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Strike! Scratch a Liberal, Find a Fascist - The Annals of Young Geoffrey: Hope brings a turtle [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Young Geoffrey

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Strike! Scratch a Liberal, Find a Fascist [Apr. 10th, 2005|03:02 pm]
Young Geoffrey
With the deadline less than 12 hours away, there is a good chance Toronto's transit workers will strike in the early hours of Monday morning, leaving a half-million people to find alternate ways to get to work and school.

I can't say that my friends' list has been flooded with howls of outrage, but a few people are very miffed.

- "TTC strike... sucks ass. i really don't think they should be allowed to strike, because a-they're an essential service. b- they're partially funded by our tax dollars. c-they JUST fucking raised the prices.

"... them striking is akin to a 3 year old throwing a temper tantrum. eventually they'll get what they want, just because everyone is sick of dealing with them. they need to find some kind of better tactic to deal with their issues, rather than finding one that alienates the entire city..."

- "I don't live in a nice area, and I work far far away, so I am left FUCKED ... I am stuck either walking an hour and a half at around midnight through the seedy Lansdowne and Bloor area, or I stay at home and not work and not write my exams and not pay my rent this month, or I am to ride my bike through the heavily trafficked streets of Toronto...

"And for what? So that the transit unions can raise their average pay of $25 per hour and get rid of the penalties for being late or early to stops?"

It's not the half-truths that strike me (though I note the current top wage is under $25.00 per hour, and that the TTC makes this city vastly more liveable and so should be "partially funded by our taxes dollars" (a lot more than it is, in my opinion) or that the fact the TTC management just raised prices, not the union - but all that is beside my point), so much as it is the this evidence that principle sometimes means so little to people, when they are personally inconvenienced.

The TTC is an important service - indeed, it is arguably an essential service over the long run; taking a half-million cars off our roads is a Good Thing, for All of Us - but it is not an essential service in the way that ambulances or doctors and nurses are essential.

In a capitalist society, the only power workers have is the ability to withdraw their labour. Without the right to strike, employees would be at the mercy of their employers - in terms of wages, in terms of job security, in terms - essentially - of their very lives. In a capitalist society, the right to strike makes the difference between freedom and (de facto) slavery.

And for those I've heard describe driving a bus or streetcar as a "cushy" job, give me a break. Fighting traffic, dealing with drunks and crazies all day long is not cushy. It is hard, stressful work that requires constant attention both the road and to the passengers one is ferrying about the city. TTC drivers are reasonably well-paid, I suppose, but 50K a year is not going to make anyone in Toronto rich.

All right, fire away ...
linkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: stolen_identity
2005-04-10 08:36 pm (UTC)
LOL, hey, two of those comments belonged to me!!! :P

actually, i'm not really personally inconvenienced at all by this strike. school's all done, i've got nowhere i've gotta be that i can't get to. but that doesn't stop me from thinking that it's not fair for them to strike. i'm not a very big fan of unions in general. i think they were necessary back in the day, but not so much anymore.
i think people need to learn better ways of resolving their problems than saying "fuckit, i'm on strike" ... seriously. throughout school, all they ever teach you is to find different ways to resolve problems/differences.
but then talks break down, and they resort to this.
i would much rather have no such thing as a "strike deadline" and have an unbiased mediator in there. lock them in a room, don't let anyone out until they've reached something that makes both sides happy.

i'm not saying that they shouldn't get or don't deserve what they've asked for. but i absolutely do not agree with them hurting the people that rely on them, in order to get the attention of the bigwigs.

what's that phrase, you catch more flies with sugar than umm... salt? a lemon? LOL, i can't remember. but anyway. they should think about that, because in doing stuff like this, they aren't going to build a very big fanbase.

personally, i'd probably just suck it up and learn to drive downtown, if i had a job down there and worked up here, even after the strike was over. i'm not all that attatched to the service, simply because of things like this.


flame ahead! :D
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2005-04-10 09:30 pm (UTC)
God bless your sense of humour, KT.

...it's not fair for them to strike. i'm not a very big fan of unions in general. i think they were necessary back in the day, but not so much anymore.

I think the reason they seem to be unnecessary now is because they still exist. Walmart doesn't go around closing stores that decide to unionize because unions aren't necessary, but because they are.

i think people need to learn better ways of resolving their problems than saying "fuckit, i'm on strike" ... seriously. throughout school, all they ever teach you is to find different ways to resolve problems/differences. but then talks break down, and they resort to this.

What is the alternative, if management isn't negotiating in good faith, as has been known to happen? If you can't withdraw your labour, you have no power whatsoever. Without unions, individual workers are not in a position to bargain as equal parties to management.

i would much rather have no such thing as a "strike deadline" and have an unbiased mediator in there. lock them in a room, don't let anyone out until they've reached something that makes both sides happy.

And if "until" takes years? The only alternative I am aware of, at least under our existing system, is binding arbitration, which is the route those public servants deemed "essential" have to take.

i'm not saying that they shouldn't get or don't deserve what they've asked for. but i absolutely do not agree with them hurting the people that rely on them, in order to get the attention of the bigwigs.

