4.27.2008

ttc strike as litmus test of progressive worldview

The Toronto Transit Commission is on strike.

Full disclosure: I don't rely on the TTC for my daily commute.

However, I lived for 26 years in cities wholly dependent on public transportation, and never owned a car before moving to Canada.

I support the striking transit workers.

I support striking workers everywhere.

The transit workers have power, and they should use it. I wish all workers - myself most definitely included - could wield the kind of power the transit workers can.

People on all points of the political spectrum are foaming at the mouth because union leadership already had announced there would be no strike. But union membership rejected the deal, as is their right to do so. Too often union leadership pushes deals down membership's throat. This time democracy prevailed.

I'm a freelance writer, and an office worker. Although in the US I belonged to the National Writers Union (to my tremendous benefit), I have little power in either of my work capacities. People who actually provide a service that is not easily replaced - television writers, professional athletes, transit workers - should use that leverage to their best advantage. I only wish more of us could be described that way.

I've seen many supposedly progressive bloggers writing (paraphrasing), "I'm all for unions, but..."

Just the other day, in comments on another blog, I was noting how people say, "I'm not racist, but..." then tell you how [these people] are always so lazy/smelly/stupid/tricky. Or, "I'm not gossiping, but..." then tell you personal details about your co-workers that you aren't supposed to know. "I'm not sexist, but I just cannot work for a female supervisor. They're always such bitches."

If you say, "I'm all for unions, except when they inconvenience me," you are not for unions.

A much better post about this is here on Dr. Dawg's Blog. Plus, Dawg calls out the pseudo-progressives by name.

Robert McClelland has run the numbers:
Here's the history of strike action by the union representing TTC workers.
1952: 19 days
1970: 12 days
1974: 23 days
1978: 8 days
1991: 8 days
1999: 2 days
2006: 1 day wildcat
2008: 2 days+
Total: 75 days over 87 years (the TTC was established in 1921)
Average: 0.86 days of strike action per year

Does less than one day per year of inconvenience (or hardship depending on your point of view and economic situation) justify stripping someone of their labour rights?

The TTC is not an essential service. I'm not even sure there should be an essential-service exception to the right to strike.

More power to them!


Update: Judging from the first comment, I guess I wasn't explicit enough. In Philadelphia and New York City, I wasn't car-less for environmental reasons. I didn't own a car because I couldn't afford to (and because in those cities you don't need to). In other words, I took public transportation because I had to, not because I wanted to. I don't commute by TTC now because I live in Mississauga, outside of TTC territory.

54 comments:

Lord Kitchener's Own said...

I do take the TTC to work everyday, and I have certainly been critical of the strike, but not for my own sake. My concern is for the people I ride the bus with everyday. Most of these people (here in the East end) are very low income people trying to feed their families. They're not riding the bus because of environmental concerns, or because it's convenient. They're riding the bus because it's the only transportation they can afford. They're riding the bus because they can't car pool, because no one they work with can afford a car either. They're riding the bus because they make less in a day than it would cost them to take a cab to work and back.

It's these people that really concern me in the case of a strike. It's people for whom one or two days away from work has significant financial consequences. It's people who can't afford to lose their job because they can't make it in during a strike, but can't afford to make it in during a strike because they would lose money everyday spending more than their daily wage getting to work.

It's the single mother who spent years on a waiting list for subsidized housing, then got a place to raise her family an hour away from her work, who can't afford to lose her job, but can't afford to move closer to work.

If it was just me riding the bus, I'd be more than happy to take the inconvenience on behalf of local 113. But I know there are plenty of people on the bus with me each morning for whom losing public transit is more than a mere inconvenience. It's a threat to their livelihood.

L-girl said...

I took the public transportation for the same reason. I didn't commute by subway in NYC for environmental reasons or for convenience. I took it because it was the only way I could get to work, as is the case for most people in NYC, where very few people own a car.

But because I care about working people, I support their collective actions. We do more good by holding the line against anti-unionism than we do wringing our hands about our how our neighbours will get to work.

L-girl said...

And to be even more explicit:

about our how our neighbours will get to work

...during a strike. Certainly we need better public transportation for all working people, in general. But the strike is not forever.

Lord Kitchener's Own said...

I should point out L-Girl that my mentioning of environmental and convenience reasons for taking public transit wasn't directed at you, but just generally at this notion that a lack of TTC service is little more than an inconvenience.

