The system’s broken

11.17.03

Jake posted his take on the transit strike:

Transit strikes target the working poor. There is a reason why some people take the bus/metro while some drive: not everyone can afford a car. The working poor most often use public transit and are the most reliant on it. They cannot simply avail themselves of the services of the nearest competitor — there is none. Most people have enough to deal with without shifting their schedules to fit the new hours of operation transit workers are shoving down their throats.

I agree with Jake. It’s all very well and easy for me to roll my eyes at the strike, but I have a choice – I can and do drive. But not everyone has that choice.

Strikes that affect the public tend to be much more unpopular. When teachers, nurses, transit workers, or public sector workers go on strike, it affects the daily lives of the people who aren’t involved in the debate.

Maybe it’s unfair to say that people who work in factories – and whose strikes only affect management – are entitled to the right to strike, while public workers aren’t. But to be honest, I think the whole union system is screwed up. Most of the time, the employees are as annoyed as the employers, and the only people who come out ahead are the union leaders who use the publicity to advance their political careers at the expense of everyone’s welfare.

Unions were once very necessary – before them, working conditions were awful in many places and people were treated like machines. But today, too often, union negotiations serve the interests of nobody. Because by definition, unions rely on the adversarial system to constantly “fight” with management. Rather than assuming common interests can and do exist, the two are constantly at odds with each other. And in the end, nobody’s happy.

We can and should do better. I’m not suggesting abolishing unions or the right to strike – far from it. But I think that the system needs reform. When the lives of employees and of the general public start to suffer, then the system is messed up, no question.

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