Thursday, June 23, 2011

Back to work! (It's the law)

I caught a portion of the parliamentary debates this afternoon (yes, I occasionally watch our politicians politely harangue each other). The motion on the table was the back-to-work legislation for postal workers.
Any time a government steps in to disrupt (even with the best of intentions) the normal functioning of the collective bargaining system, it is bound to be a contentious issue. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the relative positions of CUPW or Canada Post. As with virtually any argument, both sides probably have valid points to make. That isn't the point of this post. What struck me while watching parliament was the terribly one-sided, blatantly partisan, attitude the government was taking.
Yes, the government is right-wing. That means they are to unions as cobras are to mongooses (my instinct is to incorrectly write the plural of that as “mongEESE”). Nevertheless, isn’t it possible to put forward this legislation without turning it into a circus of anti-union propaganda? The point should be to restore an essential service, not to turn this into a “who’s to blame” session. Plus, if you’re going to blame someone, it would be nice if you at least got your facts straight and didn’t spread wholesale lies.
The MP I saw (Larry Miller) read several letters from his constituents bemoaning the ungrateful postal workers. How dare they want more in an economic climate of belt-tightening! It isn’t fair to the rural communities to be without their mail, so the workers should stand up and do their jobs. They should just be happy they have jobs at all when so many are without. Clearly, if only there was no union we would all be getting our daily mail without interruption.
Which is, of course, a huge load of crap. CUPW began with nothing more than a rolling strike to bring attention to the issues at hand. Mail service was hardly impacted. During the rolling strike I sent a parcel to England (just happenstance, it wasn’t a purposeful test or anything). Not only did it arrive, it showed up a day earlier than the Canada Post guarantee. Clearly the system wasn’t being crippled by the action taken by the union.
It is the company itself that escalated matters, first by delivering mail only three days instead of five, then with a complete shutdown. In other words, the mail stopped flowing because of management, not the union. When this very point was presented to MP Miller, he accused his opponent of slinging “half-truths” and misdirections. (I suppose it can be very misdirecting to use the truth when your goal is to conceal it.) He further "defended" his position by saying that it was the union that had started the job action, the "he started it" argument that ceased working on my parents around the same time I learned to use the words. Clearly the government has decided the message we hear should be that the union is to blame, so curse CUPW and all it stands for. Unions are greedy, destroying companies and economies with their unending demands for more.
How wearying.
There is a perception out there that unions are insatiably avaricious, that somehow if you already have it better than some, daring to want more is a sign of moral corruption. If simply desiring to improve one’s lot is the definition of greed, I’d venture to say we are all guilty. The most common argument I hear is that “union workers already make X dollars a year!” Somehow earning enough to afford a mortgage is sinful, apparently. If this argument were pursued to its (il)logical end, anyone above the poverty line should donate the excess to the less fortunate. It is dismissive and simplistic, not to mention grossly unfair, to paint unions as cackling pork-barrel gluttons. Let’s remember, after all, that there wasn’t a corporation born that isn’t trying to make as much profit as it can. The easiest way to do that is on the backs of its workers, as Marx would say.
So please, government, if you’re certain you need to interfere in this quarrel, try to remember some of people you’re supposed to be representing are union members, too. Show some respect: we are technically your bosses, you know. It’s just too bad we have to wait almost five years to shut you out.

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