Back in the grey ages when I was 16, I learned a hard lesson about labour union strikes. As a teenager I had many pen pals (regular mail, no email then) and got close to some of them, particularly one living in Saskatchewan. I checked the mailbox regularly (and that included Saturday delivery then) for pen pal letters and replied soon after receiving them. I loved learning how my pals lived, and despite different living conditions, we all went through the usual teenage angst. We confided our deepest secrets and concerns to each other and often provided a lifeline. We were friends.
One angst not expected was a big postal carrier strike Canada-wide. No mail – in or out. I was devastated. But I learned a hard lesson – labour strikes don’t just affect the unions on strike and the employer – there is a third party, an innocent party – general public. From then on I have been against this so-called right to strike.
Now in the Greater Toronto Area in Ontario, Canada, a wave of possible teacher strikes has started. Durham Region secondary school teachers walked off the job yesterday. But something interesting happened. Instead of just the teachers picketing, a group of students held a demonstration and they were not supporting their teachers going on strike. The students weren’t taking sides and their message was for the teachers to get back to work as they (the students) loved learning and wanted to finish their school year. See the news story at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/high-schools-closed-in-ontarios-durham-region-as-teachers-go-on-strike/article24025795/
Last month it was the TAs at two of Toronto’s universities – York and University of Toronto – who went on strike. Their strikes overlapped somewhat in time. Students did support the TAs but there was some scuffle with picketers blocking non-strikers driving in to one of the university campuses.
That’s not right.
This whole strike situation with third party suffering presents the analogy of two divorcing parents using their kids as pawns in custodial and financial battles. Because aren’t the third parties in strikes essentially pawns to get both sides to “smarten up” and settle.
Not fair. And that is the essence of my being against strikes. If strikes didn’t harm a third party and just affected the employer and employees I would say “go to it.”
Unfortunately that is not the case.
You’d think that after all these years of strikes being legal, people would see how damaging they can be. But history doesn’t seem to teach us much it seems. Sure, the powers that be (read governments of different levels) have stepped in – even making some services essential. For example, the City of Toronto has done this with the city public transit (TTC), police have had a no-strike rule for years. The list goes on – but it isn’t long enough.
And before you think I’m whistling Dixie, I have belonged to a union – but one where no strikes were allowed. And guess what – we got a good deal with increased wages and excellent benefits.
I think it is time an alternative to strikes was found. First, contracts need to be renewed when they fall due and that means both sides starting negotiations months before so a new contract is in place when the old one is finished. And maybe these unions with the strike clause need to take a page from those who aren’t allowed to strike. Binding arbritration. Often that is how prolonged strikes end up anyway.
And take a page from medical doctors’ Hippocratic Oath.
“Do no harm.”
The present strike setup sure doesn’t do that.
Just ask the students in Durham Region.
Sharon A. Crawford
Only Child Writes