I haven't been paying enough attention to have an opinion about the specific issues of this strike (or possible strike). But again: withdrawing their labour is their only weapon.
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[User Picture]From: miyyu
2005-04-10 09:22 pm (UTC)
I agree with you. I am in my local teachers union and we currently do not have a contract and have been working without one for over a year and a half. As teachers and public servants, we are not supposed to strike, and even the mention of it makes the public furious. Many of the people in the town do not want us to make more money in spite of how little we make comparitively considering both our education level and our pay scale compared to the rest of the area (lowest in the county by a LOT). (Side Note: how people can think that they want poorly paid and therefore poorly qualified people teaching their children is beyond me) And while we are not going on strike YET, we may very well have to, because at some point we will have no other means at our disposal and would otherwise be at the mercy of the school board.

I find that these contractual negotiations are often much more complex than the public thinks and there is a lot more at stake. I have learned a great deal being on the receiving end of it.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2005-04-10 09:38 pm (UTC)
Thanks - not for agreeing, but for lending your intimate perspective on this kind of a situation.

I believe Ontario school-teachers are reasonably well-paid, but your comment reminds me of the situation of daycare workers here. Those who are unionized (I believe) earn something along the lines of $12 to $15 per hour. I've long thought that an interesting commentary on the value this society places on its children.
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[User Picture]From: miyyu
2005-04-11 10:29 am (UTC)
Daycare is in a similar plight here in the US. Daycare workers and even preschool teachers (who have more training, generally) get paid very little, often minimum wage. And yet all the research for the past several decades demonstrates clearly that early childhood learning (or lack thereof) is a strong predictor of success later in life.

I know the funding comes from different sources, but it disturbs me to live in a society where an 18 year old boy can play basketball and earn millions of dollars a year but someone who teaches five year olds how to read, basic math, and how to socialize properly with one another is paid barely a living wage AND is now almost universally required to have at least a Master's degree in his/her field.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2005-04-11 11:02 pm (UTC)
I think part of the problem, at least in Canada, is due to the quite understandable conflict between values, often held by the same individuals: that is, on the one hand, the desire to pay less in taxes and, on the other, the desire for high-quality - yet inexpensive - child-care. Thinking off the top of my head, I think the desire for lower taxes trumps high-quality child-care because of a residual lack of respect for so-called "women's work".

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[User Picture]From: miyyu
2005-04-11 10:30 am (UTC)
A la George Carlin: "If you're preborn, you're okay, but if you're preschool, you're fucked."
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[User Picture]From: sck5000
2005-04-10 09:31 pm (UTC)
What a tragically poor analysis.

The reason they need unions is not because we live in a capitalist society, it's because we *don't live* in a capitalist society. The TTC is a subsidized, state-controlled monopoly - precisely the opposite of capitalism. The TTC is exactly the kind of transit system that would be offered in a Marxist utopia: a state-run, non-profit, single-option mass transit system mired in bureaucracy.

The strike is the inevitable result of no competition for the labor pool in mass-transit, the workers are held hostage by a single, monopolistic employer: the state. They have to form a union because with a single employer it is the only way to increase bargaining power in an economic model that does not have competition.

None of that is capitalism dude; so naturally I find it amusing that in your analysis you not only misidentified our best local example of Marxism as capitalism, but then went on to blame the failings of a Marxist structure as proof of the failures of capitalism. Young Geoff, this depressing misanalysis is precisely why I have trouble taking you leftists seriously; and why so many leftists are good artists but bad logicians.

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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2005-04-10 10:06 pm (UTC)
Ha! I knew this would rouse you from your Entertainment Tonight-watching slumber.

The reason they need unions is not because we live in a capitalist society, it's because we *don't live* in a capitalist society.

I was talking about the need for unions in general; we do live in what is predominantly a capitalist society and no amount of romantic pining for some Never-Neverland of "pure capitalism" can change that.

You're right, however, that the TTC is a monopoly (of sorts: it does compete with bicycles, taxis and private cars). However, it is barely subsidized (though it should be, and much more than it is, but that's another argument entirely) and to the best of my knowledge it is anything than top-heavy with beaurocrats; considering that the average age of its bus fleet is approaching 20 years due to Harris governments removal of all provincial subsidies, the TTC strikes me as a minor miracle of good management.

The strike is the inevitable result of no competition for the labor pool in mass-transit, the workers are held hostage by a single, monopolistic employer: the state. They have to form a union because with a single employer it is the only way to increase bargaining power in an economic model that does not have competition.

Are you saying that employees of private enterprise don't need unions? Maybe if every bus and streetcar was privately-owned, but I doubt that would provide much in the way of efficiency (no economies of scale) and those not living near profitable routes would find themselves quite screwed.

Essentially, a large city needs a transit system that is run as a public service, like police and ambulances. A good public transit system is vital to the health of any large city (ask a New Yorker).

None of that is capitalism dude; so naturally I find it amusing that in your analysis you not only misidentified our best local example of Marxism as capitalism, but then went on to blame the failings of a Marxist structure as proof of the failures of capitalism.

Dude, if you're going to throw terms like "Marxist" around, at least have the integrity to do it correctly. Call publicly-owned services "statist" if you wish, but to suggest that Toronto (let alone New York City) is run by Marxists throws all of your analysis into doubt.</i>
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[User Picture]From: sck5000
2005-04-10 11:43 pm (UTC)
For your information, I was not watching Entertainment TV this time, I was watching Celebrity Poker. Richard Karn finally knocked out Lolita Davidovich in the final heads-up round.

We don't live in a true capitalist society at all, we live in a society that legislatively pigeonholes various economic segments into varying strata of economic freedom. This is also why the economic segments that are the most free are also the ones that work best. It's why there are never any strikes in the used CD industry, there are no shortages of 2-for-1 pizza slices, and no one ever calls into a radio program bemoaning the lack of fuckin' dollar stores.

