A Labour Day Thought Worth Repeating

Because it’s the last long weekend of the summer, and because it’s rainy and dreary outside, and because we’re lazy, and because we’re still reeling from the realization that Nicholas Cage can actually still act, having watched him in Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant last night, because of all this, we’re bringing you our first, official repeat column.

Hey. Everyone’s doing it. It is still summer after all.

We’re not entirely laying a turd on you or anything. It will be topical. Since it’s Labour Day, we’d thought we’d replay the column written by our colleague, Acaphlegmic, on May 1st. The Other Labour Day.

It’s just as pertinent now as it was way back then, perhaps even more so. As our municipal campaign has heated up, the anti-labour/anti-union rhetoric has only intensified. To some of our politicians and their rabid followers, city unions and workers are a big part of the myriad of problems the city faces. Just like the auto workers were when they were asked to take pay and benefit cuts to help out their poor, beleaguered employers. If only they wouldn’t demand so much, maybe the industry wouldn’t have found itself in the dire straits  it did.

Yeah. That was the problem.

The face of labour may be changing but we should take a moment today and stop to remember that much of what we have, like the first day in September being work free for many of us, is not due to the munificence of the markets or the beneficence of our bosses. It is because of the sacrifice and willing to risk life and limb of those who were truly fighting for the little guy. Lest we forget.

A Good May Day To You

It’s May 1st. May Day. International Workers’ Day.

It always brings to mind the scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian where the revolutionary groups are discussing life under the Romans.

To paraphrase slightly: What have the unions ever done for us?

Modern May Day “celebrations” can be dated back to the late-19th century as a commemoration of Chicago’s Haymarket Massacre in 1886. Twelve people died (including 7 policemen) when a bomb was thrown during a labour demonstration that was held calling for an 8 hour workday.

How quaint. An 8 hour workday. What kind of starry-eyed idealists were these that believed such things possible? If there are those out there reading this who pay their rent/mortgage, put food on the table and are ready to finance their childrens’ university education, all on an 8 hour workday, raise your hands.

It’s one thing to ask to work only 8 hours a day/5 days a week but another thing entirely to expect to earn a proper living on it. For at least the last 30 years wages have stagnated for the middle class as it shrank in size, squeezed from both burgeoning top and bottom ends. Simply to maintain economic ground, most people have had to work longer and take on increasing amounts of debt.

Occurring simultaneously, union membership has fallen. In the United States, more than one-third of employed people belonged to unions in 1945. By 1979, union membership had fallen to 24.1 percent. Thirty years later, union workers only made up 12.3% of the work force.

A coincidence? Perhaps. We are not unaware of the fact that correlation does not imply causation. There have been many factors, oftentimes interrelated and interdependent, over the past 3 decades that have contributed to the growing fiscal imbalance between work and pay. Still, it is funny that in these days of economic struggle unions and those that belong to them are derided and dismissed as lazy fat cats, bloodsuckers and artifacts of the past.

Of course, May Day festivities and revels long pre-date unions and workers. They go back to pre-Christian, pagan seasonal rituals denoting the end of the long, dark winter in the northern hemisphere. According to Celtic legend, bonfires were set alight at strategically important sites to “mark a time of purification and transition”.

Maybe the time has come to meld the two traditions, modern and ancient. How be we burn some shit down to purify and transition to a more fair and equitable era? And then we can all dance happily around the Maypole.

revolutionarily submitted by Acaphlegmic

Public Service

It doesn’t take much these days to turn a pleasantly innocuous conversation about this and that into a full fledged, one-sided rant about the political state of things. Feckless, corrupt politicians. Lazy, ill mannered civil servants. Union members. Oh god don’t get me started on union members!

It’s enough to make you stop and wonder what kind of discussions go on at gatherings of these maligned groups. Do they bitch about the misinformed and self-interested voters whose concerns go no further than the front walks outside their houses? Of the sense of entitlement that occurs with every exchange at a fare box or Ministry of Transportation counter? I pay your salary, so I want this done yesterday! And, oh god, don’t get me started on members of other unions.

