Gimme Sympathy

The heart-wrenching stories of minor inconveniences are already pouring in from across Toronto and it’s only been 16 hours. According to the Toronto Star, a guy had to wait a whole 12 minutes to get a parking spot at City Hall.

But who I am riffing on here, the guy or the Star? It’s bullshit to say “a bit of both” so I’ll say that when even the lefty paper (can we really still call it that? Royson James still works there, after all) is spending a disproportionate amount of words on pissed off citizens vs. pissed off city workers, it’s easy to see where the dice are stacked.

But who can blame the media? Momma’s have to stay home with their kids, Bay Streeters can’t get parking and the gay communitee must suffer the double indignity of a possible Pride cancellation and losing access to Hanlan’s Point. In the Globe, a Ms. Shiner (who can’t “chase men” to “stay alive” at the Community┬áCentre) gets 5 lines of text before the union prez gets one; and then it’s to play Mr. Obvious and say that he’s managing an “unpopular” strike. Hey, mad people make better press than negotiations. So if this strike drags on, the cover of the Sun will get more vitriolic (Bastards!, How Dare They?, Stinks!, etc.) and people, suckers for anger as they are, will get all rowdy right along with it.

But what about the workers themselves. Again in the Globe, a Ms. Godard asserts that “times are hard and their benefits are more than most people have”. Well, so what? If Ms. Godard wants to live in a country where everyone gets the same pay and same benefits regardless of what they do…a perfectly fair society…then perhaps Soviet-era Russia is more your speed than Canada. In Canada, as in most of the Western world, people are free (to an extent) to make as much as they can as long as they play within the rules. Local 416 played within the rules, earning what they’ve got over years and years of collective agreements. And now their supposed to give it back? If the City does get a concession, does Ms. Godard expect to see a cheque. All that will really happen is the city worker will have less, which is bound to have a real effect on their life; and Ms. Godard will have a feeling of moral superiority, which can’t buy shit.

It must be tough to run a union today. Unions typically fight for a guy/gal that works with their hands trying to make something; people who used to be the backbone of our economy; people worth rewarding. But that was in a time when people didn’t weigh their self-worth against the whole world as they do now. A guy who spent 5 years and $50,000 on a degree gets pretty pissed when he’s out-earned by a garbage worker. Money equals self-worth and how the hell can a garbage man be worth more than a university graduate? It’s ridiculous and mean. But there’s nothing the unions can do about it. We are gradually slinking towards a class system and the unions find themselves representing workers who’ve been classified as “the little people”.

As long as you can find members of the public who really thinks it’s “unfair” that someone makes a decent wage with benefits by working with our trash (or our ferries, pools, whatever), then the union must exist. And if they exist, they must work for the benefit of their workers. And finally, let’s remember that contracts don’t sign themselves. The other name on there is Mr. Mayor. A Mr. Mayor agreed to the time bank, for example, and another Mr. Mayor agreed to it again in the last contract. Why does he get off easy?

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