The closest local example to true capitalism we have is the illegal pot industry, and as an example of capitalism, it works perfectly. There are never any strikes, rarely shortages, and the true objective of capitalism: a price that stays about the same for a continuously improving product. The TTC is the closest local example to Marxism, which is also why the price continuously goes up for no discerable improvement in service, and it is prone to work-stoppages and provides no viable, competing alternative.

A union is forced to exist as a method of increasing bargaining power against a monopolistic hegemony by essentially becoming a powerful blackmailing force when acting as a unified whole. This is why the most powerful unions, and the ones most repeatedly prone to striking - the teacher's union, the TTC folks, health-care people, provincial civil servants themselves - are all unionized against state-controlled monopolies. They aren't striking against Microsoft and Blockbuster and Dominos, they're striking against the government, which has legislated itself a monopoly on those respective services, eliminating legal competition, which eliminates viable alternatives for the consumer, but also for the worker. A TTC worker cannot easily, when dissatisfied, tell the government to fuck off and go work for another mass transit company that is offering him better money or better scheduling or whatever it is he personally wants - because there are none. So he has to unionize, and weild power through striking.

Unfortunately, the government always finds itself in a vicious circle, which is the inevitable result of all Marxist economic models. Its monopolistic business practices cause strikes, which in turn cause public discontent with the government, and so the government must increasingly legislate itself the power to break the strikes. To that end, the government designates its own monopolies as "essential services", allowing it to enact back-to-work legislation to break the strikes it caused at its own services. It's a fascinating really, because within these individual, state-run monopolies, you get to watch a microcosmic theatre played out - a theatre that has been played out many times before on the geopolitical stage - in which Marxism, slowly, sadly, inevitably becomes fascism - when striking employees of the government are legislatively *forced back to work* by the same government they are striking against, becoming a government that legalizes its own brutality.

You well-meaning leftists are the entirety of the problem of course, because you have an irrational, ideological hatred for capitalism even though it provides you with many of the things you most enjoy; and I hope you get your comeuppance in the form of decriminalized, state-controlled pot, thus guaranteeing that your pot will skyrocket in price at the same rate that it decreases in quality, and periodically becomes unavailable due to the striking union of Pot Growers Of America.

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[User Picture]From: sck5000
2005-04-11 12:30 am (UTC)
Well, I see the strike has been averted, and yet somehow I have again been drawn into an awful discussion with my political nemesis. "Curses," he said, shaking his fist at the sky.

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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2005-04-12 12:15 am (UTC)
Better this than Entertainment Tonight (or whatever trash you're using to avoid working on your novel).
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2005-04-12 12:14 am (UTC)
We don't live in a true capitalist society at all...

We sure don't live in a Marxist society, so stop blowing your credibility like some Republican fundamentalist. Save the buzzwords for the intellectual cretins who are (or should be) beneath you.

we live in a society that legislatively pigeonholes various economic segments into varying strata of economic freedom.

That's known as a "mixed economy", meaning that government supplies a few services society has deemed public necessities (police, fire, sometimes transit, etc), more-or-less loosely regulates some others, such as (publicly-owned) radio and television bandwidth, and very loosely regulates most of the rest of the economy with minimum wage laws, land-use bylaws and environmental regulations, to name a few.

...the economic segments that are the most free are also the ones that work best ... the used CD industry ... 2-for-1 pizza[s] ... dollar stores.

Your definition of "work best" is bizarrely myopic. The industries you cite provide nothing but Mcjobs. As Henry Ford understood very well, if our entire economy were to be run according to Walmart, there would be no market for 2-for1 pizza slices because nobody could afford them.

The closest local example to true capitalism we have is the illegal pot industry...

Not to mention a growing monopolization, as organized crime moves into more and more aspects of the industry which will, ultimately, lead to higher prices and fewer choices, which is the ultimate goal of the capitalist system.

The TTC is the closest local example to Marxism ...

The price goes up because transit is a service, not a business. With one exception (Hong Kong, which, according to the CIA, has a population of 6,855,125 and a land-area of 1,042 sq km), no public transit system in the world makes money.

The benefits of public transit include all kinds of things (tangible and not) that could never appear on a quarterly report.

The price also goes up because, over roughly the past 10 years, almost all public funding has been withdrawn. The TTC recoups 80% of its expenses from the fare-box which - again with the exception of Hong Kong - is more than any other system in the world. Calling it a "local example of Marxism" is either ignorant or dishonest.

...the most powerful unions ... most repeatedly prone to striking are all unionized against state-controlled monopolies.

That is simply not true. I grew up in Sudbury and I know. What is true, is that unions can bargain for better deals with large organizations because such beasts can, at least in the short run, afford to pay for labour peace (take General Motors as an example).

They aren't striking against Microsoft and Blockbuster and Dominos...

See above. And note that companies like Walmart prefer to close stores than bargain with a union.

A TTC worker cannot easily ... tell the government to fuck off and go work for another mass transit company...

If you think you can start a profitable mass transit company that can succesfully compete with the TTC while providing equivalent service, go right ahead.

...the government always finds itself in a vicious circle, which is the inevitable result of all Marxist economic models.

Again, get your terminology right. You sound like a yahoo.

Its monopolistic business practices cause strikes...

That's a different issue. My position is: if a service really is essential, don't allow strikes and use binding arbitration; if it isn't, it is morally reprehensible to legislate striking workers back to their jobs.

