Thursday, October 04, 2007

Do Vancouverites have amnesia?

I have lived in this city for over a decade (actually 11 years come to think about it). During this period (specifically in 2001), I had to endure (and survive) a bus drivers' strike that completely screwed my personal, academic and professional life. I spent hundreds of dollars in cab rides, my social life was reduced to nil and my school suffered, all because of the inability of transit authorities and bus drivers' unions to settle on time. It seems to me as though everybody has forgotten about this strike, hence the title of my post.

During the bus drivers' strike, I repeatedly asked everyone who wanted to listen "why hasn't the government settled this strike?" -- I had very little idea of how strikes were supposed to settle (yeah, both parties agree on a common goal and then proceed to write a deal and the strike ends -- at least, this is in theory).

Many businesses and people suffered. Jobs were lost, revenues were not earned, wages not collected and a lot of people suffered irreparable damages to their personal, professional and academic lives, just as I have. The exact same year, while the bus strike lasted over 123 days, the health professionals (specifically, nurses) went on strike. Their strike was not long, though. Less than four weeks into the strike, the B.C. government legislated the nurses back to work.

Now, I am by no means suggesting that the B.C. government should legislate the civic striking workers back to work. I repeat - I am not in favor of the B.C. government implementing back-to-work legislation. There is one thing I am puzzled by, though - why was it that nurses were deemed an essential service and thus legislated back to work, while transportation services were not? And again, I am not saying that this is the best way to go. But someone needs to be providing essential public services (the government) and this is not happening. Right now, trash is piling everywhere (and I continue to read stupid lame reports that 'there are no health risks' - what are these people thinking?) and nobody is doing anything.

The thing that bothers me is that somehow these strikes continue to happen, and that affected people are somehow adapting and coping and either refuse or avoid taking action. Or is it that this is our way of taking action? Just shut up and not do anything? Honestly, what have we done to end this strike? What can be done, realistically?

Once the 2001 transit strike was over, we were given three days -- yes you heard right -- three full days!!! of free bus rides, I am assuming to somehow compensate for having to endure this stupidly lengthy strike. I wonder what the City of Vancouver, or the union, or both, are going to offer in compensation for having to put up with piling garbage.

If citizens' votes are the currency of governments at every level (municipal, provincial and federal), wouldn't shifts in electoral voting be a powerful punishment for having done a lousy job at providing public services and governing? Citizens have a voice, and that voice goes beyond a vote in an election. But electoral votes are powerful still.

Something should be done, and this civic strike should not be forgotten. There must be a lesson here for future governments about what not to do. And, hopefully, when voting and choosing governments, Vancouverites, British Columbians and Canadians will not have a severe case of amnesia.

PS - I don't like the empty promises such as "we hope to end the strike by Labor Day weekend" or "we hope to end the strike as soon as the Thanksgiving weekend". I mean, what do you think, that we are thinking positive thoughts and associating them to the specific statutory holiday "oh geez, we're going to have garbage collection again after Thanksgiving - yay!". No, we are not. We are upset that things have gotten this far. Three months without garbage collection. Wow, unbelievable for a city that ranks so high in the 'livability' scores. What does this strike say to the world in regards to our ability to be civil and negotiate and settle labour agreements? Yes, you are right: it says very bad things.

1 comment:

keefer said...

Good post. It's true there is amnesia and selective forgetfulness when it comes to labour concerns in the province. It's really a cyclical thing, the teachers, then the bus drivers, then the civic workers, throw in forestry every now and then or longshoremen, etc. The governments and authorities in charge seem to never (or rarely) learn the lesson of fair negotiation and settlement prior to an actual strike.