For me, it truly is little more than an inconvenience. Several people where I work have cars, and I can get in to work if the TTC is on strike. But many people can't. And those that can't, are also those who can least afford to be away from work. For some people, two days away from work is a drag. For some people, it's grocery money (and for many of those people, they're in non-unionized minimum wage jobs, where missing a couple of shifts can have much more dire consequences than many of us would face). I just think it's important to keep those people in mind. A lot of bloggers consider anyone complaining about the strike to be nothing more than egocentric whiners, but I think it's important to keep in mind that for many Torontonians a TTC strike is a threat to their livelihood, and their ability to feed and shelter their children.

I also think what's upset most people is how this was handled by the union. Everyone figured this had all been dealt with last weekend, and there was no indication from the union leadership that there were any problems until right before the vote. Also, suddenly, we're hearing that the contract was voted down for a host of reasons that apparently the union leadership never focused on during the negotiations. So, issues such as "contracting out" warranty work, which the TTC apparently never heard raised, are being touted as the reason that the contract is being rejected. In other words, that the disconnect isn't between the TTC and the union leadership, but between the union leadership and the members. Which is obviously frustrating for a public who thought this had already been settled (and whom, for the most part (though not me) felt that the original settlement was too generous). It raises the question as well, as to how the TTC is supposed to negotiate again with Mr. Kinnear, if the last round of negotiations was shot down for reasons Mr. Kinnear apparently never raised (or at least didn't raise forcefully enough). If the leadership and the rank and file aren't on the same page, how can the TTC negotiate a deal, knowing that it could be rejected for reasons they were never asked to address?

The whole thing's a mess of course, and it seem clear to me that the union overplayed their hand. Personally, to tell the truth, that's the main reason I've been as critical as I have. I think the union needs to watch itself. I'd guess that a majority of Torontonians today would favour making the TTC an "essential service", and that wasn't necessarily the case before the strike. The union needs to keep in mind that goalposts sometimes move, and that while making the TTC an "essential service" may have once seemed radical, it now probably has majority support. And something truly radical, like breaking up or privatizing the TTC, probably has a lot more support today than it did last week.

Scott M. said...

While I usually don't support public service unions' strike action (ie. I don't think it's merited/they're asking too much), I do support their right to strike unless they're an essential service (meaning fire, ambulance, police, doctors and nurses).

I also support the right to order workers back to work when their disruption is causing public health issues (eg. garbage strike) or major, irreprable damage to the city or it's economy.

To that end, I would support ordering TTC workers back to work after a week or two strike.

But I don't get this big rush to order them back to work. By doing so, they've essentially declared them an essential service! What's the point in giving them the right to strike then not letting them use it?

Yes, Kinnear is an ass for giving only 90 minutes notice. And the whole "worker's safety" excuse is a joke -- the same losers who would abuse them for giving 48 hours notice will abuse them even more when they go back for giving no notice. Hopefully the union members will boot him come next leadership review.

All that being said, let them strike for at least a few weekdays. Maybe start the back-to-work process going on Thursday of this coming week and have the order effective Tuesday of the next week.

Of course that would mean the union would cause a MAJOR loss of ridership and loss of their own union jobs (as they did in 1991 where they lost almost 40% of their ridership and didn't gain it back for at least 10 years IIRC), but hey, that's their perogative. If they want to shoot themselves in the foot, let 'em.

Scott M. said...

Quick fact correction: Ridership was it's highest in 1988 until the union took a 40 day "slowdown". That, combined with the 8 day strike in 1991, resulted in a major decline in ridership.

Once the folks went away, they never came back. Service cuts due to the loss of ridership caused by the union and fare increases after 1991 ensured that we never did get back to our pre-strike peak of 463.5 million rides. (Still waiting for 2007's numbers, but the 2006 annual report showed 444.5 million rides).

kclare said...

Is it possible to support a union's right to strike only where the union is not in a positon of being a legal monopoly industry?

There is that figure on a TTC Union ad that says that each transit worker generates about 1000000 in economic benefits for the city of Toronto. I believe that figure, and I love the TTC because I think it's such a beneficial part of the city.

When a worker at a chicken plant is producing on average 150000 worth of value per worker, and the plant is paying them 50000 per worker, it makes more sense for the owners to give them a raise rather than lose the 100000 dollars worth of profit per worker year that would be happening during inoperation of the plant. These market forces are important to the way that strikes were originally designed to work, and this is also an important element of workers "owning" their own work.