There is an argument to be made, in large part because of the points you made, for banning public service strikes entirely in favour of binding arbitration. (Though I note that politicians don't much like that, either, because the settlements tend to be larger than they might otherwise be.)

You well-meaning leftists...

You really ought to knock of the ad hominems, unless you're using them to disguise the fact you haven't thought through your own position.
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[User Picture]From: sabotabby
2005-04-11 02:10 am (UTC)
I have the bias of being, at worst, slightly inconvenienced if the strike happens. I mean, I can walk to work (it's about an hour), get a lift from my boss, or work from home. I might not be able to get down to the pub as easily, but that's it.

Anyway; bottom line is, they have the right to strike. I hope it's over quickly because I'm incredibly TTC-reliant, but I support them even if it's fucking annoying.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2005-04-12 12:16 am (UTC)
I should have mentioned I share that bias, though I suppose most of my Gentle Readers no me for a cyclist.
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[User Picture]From: sooguy
2005-04-11 03:03 am (UTC)
I think people that have never belonged to a UNION don't appreciate the history of organized labour and how it's actually made their own jobs better.

I saw a bumper sticker once that summed it up nicely "Unions - The People that Brought You The Weekend"

Hard fought concessions that we take for granted today, like a 5 day work week and statutorary holidays were due in large to UNIONIZED workers forcing employers and gov't to provide them.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2005-04-12 12:16 am (UTC)
Nicely put - and I like the bumper sticker, too.
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[User Picture]From: amaaanda
2005-04-11 03:46 am (UTC)
I recognize those!


Now then, I was misinformed of the pay rate of TTC workers, who actually earn from $17 to $24.32 an hour, so I will give you that. BUT - that is still a fair amount for someone who doesn't do really hard labour. True, their jobs might involve fighting off homeless people and paying constant atention, but so does mine, and I do it while on my feet and for a pitiful $7.70 per hour. Working at a grocery store isn't really comparable to driving a subway, but theirs is definitely cushier than mine. 50 K a year is not going to make anyone rich, nor should it, being given to someone who hasn't had to receive higher learning or a specific degree to work that job. Hell, I'm going into journalism, and am getting a degree for it, and I'll still be lucky to make that much.

Unions are a necessity, but you have to admit that some unions promote slacking off because it is so difficult to get fired. I've seen the paperwork involved with the unions at my work, and it's ridiculous sometimes. The thing is, what the TTC workers are fighting against isn't all that serious. If they were being grossly mistreated, then I would fully support their right to strike and gladly walk to work. But that isn't the case. Not one bit.

And the TTC is essential in this city, because with the 1.4 million or whatever people in their cars on the roads, traffic would be so that ambulances, firetrucks, and police cars couldn't function to do their jobs. Add to that the amount of pedestrian homicides, and occurences of road rage, blablabla. I wasn't here in 1999, but I have seen it when there was a power outage for a half hour at Yonge and Dundas, and that in itself was chaos. The "neccessary" services can't function without the TTC in proper functioning order.

In short, let's agree to disagree, and if I made no sense, ask me to clarify, because I have had to pee really bad for the past 20 minutes and don't care enough to look this over...
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2005-04-12 12:27 am (UTC)
...Now then, I was misinformed of the pay rate of TTC workers, who actually earn from $17 to $24.32 an hour, so I will give you that. BUT - that is still a fair amount for someone who doesn't do really hard labour. True, their jobs might involve fighting off homeless people and paying constant atention, but so does mine, and I do it while on my feet and for a pitiful $7.70 per hour.

Granted. But why tear down those who are doing (reasonably) well, because you are not? I'm reminded of a cousin of mine, a most entrepreneurial type, who used to bitch about "welfare bums". My response was, "Well, if their lot is so cushy, why don't you join them?" (This was back in the day when welfare actually provided a - barely - subsistence income.)

Of course, he wanted a lot more than welfare would provide, so it wasn't an option for him.

Working at a grocery store isn't really comparable to driving a subway, but theirs is definitely cushier than mine. 50 K a year is not going to make anyone rich, nor should it, being given to someone who hasn't had to receive higher learning or a specific degree to work that job. Hell, I'm going into journalism, and am getting a degree for it, and I'll still be lucky to make that much.

Then obviously you're not going into journalism for the money, you're going into it because you have a passion - or at least a strong interest - in it. If you just want to earn 50K at a "cushy" job, you should become a bus driver.

Unions are a necessity, but you have to admit that some unions promote slacking off because it is so difficult to get fired...

Absolutely. It seems (sadly) to be a human given that any group will look towards its own, short-term interest, ahead of the general, long-term, greater good.

But I don't see that excesses are reason to do away with unions, any more than the Sponsorship scandal is readon to do away with democracy.

I've seen the paperwork involved with the unions at my work, and it's ridiculous sometimes...

In my experience (which is limited to only a few unionized workplaces, granted), the fault is largely management's. First, they agreed to ridiculously onerous procedures for firing an incompetent employee and, second, the line-managers didn't do their job and follow those procedures.

The thing is, what the TTC workers are fighting against isn't all that serious. If they were being grossly mistreated, then I would fully support their right to strike and gladly walk to work...

It sounds like you're saying that the "right" to strike should only be a right if you think the union (meaning the membership) is taking a sensible position. Otherwise, the "right" should be withdrawn.

To which wise mind will you grant that judgement call?