I thought these thoughts as I sat beside yet another pile of garbage on the subway this past weekend on route to my favourite little brunch spot. Somebody had simply left behind a couple empty bottles and a balled up paper bag on a seat for others to deal with. It’s not like trash cans and recycling bins are in scarce supply at subways stations here. They haven’t been removed as possible terrorist bomb depositories as has been done at times in cities like London and Paris. One need not go too far out of one’s way in order to rid oneself of one’s refuse while riding the subway in Toronto.

Then, having bummed myself a post-goat’s cheese crepe cigarette, I stood outside, huddled under a tiny awning along with 6 others, in a vain attempt to stay dry. To a smoker, including yours truly, upon finishing we flicked our butts out onto the sidewalk and street for someone else to deal with. This stopped me up. What we had done was no less an act of littering than the cretinous boars who left their garbage on the subway. Yet, judging from an early morning walk along my strip of College Street on any given morning, this is routine practice for smokers. We witness it so often, butts tossed from doorways and car windows, that it seems completely natural to walk on concrete littered with discarded ends of cigarettes.

Other places aren’t so indifferent to the habit. Cities as dissimilar as Tokyo and Dublin deem the careless tossing of finished cigarettes as an infraction, punishable by sizeable fines. Arguments can be made about the practical enforcement of such bylaws but it at least pronounces to the wider public that such behaviour is no longer socially acceptable.

The bigger issue here, however, is the disengagement with the rest of society that is on display. Personal convenience trumps consideration of others. Wherever I am, wherever I go, it is my personal space to do with it what I will. I litter therefore I am.

It is an attitude I would trace back to the time when we stopped calling ourselves citizens and choose instead to be thought of as ‘customers’ or ‘stakeholders’. The corporatization of the public sphere. I cough up my fare, I can leave my garbage behind. With all those taxes I hand over on a pack of smokes, we can obviously pay somebody to clean the streets up after me. Especially those lazy unionized city workers. That’s why they make the big bucks. To clean up after me.

scoldingly submitted by Urban Sophisticat

Asleep At The Switch

Discover the cause, find the cure.

Apparently, we have now located ground zero for the woes besetting the TTC.

Yep. It’s been right there, hiding in plain sight behind the plexiglass at every entry turnstile. Napping ticket collectors. If only I had some sort of camera with me to take a picture of this. Oh wait. I do.

For Peter Kuitenbrouwer of the National Post “…the snoozing employee is a metaphor for a transit system gone badly awry.” (To Penny out there, that last word is pronounced ‘a-rye’ not ‘ah-ree’.) Where else but at the TTC have employees ever been caught asleep on the job? I’m going to assume nowhere until I see some photographic proof otherwise.

Kuitenbrouwer’s reasoning goes as follows: if we had some sort of smart ticketing scheme like they do in most other relatively advanced public transport systems, then no one would give a sleeping employee so much as a second glance. We’d just slap our magic card against the magic pad, push through the magic gate, stepping over they supine worker as we head off to our bus or train or trolley car.

I’ve seen it with my very own eyes at some of the best metro outfits in the world. In Washington D.C., going about your business with your pre-paid card and everywhere you look, transit employees just lounging around, taking it easy. And nobody cares!!

It doesn’t take too much digging between the lines of Kuitenbrouwer’s piece to get to the real gist of what he’s saying. The TTC hasn’t brought in payment smart cards because of lazy, shiftless workers like the one caught sleeping who has a $100,000/year job (and I’d really like Peter K. to point out to us where he found that statistic of legions of TTC ticket takers pulling in 100 K a year) for life because he’s a member of the all powerful, self-serving union. If we could just bust up this union, the TTC would truly be the better way.

And hey, why stop there? This city’s descent into madness started 6+ years ago when we elected a union friendly mayor who handed over the keys to the vault to all his unionized comrades in arms. Let’s bust up all the unions. Outside workers. Inside workers. The police… no wait. We like the police. They can stay unionized.

Because, let’s face it (and to paraphrase Monty Python’s Life of Brian), what have the unions ever done for us? They are the source of all our problems and ending their reign of terror will usher in a golden age of bliss and contentment the like of which this city has never experienced.

Problem solved. It is that simple.

assuredly submitted by Cityslikr