Thursday, September 27, 2012

Economy: public "servant" not "master"


By Dana Flavell, Toronto Star, September 27, 2012
After a gruelling bargaining session that went into the wee hours of Wednesday morning, the Canadian Auto Workers have reached a tentative contract agreement with Chrysler Canada, the last of the Detroit Three automakers that bargain together.

CAW national president Ken Lewenza confirmed the deal Wednesday evening to reporters at the Sheraton Centre ahead of a scheduled news conference.
The agreement, if ratified by Chrysler workers, will bring another four years of labour peace to the industry’s biggest automakers and its 21,000-member unionized Canadian workforce.
For Ontario, where all the manufacturing is based, it removes the threat of a strike that could have set back its fragile economic recovery.
The results of the negotiations prove that “if you stay united, if you stay focused, you can win justice,” Lewenza told reporters late Wednesday. “I think Chrysler is better positioned as a result of this agreement.”
Like Ford and General Motors, Chrysler has agreed to a formula that will see existing workers receive $9,000 worth of bonuses over the life of the contract, but no wage increase.
New hires will start at a lower wage — $20 an hour instead of $24 — and will take 10 years instead of six to reach the top rate, currently $34. They will also receive a weaker pension plan that combines the existing defined-benefit plan with a new defined-contribution plan.
At Ford and GM, the automakers agreed to create jobs to offset planning or existing layoffs, including 600 new jobs at Ford and 1,750 at GM.
At the same time that the "big three" automakers have agreed to four years of labour unrest with their workers in Canada, the Ontario Secondary Teachers have voted 94% to strike, following the removal of the right to strike in recent legislation passed by the Ontario government.
If anyone thinks that the economic tectonic plates are not shifting in a period of rising tension between politicians attempting to balance their budgets, corporations seizing more control over their threatened workers, both on one side, and the labour movement on the other side, one is meandering through a "Rip-van-Winkle" slumber of total unconsciousness.
Binaryism, Manicheanism, either-or...seems to have become the public vernacular.
As Dubya put it, "You are either with us or against us!"
And yet, we all know, as Obama and other public leaders worthy of our attention put it, "We really are all in this together!"
People are struggling to make ends meet, while they watch 'the right' pontificate about trickle-down economics, lower taxes for the wealthy and for their business funders, and ironically, more military spending, more attention to divisive social wedge issues and more deregulation.
Fear is the weapon of the right, and it must be countered with a different cultural mind-set that brings all voices to the table including:
  • those responsible people (not terrorists) who seek to preserve our environment,
  • those who believe that workers are not 'raw materials' in the production of goods and profits,
  • those whose view of the public debate and government leadership extends beyond the next stock report crawl along the bottom of the television screen,
  • those who actually hold firm to the conviction that the economy is not the master of the universe but a mere servant of the legitimate needs and aspirations of ordinary people and not the plaything of the rich
  • those who support the extension of legitimate "redistribution" of the wealth among all the people through such means as a guaranteed annual income, a right to the most complete education of which one is capable, full and free access to public, single-payer health care, a reasonable pension and access to the enriching amenities that vibrant communities offer like local theatre, local symphonies, local art and music presentations and competitions
We all have intimate knowledge of the legitimate aspirations of individuals and a picture of the kind of equilibrium that puts government leaders in league with those individuals and their aspirations, and not their openly avowed enemies, and we need to focus our stories, not on the headlines that seek to "sell papers" and to divide us from ourselves, but on the complexities and the points of compromise and collaboration that bring budgets, legislation and openly debated processes back to our public discourse.
Leadership like that found in a recently revived auto industry between workers and management provides more hope to achievement of that equilibrium than the recent legislation that strips teachers of their right to strike for two years in Ontario.
For government leaders, let that Ontario decision be a "line in the sand" over which others do not step, including the federal government, that "big hammer" that gloats when it sends workers back to work, plowing a century of effort to guarantee workers. respect and legitimacy under the radar of public consciousness for their own political ends and means, and not for the "public good".



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