THE EDITOR: Trade union leaders continue to display their inability to adapt to the changed economic circumstances of the country. Nonetheless, one recent opinion survey found that a majority of people still think unions are necessary for the well-being of the society.
However, it is a well known fact that the wording of a poll question can influence how the respondent answers. If, for example, one questionnaire about crime prevention asks, “Do you think police officers should keep suspected criminals behind bars while they get evidence for a charge?” And another asks, “Do you think police officers should just keep people in jail while they look for evidence?” The answers are likely to be very different.
This factors seems to have been in play in a poll by Market Facts and Opinion (MFO) which found that 57 per cent of respondents thought that unions are necessary and 53 per cent that there was a need for the Industrial Court.
What is curious about this is that, when it comes to institutions, pollsters have found that the most neutral way to get people’s opinion is to ask, “How much confidence do you have in X?” With the choices being “A great deal,” “Some,” and “Little or none.” Using this standard approach, a 2010 World Values Survey found that 65 per cent of the population had little or no confidence in unions.
By offering a binary choice (necessary or unnecessary), the MFO survey played into the ideology in which unions have successfully created an image of being the defenders of the underdog. The MFO bias was also seen in its description of the 53 per cent of people saying there was a need for the Industrial Court (another binary choice) as a “clear majority,” even though the poll’s error margin was four per cent so the actual ratio could have been as low as 49 per cent.
Economics shows why unions do more harm than good to a country’s prosperity. That is why the present undermining of the trade union movement is necessary in order to create jobs, even if the short-term cost is the removal of unions’ privileged position in keeping jobs for their 17 per cent minority of members.
ELTON SINGH, Couva