Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Solidarity with City Workers

In my inbox today:

The members of CUPE 416 and 79 who work for the City of Toronto
are now on strike. The business media has begun its inevitable campaign of
misinformation to produce the greatest possible backlash against these
workers. We are encouraged to focus on uncollected garbage and suspended
services but not, of course, to give any regard to the rights of public
sector workers or to think as working people about what is at stake in
this strike.

OCAP, as a matter of basic principle, stands in solidarity with
workers' struggles. We don't hate or blame workers who have been able to
win a living wage or support calls for them to be driven into poverty.
Rather, we want to see the poor provided with wages and incomes that raise
them out of poverty.

This strike occurs in a context that makes it especially important
for all of us that it end in victory and that the concessionary demands of
the 'progressive' Miller Administration be defeated. The Mayor defended
his shameful efforts to gut the collective agreements of City workers by
pointing to rising welfare caseloads brought on by the economic downturn.
What a disgusting statement. To pit City workers against those who are
being forced to turn to the wretched sub poverty pittance that welfare
provides is an outrage. This comes from a man who boasts that there are
more cops on the streets under his regime than every before and who is
taking us towards an obscene billion dollar a year police budget, while he
has frittered away the welfare reserve fund
to a fraction of where it was when he took office.

The Mayor points to the state of the economy to justify his attack
on City workers. In doing this, he makes clear what side he is on when it
comes to who should pay for this economic crisis. As unemployment shoots
up, we face the situation with an empty shell of an unemployment insurance
system that shuts out most of the unemployed and with a post Mike Harris
welfare system that fails to provide the necessities of life. None of the
'solutions' to the crisis involve meeting the basic needs of the
unemployed and poor. For those who still have jobs and unions, the
bankrupt corporations they work for will be bailed out at vast public
expense while their rights as workers are destroyed and they are presented
with massive concessionary demands.

The process of attacking workers started in the auto industry and
other parts of the private sector. The drive for austerity is now
spreading, inevitably, to the public sector. Beginning with militant
fights by postal workers in the 1960s, public sector workers have spent
decades struggling for decent wages and conditions.

The present crisis of capitalism will mean an all out confrontation to
take back those gains. Moreover, an attack on the workers who deliver
public services can't be separated from the attack on the services
themselves and the rights of those who receive them. That is the context
of this strike and we in OCAP know what side we're on. We call for full
support for the City workers. Send messages of solidarity. Be there with
them on their picket lines. Stand with them in their fight because they
are fighting for all of us.

Finally, some common sense. I am shocked (although I guess I shouldn't be, after the reaction to the TTC strike - though even that wasn't nearly so bad) at the mean-spirited selfishness of local citizens.(Just read the comments on any news story about the strike). I can't believe how many people think that city workers shouldn't have x,y,z (benefits and perks, job security, decent wage, etc) because private sector employees don't have these things. It's like the child who breaks a toy someone else is playing with. If I can't have it, nobody can. Of course my metaphor breaks down because lots of the people complaining are not exactly in dire straights. We're talking lawyers and middle management here.

Not that the media is helping any. Zeroing in on the bankable sick days as if that is what this fight is really about. If you didn't live here, you'd think the streets were flowing with garbage.

Cognitive dissonance abounds. Garbage collectors shouldn't be given the same increases as police officers got because garbage collectors aren't as important. But me oh my, it's been TWO days without garbage collection and already they are screaming to have someone take away their refuse. Somehow forgotten is that fact that it is not just a garbage strike. Inside and outside workers include paramedics, parks and rec staff, workers at swimming pools and community centres, health inspectors, office workers, social workers, child care workers, and even the people who clean the nasty (and desperately important especially for the homeless) public washrooms. They supply incredibly important services.

What I think we should realize is just how many services we receive from the city and how invaluable they are. If we were to try to buy all these services, few could afford them. They make all of our lives better, and they happen so routinely we rarely even notice them. Using the recession as an excuse to claw back hard-won benefits from public-sector employees is just wrong. Pretty much the entire world (even the IMF) understands that a recession is the time to spend on public works, not cut them. And if you are cutting, why not start at the top (police chief? city manager?) and work your way down instead of starting at the bottom (non-unionized workers have already been screwed with wage freezes earlier this year)?

If this were France, we'd probably have a general strike just to support them. Everyone would take the day off work (parents wouldn't have to worry about child care at least) and we'd all sit in the streets drinking wine.

Perhaps we could also use this as an opportunity to meditate on the excess of waste we produce as a society. Two days without collection and all hell breaks loose? Honestly. What is wrong with us?

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Puzzle me this: Why is it that the same people who bitch about workers sense of entitlement (you know, workers wanting decent treatment and wages) themselves feel entitled to free plastic bags? (It's true)

I think its a marvelous success so far: Toronto's new 5 cent plastic bag law has reduced the use of plastic shopping bags by something like 75%.