Labour pains, but shouldn’t

More time and effort needs to be spent at the negotiating table instead of in press conferences.

It is nothing more than a coincidence of the calendar, but there was an obvious lesson in the timing of the last-ditch “negotiations” between the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the province over Labour Day weekend.

Labour Day, for those who neither know nor care what it is about, was established to remember and recognize the efforts of those who fought nearly a century ago for worker rights and benefits most take for granted today.

In some cases, those early organizers literally gave their life for a cause that eliminated child labour, life-threatening working conditions and  lack of redress by employers who maintained almost serf-like control of their workers.

OK, so those struggles involved private companies rather than public agencies. And nobody is claiming B.C.’s teachers are fighting for their very lives, with contract proposals that include benefits like extended leave times and massages.

But those are expendable demands, merely sugar coating on the bitter pill of very real grievances dating back to at least 2002.

And they obscure the bigger picture here, the age-old battle between profit and people, between cost and benefit.

Regrettably, the trenches of that battle seem to have moved from the negotiating room to the court of public opinion, where spinmeisters work their divide-and-conquer magic on the populace.

Literacy in tea leaves is not required to see the fortunes of workers in North America (and, yes, it is far worse in The States, so far) have been backsliding for years.

This aided by an ascendent view that declining unions are gobbling up all the money and benefits, leaving none for the rest of us. The truth is “the rest of us” were never better off than when unions were at their strongest, fighting for all workers’ rights.

In any case, we’d like to see a little more labour put into actual negotiations, and somewhat less applied to press conferences and spin, thank you.

In case everybody’s forgotten, our kids are counting on it.