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Rick Salutin (Deborah Baic)
Rick Salutin (Deborah Baic)

Rick Salutin

Mind traps of Toronto's late strike Add to ...

C utting labour costs is bad economics. I'm speaking from a macro view. The current economic crisis largely arose from a yawning gap between most people and the very rich. As it grew, public goods - roads, schools, etc. - diminished. In a healthy society, the majority earn decently and can afford taxes for the services they use. But income declines caused people to borrow more in order to maintain their living standards and keep economic demand up. That led to the creation of opaque financial instruments and "financialization" of the economy. All governments now address this problem through stimulus programs. But cutting back workers' incomes de-stimulates. So the pressure to lower costs, as in Toronto's strike, runs against the larger societal need for more spending. Yet for 30 years, we've been told government is a business and should be run like one. Toronto Mayor David Miller crows like any boss about how he drove wages down and eliminated benefits. The Miller "achievements" will contribute to those negative economic trends. How about government behaving like a government instead? Could it maintain good contracts and contain costs? Yes. If it pays its way as it goes, by raising taxes. I pause to allow the catcalls to subside - there, feel better? And add: only on the richest. Call it a re-redistribution in response to all the redistribution that's gone from the majority to the very rich. They are different from you and me, Scott: Unlike most people, they don't and can't spend all that they have, so they salt the rest away in the Caymans.

Solidarity for never. The labour movement's watchword is unity, but it also has the potential to divide working people, especially in hard times, between those well-organized or in less vulnerable sectors, and the rest. Solidarity is the goal, but the war of all against all, looms. Why didn't the strikers at Toronto garbage dump sites help citizens bring in their bags instead of delaying them pointlessly? There was lots of spite from non-strikers too, based on a sense that, if you're doing badly, you'll feel better if others like you are also in trouble. That's probably human nature, not capitalism, at work. Union people recognize these forces and often say unions don't suffice; they need a political party to fight their battles or a larger vision of "social unionism." What would that mean concretely? Take the banking of sick days for retirement, which aroused such anti-strike rancour. Could you defuse it with a political measure? Yes, by creating a decent, universal pension plan, just like universal health care.

Class war from above. The Globe's Marcus Gee wrote that at most, the mayor won a "partial victory." Others said he "caved." The National Post headlined, "Unions won, hands down." His last press conference was like a lynch mob. Please note that the war talk didn't come from the unions. What had they "won," to so annoy the class-warmongers? Exactly nothing. They gained nothing, never even aimed to gain. Their goals were to preserve what they had, and they got at most a partial victory. They held onto a diminishing (unto zero) part of their sick days bank, and a fraction of the wage increase that others, like police, received. What kind of victory do the critics want - unconditional surrender? Maybe the mayor should have A-bombed the picket lines. But if you call for social warfare, you might get it. There are scattered signs: VIA went briefly on strike; in South Africa, there are riots against the failure to deliver social justice as promised since the end of apartheid; even in the United States, people have been arrested, calling for single-payer health care. What causes social upheaval is not so much desperation, which is always in supply, as it is overdoses of sanctimony, hypocrisy and double standards.

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