When a TTC worker generates 1000000 of economic value to a city, do we owe each worker $500000 or more each to compensate their economic benefit to the city? I think the answer is no, but by giving the transit workers strike rights this is the type of leverage they have. I think a more effective way to judge the proper pay rate for workers in a monopoly industry is to look at the number of people who want to be transit workers because the pay is so good, or don't want to be transit workers because the pay is bad, and legislate cost of living raises on a regular basis.

redsock said...

Once the folks went away, they never came back.

Where did they go? Did they all buy cars? Start taking cabs? Find new jobs near their homes?

Scott M. said...

Where did they go? Did they all buy cars? Start taking cabs? Find new jobs near their homes?

I'm sure there's a study somewhere, but I can't find it. I imagine it's a mix, with most folks opting for GO or cars (GO has had steady increases in fares and ridership and very little labour disruption).

Note: Since 1988, population of (the old Metro) Toronto has increased by about 25%, so if everything had gone without a hitch the TTC should have seen a similar increase of ridership.

mootpoint said...

Look, I love the TTC and I loved unions, but when I rode the TTC to work it was out of necessity, and that was the case for most people I know.

I support the right of workers to get a fair deal, but honestly, when those workers' deal requires screwing over other workers, it's not hypocritical to question what they're doing. I support unions and I think the right to strike is powerful, but I lost a day's pay in the 2006 strike because I couldn't get to work. The people getting hurt were people like me (and those less fortunate), not the powerful. (Ask me about the Vancouver garbage strike of '07.)

If factory workers go on strike, the people who own the factory are hurt because they can't make money without the workers' labour. The TTC does okay as public transit systems go (I think it mostly pays for itself), but it's hardly a cash cow, so the strike is more of a political move, inconveniencing people who use it in order to get them mad and put pressure on the bosses. I'm not saying strip their right to strike, but I'm saying be very aware that it doesn't have the same impact as workers going on strike in private, for-profit enterprises.

mootpoint said...

Correction: "I loved the TTC and I love unions," not vice-versa.

issachar said...

I don't think the problem is the strike and the union per se, but rather that the TTC holds a monopoly on public transit.

If Burger King workers go on strike and someone wants a burger they go to Wendy's or White Spot and while Burger King suffers the public is only slightly inconvenienced. If Ford workers go on strike for a better contract, car buyers can go with Honda.

But as Lord Kitcheners Own points out, when the TTC goes on strike the most vulnerable members of the public have no alternative and aren't just inconvenienced.

I support the right of unions to strike, but not for essential services or public monopolies. The power of a strike lies in the capacity to inflict harm upon the employer, and without that power the effectiveness of unions to look after worker interests would suffer serious harm. But that the power of a union to harm must be directed at the employer, not at the public and certainly not at the least powerful in our society.

L-girl said...

I love how everyone's so concerned with the working class and how they're going to get to work. Who me, complaining about inconvenience? Heaven forbid! I'm only doing it for the good folks who live next door.

It's like some kind of reverse Nimby-ism.

You'd think every time there was a transit strike, whole neighbourhoods were fired and starved to death.

Before it was "essential service". Now it's "essential service or monopoly". Wait, that doesn't fit? I'll think of another.

I don't know you folks, so I have no idea if you're sincere or not, and you certainly might be. But your touching concern for the working class sure smells like a convenient smoke screen.

kclare said...

Isn't concern for the working class one of the other litmus tests for progressive worldviews? Unions work great when they help out the working class imho.

Being a scientist, there is no such thing as a strike right for me, even though scientists have produced a lot of value to the world. So when a transit worker is arguing about whether they should get paid double or triple what I get paid I don't have all that much sympathy.

I am enjoying this discussion by the way, respect for all viewpoints all the way.

L-girl said...

So the strike is broken already. Damn.

L-girl said...

So when a transit worker is arguing about whether they should get paid double or triple what I get paid I don't have all that much sympathy.

Why not? If it doesn't apply to you, you don't care?

Scott M. said...

So the strike is broken already. Damn.

Yep. The politicians didn't even give them a chance to cause major inconvenience to folks.

I think 8 days would have been the right number before ordering them back, this two-day thing is crap. I do think they should have the right to order them back though... unions were largely a result of poor working conditions and poor treatment due to capitalism.

