STRIKE! … or negociations.

Going to start quickly to make sure I get this down. In discussions it has come up, so I want to outline my stance on the strike vs. negotiation issue.

I realize it’s not hard to believe I want to lead this union into a strike. Looking at the facts plainly, I take much stronger stances on many issues than my predecessors did, and on top of that I favour targeted and creative public job actions to spending ridiculous amounts of time and money on grievances.

… and a strike is nothing more than the ultimate and biggest job action of all, right?

I don’t see it that way.

A unionized corporation is generally quite large. In our case B.C.Transit spans the province, and they are in many ways arguably a part of the provincial government. In other words, they are reasonably big and can generally count on legislative backing when they need it. We, as C.A.W. local 333 members, are an assembly of front line employees who represent B.C.Transit in our daily work … delivering transit service to the Capital Regional District. Our withdrawal of that service for any length of time can effectively shut off a measurable percentage of the regions economy. So, assuming legislation isn’t passed to make our strike illegal as has happened in the past, we too have substantial power. This leads me to my simple point.

When two large and powerful organizations fight, both of them get hurt. That is why nations build armies that number in the millions or produce nuclear weapons in quantities that would render the planet into a cinder. The display of power is what is used to avoid the actual use of power. That is why leaders of unions must be strong leaders. The rule says never bluff if you aren’t prepared to be called. This union has always had the power to strike, but for a long time we have not had the leadership to make it’s threat seem real. In other words, we always could strike, but everybody who mattered knew we never would.

I represent that view changing.

I see a strike as the ultimate last resort, to be used only after negotiations have repeatedly and profoundly failed. I see it that way because once a strike begins the time it takes to repair the damage to the organizations, both union and company, and the relationships within them are normally measured in years. This serves nobody’s interest, and to my mind simply makes the work place a less comfortable place to spend a fair percentage of my life. But a union leader has to understand that if the need of a strike is simply too great, for example if we are faced with another contract that proposes more and even greater wage roll backs than this last one, then logic dictates a strike would have to happen. If the members vote to strike, then the leader must be prepared to do so with a vengeance.

Of course, nobody said negotiations can’t last an awful long time. This last contract showed quite clearly the C.A.W. is more than willing to extend negotiations, as long as they are productive. Personally I would rather spend six months talking that two months walking. Our passengers sure would appreciate it, and that also makes our work life just that much better, right?

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