Sunday, 9 October 2011

The Wrecked Economy - What Is Fair and Whose is Whose?

Dogma, rhetoric, pounding on the table, and evocation of dead leaders are all ways to convince your audience that you and them are in the same struggle

Well, it's thanksgiving Sunday and Ontarians have shown three days ago that they are evenly split on whose rose-coloured screened vision for the province they are opting into. An encouraging result is the McGuinty Liberals missing a majority by one seat, which means they will not have carte blanche over the next four years to secretly take out payday loans and shower cash on whatever public employee group is putting the heat on them this week. These various groups drove the McGuinty government to print an extra $100 billion dollars in Provincial Bonds (compound interest debt owed by Ontario taxpayers to the purchasers of them) over the past eight years because taxes collected weren't sufficient to cover their salaries, benefits, and pensions. The worst part is the Cash Store Liberal government claimed there was a "freeze" since 2009 but wages often still rose between 10-20%. Plenty of otherwise progressive, environmentalist, anti-poverty people who've been excluded from these back-scratching cartels didn't know who to cast their ballot for on election day since all three major parties committed more or less to the continued appeasement of these groups.

I'm not going to use the word "predictably", because it is "presumptuous" but more on that in a minute. For now, let's just say that understandably the Public Sector Union Machine has come out swinging and punching with a noticeably increased intensity the past few months. Serious financial resources have been deployed by unions to wage a PR war against public perception (and, perhaps, some of their own members misgivings over the incompatibility of these unions' actions and their so-called "social justice missions") about the inherent unfairness in the way the public/private wage split in society is currently structured. On TTC vehicles, CUPE ads portray their holistic, caring members (Hey! We're just giving seniors aquafit lessons and teaching yoga for peanuts. Don't blame us.), and on the airwaves the past few weeks you may have noticed the 8 million dollar "Working Families" ad campaign. Because it is heretofore and henceforth impossible for an Ontario politician to address a crowd without employing this label with tourette's-level frequency, even the unions figured that their message wouldn't get anywhere without it. But what provoked the hundreds of thousands of government workers to get so aggressive on the defensive all of a sudden?

Well, it's pretty simple. Despite Canada's "7.1%" "official" unemployment rate, people are wondering. Why are phds waiting tables and driving taxis? How many millions of people in their fifties and sixties that used to rake it in don't get included in this stat either because they've declared themselves officially unemployable or have resigned themselves to settling for walmart/mcjobs? How many people in their twenties can't find any decent work? There are literally millions of unemployed, underemployed, part time and poverty wage employees in Canada, and its been evolving that way for some years. It wasn't like this permanent "recession" state of mind flipped a switch and made things this way overnight.

So all these people struggling and utilising a ragtag patchwork of services, workshops, and re-education programs which are better than nothing but don't seem to be improving the situation on the whole wonder: Why is some 31 year old guy wearing a high-viz orange/yellow x t-shirt and driving a pick-up truck around all day making $29.74 an hour (+ 2.5x that on over time), with a 3.5% increase this year, a 4.5% increase the year after, and a 6% increase the year after that (which will be followed by an intense round of collective bargaining for more guaranteed increases) until he's fifty five? Wait, it gets better. At fifty five, when he's making $63.37 an hour, he can cash out the 30 years of sick days he never took at his current $165,000 a year salary, then retire earning this same amount while not working until he dies! Hmm, I wonder where all this backlash comes from against unions.

Of course, my example is extreme and may not necessarily describe the compensation package of each unionized, public sector employee. But the phenomena I've described are more or less standard in the majority of these packages. Now for my explanation of not wanting to use the word "predictable". Yesterday I read Robin Jones, director of CUPE BC say "Sadly, but predictably, the CFIB (Canadian Federation of Independent Business)'s solution is not to improve pensions for all workers but get rid of ours." He wanted to remind member that "Defined Benefit=Good" and "Defined Contribution=bad". In other words, don't hate us for having to maintain our standard of living, fight for your own.

Usually in these special-interest bromides, the union leadership of well-paid, unskilled lifers who own big cars and expensive real estate sanctimoniously remind us that they're just "the little guy fighting the fight" and we should turn our anger and attention to "bankers, bailouts, and tax-cutting governments" who "wrecked the US economy". Both of these groups which have nothing to do with the average citizen tell the average citizen "We add no value to your lives on a day to day basis and actually make your life more expensive but, you have to meet our demands just because - we "serve the public" or "keep the economy moving".

But I have to hand it to Mr. Jones, who relies on more than just a leap of faith and logic on why I should care about all his six figure pensioners. He says that "Fairness (is in) immediately doubling CPP, increasing OAS and GIS (Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security, and Guaranteed Income Supplement, the three government income streams that assure basic needs for all seniors in Canada)...and passing legislation guaranteeing defined benefit public service pension plans". The first part is very flattering, of course, but as one sentence in a one page article is clearly lip service. Is CUPE willing to strike, picket, march, or walkout over granny's 1400 bucks a months to raise it to $2200? I thought not, and that's very telling. They're only willing to when its their swag on the chopping block, which it never is, but even the prospect that someday some of it might be is enough to cause "action". That's why he concludes telling his readership that they need to put a bunch more legal chains and padlocks on the ironclad megabucks they are already guaranteed to receive, to be spent however they wish: on boats, jet skis, cruises, Florida condos, RVs, and the property taxes and credit lines on their expensive big city real estate and Muskoka cottages.

Why else would anyone need to make $84,000 being an "admin assistant" for the city of x______ at 57 years old when they'd be lucky to get 13 bucks an hour doing the same work in the private sector? Why do "years of service" mean "oodles of more money". If anything, I've noticed that people who have been around the longest and make the most usually do the least work and have the least involvement in the actual day to day operations that keep an entertprise going. They have the art of doing as little work as possible while appearing to be indispensible down to a science. Ouch. A little marxist theory slap for our so-called "left" union leaders concerned about the "collective". In their perverse version of utopia, every worker now has a right to own the means of production for his own state-subsidized, bourgeois capitalist dream.

I am generalizing here, and I know that many people in the public sector have vital, life or death important jobs. But not all of them do by virtue of belonging to it. And we as a society are bullied and prohibited from scrutinizing how our public service sector operates and how dollars are spent. We are repelled with shouts of being "right-wing" "anti-labour, anti-union, and anti-worker" when members of the citizenry try to come to grips with the simple "why?" inside pertinent inquiries into public sector pay.

Occupy Wall Street is happening because people are waking up to the fact that these bankers downtown are not oracles, they're not experts, they're just snakes in expensive suits who pretend they have esoteric knowledge that we all owe them our livelihoods for. As people continue to ask why our Western "rich" societies are actually broke as shit and the majority of us "outsiders" are getting stuck with the bill and all of its nasty "order to pay" enclosed rhetoric, a look under the hood of these newly belligerent unions in surely next in line.

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