Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Here we go again.

The CN strike is back on. Whoo-hoo.

FWIW, I really hope Parliament has the sense to vote down any back-to-work legislation. We've already seen ferry workers in BC refuse to obey a provincial back-to-work order (here, although it should be noted they agreed to binding arbitration the next day). I wouldn't want to lay money on whether rail workers, after having already been threatened once, rejected an offer, and gone back on strike would be any more willing to obey a similar order from the feds. It's bloody dangerous to use the club of legislation too freely, as (with justification) unions start seeing reason to respond in kind.

How's about the, allegedly conservative, government does something crazy and lets the market work this one out, hmmm?

4 comments:

Closet Liberal said...

I don't think the market can withstand a protracted rail strike. Too many industries (my own included) rely on regular delivery of freight. Its part of our internal supply chain, if we don't get the parts, we can't build our product, therefore we can't sell our product, so our employees don't work, and thus, don't get paid.

This trickle effect of strikes is why I'm almost stridently anti-unionist. Others have to absorb the costs incurred when a critical industry goes on strike.

In many areas of the country, there are no real alternatives to CN, so the many people depending on it are held hostage by the actions a of a few.

ADHR said...

That doesn't get you to anti-unionism, I'm sorry to say. Or, at least, it gets you to anti-corporatism as easily as to anti-unionism. It's not the union's fault that your industry depends on their company continuing to operate as per usual; so, why should the workers suffer for it? Or, to put the point the other way, why not direct your criticisms at the company managers who have allowed negotiations to degenerate to the point where a strike has been resumed? (Which is, in my experience, fairly rare; once workers go back under a temporary deal, there's pretty significant pressure to accept some variant on that deal.)

The problem with back-to-work legislation is it, without fail, benefits the employer while punishing the workers. One would think that if the industry were that significant, there would be reason for the employer to move at the negotiating table (in order to avoid pissing off their customers, if nothing else). If the government makes it known, though, that it will intervene to force a strike to end, and if this intervention will be to the employer's favour, that removes any incentive for the employer to end the strike. Which leads to protracted and entrenched strikes, as well as the possibility (which I raised) of wildcat strikes.

In addition, the idea that the needs of the majority should trump the rights of the minority is classic tyranny-of-the-majority stuff, of the kind Mill (et al) were worrying about over a century ago.

Closet Liberal said...

You are assuming the employee demands are reasonable, and that CN's position is unreasonable. So you've taken a side here one way or another. Me, I freely admit I have no idea.

The trickle effect is only one of the reasons I am anti-union (and yeah I worked in a union once, much happier without it).

But anyway, it doesn't change the fact (as I see it) that a protracted UN strike is bad for the economy and for many employees (and the employers) of other industries. Quicker resolution better for all.

If worker rights are being abused, or the workers are being taken advantage of by a monopolistic company we need mechanisms to deal with it. But we do not know if that applies in this case. Given the spin generated by both the union and management we'll never know. But I am irked that the union and management worked out a tentative agreement to benefit both sides, and the membership still rejected it. Don't they trust the union recommendations or are they just being stupid and greedy?

Personally I find striking akin to chemotherapy. It kills the "cancer" (unfair management) only slightly faster than it kills the "patient" (economy). It isn't a best option, we need something else.

ADHR said...

Perhaps I am assuming that, but I do so on the basis of prior experience with unreasonable employers.

The membership may have rejected it because, as you say, they don't trust the executive's recommendations. It's not unheard of for these votes to go either way: either the membership accepts an offer the executive recommended against, or the membership rejects an offer the executive recommended favourably. Since GMM's are closed to the public, there's really no way to know how the debate went. Maybe the executive themselves were convinced they'd overlooked something.

The striking-chemo analogy isn't a bad one. Particularly once you take into account that sometimes chemo is necessary! You're right, though, that there should be a better way to solve these sorts of problems, with strikes/lockouts as a last resort. The problem, as I see it, is that provincial and federal governments have in recent years been trigger-happy with back-to-work legislation. There's no incentive to negotiate when government is willing to step in and solve the problem for you.