't wait till your dying day,
Cause that may not be far away,
You dirty blackleg miner!


The above lyrics clearly convey the seriousness of the concept of worker solidarity. To undermine fellow workers, who are making serious sacrifices in order that conditions for the whole group might be improved, is to betray a character flaw that identifies the transgressor as a person who can never be a trusted part of any tribe or any group. It is very easy to imagine how a morally healthy individual might feel the need to resort violence if one of his comrades was sneaking off in the night to undermine the whole group, for his own personal gains, while the group was deliberately subjecting themselves and their families to poverty, by way of striking, so that they might bring about a long-term reduction in mine fatalities.  


The resort to violence might seem harsh to a modern working person. However, we must put things into context. The work was very tough, the men doing the work were very tough, and life for your average miner was very tough. In fact, Orwell wrote that the men who worked the pits looked as though they were made of iron and that this was due to the severity of the work. In this case, what didn't kill you actually did make you stronger. In addition to the physical toughness that the work demanded, it must have also made for very tough minds. To do the type of work that the miners did, and live in the conditions that they did, and to do it all without complaint, likely made for men who would not be overly compassionate towards someone undermining them for selfish personal gains.   


If workers were under the sort of ideological spell that would leave them prone to committing violence against their fellow miners, it's not unlikely that they were also prone to being taken advantage of by unscrupulous demagogues with political ambitions. We will never know the true motivations of all of the union organizers who attempted to merge the concept of worker solidarity with a desire for a socialist or communist utopia. We do know that the miners needed improved working conditions and that somewhere along the way, things got very political. Unions began to get very large and became corrupted and business-like. Somewhere along the way, people who had never actually worked a day in their lives began to benefit financially from a once noble worker solidarity movement.   I will not here go too much into union corruption, as anyone who wants to learn about it can simply google the term and find that a whole new world opens up. I will say, however, that the same type of virtue-signaling that we hear from all demagogues is permanently and unavoidably present in the labour movement. You hear them everywhere: We're saving the children, the elderly, the downtrodden, the vulnerable, the exploited, the sick etc.; so please, send me your money and vote for me.


I have worked in both union and non-union environments. When I make generalizations about the differences between two, I am speaking strictly within my area of knowledge, which is the trades. If others have had experiences that have resulted in conclusions that are different than mine, please contact me and let me know. In my experience, union workers are, generally, more skilled in their crafts than their non-union counterparts. The reason for this is that union positions generally offer higher wages and also include important benefits like pensions and dental coverage, etc. This allows unionized companies to attract a larger pool of applicants and to select the most competent from that larger pool. This is not always the case, as unionized government positions typically pay well below what the private sector pays, and a competent and highly skilled tradesperson is unlikely to accept such a position, unless for some reason they do not need to earn very much, and are simply looking for easy work - or as it's called in the trades, a "retirement job".  For example, a decent union job in the private sector in my trade pays around $40.00 - $45.00 per hour. I went for an interview once at a hospital and found out that the position paid $29.00 per hour. I laughed very slightly when the interviewer told me this and he responded by saying, "Yea, it's quite a haircut". I had never heard that expression before and wondered if it was something that had to be repeated often to prospective employees.


The other exception to my theory that union workers are generally more skilled is that of the highly ambitious and gifted tradesperson, who knows that they are gifted, and wishes only to work exceptionally hard and is highly motivated to test the limits of their success. These trades-people will sometimes stick with non-union companies because opportunities for advancement are likely to come more quickly. These people tend to be fairly rare though, and so wouldn't change the basic premise of my position.  


The reason that I am sharing all of this with you is that I don't want anyone to form the idea that my reasons for writing this piece have anything to do with me being anti-union. I believe that unions perform an important function in society and the right of workers to organize to improve their working conditions is extremely important and necessary. However, that is where my support of unions ends. I am not going to follow my union into the ditch and I am not going to help fund them while they do it.


Labour unions are now dabbling in things that they have no business dabbling in. The time has come for unions to say that either they are abandoning the working class in favour of identity-politics and social justice activities, or that they are simply going to stick to helping workers negotiate collective agreements. I am okay with some political activity. Lobbying for safer working conditions overall is one such activity. I am not okay with my union engaging in destructive social justice activities. I think that it is exceptionally rude and presumptive for any labour organization to think that using member dues for that purpose would be okay with all of its members.

If you do not know a lot about your union, you might be surprised to find that they support racism, discrimination, violence, communism, and the destruction of our society as we know it. You might think that my statements here are exaggerations or alarmist. I will back up these statements with evidence, which you can confirm, and then judge for yourself.


The Ontario Federation of Labour claims to represent more than a million workers in the province of Ontario. On their website, they make the following statement:  Ontario Federation of Labour pledges support for Black Lives Matter Tent City". On the right-hand side of the same website page, there is a logo that says: Ontario Workers Support Black Lives Matter. Surely, there are some workers who do not support Black Lives Matter. I think it's necessary to tell the reader something of the Black Lives Matter movement in Canada. One of the cofounders of Black Lives Matter Canada is named Yusra Khogali. Ms. Khogali is a particularly vile human being. She has publicly stated that white people are genetically defective and should be wiped out. She has also stated that white people are sub-human and once asked Allah to give her the strength not to kill white people. The OFL goes further and engages in full out racism, which it openly brags about on its website: "Pressure for greater inclusive representation at the OFL Board level came from caucuses of black workers as far back as 1985. At the 1993 OFL Convention, delegates approved the creation of two vice-president seats for visible minority women, in addition to the allocation of seven vice-presidents specifically designated for women, one vice-president allocated to a First Nation’s person and one allocated to a person with a disability (OFL Constitution 1993, Article V Section 1.1.)". So, as a white male, you would be automatically excluded from these positions, no matter what your qualifications. I think that the Ontario Federation of Labour owes an apology to the workers that it represents, and collects funds from, for openly supporting this massive assault on decency, classical liberal values, and our merit-based economy.


