Thursday, June 25, 2009

Clarifying thinking

Christie Blatchford's column in the Globe and Mail this morning on the Garbage strike is a fascinating display of abrupt tonal shift and divided loyalties.

It starts with the patented Blatchford sneers at whining ninnys and dainty Toronto Garbage men protecting absurdly generous perks.

The real hot-button issue, certainly the one infuriating taxpayers suffering in this hideous recession, are the “sick day” provisions of the city's collective agreements, negotiated decades ago with two locals of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which see workers allowed to bank 18 days of sick leave a year and accumulate up to six months' pay over a lifetime. It's a rich-seeming perquisite for union members who, particularly in a lousy economy where plenty of people are out of work, are pretty richly rewarded – at the top of the scale, garbage collectors get $25.01 an hour, receptionists $23.70, cleaners $21.30, etc.
Then in the final few paragraphs it does a vertiginous 180 degrees as Blatchford seems to change her mind in midthought.

That's the thing about many of the city workers, particularly the 6,000 from Local 416: They do the hard, physical, outside jobs that a lot of people wouldn't want. That ought to count for something.
The truth is, it's not really the workers who strain the patience of Toronto taxpayers, but rather the municipal bureaucracy – all those rules and regulations, the Byzantine processes, the permits and bylaws that are the bane of all of our lives – and the dysfunctional and inept city council. The politicians, who just recently voted themselves a little raise, are merely embarrassing, and the bureaucrats (management, for the purposes of this discussion) are the ones who are really well-fed.
Just check out the so-called “Sunshine list” of municipal government employees who last year earned more than $100,000. They sure aren't the guys collecting the garbage or cleaning the streets, but rather the dozens
of folks it seems are required to manage them. On the 2007 list, for example, I counted four “repair supervisors” earning between $168,000 and $191,102 a year, and three street-cleaning supervisors earning about the same.
In the words of my friend Tracy Nesdoly, whom I quote several times a year saying this, “You have to know who to be mad at.” And in this case, it isn't the workers.
What led to such a stunning midthought reversal from a columnist consistantly writing from the political and economic right wing hitherto?

Finally, a bit of a confession.
I have had some fine sunshine streaming out my rear quarters most of my professional life, as I realized last weekend when I had occasion to attend my first union meeting and cast my ballot in a strike vote for the first time.
I will not bore you with details, but suffice to say that as of June 30, The Globe and Mail and members of the Southern Ontario Newspaper Guild (the union which represents, among others, the journalists) could be on the brink of a lockout or a strike.
Though colleagues and friends have walked a picket line before, through sheer luck and good timing, I've never even had to contemplate the possibility. I find it clarifies your thinking.
Much like a hanging in the morning.

A very similar transformation happened to The Calgary Herald columnist Naomi Lakritz. An extremely right wing, indeed angrily reactionary columnist, after standing on the picket line during the Herald strike following Conrad Black's takeover, the Lakritz writing after the strike was a very different person, becoming the Herald's token progressive for a while at least.

Time will tell how long Blatchford's new found class conciousness will last.

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