Saturday, July 11, 2009

The strike of city workers in Windsor Ontario has now now entered the realm of "months" while that of city workers in Toronto is working towards the one month post. The provincial government of Ontario has been reluctant to legislate the workers involved back to work. Molly suspects that this is because, in a climate of economic crisis, the province hopes that the end result of the strike will be the "breaking" of the unions involved. Perhaps the conservative provincial government is more realistic than the so-called "leftist" administration of Toronto who no doubt would welcome any face saving intervention from the provincial government.

As these strikes drag on and more are threatened (see below) Molly's main question is how can the workers involved bring the situation to a successful conclusion, and do more "radical" tactics have to be employed. Molly is a "libertarian socialist". What that means in plain English is that she believe that the majority of the economy should be "socialized", not by nationalization, but rather by converting it to producers' cooperatives. I have often harped on this blog about the utility of "workplace occupations", and there is little doubt that these tactics are much more effective than traditional picketing and strike action in bringing the bosses to heel. can these be used in a 'public service' situation ? I'm agnostic about this, but it is something to consider. On a greater note, is it possible that the public services of various cities could be better delivered by self-managed workers' cooperatives ? Could garbage collection, for instance, be better managed by a cooperative in which the workers are the "shareholders", rather than having it managed either as a government enterprise or a private business ? It may be a thought to consider as these strikes drag on and on.

Could a producers' cooperative be "competitive" with private enterprise. First of all it would be better for the consumer than a government monopoly simply because it would automatically shed hugely expensive layers of bureaucracy. Its costs would also be transparent, unlike present municipal operations. I personally believe that, in the end, it would also be competitive vis-a-vis private contractors because there would be no need to produce profit for non-workers.

Is such a "solution" in the interests of the workers involved. I am not too sure of this. Setting out on your own as a cooperative involves the same sort of willingness to take risks as is involved in setting out in business on your own. Could the benefits so far gained from previous city contracts be preserved ? Maybe yes. Maybe no. The balance of whether taking such a risk is worthwhile depends upon just how savage the city administrations want to be. What Molly suggests, without demanding any ideological certainty from the people involved, is that the workers in these situations do some calculations as to the costs and benefits of trying something quite different. Not being immediately involved it is hard for me to suggest any firm way to go. All that i suggest is that there is an alternative to simply holding out on strike. Should people want to "take the risk" the FIRST action would be workplace occupations.

OK, that's the ideological prologue. Here's the news from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) about the latest offer from Windsor city workers to resolve the dispute in their city.
CUPE puts settlement to City of Windsor:
Negotiations between locals 82 and 543 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the City of Windsor have been adjourned today.

The union has put forward a proposal to resolve the labor dispute and have requested the employer bargaining committee to bring the proposal for settlement to City council members.
No details of the proposal will be released by either party at this time.

CUPE local 82, representing outside workers, have been on strike since Wednesday, April 15th. Their colleagues of local 543, the inside workers, joined the picket line on Saturday, April 18th.
The antagonism between city administrations and their workers is hardly confined to the cities-Toronto and Windsor- in which there are active strikes. Many other cities, in Ontario and elsewhere are presently in conflict with their workers, either in contract negotiations or in a "propaganda war". The claims of city adminstrations actually have very little to do with the present financial crisis. In some cases, such as here in Winnipeg, they are the long standing result of a "tax freeze". In some cases there is no "crisis whatsoever. In some the "crisis" is the result of civic give-aways to private interests In others there is no "crisis" to speak of, and the "crisis" is only a bargaining excuse. Where there is not a strike situation Molly's "radical remedy" of a producer cooperative obviously has less appeal- to say the least. I would, however, like to implant this idea as an alternative to consider.
Here's another story from CUPE about yet another city in southern Ontario where the city is trying to download a real or fictitious crisis onto its workers.
Open letter to the Mayor and Council of the City of Brantford:

Dear Mayor Hancock and Councillors Littell, Kinneman, Sless, Bucci, McCreary, Martin, Carpenter, Calnan, Bradford and Ceschi-Smith:

We are writing on behalf of over 500 Brantford city workers who provide vital public services to the residents of our city.

The unions representing public works, housing, welfare, libraries, water and hydro, city transportation and parks and recreation workers have formed a Labour Coalition to stand up to the City’s public positions against unionized workers and their collective agreements.

Collectively we are requesting that city leaders stop using the recession to target workers and our collective agreements. As city workers and long-time residents of our community, we are happy to work with senior elected officials and management to overcome this global economic downturn. But we will not participate in any actions that undermine the collective bargaining process including the City’s request to open up existing collective agreements.

We are fully aware of the global economic downturn that is affecting everyone. We remind you this global recession was not caused by workers. We expect the leaders of this city to show leadership and work with us to find innovative ways to overcome this downturn. Targeting unionized workers and undermining the collective bargaining process is simply a non starter and could set back labour relations for years to come.

As city workers and full-time residents of our community we know intimately the strength, vibrancy and the current and potential growth of City of Brantford. So it came as a surprise and disappointment when senior management shared the City’s ‘Economic Position and Budget Direction’ report with us.

We question the ‘doom and gloom’ picture the report tries to portray. This predominantly negative report seems to be missing important sections including current stimulus activities (such as the approved federal stimulus plan for the re-build of the Wayne Gretzky Arena and others that create local jobs) and a pro-active strategy by the City to combat this economic downturn. Surely a report of this nature should show a full and complete picture including jobs created in growth sectors and what the leaders plan to do to attract new investment to lead us out of this economic wilderness.

As public servants, we are happy to help senior leaders and work with management to outline the current growth in our diversified economy (a pro-active diversification strategy adopted by the City to combat the recession from the early 90’s) that is not identified in the report and help you find savings including bringing back many public services that have been contracted out to private companies that cost more to the city. This is an opportunity to bring these contracted services in-house so the city can have cost savings with more control and greater accountability over public services.

As requested by the City, we are in the process of identifying savings that will help the city finances and will be happy to share this with you once our report is completed.

In closing, this coalition is urging elected officials and senior management to work respectfully with city workers. As city workers begin negotiations on Monday, July 13, 2009 we expect a fair bargaining process that will lead us to fair collective settlements.

Working together, like we have done with our coalition, is the positive solution to move the City of Brantford forward.
The City of Brantford Labour Coalition
Phil Hotte, President of Amalgamated Transit Union 685
Ryan Hantz, Vice-President of International Brotherhood of Electrical (Power) 636
John Longo, President of International Brotherhood of Electrical (Water) 636
Jeff Van Wyk, President of CUPE 181
Jane Davidson, City Hall Unit Chair of CUPE 181
Angelo Mancini, Parks, Cemeteries and Recreation Unit Chair of CUPE 181
Glen Quackenbush, Public Works Unit Chair of CUPE 181
Karen Gamble, Library Unit Chair of CUPE 181
Shawn MacKeigan, Ontario Works Brant Unit Chair of CUPE 181
Anne Derosse, Housing Unit Chair of CUPE 181

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