And the TTC is essential in this city, because with the 1.4 million or whatever people in their cars on the roads, traffic would be so that ambulances, firetrucks, and police cars couldn't function to do their jobs. Add to that the amount of pedestrian homicides, and occurences of road rage, blablabla. I wasn't here in 1999, but I have seen it when there was a power outage for a half hour at Yonge and Dundas, and that in itself was chaos. The "neccessary" services can't function without the TTC in proper functioning order.

I was here during that strike and - amazingly enough - the city didn't fall apart during it. ("Pedestrian homicides?")

In short, let's agree to disagree, and if I made no sense, ask me to clarify, because I have had to pee really bad for the past 20 minutes and don't care enough to look this over...

Consider my responses just that request for clarification.
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[User Picture]From: vienneau
2005-04-12 02:54 am (UTC)

Working at a grocery store isn't really comparable to driving a subway, but theirs is definitely cushier than mine.

Having worked at neither I can only offer an outsider's opinion...

Driving a subway seems to be to be one of the most tedious jobs possible, a premium needs to be paid. And I presume it involves some sort of training and reliability not to mention handling situations and emergencies - grocery staff rarely cut a suicidal person in half in the frozen food aisle. Because of this you need to reduce your turnover by paying more. You want people who can live on the salary and be satisfied with it, so it has to be over $15 an hour.

Grocery skills are likely easier to get, easier to train and thus easier to replace. No need to keep them around.

Not that I like unions, just thought I'd put in a good not for the people that drive down the same tunnel dozens of times a day, 250 times a year...

Matt
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2005-04-12 12:11 pm (UTC)
Good point about the tedium and the unpredictable stress involved in driving a subway; I confess I deliberately spoke only of bus and streetcar drivers due to a prejudice that driving subways, at least, was kind of "cushy".

I could kick your ass for your anti-unionism, but will instead settle for asking why you have that opinion.
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[User Picture]From: vienneau
2005-05-06 02:41 am (UTC)

I find the original intent of unions admirable. People should not be forced to risk their life at work to escape poverty. Unions belong the developing world.

Having most progressed beyond that in the developed world, I find certain aspects of unions incredibly frustrating. Fighting against improvement and efficiency in order to preserve jobs goes against my entire being - I'm a big fan of doing things more efficiently and cheaper. I imagine the Bell operator union fought long and hard against replacing operators with computer switches, that sort of thing.

I also find seniority a ridiculous method of advancement, I much prefer merit-based promotion. An example at work - there is an inept programmer who has been with us for three years, and a brilliant programmer who has been around for two. We've been forced to cut back due to a cancelled project and now face the prospect of losing our best programmer while keeping someone who actually hurts us when he programs.

The limitations on what employers can do is also burdensome. We're desperately behind on a bunch of things at work. The additional costs of employees (partially union-inspired) means we can't get new permanent staff. We have a one-time need to stuff 5,000 envelopes in two days. We *could* hire unskilled temp staff at $20 an hour and get it done for $300. But instead we're forced to used skilled employees in overtime at over twice the cost and much slower (since you can only fit in so much overtime). Our skilled staff then take additional sick days because of the stress and overwork.

I like how the union provides options to employees who have been wronged. They help balance the power between an individual and a corporation. But they've taken too much power and done the wrong thing with it.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2005-05-07 11:47 pm (UTC)
I find the original intent of unions admirable...Unions belong the developing world.

Where I think you're wrong is in your tacit presumption that, since unions scored all of us a 40-hour week a century or so ago, there is no longer a need for individual workers to join together.

(Organized) labour has been under a concerted attack by capital and government in North America for at least 20 years, because it is still a (potentially) potent force and, especially, because it is still needed.

Ayn Rand and the neocons to the contrary, a single person can not bargain as an equal partner with a large corporation.

...I find certain aspects of unions incredibly frustrating. Fighting against improvement and efficiency in order to preserve jobs goes against my entire being - I'm a big fan of doing things more efficiently and cheaper. I imagine the Bell operator union fought long and hard against replacing operators with computer switches, that sort of thing.

I am not claiming that unions are a panacea. Like any other interest group, unions are prone to see only their own, immediate, perceived self-interest, neglecting the greater good. But the alternative is to give (back) all power - meaning arbitrary power - to the employer.

I also find seniority a ridiculous method of advancement, I much prefer merit-based promotion.

Ultimately, this is a problem of management. They are beaurocratic, and they take time, but any union contract with which I am familiar provides for getting rid of incompetent workers. Management simply has to jump through the hoops - document the incompetence, warn the worker, document some more - and he or she is gone.

Seniority is far from an ideal method of advancement, but "merit-based promotion" presumes that management will actually promote based on merit, and not on whether or not you're willing to suck cock.

In other words, seniority prevents the arbitrary exercise of power.

The limitations on what employers can do is also burdensome.

Yes, and so is democracy. It would be much more efficient is some smart guy simply decided to do things, and things got done. But history shows very clearly that, sooner or later, either the smart guy will grow corrupt, or his children will.

We *could* hire unskilled temp staff at $20 an hour and get it done for $300. But instead we're forced to used skilled employees in overtime at over twice the cost and much slower...

Management shouldn't have been stupid enough to agree to such a provision.

I like how the union provides options to employees who have been wronged. They help balance the power between an individual and a corporation. But they've taken too much power and done the wrong thing with it.

I agree. But I think the alternatives are worse.
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[User Picture]From: vienneau
2006-09-12 08:32 pm (UTC)
Ayn Rand and the neocons to the contrary, a single person can not bargain as an equal partner with a large corporation.