A government-imposed monopoly (power plants, sewage treatment, etc) defeats capitalism and provides no recourse for the public (other than to complain to the politicians), hence there should always be the ability to override any lockout or strike action if it's in the public good.

But in this case they're not even allowing the union to make the point of how much their workers contribute to the everyday lives of people and the smooth running of the city. That's unreasonable.

Scott M. said...

One thing I don't get, BTW, is why in god's name doesn't the TTC have it's management trained in Subway driving? There's more than enough management workers to keep the subway open (possibly with only automated entrances), if only they'd train them.

Though I suppose the union contract forbids it.

L-girl said...

unions were largely a result of poor working conditions and poor treatment due to capitalism.

Were?

Unions are collective action to counteract a gross power imbalance between employer and employee. If there were no unions, the conditions that gave rise to their need would return, save for what is mandated by law. The laws which are the result of collective action.

But in this case they're not even allowing the union to make the point of how much their workers contribute to the everyday lives of people and the smooth running of the city. That's unreasonable.

I agree. Obviously.

L-girl said...

One thing I don't get, BTW, is why in god's name doesn't the TTC have it's management trained in Subway driving?

...

Though I suppose the union contract forbids it.


You answered your own question. They have to forbid it for their own protection.

kclare said...

Why not? If it doesn't apply to you, you don't care?

I care about people getting a fair wage, and unions are often a very good way of doing that. In the case of workers running a public monopoly though it doesn't work.

What is the upper limit to what is a fair wage to a transit worker? Is it actually $500000 or more? Most people would find that out of proportion, and one of the downsides to some unions is that sometimes they result in an unfairness regarding unionized workers vs. unionionized workers in the rest of society.

If someone wants to figure out a way to unionize scientists that's great,I don't view that as realistic, but I wasn't serious about that. It was more just about making a point. I actually don't use the TTC, so my objection to the strike is purely philosophical.

Of course it would be nice if everyone could get paid an infinite number of dollars but that's not generally considered possible. What is really happening here is transit workers are using their disproportionate power of putting a city on hold to demand an extra dollar on an already excellent (by working class standards) living wage.

L-girl said...

What is the upper limit to what is a fair wage to a transit worker? Is it actually $500000 or more? Most people would find that out of proportion

Do you mean half a million, or do you mean 50K? Transit workers are earning $500,000 a year? Somehow I doubt it.

Assuming you stuck in an extra zero by mistake:

People find it "out of proportion" because someone else is earning it. If it were there own salary, they wouldn't find it out of proportion.

Do you really think that $50K is such an enormous amount of money to earn? Or are you saying that "working class" people shouldn't earn that much?

I am working class, and I have earned 50K or slightly more at various times, as has my partner. It's a decent living, but you're still solidly working class.

kclare said...

But in this case they're not even allowing the union to make the point of how much their workers contribute to the everyday lives of people and the smooth running of the city. That's unreasonable.

I agree. Obviously.


I agree too actually. I think the TTC is very valuable and the transit workers should be able to strike for a day or two to show how valuable the service is (which is what they did), but using the power to stop a city indefinitely to negotiate a worker's wages is a little bit too high of a ransom in my opinion.

kclare said...

Do you mean half a million, or do you mean 50K? Transit workers are earning $500,000 a year? Somehow I doubt it.

No, I meant half a million, in order to make the point that each TTC worker contributes about a million to the economy each year. In economic terms, it would be more worthwhile to pay each worker half a million a year than to let the TTC remain inactive indefinitely, which is the kind of leverage that they have.

L-girl said...

No, I meant half a million, in order to make the point that each TTC worker contributes about a million to the economy each year.

Sorry for misinterpreting. That went right over my head.

issachar said...

I don't know about everyone else, but it's never been just "essential service" exception to strikes for me. Nor is it about the "working class" for me. I don't think strikes should hurt the public, or rather they should only injur the employer. That means I don't approve of strikes in monopoly interests and likely not at all in the public sector. (Obvious exception for public sectors that have outside competition that the public can use during the strike). No smokescreen here, but the fact is that I drive a car and I don't live in Toronto so this strike isn't about me.

I also don't believe in class politics. I think it's divisive and counter-productive for society.

L-girl said...

I also don't believe in class politics. I think it's divisive and counter-productive for society.

Most people who don't need class politics don't believe in them.

kim_in_to said...