The British Columbia Federation of Labour dives head first into absurdity by setting aside space on its website for "Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Social Justice". This comes complete with the encouragement of "implicit bias testing and training" programs for your workplace. What this means is that social justice warriors will come to your workplace, give you a pseudo-scientific test, tell you that you are subconsciously a racist, and then send you for re-programming. The "science" behind this program has been completely discredited and there is no evidence that it does anything other than create resentment and division. It is mind-boggling that a labour organization claiming to represent workers would support the idea of tampering with worker's psychology in the workplace at the worker's own expense.   


The UFCW Canada states on its website's social justice page that, in addition to combating your subconscious biases, it is also active in immigration, LGBT pride, women's rights, aboriginal reconciliation, and "diversity and inclusion training programs". The union says that it has a Human Rights, Equity and Diversity Committee.  The union's website also openly supports the Federal NDP, and attempts to capitalize on the now discredited gender pay gap myth. I have no idea what all of this foolishness is costing, but I would be content to see a massive downsizing and have the union stick to simply negotiating collective agreements and focusing on worker safety.


The New York Teamsters was one of several groups who organized a rally at which Linda Sarsour was master of ceremonies. We are fortunate because Linda Sarsour says exactly what she thinks. We are unfortunate because the Left goes through complex mental exercises in order to obfuscate Ms. Sarsour's statements.  Sarsour has said that Muslims should undertake jihad against the American Government. She said this while delivering a speech to the Islamic Society of North America. She tweeted that she wished that she could take away the great humanitarian and activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali's vagina. She said that Muslims should not assimilate into Western cultures. She said that she was honoured to be sharing the stage with convicted terrorist and murderer Rasmea Odeh. Why is a labour organization that is collecting dues from American citizens anywhere near this insanity?


The BC Teachers Federation, like many teachers unions, is promoting the idea that gender is fluid and is not related to biology. Apart from being scientifically incorrect, this will also likely result in very large lawsuits being launched down the road, by people who were encouraged to change their gender when they were children, but then changed their minds as they grew up. There is currently a debate about whether or not this type of tampering with young student's minds by ideologically driven teachers unions is child abuse.      


What unions seem to be failing to recognize is that if we do not have a functioning economy, there will be nothing to negotiate over. When they use terms like "equity" and "equality", they are speaking a language that is incompatible with a market economy. For an economy to function there must be inequality. The system is not perfect, but it's the best humanity has come up with so far. The worker's revolution that these unions are advocating for, with their "equality of outcome" language, has been tried and it failed miserably. There is a reason why the old Soviet joke "We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us" came to be popular. Another old Soviet joke goes: How do you get rid of mice? You put up a sign saying 'Collective Farm' and half the mice will run away and the other half will starve. Unions ought to leave economics and politics up to businesses and citizens and stick to negotiating collective agreements.


Besides the abysmal economic advice that unions are currently trying to peddle, they seem also to have allied themselves with groups who are openly hostile to our civilization. A common theme in the social justice world is the idea that the white male is an oppressive creature and that our entire patriarchal system needs to be torn down and recreated. This theory is very pervasive in universities and teachers unions. If you do a bit of research you will find claims, made by academics, that even mathematics is an oppressive patriarchal system. If this is all new to you, it likely sounds insane. If it is not new to you, then you know exactly what I'm talking about. It is a fact that people with the mindset described here, are working their way into unions and are corrupting them. By way of paying dues, you are helping to further this highly destructive and divisive ideology. When you give money to these organizations, you are degrading your own society.


The solution to this problem exists in withdrawing financial support for your union and letting them know why. They will have to come clean and make up their minds about what it is exactly that they are doing. If it is an equality of outcome based socialist utopia that they wish to bring about - through violence and racism- then they ought to be honest about it. There are roughly 4.8 million dues-paying union members in Canada and about 14 million in the United States. What exactly are they doing with all of the money that they are collecting?    


I recommend to every union member that they go onto the website of the union that they belong to and explore it thoroughly. Then, find the site of the body that your union has to kick some of its dues up to and have a good look there. Some jurisdictions might not have this arrangement, but I suspect that most do. For example, if you belong to a small union in Ontario, then your union is likely giving a portion of your dues to the Ontario Federation of Labour. Look for any political or social justice activity that you are not comfortable with and then inform your business agent or union rep that you are unhappy with the activities or positions of your union. Most jurisdictions have mechanisms to either not pay your dues or to donate them to charity instead. Some of the reasons that are allowed are religious or political objections. If you object to any of the activities of your union and there is a legal way out of funding them, then do it, and tell them why you are doing it. If you have a legal avenue to avoid paying dues altogether, then I recommend that you donate an equivalent amount to a charity, so as to avoid accusations of simply not wanting to part with the money.     


I did not write this piece because I am anti-union. I wrote it because I think that unions are important and it is important that we do not allow them to be corrupted by people with sinister motives. If enough people withhold dues and demand that their unions cease engaging in nefarious political and social justice activities, then the unions will be forced to get back to their roots.


Jonathon Kneeland

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