Ironically, that's exactly what I do. As someone who has been self-employed since I was a teenage, all I do is bargain with large corporations. The key is to be a highly skilled and energized worker, at which point they won't want to let you go.

And you can always bargain with your feet and leave. Of course, people have other priorities like their families and aren't as mobile as I am, and I understand that. But the more I read about unions, the more horrified I am about their continued existence. Unions exist only to further their own power, often at the cost of individuals within the union. People are sacrificed for the purposes of later bargaining and to set precdents. It's disgusting what unions do - I'm even more anti-union now than I was before.

Where I work, the union just grieved a bunch of IT positions. Now all these formerly excluded people are in a union they didn't want to join. As a result, they have no seniority, they have worse pensions, and they are no longer allowed to do more than their official job description. AND it's costing them $160 a month for this "privilege".

To make it worse - it's IT! IT is all about merit. There's one guy that's been around for 10 years and he's horrible and thus never promoted. Meanwhile we can't hire a newer temp guy that's fantastic because he doesn't have any seniority.

Ridiculous. And I could go on all day with these kinds of stories.

I have yet to hear of any union doing something that was actually helpful in the past 10-20 years. With employee and harassment laws so strict these days, I just don't see the situations where the union is necessary to defend the workers.

Granted, that may be because of what they're already fought for. The disabled worker may be allowed to work because the union fought for it. But stop there. Stop fighting for so much more control and power over things that you shouldn't be involved with.

I may be offered a permanent job, and one of the sticking points/risks is that the union will grieve it and I absolutely refuse to be in a union. Should I end up in one, I will do everything I can to sabotage and destroy it from within. They're a blight!

Sure, people get hired/promoted for political reasons and who they suck up to, but it happens a lot less than most people think. And in the end it will always backfire if they truly are less competent. Solving a relatively minor problem by instituting a massive burden and cost is not a good idea. Why not just assign random numbers to everyone and promote based on that? With un-skilled jobs, sure, seniority has a certain importance. With skilled jobs, especially in new industries like IT, seniority is often a hindrance, and yet it is rewarded.

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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2006-09-17 05:00 pm (UTC)

Did You Really Wait a Year to Reply, or Is This an LJ Oddity?

Ironically, that's exactly what I do. As someone who has been self-employed since I was a teenage, all I do is bargain with large corporations. The key is to be a highly skilled and energized worker, at which point they won't want to let you go.

All right, there are exceptions. But most people are not highly-skilled, childless gun-slingers. Most people like transit-workers would be at their employers' not-so-tender mercies if they did bargain together.

Where I work, the union just grieved a bunch of IT positions. Now all these formerly excluded people are in a union they didn't want to join. As a result, they have no seniority, they have worse pensions, and they are no longer allowed to do more than their official job description. AND it's costing them $160 a month for this "privilege".

To make it worse - it's IT! IT is all about merit. There's one guy that's been around for 10 years and he's horrible and thus never promoted. Meanwhile we can't hire a newer temp guy that's fantastic because he doesn't have any seniority.


And I read about the shennanigans at Nortel, and Enron, and Worldcom and I'm even more anti-corporate power than I was before. At least with the union (presuming you too have been "taken under its wing"), you can (a) run for office to change its leadership or (b) work to organize a decertification bid. Or hell, vote with your feet if you don't like it.

I have yet to hear of any union doing something that was actually helpful in the past 10-20 years. With employee and harassment laws so strict these days, I just don't see the situations where the union is necessary to defend the workers.

What can I say? You're not looking very hard. Just from personal experience, I know of 3 people who were unfairly fired by their employer and whose union went to bat for them - succesfully.

With skilled jobs, especially in new industries like IT, seniority is often a hindrance, and yet it is rewarded.

I am involved in collective bargaining with my own employer now. The company is taking the position that skills and accomplishments should be factored in to promotions - merit-based bonuses, they're calling it.

In your subsequent comment, you said, "You're stuck with whatever people in the past agreed to - nothing is ever given back."

Well guess what? Our union is looking at the proposal very seriously (though with misgivings) and I suspect will present it to the membership after our next bargaining session, once we've tightened up the language and dealt with some side issues.

Christ, unions make concessions all the time. Look at companies like Stelco. I think you're being blinded by your prejudice on this one.
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[User Picture]From: vienneau
2007-01-02 03:13 am (UTC)

Re: Did You Really Wait a Year to Reply, or Is This an LJ Oddity?


I waited a year to reply - it was sitting at the bottom of my in-box but I didn't have a chance to get to it. I thought about waiting another year to respond to this, but I don't have the patience!

I have an example of a good use of a union. Major league baseball players recently took drug tests with the agreement that the results are never revealed (overall stats are public, not the names of individual players). The government has ordered the release of the names so they can prosecute more effectively. The union is fighting this.

I can't help but feel that this is a situation where a union is needed, particularly one with lots of money.

The City of Toronto union, which won't allow workers to do free overtime to get the job done? Not so helpful. The City of Chicago workers who wouldn't let event staff set up their own tables or in any other way prepare without a union member present and getting paid? Not so helpful. The City of Montreal road maintenance crews that fixed 9 pot holes in 7 days, or whatever the ridiculous amount was (but then got caught on tape by P.I.s hired by the mayor)? Not so helpful.

