A striking new experience for me

Blog: en grève

So, here I am, on strike for the first time in my life.

It’s hard to describe how I feel about it. It’s not something I ever imagined I would do. I do not feel suffused with a sense of close solidarity, although I do not feel excluded in any way.

All in all, it’s a quiet affair, notwithstanding the occasional, encouraging toots from passing motorists, and answering cheers.

I’m picketing—I have to accept, that’s what I’m doing—in front of a major transit hub in Ottawa. Those of you familiar with the city can work out where that is. There are probably a couple of thousand people out here, walking or sitting on low walls bordering flower beds. Most people are quite upbeat and friendly. In contrast to the last major citizens’ protest here in Ottawa, there’s no constant blaring of air horns, no interference with local residents going about their business.

No fires. No blocking traffic. No profanity on signs.

And also, unlike the protest by con artists and their dupes in Ottawa last year, pretty clear objectives. For the strikers: higher pay rates, and a clear description of the rules around remote work.

For the federal government, maintaining exclusive control over places of work, and keeping the wage increases to a minimum.

Unfortunately, the communications by the union leave a lot to be desired. They’re missing opportunities to make compelling arguments that would truly resonate with the public.

They’re also weakening their argument for remote work by demanding that members show up to picket in person. Surely, there are some smart people in the union who could figure out how to picket effectively online.

A clearer argument for higher wages

The union’s argument is that workers need an increase in pay that matches the inflation rate. Inflation has hit everyone hard, and most federal workers are not earning the big paycheques that privately owned media outlets like to portray.

Which is true, but pretty bland.

The government easily counters that by saying that other unions have accepted increases of two to three percent per year, particularly in the private sector, and that they just cannot afford to pay more.

That first counter-argument isn’t really an argument. It’s a distraction.

So let’s look at that second argument: that the federal government cannot afford to pay more.

The reef of inflation

Like so much, that argument founders on inflation, the rising prices. To understand this, we need to get away from arguments, which are based largely on values and perception, and start on some solid facts.

Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash

Fact 1: Total federal government spending in the 2023 budget $480 billion.

Fact 2: Projected deficit about $40 billion—8.3 percent.

Fact 3: The contract with the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the union now on strike, is two years out of date. In other words, members have been waiting for two years for a contract, getting paid according to a contract that lapsed two years ago. By the way, that contract was finally signed and went into force only months before it lapsed.

Fact 4: Inflation has been running very high for two years—in the double digits at one point, especially for food. And rents have gone up in some places by 50 to 100 percent.

But let’s assume the inflation rate is now around five percent.


So what do we do with these facts? Let’s put them together in interesting ways.

When the employer offers a wage increase less than the rate of inflation, workers end up earning less in real terms. In the private sector, this causes conflict. Workers rightly see that their employers are making more money from higher prices, but are not willing to share that wealth with the people who produce it.

Governments that charge taxes linked to prices operate on a similar basis. A five percent inflation rate means that government revenues from sales taxes also go up five percent. In fact, the latest budget projects increases in revenue from the Goods and Services Tax to increase by $15 billion over the next five years.

Total revenues go up $105 billion over that time.

In short, the federal government is working toward a balanced budget, the benefits of which are arguable, on the backs of their lowest-paid workers.

At a time when people at the lowest end of the income scale are finding it impossible to pay for food and housing, let alone education and saving for retirement, it’s unconscionable that a democratically elected government not consider the needs of the people who choose it.

What do you think?

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