By Jason Menard
Mar. 8, 2006 — In general, we don’t negotiate with terrorists that take hostages, even if it means risking the lives of those being held captive. So, with that being said, why do we continue to condone and validate the use of strike tactics by unions as an effective way to earn concessions at the bargaining table, when all they’re doing is holding the public hostage for their own demands?
Now, I’m not comparing the average union member to your average Al Qaeda member, but the mentality behind the negotiations for both should be the same. In international politics, the idea of cutting deal with hostage-takers is universally panned due to the fact that once you’ve caved into one terrorist, the flood gates will open as the tactic will now be viewed as an effective way to get what you want. So, no matter how painful it may be, we refuse to give into terrorists and do our best to prove that hostage-taking is counterproductive.
So why do we treat picketers any different? Is it because they’re our friends and family? They’re regular Joes and Janes like us? Is it because we can sympathize with their cause and have a latent mistrust for Big Business? In the end, are their tactics any different?
Why not ask the college students of Ontario if they currently feel their futures are being held hostage for someone else’s gain? How about the people of Ontario who sat on pins and needles wondering whether or not the public employees would walk out and leave them with piled-up garbage? And let’s not forget the citizens of London, ON who were faced with a one-day walkout of the emergency room doctors back in December.
All in all, it adds up to one group of citizens impacting another group of citizens for something they’re not directly involved in. For students who have enough stress in their lives, they don’t need to be wondering whether their work to date will be in vain. Yet, the union feels that these students are effective pawns in their high-stakes game of chess.
And why not? In the end, management or the government will cave, they’ll go back to the table, and concessions will be made. Strike tactics will be once again validated and the gun will go back in the holster one more time, ready to be drawn at the next labour impasse.
From an outsiders’ perspective it seems that unions of all stripes are all-too-willing to play the strike card early on in the negotiations, whether or not it’s valid. In the case of the public employees’ threatened strike, we were looking at an illegal action that ended up getting rewarded by forcing the sides back to the table.
Perhaps illegal means something different in Unionese. I know if I do something illegal, there are punishments and ramifications. Apparently if a union member does something illegal, they get rewarded for their actions. It just doesn’t seem right.
There are those who say that unions have had their day and they’ve overstayed their welcome. Despite my frustration with holding the public hostage for strikes, I don’t agree with that assessment. Unions do have their place to ensure that employees are being treated fairly in their place of work. They also have a mandate to represent their members fairly and responsibly. The role of the union may have to change. Do the laid-off workers at Ford in St. Thomas feel that the concessions they earned in the past were worth where they are now? How do the union leaders keep their jobs, while their charges are forced to find employment elsewhere?
As a whole, today’s citizen is more media-savvy and aware than ever before. Through the information explosion, we are privy to more information, more quickly, and from more sources. We are better informed to form our own opinion and unions must use the power of public opinion to their benefit.
Be aggressive with your campaigning to curry the favour of the public and they will support you in your efforts. Make us the king-makers in negotiations and we’ll fight for you. Use the public as nothing more than pawns in this negotiating chess game and you’ll find that the gavel wielded by the court of public opinion will come down hard.
Times have changed, the global marketplace has changed, and it’s time that unions change with it. Taking the public hostage should no longer be an effective way to gain concessions. But until a government or employer decides to stand up for principle, then the average citizen is always at risk of becoming a pawn.
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