Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Unions and Goodness

Unions have always been a mixed blessing. Historically, unions of workers have given us a lot of the things we hold dear. Reasonable working hours, weekends, benefits, living wages and worker's rights against abuse are all valuable things. When the rights and wages of the lowest people on the ladder are improved, we get two main benefits. One is that the wages of the rest of us go up. The other is that unions shift wealth toward the poorest which helps fuel our mass consumption driven economy as well as improve the education and health possibilities for those with lower incomes.

It's a much more reliable method of improving things than, say, giving massive tax cuts to corporations and wealthy people and hoping that this magically improves the lives of poor people through some unspecified mechanism (usually given the implication-laden title of "trickle down").

But unions have also used their heft to prevent innovation by mechanization, to help workers do their jobs poorly (thus "dealer prep") and to protect workers who are actually lousy at their jobs.

I read this article today and I found it idiotic.

GM is laying off 2600 workers at its truck and SUV plant and Buzz Hargrove, the super powerful union leader, has declared that he won't let it happen.
Mr. Hargrove insisted the U.S. market could not possibly have declined so sharply in such a short period of time that GM would have to break that agreement.

Is he insane? The market for SUVs and trucks could not have declined? Has he seen the price of gasoline? Of course North Americans are finally getting smarter and realizing that the giant vehicles they drive are expensive and irresponsible.

What is the argument here? That no one saw this coming? What you should have been doing, Mr. Union Leader, is negotiating for the past several years, on behalf of your brothers, to have those factories slowly converted over to efficient passenger cars in advance of this very, very obvious impending crisis.

It's that kind of behaviour that frustrates me. There is a place for the Union concept. Democracy simply can not react quickly enough to protect large numbers of workers from large scale abuse - especially with the penchant corporations have shown for trust violations. A Union or Federation can step in and threaten to halt production in order to extract fairness from the corporation rather than having all of the workers uproot their lives to change jobs.

But this is not it. This is not what the Union should be doing - attempting to stave off the unavoidable tide of change. I'm not too worried though, about the plight of these particular workers. I hear there are autoworking jobs elsewhere:
The dramatic shift in U.S. demand benefits Asian-based auto makers, which have dominated the passenger-car side of the business since the 1990s, when Detroit focused the bulk of its product development and investment on SUVs.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Apology Industry

There's a loud lament from the right side of Canadian politics against what is called the "Apology Industry" or the "Apology seeking industry". This is surmised to be some sort of legal establishment that funnels people in to lawsuits and PR campaigns for the purpose of taking money from the government for previous immoral actions of the government.

As examples, we have the payments that went out to the descendants of those who paid the "Chinese Head Tax" or to those who suffered under the "Indian residential schools".

The right wingers tell us to stop and they give this warning: "When does this all end? Do we apologize to everyone we've ever wronged?"

I hate to break it to you, but yes. Believe it or not, in spite of all of the rhetoric, you in fact have to apologize to everyone you've wronged. That's maturity. That's adulthood. That's responsibility.

It's not just about the money. Beating children to death or letting them die in the snow can not be healed by passing money to their parents or to some descendants or fellow band members. It's about changing policy.

If you publicly apologize to the people who paid the Head Tax, you implicitly publicly acknowledge that this was an immoral Tax and thus guarantee (one would hope) that future Canadian governments will avoid such idiocy.

When you apologize to the native Canadians whose children were taken from them, you are speaking to an immoral policy of assimilation that continues, in one form or another, to this day. Yes, the money can help those who have been mentally damaged by these schools, but the money is not the crux of the matter.

It's much more important that we recognize the brutality inspired by the arrogance that led previous governments to institute schools where children were beaten for refusing to pray to Jesus, speak English and start nodding their heads for "yes". The same governments who made those schools also made the rest of the policies towards our native population. Therefore we must suspect those policies of containing within them the same soul of arrogance and brutality.

And consequent to realizing how brutally we've been treating the native population, we must act to change that policy.

That, not money, is what these apologies are about.

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