Fascism now rules ‘The West’

First, let me state clearly and unequivocally that this post has nothing to say about the (so euphemistically called) ‘conflict’ currently under way in Gaza.  The particulars of the conflict and those involved in it are irrelevant to what this post is meant to address.  It could be any conflict, anywhere, between any groups: atrocities or not…. 

Instead, this is a story about how we, in ‘The West’, have woken up to find ourselves in a fascist police state.  The official government position – as enforced by the police – is truly frightening.

No, we cannot see it everywhere – yet.  But, we do see it.

No, the grip is not a stronghold – yet.  But, it is unmistakably there, and it is tightening.

No, most of us have not felt it – yet.  But, some of us have… and if it can happen to some of us, it can happen to all of us!

Please, consider the following:

  1. In Germany, police enter an apartment without a warrant while the occupants are not home and remove ‘offensive material’ . (Hat tip:  Breath of the Beast)  I do not care what material they removed or why it was ‘offensive’ – it was not illegal.  When police abandon the rule of law and due process – for whatever reason, we all have reason to fear for our safety.
  2. In Alberta, Canada – in front of Prime Minister Harper’s constituency office – a man waving a tiny flag is told by police to stop it, or he will be arrested for ‘inciting civil disorder’.  This was not a flag of an outlawed organization of any sort.  The man was not tresspassing, or obstructing traffic.  When the police arbitrarily threaten citizens, who have not broken any laws, with arrest – we all have reason to fear for our safety.
  3. In Montreal, Canada (still), the police fail to even attempt to take any action whatsoever when a mob incites violence against a group identified by their religious beliefs.  Incinting violence is against the law.  Promoting prejudice against an identifiable group – on the grounds of religion – is also against the law in Canada.  When the police fail to enforce the laws of the land – we all have reason to fear for our safety.
  4. In Toronto, Canada, a protester publicly and loudly utters a death threat against a child – police look on and do not arrest the law-breaker.  When the police arbitrarily fail to enforce laws – and uttering death-threats is a criminal offence – especially when a child is threatened we all have reason to fear for our safety.

If this is not a clear and unequivocal demonstration that the rule of law is disintegrating, I do not know what is!

Before anybody has a chance to justify unjustifiable acts, citing some crap about ‘being oppressed’ (and that includes people who like to play at ‘oppressed’) and only acting out as a result of social oppression, please, let me tell you a story about a little boy….

I was born and raised in a country occupied by foreign military forces which imposed an oppressive, totaliritarian dictatorship.  The foreign military forces never left:  and were reviled by most of the population.  Even those among the populace who subscribed to the political doctorine of the dictatorship resented the presence of the foreign forces which enforced it.

One day, when I was about 10 years old, I had surgery and had to stay in the Children’s hospital for a while.  I was in a room with 4 beds and 6 kids (2 of the beds had little kids, so, in the highly-rationed medical system which is the hallmark of socialism, there were often 2 kids per bed….I remembered sharing a bed (and not having a pillow or a blanket, because they ‘ran out’) from an earlier stay there. 

I was one of the 2 lucky kids to have a bed to myself (I was pretty big for my age).  The other kid that had a bed to himself was a cute little  boy, about 4-5 years old, who had fallen out of a tree he was climbing – breaking both arms, getting 2 very black eyes and a bit of a concussion.  The Children’s hospital did not allow any visitors, because children would cry when visitors left – yet, my little tree-climbing room-mate’s father was allowed to visit him…

Why?

The dad was a general in the foreign occupying forces!

The little boy lived on the military base, because his dad was one of the highest ranking officers – and thus one of the few ones priviledged enough to keep a wife and a family.  As such, the little boy had never encountered any of us ‘natives’ – and did not speak or understand our language.  The fact that his dad was allowed to visit him caused incredible resentment among the other kids, none of whom were not allowed any visitors (some of us for weeks)…  The fact that he was a son of a general of the foreign occupying forces also caused most of the nurses to greatly resent him – and many refused to speak to him in his language – feighning ignorance – just because of his heritage.