I don't understand the modern disdain for the union as an outdated concept. In practically all fields, we have seen downsizing, positions eliminated with duties distributed to existing workers instead of hiring replacements, contract workers replacing full-time staff positions (meaning few or no benefits), etc. It would seem we need unions these days more than ever.

So I am a union supporter, but... (bear with me)

I have never understood the insistence on placing an inconvenience on the general public, thereby creating resentment instead of support or solidarity. As a child, I went to a hotel for a cousin's wedding. Outside the hotel, the workers had a picket line we had to cross (unfortunate timing for my cousin, but a wedding with out-of-town guests is not something most people can reschedule on short notice). The striking workers stopped us, talked to us, explained their situation, handed us literature to read... and then made us wait 5 minutes before allowing us to cross. Even at my age, I understood everything except for the 5-minute wait. They had our support, but the "time-out" is punishment for people who have done nothing wrong. It wipes away any good will and eliminates a big chance for building bridges with the community. In retrospect, obviously 5-minutes is nothing when workers' careers are riding on the need to establish safe and fair working conditions. And I can follow the arguments in this discussion and admit that these workers had a much greater need than mine, and that complaining about a 5-minute wait is whining. My point, however, is that even right-leaning or non-union people might be brought onside if strikes employed better strategy. In our case, none of my family were union people, we weren't familiar with the situation or arguments, and we just came away from the brief experience with a profound lack of understanding, but a firm conviction not to support these people. We (readers of this blog) have to understand that as misguided as those feeling might be, they are the reality for many people in the mainstream public.

And here we come back to the current situation. The surprise move Friday night was in my mind a PR nightmare. If safety really is an issue, shutting down the system with people still using it was incredibly dangerous for the front-line employees. The bad will created will linger for some time.

I've been a user and supporter of the TTC all my life. We've watched our governments drop the ball on funding from the 70s, taking the system from one of the best on the continent to one plagued with problems. Our system has the lowest level of government subsidy in North America. Most of the comments I hear from users are complaints, from dirty vehicles, to run-down stations, and rude and indifferent employees. I cringe especially when I hear young people say they never use the TTC. And so the last thing we need is another strike to drive people off the system and into cars, from which they may never return.

In some cities, I have heard that strike action is a work-to-rule, in which the employees continue to run the system, but simply stop collecting fares. In a capitalist system, how better to hurt the corporation than to put a stop to the revenue from coming in? In doing so, the pressure is on management to settle with the union quickly, to stop the financial bleeding. At the same time, the workers create good will with the public, instead of bad. The only difference is that the workers are at their posts instead of walking picket lines or sitting at home. The point of the strike is not lost on the public, reminded every time they walk through the turnstiles. No one is harmed in the fight.

L-girl said...

In some cities, I have heard that strike action is a work-to-rule, in which the employees continue to run the system, but simply stop collecting fares. In a capitalist system, how better to hurt the corporation than to put a stop to the revenue from coming in?

That's brilliant.

I agree with much of what you're saying. Certainly the PR aspect is lacking in this instance.

But for me, it comes to supporting the choice the workers made, even if there might have been better choices available.

I wasn't involved in the negotiating, I don't have to live with the contract, I don't know what options were on the table, so I feel I must refrain from judgement and support their choice, made (I hope) freely and democratically.

I remember in the 1980s when we were asked to boycott anything coming from South Africa. Paul Simon disregarded the ban to make "Graceland". Many consumers had all kinds of reasons (to me, exuses) why Simon's decision was all right, supposedly actually better than a boycott.

But the people involved - the organizers, ANC leadership and membership - asked for the ban. I didn't feel anyone on the outside had a right to override it. I felt it was our role to support the wishes of the people most affected.

It's an imperfect analogy, for sure. But for me, even if a job action is not the best possible choice, I will stand by the union members who voted for it.

No buts about it.

Somewhere my dead father, that jerk, is smiling down on me.

Not really, I don't think that. The thought makes me puke, but he would have been proud.

L-girl said...

On a more practical note:

I cringe especially when I hear young people say they never use the TTC.

How do people avoid it? How can anyone just choose not to use public transit? Do they all have cars? And they can afford to drive to work and park every day? Or maybe I'm missing something?

kim_in_to said...

I am talking about people who have cars. When I was young, few young people had cars (unless they were real beaters)until they were out of university. It was practically unheard of for parents to buy a car for a child. These days, it seems to be almost commonplace (partly because people have smaller families). My sister and my boss have both provided their kids with cars to get to university (and my nephew lives close to the subway and there's an express bus that goes right into the campus). Go figure.

