Angry capitalists and Toronto: "Bah, be happy you have a job!"

Post by Eric Mang in ,

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Monty Burns

One of the more menacing phrases I’ve heard during the Toronto indoor/outdoor workers’ strike is: “be happy you have a job at all”.

What a horrendous pan-troglodyte thing to say. Not surprisingly, it’s usually said by those of a particular political stripe whose policies and ideologies are heavily responsible for the economic malaise gripping the globe.

Newly-elected leader of Ontario Progressive Conservatives (I agree with losing candidate Randy Hillier on one thing only: this party should stop calling themselves “Progressive”. The last progressive leader and Premier was Bill Davis and the man cut from that cloth, John Tory, was recently tossed out by the seething masses of paleo-cons) Tim Hudak, aka “Mike Harris Redux”, has piped up on the strike situation in Toronto.

"You know, in today's environment in the depths of recession and a lot of middle-class families struggling to make ends meet, the notion of some of the unions of going out on strike with high demands won't sit very well with taxpayers," says Hudak.

I wonder if Hudak realizes that due in part to his party’s policies that Canada’s middle class is stretched, with real wages stagnating but productivity increasing. So we produce more but are paid the same or less. The only class to have benefited financially since the 1970s is the wealthy.

Statistics Canada found that between 1979 and 1989, income for the poorest 10% of families fell by 19% while the richest 10% saw incomes increase by 13%. And from 1989 to 2004, the average after-tax income of the richest 10% increased by 24% and declined by 8% for the poorest 10%.

The rich are getting richer, the poor, poorer, and the middle class sits in idle. That is, real wages (meaning adjusted for inflation) have not increased for 30 years.

While wages are falling for some and stuck in neutral for most, between 1975 and 2005, Canada’s economy grew by 72%. If labour productivity is on the upswing, where’s the commensurate rise in wages?

The answer: you’ve been had.

The right-wing, both on Toronto City Council and at Queen’s Park, has been very effective at manipulating your fears, playing puppet-master to your base instincts. Indeed, an advisor to Hudak is quoted in the Star as saying: "I think there's a wellspring of anger out there and I think we'll be able to tap into it"

All of this takes me to my final points:

Since the right likes to say that a recession is not the time to negotiate benefits and wages, how do they feel about offering better packages during boom times? I ask because if Canada was blessed with a highly productive economy for 30 years yet real wages stagnated, what happened?

For those still enamoured with privatizing public services, too many studies indicate that there are many risks to Alternate Service Delivery and Public-Private Partnerships. In pre-amalgamation East York, private garbage collection was found to be more expensive than public. Private delivery was more expensive (and unreliable) because of management salaries and corporate profits. As I’ve noted before, the private sector is beholden to its bottom line and does not typically embrace the concept of the public good.

Finally, let’s get a handle on Hudak’s claim of “high demands” by unions while the middle class is “struggling to make ends meet”. First, many unionized workers are in the middle class. They’re struggling too. Second, there isn’t a huge disparity between union and non-union wages in Ontario. According to Statistics Canada, the full-time hourly wage in Ontario is $24.35; for a unionized worker (public and private) it’s $26.40.

Further, according to Thomas Walkom, those sick days, which are oddly at the center of many people’s rage, were negotiated by the city to defer wages. In lieu of agreeing to higher wages, sick days could be banked and paid out at a later date. Someone didn’t read “Boom, Bust and Echo”, because they’d know that a large mass of workers is set to retire, and this will mean higher costs.

As Walkom notes: “But instead of paying what it owes, the city wants to scrap the arrangement”

Unions are blamed because they are an easy target. Our garbage piles up (although it’s only been a week. If you have piles of garbage, maybe you should think about your consumption problem), city-run daycares are closed, ferries won’t take us to fun on Centre Island, and so on. In effect, minor inconveniences (although daycare is not trivial. But our society is so far behind in providing affordable daycare; that would be a column for another day). Nothing compared to people fighting for a fair deal in the midst of lies and half-truths, much of it peddled by those whose ideologies and policies got us into this economic crapstorm in the first place.

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