My girlfriend has faced off with one of the more powerful unions for the past year (I wish I could provide clearer details). She's come away from it with incredible frustration for many reasons, but two stick out for me:

1) She/The employer are not allowed to tell the staff what the unions are saying or doing. The union is screwing the staff over and lying to/misleading them, but due to all the rules around who and when and what can be communicated, she can't say anything. Even as workers are begging for more information about their future and blaming her for delays and angry that she won't talk. They delays? All part of a union negotiation tactic to increase pressure on deadlines (among other things). Where is the concern for the people for all these months?

2) The process she handled is being grieved. Not because she did anything wrong, but because they're trying to prove a point at a higher level. She feels like she's failed (a bit of a perfectionist) because she can't believe the union is really just using her and the process as a pawn. She keeps thinking that the union is looking out for the staff so she assumes she must have done something badly (despite what everyone tells her).

I know negotiation theory and I understand sacrificing pawns, so the union moves are understandable to me. But to watch it hurt the people they're supposed to be helping? It turns my stomach.

Unions make concessions when the company is about to go bankrupt. Tell me a story of where concessions were made for the sake of efficiency or a realization of a change of circumstances. Unfortunately, it's not generally newsworthy, so it may happen without me being aware.

You seem to have little respect for corporations, but unions have become what they are fighting. All they want is more, just like all corporations are supposed to want is profit. And unions are essentially monopolies - Stelco has a lot of trouble getting other workers. Were there multiple unions competing for jobs with a stable of skilled workers, then you'd see efficiencies and reasonable contracts and actions. My understanding is that there are industries in Scandinavia like this - pools of workers that can easily move from company to company and so form blocks and negotiate together.

I think some of the problem stems from specific situations and wordings. 20 years ago something happened so an agreement was reached to handle/avoid the situation in the future. 5-10 years later someone reads the clause in the collective agreement and misinterprets it (deliberately or not) and suddenly wacky things happen but no one ever wants to back down.

That being said - most companies that have a union, deserve it. At least, they did once. And that alone should put enough fear in non-unionized corporations to do everything they can to keep their staff happy!
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2007-01-03 01:32 am (UTC)

Re: Did You Really Wait a Year to Reply, or Is This an LJ Oddity?

You seem to have little respect for corporations, but unions have become what they are fighting. All they want is more, just like all corporations are supposed to want is profit.

I can't speak to your girlfriends situation because you can't (for understandable reasons) provide details. For sake of argument, I'll take what you say at face value.

And further, I'll agree that unions have, too often, in a sense "become what they are fighting".

That is that, whether you're talking about government, business or unions, organizations (and individuals, for that matter) tend to become myopic, struggling to achieve narrow goals and to hell with society at large, let alone with society-as-it-will-be 25 years down the line.

I don't know how to achieve this dream, but what is needed generally, is a willingness to ask, "What is best for the world as a whole?" instead of "What is best for me over the next 3 years?"

And yes, unions are part of the problem. On the one hand (for example), the Canadian Auto Workers talk a lot of good talk about global warming, but on the other hand, they want more and more cars to be built.

Whatever the solution is, it isn't to go back to the feudal days when all of the power was in the hands of the owners and none in that of the workers.
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[User Picture]From: vienneau
2007-01-03 02:42 am (UTC)

Re: Did You Really Wait a Year to Reply, or Is This an LJ Oddity?


Whatever the solution is, it isn't to go back to the feudal days when
all of the power was in the hands of the owners and none in that
of the workers.


Agreed!

And you are correct - as any organization grows, it is forced to become less efficient and less nimble as it brings on less-skilled staff and requires more coordination and internal communication. Businesses can at least go out of business. And government can be voted out (or ultimately rebelled against). Unions don't tend to leave once they're in place, that I've seen. I guess all I'm looking for is some accountability beyond the faint risk of de-certification (if that's the term). And in fairness, they're restricted to very few tools, many of which are a bit extreme (such as striking), so it's not an easy place to be.
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[User Picture]From: vienneau
2006-09-12 08:34 pm (UTC)
"Management shouldn't have been stupid enough to agree to such a provision."

HA! So naive!

Someone close to me deals directly with union negotiations. You're stuck with whatever people in the past agreed to - nothing is ever given back. The union isn't interested in finding the best solution for everyone, it's only interested in more, more, more. It may be very obvious an reasonable that out of 6 points, 4 should go to management, 2 to the union, but there's no way that will happen if the union can get 3 out of 6 or 4 out of 6. Management is stuck with strikes and job actions, or they can suck it up and make a costly decision in order to avoid a more costly short-term result. No one wants a strike because everyone is less happy afterwards. The big stick forces bad decisions, not stupid managers.

If you read "Personal History" by Katharine Graham you can see some of the excesses of the union. The printers have ridiculous deals that ignore all new technology and have them sitting around with nothing to do all day. But instead of allowing that to go away, they go on strike and as they walkout, they sabotage all the presses and flood the press room. They violently prevent managers from getting in to the building so they use helicopters. Is *that* making life better for anyone but the union?

The alternatives are the existing industries where unions don't run things and I'm in no way convinced that they're wose. Explain to me how IT companies like Microsoft, or even small start-ups, are suffering for a lack of unions?

I bet I can show you how Ford and GM are having a bit of trouble because of them...

(and why are all these responses in italics?)
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2006-09-17 05:04 pm (UTC)

Damned if I Know ...

... I think the italics were an LJ glitch a year ago. My last reply looked normal.

Anyway, you're right. Sometimes unions do behave in stupid, destructive ways. So do businesses. So do governments.

