Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Strike That

I have mentioned before that living in Quebec has changed my attitudes towards unions.  Unions are much more powerful and inconvenient up here, so they annoy me more than they ever did in the US.  I do get that they are a key player in keeping the economy from being too inhumane, so I am ambivalent about them when I think hard enough.

The big problem I tend to have is that the coercive diplomacy/bargaining between union and employer often is played out with innocent bystanders as key pieces in the game.  The TA strike a few years ago hurt profs and students even though the bargaining was between teaching assistants and McGill's administrators.

Today, as in right now, there are folks on strike at my university--the staff.  They want more money and to protect their benefits.  McGill would prefer not to pay them much more and would like to alter their benefits.  Given the economic context where McGill is in a deep, deep hole thanks in large part to Quebec's financial mismanagement and due to student unions keeping tuition unnaturally low, I see McGill's point while I appreciate the staff's concerns.  For me, the problem is that their fight is costly to me and my students.  The most important thing is that it upend plans to facilitate the flow of letters of recommendation for my graduate students on the academic job market.  Now, my grad students must rely on me to be timely, organized, and responsible.  This is really a recipe for disaster, as I have a heap of students on the market applying to many, many jobs.  I hope I don't screw up (like sending emails to places and forgetting the attachments) too much.

The good news is that I did duck one strike.  The flight attendants of Air Canada were about to go on strike right before my next trip, but they settled, apparently partly due to the threat of government intervention.  The interesting thing is this intervention is being criticized from both sides of the spectrum--for forcing businesses to compromise with unions and for forcing unions to compromise with business.  With such an array of critics, I have more confidence that the outcome is a pretty good one.  That and I get to go to London (UK, not Ontario) without having to worry about a strike.

Again, I get that both sides need to have threats, especially the unions, in order to bargain (I am teaching coercive diplomacy today in Intro to IR).  I just also understand that corporations and unions often end up being more focused on the interests of the organizations than the members, and that can be problematic as well. 

At least, we have football (but not basketball) to keep us distracted.

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