L-girl said...

When I was young, few young people had cars (unless they were real beaters) until they were out of university. It was practically unheard of for parents to buy a car for a child. These days, it seems to be almost commonplace

Ah, I see. Yes, when I was young that was the case, too, and I guess I don't realize how much that has changed!

Also, in NYC, young people don't have cars, no matter how much money they have. (I'm not talking about the Donald Trumps of the world.) Young people who have money might take cabs more often, but they don't own their own cars. Suburban kids do, but they have to - there's no other way to get around.

So I was thinking of young people in TO as the equivalent of young people in NYC... but that's a real difference.

Genet said...

I support unions, generally. However, striking with little warning, stranding scores of people late on a Friday night is not responsible or necessary. Many young people do not follow the news day-by-ay and would have had no idea that they would be stuck miles and miles from home after hitting the clubs on a Friday night. Putting those people at risk is not acceptable. The union promised a 48 hour warning, not a 48 minute one.

One can support unions without supporting every union action. Unlike sexism, disagree with a union's tactics is not a judgement on an individual's identity or biology, but a criticism of a decision. I feel comfortable supporting unions, but I support nothing just because it is what it is or without question. I'm sure many TTC union members were uncomfortable with the way things played out as well.

L-girl said...

Hi Genet! Nice to see you here. Can you make it to wmtc3?

****

"but I support nothing just because it is what it is or without question."

I certainly agree with that.

It's been good to hear people's well thought out opinions on this, including the ones I disagree with. Very good to hear something other than "I was inconvenienced, so this is bad".

issachar said...

Most people who don't need class politics don't believe in them.

Well you've got me there, I'm a 31 year old white male and my family runs a sawmill in BC. (And I work there too now, I stopped teaching high school in 2006). I don't exactly "need" class politics by any stretch of the imagination.

I still think they're divisive though. It's unhelpful for me to think of "us" and "them" where "them" is the working class. So-called "working class" people are just people like me. Canada's also one of the most economically mobile societies in the world. (Economically mobile meaning that how rich you are when you die is less determined by how rich your parents were than in other societies).

The idea of "class" loses a lot of meaning if people can move between them easily.


And I agree with Kim_in_to that the union is not an outdated concept. Unions are necessary if only for the threat that workers could unionize. If unions went the way of the dodo, employees in Canada for be fine only very, very briefly. Their are definitely employers who would treat employees with respect even without the threat of strikes or unions. But they'd be driven out of business by the less ethical who would be able to undercut them. (And guess who everyone would have to work for then?)

On a sidenote, the tactic of not collecting fares was also used by the toll collectors on the Coquihalla Highway not too long ago.

James said...

when those workers' deal requires screwing over other workers, it's not hypocritical to question what they're doing.

Pretty much all work-stopping strikes will cause problems for other workers in other, related industries. Car factory workers strike? Parts manufacturers, delivery services, etc, are all affected. Writers strike? Film & TV crews, catering companies, etc, are all affected. And so on. It's part of the leverage the striking workers have -- it brings pressure on management not just from the workers below them, but from the companies they depend on.

L-girl said...

James, very good point, thank you for that. I missed the post you are responding to, so I'm glad you caught that.

The idea put forward on this thread that strikes are only supposed to inconvenience management, but no one else, doesn't make any sense. Strikes are supposed to be inconvenient for as many people as possible.

The strikes where no one is inconvenienced is ineffective (also completely demoralizing for the striking workers).

Hence my thought that a transit strike is a litmus test.

L-girl said...

The idea of "class" loses a lot of meaning if people can move between them easily.

It loses some of its meaning, yes. But most people stay in roughly the same economic bracket their whole adult lives, with slight variations. Those variations can make a big difference in the short term, but in the big picture, the view is pretty much the same.

And mobility works both ways. In the US right now, a huge number of formerly middle class people are poor, and getting poorer. What you see as "class politics", I see as economic reality that could help them.

Just because individuals can move out of the working class into a more affluent segment of society, doesn't mean that working people as a whole don't have common concerns and need collective action.

And I agree with Kim_in_to that the union is not an outdated concept.

That's refreshing to hear! Especially from a conservative.

James said...

The idea of "class" loses a lot of meaning if people can move between them easily.

