The Toronto city workers strike is over! Yay!
I didn’t personally feel any of the effects of the month-long strike: my neighbourhood and neighbourhoods I frequent aren’t near a temporary garbage dump, weren’t over-run by garbage, nor did they smell like garbage. I don’t have children, so I didn’t need city-run daycare. I don’t live on the Toronto Islands, so I didn’t need the ferry. Except for having to hold my pee during my baseball games because the washrooms were locked up and not being able to use the library, my life has been pretty much the same. But I do have empathy for those who have suffered from the strike and I’m happy it’s over.
This has got me thinking, though. I wish there were some way that government workers could show their displeasure and frustration with their employers that wouldn’t make the public suffer. Strikes are supposed to hurt the employers. If you work in a factory and have sub-standard working conditions or pay (and are a member of a union), you go on strike. The factory won’t be able to make its widgets and the company will suffer financial losses.
But when you’re a public worker and you go on strike, your employers don’t suffer all that much (if they do, it’s mainly in the polls), but the public suffers immensely.
People who couldn’t collect their welfare cheques, or who depend on city-run daycare/day camp for their kids in the summer, or who had to pay someone to cart away their garbage because they don’t have a car to drive it to the temporary dump—those are the ones the strike hurt the most.
Why should we, the public, have to pay the price for the employers (the government) not meeting its employees’ standards?
I know it’s practically an irrelevant complaint because this is how it works and there is no other way. But what if there were?
What if the government officials and the striking individuals had to pay out-of-pocket for “scabs” to keep all of these services going during a strike? What if they couldn’t dip into the government budget, nor simply shut down these services, but had to keep them going and pay for them personally? Say a “strike tax” on their paycheques, which they’d get back at the end of each year if no strike occurs. If a strike does occur, then that money would be used to keep vital services going, both sides of the dispute would have to deal with the financial loss, and the tax-paying public wouldn’t suffer? Don’t you think that would resolve a strike situation more quickly?
Unrealistic, I know. But dare to dream.
By the way, I thought I’d mention a cute American-commenting-on-Canada remark I heard a couple of weeks ago regarding the garbage strike.
I went to see the amazing singer-songwriter Neko Case at Massey Hall. Neko commented that you wouldn’t really even know there was a strike going on if you weren’t told, that it was the cleanest garbage strike she’d ever seen. Her back-up singer extraordinaire Kelly Hogan added (I’m paraphrasing a little): “I know. Even your garbage is clean! Tidy, friendly garbage.”