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In Support of
There's an old journalistic joke
about the crusading reporter who has just dispatched his latest expose
of underworld crime and corporate fraud, naming names, and castigating
A nervous editor looks him in the
eye and asks, "aren't you afraid of organized crime? Don't you think
they'll want to get even?"
The reporter replies that
organized crime doesn't worry him a bit, and adds, "the only thing that
terrifies me is disorganized crime."
The Canadian Labour Congress, the
AFL-CIO in the United States, Teamsters International and major labour
organizations world-wide proudly proclaim not just what they have done
for their membership, but what their collective political power has done
to achieve social programs, human rights and civilized, dependable,
quality processes for attaining economic goals and uplifting society in
Business oligarchies and the
economic think tanks they finance invariably mount arguments that would
make both Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes cringe in embarrassment.
Smith argued for free market processes, but his name is used to justify
powerful, often corrupt, suffocating corporate monopolies, the epitome
of what he opposed. Keynes urged governments to incur debt during
economic downturns in order to prevent disastrous consequences to
individuals and businesses at the community level, but for those
governments to repay those debts during prosperous periods. Keynes never
imagined that he would be used as an excuse for politicians to sink
whole societies into vast depths of debt, even during prosperous
periods, for the sole purpose of buying their own personal election.
And, worse than that, to be blamed for the inflation and hardship
ultimately generated by that debt.
My friend and colleague Richard
Pitt wrote the editorial that follows during a public sector labour
crises within the society in which we both live. And we know personally
some of the key players.
A few of our labour leaders were
bandying about the phrase "general strike," the prospect that every
member of every union would go off the job on the same day, along with
everyone who sympathizes with them. The large Hospital Employees Union
(most personnel other than management, medical doctors and registered
nurses) was conducting what started out to be a legal strike, but,
because government makes the laws, was soon rendered illegal by an
emergency session of the Legislature. Then the courts enforced the will
of the Legislature.
Presto! Illegal behaviour.
This is not my favourite union. I
find it very hard to imagine why a $25 an hour janitor creates a
healthier patient than a $20 an hour janitor. But this is what we are
asked to assume.
But that's not the issue. The
issue is whether we have a systematic, organized work force, or a hit
and miss system that can quickly devolve into chaos and privilege for
the few at the expense of the many.
What truly amused me amid this
recent debacle was how few people understood what "general strike"
really means. Some in government seemed inclined (at least in public) to
dare the unions to try it. What buffoons! Thankfully, the wiser minds of
our labour movement understood that they had the strength to deliver
enough of that terrible weapon to achieve devastating consequences. Not
only could labour paralyze the economy and bring the system to a halt,
teachers would be clubbing teachers, criminals would have a field day,
chaos would exist on the streets, trucks would bulldoze over picket
lines and people needing an ambulance or medical care would die.
Etcetera, etcetera. Not for long. But for long enough.
And then these labour leaders
would be discarded by their members and society itself. And any
politician who had any role at all in such a calamity, particularly
those whose obstinacy challenged labour to use its ultimate weapon,
would be sent packing under an aura of ignominy to see whatever "real
job" they could salvage.
The free market has tempered the
power of the historic "Industrial and Trades Unions." The cyber world
has disintegrated employment centres into millions of smaller firms,
while globalism has absorbed the larger activities into conglomerates so
massive it numbs the mind.
There is a real issue today that
only the labour movement can address. Public sector unions and
professional associations dominate. Up until the 1960s, civil servants
and professionals such as teachers and nurses were very badly paid,
compared to equivalent responsibilities in the private sector, but they
were rewarded with job security and the best benefits anywhere. Today,
they have far superior salaries (on average), much less security and
benefits no better than equal to the largest private sector employers.
But they are vast in numbers and
their collective dues finance enormous war chests. The question it
raises is "who is serving whom?" Is this public service or self-service?
Is there not an ethical duty of every public servant to work toward
systems that will best benefit the broader society?
That's not what public sector
unions do. Not only do they prevent weak-kneed governments from
implementing efficiencies, they use their power, wealth and
organizational security to corrupt the principles and influence of the
broader labour movement.
I believe - determinedly - in
organized labour and everything it stands for. The alternative is
societies such as one sees in the third world in which the wealthy have
an extravagant lifestyle, but it exists only in microcosm behind barbed
wire, protected by armed guards and barking dogs, because their greed
has destroyed the society around them.
The world would be far better
served if governments and their unions were separated by law from the
private economy. That means a government corporation cannot masquerade
as a real business, with all of the inherent risks, challenges, rewards
and penalties. Nor should self-respecting trade unionists feel any kind
of partnership with government employees.
This is not to suggest that
government employees should not have the right to unionize or even to
strike, but a completely different Labour Code should be crafted. This
would define essential services and rules for negotiation and
arbitration. Every individual within this realm: elected, managerial and
staff, should first be pledged to a culture of public service, defined
by law, and then live by it. Only by demonstrating a breach of trust of
some nature, should a withdrawal of services be permitted. Comparative
formulas could be designed among other jurisdictions within Canada and
beyond and this could become the measurement of value and fair play.
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