Don't expect to see this sight in Toronto anytime soon
A minute past midnight this morning, 30,000 City of Toronto workers went on strike. Affected are services such as garbage pick-up and daycare (check out Daniel’s post; but it’s worth noting that these aren’t essential services, which is a meaningful phrase in labour negotiations).
I won’t sound any alarms yet because negotiating is underway. But there are a few utterances I find irritating. The first of many is the response from some regarding 18 days per year of sick time given to these workers. That may sound like a lot, but to my knowledge, workers don’t have short-term disability. Wrench your back handling someone’s trash, and you’re using sick days while you spend the next two weeks prone on a wood floor. Most of us in the private sector have short-term disability.
Some, such as the ever tiresome Catherine Swift of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, referred to city worker benefits as “lavish” and unheard of in the private sector. Unheard of? Lavish? She doesn’t think massive bonuses and stock options paid to CEOs despite helming tanking corporations amount to “lavish benefits”? Or is there one gold standard for the wealthy and another (a lead standard perhaps) for the rest of the plebs? The private sector is rife with lavish benefits, but that’s not really the point. She hates unions and has made no secret of her loathing. If she needs to torque the spin against unions, she’s more than willing to do so.
The recession excuse gets a little rusty too. Yes, we’re tight on cash. But why? If I were to don my tin-foil conspiracy hat, I would find it, as they say at Fox News, interesting that Big Business has been chipping away at, eroding, government oversight and regulations for decades. Under the maddening and human-loathing rubric of Freidmanism, where the free-market must not be constrained, must act freely, businesses wanted government out. And then when it all burned to the ground (largely because of a troublesome variable Milton Freidman couldn’t seem to understand: human beings, and avaricious ones at that), these same Big Businesses asked for government handouts. While collecting our money, Big Businesses used the recession, which they helped author, as an excuse to trim jobs, cut pay and declare that the cupboard is bare. Fun how all of this works out. In short, you, the worker, are screwed. If you complain, it’s your fault.
It’s like the arsonist who burns down your house, you escape with second degree burns, then the arsonist tells you to re-build your house but there are no guarantees you’ll live in the finished abode (there are probably way better allegories than this, but you get the idea).
Finally, for those wondering if the private sector could do the work of the public sector, a few things to chew on.
About half of Toronto’s garbage pick-up is through private companies (for the former city of Etobicoke and for multi-residential buildings). The other half is public. The private services do not save the city any money and are comparable in price to the public.
Further, those on the right like to talk about accountability and transparency. These are good things. But the private sector does not always prove to be accountable (to whom, one might ask? To citizens? To government? To shareholders?) or transparent. In a recent report by the Auditor General of Ontario, the public-private partnership that built a new hospital in Brampton cost taxpayers $194 million more than if the hospital were built and run publicly.
The private sector is also more concerned with the bottom line than the public good. I suppose those who are rugged individualists don’t spend much time contemplating the lives of those mired in poverty or misery. If they did, they would realize that public goods are just that: for the good of the public. They are not profit-making schemes. When those services centre on profits, they may drop a whole segment of society deemed not profitable (read: the poor). To take this further: you might be able to afford a $20 hike in a privately delivered service, but for many, that’s the difference between not-eating or having access to that service.
If we are to provide the best services for people, they must be cost effective, efficient, of excellent quality, and accountable. Further, workers deserve good pay and good benefits. If you are angered by unions who negotiate fair wages and benefits for workers (and yes, I’m aware that “fair” means different things to different people. Just think of yourself, however), then ask why you’re angered. Is it because you’re getting a raw deal at work (or maybe you’re just always pissed off, in which case I can’t help you)? If so, shouldn’t you be fighting for something better, or have you bought into the myth that good workers are merely subservient and expendable?