IIRC, there was a study a couple of years ago that showed that people could not, in fact, move between classes as easily as most people believed; that US class mobility was actually far less than other developed countries (thanks, in part, to people being unable to risk changing jobs for fear of losing their health care).

L-girl said...

IIRC, there was a study a couple of years ago that showed that people could not, in fact, move between classes as easily as most people believed;

I don't know about Canada in this regard, but the "classless society" is one of the most persistent myths about the US. Because anyone can do anything, dontchaknow...

James said...

...the "classless society" is one of the most persistent myths about the US.

Oh, I dunno, I know a few folks who think the US has no class... ;)

Seriously, that myth is tightly bound with many of the core problems with the US when it comes to dealing with things like poverty, etc. The believe that anyone can do anything means that if they actually don't manage to become independently wealthy after starting life with nothing but a shoe-box and half a crayon, they must be at best lazy people -- at worst, evil. The "prosperity gospel" is still quite popular, and its basic premise is that success means favour from God -- and failure means God doesn't like you. And if God doesn't like you, you must be a very bad person.

L-girl said...

Seriously, that myth is tightly bound with many of the core problems with the US when it comes to dealing with things like poverty, etc.

Absolutely. When Howard Dean (before he sold out) talked about poor people voting against their economic interests, he was accused of fomenting class warfare. There is a vested interest in trying to keep people from thinking in terms of class.

People divided are a whole lot easier to control and keep down than people united...

The believe that anyone can do anything

When Issachar posted earlier about class politics as being divisive, I was about to launch into a whole thing about exceptionalism, the successful individual proving that there's no larger social problem. The "this black man succeeded, therefore there is no racism" mentality.

Far from dividing society, thinking in terms of class unites people with similar concerns. Those people are already divided from the more affluent classes, through the economics that control their lives.

James said...

I always find it very ironic that a country founded (among other things) on the principle that only landowners should have a say in government, and which perpetuated the notion that some people can own others outright longer than any other democracy, should present itself as free of such a backwards notion as class distinctions.

L-girl said...

But but but... it says that all men are created equal! Don't you see it right there??

****

Yes, ironies abound.

James said...

But but but... it says that all men are created equal! Don't you see it right there??

Well, yeah, created equal. But once cell division starts and those genes start expressing themselves, all bets are off...

L-girl said...

:-)

issachar said...

That's refreshing to hear! Especially from a conservative.

In my experience it's not that unusual for conservative people to see unions as necessary. They might see the negative effects of unions more than progressives though, and I don't see unions as universally good, but that's a whole thread that I should probably post on my own blog so as not to hijack yours. Obviously we disagree about legitimate goals of strikes though. I'll see about writing a post sometime this week.

issachar said...

James, I don't know about class mobility in the States. I don't recall exactly where I read the article, but I believe that it was specifically about Canada. (My mum gave it to me, so it was probably from the Globe and Mail).

I wish I still had the numbers though. I was pleasantly surprised at how mobile our society was. (And I already thought it was pretty mobile).

L-girl said...

In my experience it's not that unusual for conservative people to see unions as necessary.

It is in mine. And lots of supposedly liberal people, too. Less so in Canada than in the US, but here too, it's a commonly held mode of thought that "unions have outlived their usefulness".

I don't see unions as universally good

I don't either, actually. But then, what institution is universally good?

but that's a whole thread that I should probably post on my own blog so as not to hijack yours.

You're welcome to go on at length here, it's no problem. But if you do end up writing about it, feel free to come back and post a link here.

issachar said...

Well I wrote my own post, (part one anyway), but I've never used the "Links to this post" option before. I don't see how to create a link to an existing post. Oh well...

L-girl said...

Well I wrote my own post, (part one anyway), but I've never used the "Links to this post" option before. I don't see how to create a link to an existing post. Oh well...

I'm not sure what you mean. Do you mean the "links to this post" that appears at the bottom of every post?

If you blog in Blogger, go into your settings and turn on that function. Then it will automatically create the link at the bottom of the post, but only for Blogger blogs.

issachar said...

I do mean the link at the bottom, but that creates a new post on my blog. I don't see how to create a link to an existing one.

L-girl said...

I'm sorry, I'm not getting you. How to create a link to an existing one what?

If you use blogger, go to settings, look for this function and turn it on. Any links to your post will automatically appear at the bottom of that post, the way your link is now appearing at the bottom of this post (in a certain view).

Does that help?

issachar said...

Doh! Thanks. The refresh button is now my friend. (Man that was dumb...)