Should we therefore eliminate business and government, too? Personally, I no more want to go back to the days when 25% of deaths were the result of murder than I want to live in the "Workers Paradise" of the Soviet Union 20 years ago.
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[User Picture]From: vienneau
2007-01-02 03:19 am (UTC)

Re: Damned if I Know ...


"I Object - opposing counsel's statement is rhetorical and combative. Move to strike..."

(okay, okay, I may have watched "A Few Good Men" until 3am this morning...)

Sometimes my mom behaves a bit stupidly, but unsurprisingly I have no urge to eliminate her... :o)

There is no effective economy without governments or businesses. There are, however, effective businesses and governments without unions.

Unions are dying out - unionized corporations cannot easily compete with non-unionized ones, and thus will lose out to foreign players. This is seen in the decrease in union participation and attendance in North America, as well as the general decline in manufacturing (especially in Ontario).

I did find it amusing - a recent survey of the happiest employees found that the top two industries were government and teachers. I'm not sure if this is because they're so heavily unionized, or (amusingly) despite it! They both seem to complain about their working conditions an awful lot - must be all the free time they have after finishing so early... :-)
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2007-01-03 01:22 am (UTC)

Re: Damned if I Know ...

Unions are dying out - unionized corporations cannot easily compete with non-unionized ones, and thus will lose out to foreign players...

I suppose this demands a bet of some sort - payable maybe 25 years down the line.

You say unions are dying out; I say we are observing a brief pause, after which unions will make one hell of a comeback, precisely because workers are treated like so many interchangeable wigits in the 3rd world. As they gain enough breathing room to wonder what life could be like, they will start to organize in order to bring those dreams to reality.
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[User Picture]From: vienneau
2007-01-03 02:38 am (UTC)

Re: Damned if I Know ...


Done! $100 that union participation in 2030 will have declined from today's levels in the US and Canada.

I will also bet $100 that religious participation will fall in that time. And I have a strong suspicion that voter participation will take a hit too, barring enforcement such as Australia's "it's against the law not to vote".

There are 1.5 billion workers in India and China who are willing to work without a union. Few things are as powerful as demographics!
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2007-01-07 11:37 pm (UTC)

Re: Damned if I Know ...

There are 1.5 billion workers in India and China who are willing to work without a union. Few things are as powerful as demographics!

True enough, but wealth is one of them. It is my contention that, as India and China grow richer, so too will the desire on the part of their workers to be treated with a modicum of fairness.

Once the novelty of simply having a job wears off, the desire to have a good job will start to rear its progressive head. Or so I hope and believe.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2007-01-07 11:38 pm (UTC)

Re: Damned if I Know ...

$100, eh? And here I was thinking more along the lines of $0.50. But what the hell - you're on.
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[User Picture]From: beable
2005-04-12 01:49 am (UTC)

A day and penny later, (giving me time to read the comments as well) but I think it is a growing trend.

When PSAC was in a strike position, alot of people I know were complaining about the inconvenience of having large amounts of people picketing in front of downtown buildings, and the traffic slowdowns and disruptions this inevitably causes.

It surprises me how many people my age and younger in particular are anti-union for precisely the reasons mentioned above either in comments or quoted arguments. It's like we (people, Canadians, pick a label, etc) don't have a sense of history, and don't have an awareness of how easily the ground previously one can be taken away again. Then again I'd say the same thing about many things such as freedom and privacy as well. The popular notion that "we are a free, democratic society" so we don't have to work constantly to maintain this state is symptomatic of the same complacency.

Eh, thanks. Whether I said anything or not, for giving me the opportunity to pontificate.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2005-04-12 12:09 pm (UTC)
A day and penny later, (giving me time to read the comments as well) but I think it is a growing trend.

When PSAC was in a strike position, alot of people I know were complaining about the inconvenience of having large amounts of people picketing in front of downtown buildings, and the traffic slowdowns and disruptions this inevitably causes.

It surprises me how many people my age and younger in particular are anti-union for precisely the reasons mentioned above either in comments or quoted arguments. It's like we (people, Canadians, pick a label, etc) don't have a sense of history, and don't have an awareness of how easily the ground previously one can be taken away again. Then again I'd say the same thing about many things such as freedom and privacy as well. The popular notion that "we are a free, democratic society" so we don't have to work constantly to maintain this state is symptomatic of the same complacency.


It doesn't really surprise me, "how many people [your] age and younger...are anti-union", but it does sometimes shock, in an "I know it's true but I still can't believe it!" kind of way. Or maybe I should say it appals me, but doesn't surprise me.

We have, after all, been living through at least a quarter century - since Reagan and Thatcher first laid their hoofmarks on the world's stage - of an intense barrage of Orwellian propaganda telling us that the right to join a union is slavery, that democratic government is by nature oppressive and that the individual is equal to a corporation economically more powerful by many orders of magnatude.

Add to that a consumerist society that that encourages the short-sighted satisfaction of momentary desire over long-term thinking, and it should be no surprise to us that most of our fellow-citizens are unable or unwilling to bring historical perspective to bear on matters of public interest, let alone to bring themselves to make the effort to analyze a given situation in a context larger than their immediate (perceived) self-interest.

"I've got (or want) mine, Jack," seems to about sum it up (if you'll forgive me for oversimplifying - it's early morning and I'm conscious of the clock).

Eh, thanks. Whether I said anything or not, for giving me the opportunity to pontificate.

My pleasure. (Thoughtful) pontificating is Good.
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