Saturday, July 11, 2009

This Strike Stinks!

Recently some of Toronto's city workers, including our garbage-men have gone on strike. Ceased work. They hope that this action will help them negotiate a better deal with the city.

A key issue in the negotiations seems to be that they are currently getting 18 bankable sick days per year; they can cash these in to retire early. The city wants to take this away.

Meanwhile the trash that is no longer being collected is piling up in people's houses, and some massive dump sites. A smelly problem, quickly growing worse.

There are a couple of things I find interesting about this situation.

The first is that I find it hard to get around the idea of a person actually retiring from a career as a garbageman. People have to do something I guess, but does it make real sense in our modern world for every job to be a "career" oriented job? Is "garbageman" really an answer for kids on career day? Should this be something that you plan to do for the next twenty years?

It's madness to think that each and every menial, crappy transitory job is any thing other than menial and transitory. Somethings you do on your way to somewhere else. We don't expect people to retire from working as McDonald's cashiers, or to make a career out of washing dishes, so why would being a garbageman be any different? Can't we admit that not all jobs are long-term?

In fact, we are treading on very dangerous ground as more and more of what really should be short-term jobs are rapidly become lifetime career positions. In the above paragraph, I was even having trouble finding examples of "joe" or "grunt" jobs. So many have moved onto career status. It's a bad trend.

It is really bad because it limits our opportunities to change jobs, or find a lessor job during an economic meltdown. If everything is a career, then it is nearly impossible to just take some stupid job for a while. It becomes hard to hire, hard to fire and the whole economy becomes so much more fragile as the cost of even the trivial-est bit of labor gets out of control. In a sense we all lose, since falling from our current position means there is nothing out there to tide us over. Nothing but rock-bottom. If you're taking a hiatus from your long-term goals, and everything else is a career, then there is nothing left to do.

There should always be a layer of lower jobs that are easy to get, don't pay well and are easy to leave. It's a good thing.

Garbageman should clearly be an interim job. A fleet of garbage trucks run by 55 year-olds on their way to retiring is neither efficient, nor cost effective. It is simply unsustainable. It's a position for younger people to fill for a while. Somewhere to start out perhaps.

The other thing I find interesting, is how some unions have become the very thing that they were originally fighting against. They have become their own worst enemies.

Back in the day, unions formed to save helpless workers from evil executives that were clearly abusing their roles and taking advantage of the situation. A noble and necessary cause.

However, since then, many of these same unions have stayed around and have gradually solidified into the point where they are run by the very same types of evil executives. Their management is indistinguishable from the company's management (and the two talk about working together).

The company executives get their fancy stuff by exploiting employees for all they are worth in order to get more for themselves. The union executives now also get their fancy stuff by exploiting their employees for all they are worth, in order to get more for themselves. See the difference? No? Perhaps because it's not there. The "terms" are different, but it's the same type of people abusing the masses, for nearly the same reason.

Many unions have outlived their usefulness and their original goals. What may have started out for a good cause, has turned dubious with age.

A union that hangs around too long is one that has to gradually eat away at the company year after year just to justify its own existence; to keep its customers, err, members happy.

Once the real big issues are gone, the continued presence of the union burrows away at the foundations. Each year, more union executives have to earn their higher pay by getting more and more for their people. If they don't push it, they'll be replaced by another wave of younger more aggressive players that will.

More and more concessions eventually becomes "too much", and like the now struggling car companies, all of the sudden the employee costs are outrageous, impossible and dangerous. Good bye company.

A good union executive will gradually kill off the company, a bad one will do nothing for their pay. Is this really a good situation?

These days, the circumstances have changed so much that many employees really need to form a union to protect themselves from their own stupid union, not the original company. It's a sad state, as these once necessary and good organizations have turned evil and destructive.

The solution of course is simple. Unions should be free to form, but they should also be free to disband when appropriate. A union cannot and should not be for ever. A permanent union is just another body out to exploit the workers, and unlike the original executives, they don't even give back anything valuable. Unions are good, but permanent unions are evil.

Unfortunately, in our haste to protect unions, we've often made it nearly impossible for them to fade away. So many unions now have become worse than the original management, in both their demands and their exploitation. They only exist now to protect themselves.

This whole strike leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth, and a stink in my nose. I've sick and tired of people having the expectation that the world owes them something more than they deserve. It's nice to have a good stable job, but not every job can or should be good and stable. Somethings just suck, but still need to be accomplished.

I'm a strong liberal, I really think we need to take care of all of our people, it is a huge key to being a civilized society. But I also think that we can't let that go too far. We can't allow people to abuse us, just because we want or need to help. We can't build an unsustainable society and expect it too survive.

Being a garbageman is about one of the lowest positions we have. It's not something that someone should aspire too, it's not something that they want to be doing for a long time. They are simply doing it now on their way to some where else. There is nothing wrong with that, it should just not be considered a permanent position. It is not a career.

As for this strike, I find it to be a cross between bad egos and stupid people. If it were up to me, I legislatively sever the union in half, since I realize they represent more than just the garbage-men. For those jobs that are menial and temporary, I would order them back to work immediately. For those other jobs, I'd allow them to continue their strike, but the 18 day bankable sick leave option is gone (it was just wrong to begin with).

If the garbage-men refused to go back to work, I'd fire them immediately and hire replacements. I'm sure we can find some people willing to work at these positions.

As a longer term fix, I'd also split their salary into two categories, one for unionized employees and a slightly higher one for non-unioned employees. Yes, if they leave the union, they can have more money.

As a society, we have to protect the worker's right to unionize, but clearly we also have to provide some mechanism for the unions to eventually dissolve. Unions should be easy to organize, and we should allow the members themselves to leave easily so that they can be disbanded. Workers should always be allowed to opt out of the unions, particularly when they have reached the stage where they are just another crowd of evil executives out for their own means. Easy come, easy go.

We need unions to help protect against evil executives exploiting people, but the unions themselves also clearly need help in protecting against evil executives exploiting them.


  1. It's a nice thing you pointed out; the "career"ization of crappy jobs.Shows the moral decay the society is undergoing.

  2. One of my friends is convinced that it's an implicit contract resulting from the paradigm shift in the fifties. He figures they accepted it as the cost to avoid rampant communism or socialism. A trade-off where it's made easier for people to get a career, in exchange for not equally sharing everything. A sort of half-way point.

    I'm not sure I believe him, but it is an interesting theory.


  3. that's sad,if the theory is correct.

  4. Maybe a little, but at least it is some attempt to redistribute the wealth a little more equally, while also maintaining an underlying (and healthy) version of competition. People only put in their best when they have something real to gain, it's some sort of underlying human requirement. For lots of people, if they can't possibly win, they don't see any point in playing.

    I don't necessarily think it is horrible, just not sustainable that's all. I also sense it somewhat weakens our social structure when we have too few options to break free from the mainstream. A layer of easy come/easy go temporary jobs that pay OK, means we don't have to keep on the career path for the entire 40 years of our working lives. We can rest a bit in between, occasionally.