By Jason Menard
Here’s a phrase that should be familiar to the strikers and protesters who have been dominating the headlines lately: “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it any more.”
However, instead of being a rallying cry for us to get behind the oppressed workers, it now is a mantra echoed by the disenfranchised masses who are tired of having their needs held hostage for the betterment of someone else. It is painfully clear that the art of negotiation is one craft that’s in dire need of refining.
In what’s becoming an alarming trend, unions and protest groups have become so myopic that they have managed to do the one thing that seemed unpalatable to any of us left-leaning folk just a few short years ago – they’ve got us rooting for the big guys.
Whether it is teachers holding our kids’ education for ransom, tobacco farmers impeding traffic on major thoroughfares, or even millionaire hockey players rolling the dice on labour negotiations and crapping out, the majority of us are firmly on the side of the employers.
So the greater public, who generally struggle to make ends meet and put a little extra away for a rainy day, sides with The Man, while those with whom we would normally have the most affinity receive little to no sympathy. To review: an unholy alliance involving the School Board, the Government, and Billionaire Big-Business Owners are the good guys. But hard-working teachers, farmers living on the edge, and regular guys who are playing a game we’d give our right arm to play are on the biting edge of our venomous words.
And why is that? Because today’s unions and protest groups have neglected the most important part of public relations – the public.
It is our nature as humans to root for the underdog. The better part of our socialist tendencies comes out in support of the worker, and our natural inclination is to side with them. However, what unions and protest groups have done is taken the battle outside of the boardrooms, moved it beyond the picket lines, and brought it right to our doorstep.
How’s my son doing in school? I don’t know, because there are no report cards to follow his progress. And that’s just the tip of the work-to-rule iceberg. What comes next? No homework, nothing beyond the black and white in teaching? Well, who is really suffering? Not the administration, not the teachers, but our children who are losing valuable education time as pawns in this squabble.
Perhaps you’re one of those who likes to honk in support of strikers and protesters as you make your way to work. But, with highways clogged with vehicles barricading the route in the name of protest, you’re more likely to be honking out of frustration than fellowship. And let’s not get to the hockey players. Really, they’ve botched the public relations aspect of their negotiation from the get-go.
So what’s the common thread? Each of these groups has chosen tactics that inconvenience the very people whose support they are trying to engender. Public opinion is an exceptionally strong component of any successful negotiation, and big businesses will do whatever it takes to avoid the backlash brought about by negative press and negative public sentiment. However, by alienating the very people that these groups should reach out to, they’ve effectively strengthened their adversaries’ positions and exhausted whatever goodwill the public may have felt at the start of their conflict.
The worst part about this is that the majority of us initially agreed with the employees’ positions. We know teachers are underpaid for the service they provide and should be better compensated for their preparation time. We know that a farmer’s success is precarious at best and we would like to see our government support them better. We know that there’s a big pot of money out there for hockey players and they’re entitled to their share. But, through their lack of political savvy and abuse of the public trust, these groups have separated the issues from their protest.
What it comes down to is that protest and negotiation must enter a new age. We are a much more media-savvy marketplace, and strong-arm tactics that negatively impact us don’t work. Unions and advocacy groups need to be more creative in developing strategies to get their message out, because the public is more accessible than ever. Use humour, appeal to our sensibilities, use all the resources our multi-media world has to offer, but don’t use tactics that are designed to inconvenience us.
In today’s world the old tactics no longer work. The message tends to get buried when all you want to do is shoot the messenger.
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