Now, my family was directly targetted for persecution by the political regime whose power stemmed directly from this foreign occupation.  My uncle had the secret service follow him, 24/7, all of his post-invasion life – even to the point of taking photos of everyone who had attended his funeral.  My dad was sent to the uranium mines because he was identified as a ‘potential leader of people against the people’.  My mom was pressured (by threats against me and my ‘continued well-being’) to divorce him.  She resisted.  We were ‘identified as undesirable elements’; enough that from my earliest childhood memories (pre-school), people would forbid their kids to play with me at playgrounds once they learned my name, lest this minimal association is ‘reported’ and prevents these kids from getting an education a decade-and-a-half later…  My teachers (grades 1-5) regularly berated be in front of my classmates, lest they be accused of ‘coddling the child of a political dissident’ – and loose their job or miss out on a promotion…. 

In other words, you could say I had a good reason to resent the ‘occupying forces’ – personally.  And I did – truly, by this age, I truly did.

But, I could not condone the social ostracism this little boy was subjected to!!!

He was little – it was not his fault his dad was a general!!!  He was hurt, concussed, stuck into a place where he did not understand the language – and many people treated him very, very coldly.  I could NOT stand it!!!

I translated for him – whenever I could (and, many of the nurses were ‘shamed’ by this into speaking to him in his native tongue – even if poorly).  Both his arms were broken – and in casts… so, I fed him (it was not the nurses’ job to feed the kids, just to deliver the food…).  When he was frightened, or cried because he missed his mom, I dredged up all the memories of nursery rhymes and little songs and poems in his language and tried to comfort him (he must have been tone deaf, as well, because he seemed to be comforted by my singing). 

At first, I did not know him – and the sight of his father’s uniform filled me with hate!  I am ashamed to admit it now, but it really did.  (Please, remember I was quite young  and deeply hurt myself back then….)  Yet, I KNEW I had to help the little boy!  Not helping a sick, frightened child would have made me less than human!

Until now, I have only told my immediate family about this.  So, why am I sharing this deeply private and emotional event in my life, I cannot but feel very, very vulnerable.

Yet, when I read the shallow justifications of many ‘Canadians’:  ‘These people have been oppressed!” – to excuse the call for the MURDER OF A CHILD – just because this is a child of a perceived oppressor…..  that is just so very, very wrong!!!! 

I cannot explain just how deeply offensive this is to me….

No matter who the child is, no matter what the child’s parents have done – or what his clansmen, co-nationalists or co-religionists have done – NOTHING can justify the call for the murder of a child!!!

Every attempt to justify the murder of any child is not only an insult me, personally, but to every single person who has sufferred oppression – yet did not loose their humanity!!!

(Sorry, I don’t really know how to write a ‘proper’ conclusion to this post…. )

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Can labour unions re-invent themselves?

The context for my idea here is that Ottawa, Canada’s capital, is on day 34 of a full and complete public transit strike.  And while these comments were inspired by this particular strike, I think my observation might be general enough to be portable.

While a ‘bus strike’ is inconvenient any time, an Ottawa winter is a particularly unpleasant time for it:  biking or walking  are much less attractive options during snow-storms or when the mercury dips to -20 degree Celsius or lower… 

The reason for the strike?  Control.

The  details of this particular strike are really not all that important… The City of Ottawa had, a few years ago, been amalgamated from the local communities.  During amalgamation, the governance structures were not properly designed to balance the concerns of the civil service labour unions to look after their employees on the one hand and the ability of the City to manage its employees on the other.  The current Mayor and City Council have been attempting to regain the very ability to manage the City’s operations – and the City’s employees.

Now, the first of 8 or 9 employee union contracts (bunched together, from the amalgamation) has come up for renewal.  Surprisingly enough, this union chose to go on strike!

The City has offered a substantial salary increase in its latest offer  (certainly above expectations) in exchange for increased ability to manage – and prevent some blatant abuses of ‘the system’ identified in a recent audit.  Currently, this is controlled by the union – and the union has made it clear they will not give up their power, no matter what. 

Before a vote on the most recent contract offer (when the union had to be legislated to even present it to its members), the head of this union as well as the head of the ‘umberella union of unions’ have urged the members to refuse the contract ‘in solidaruty with all the other unions whose contracts are coming up shortly’.  Some members told me they left the union rally, shouting:  “We’ll stick it to Mayor O’Brien!”

Thus, we are in day 34 of the ‘bus strike’.

In a way, this bus strike has unified the citizens of Ottawa.  People give lilfts to friends, co-workers or, at times, complete strangers (I have).  It has become a sort of a ‘community building’ project.  Just about everyone, even merchants whose businesses are suffering the most, are united in their support of the City Council’s strong position – saying the Council must not give in.

Today, I was (as I often do) listening to a local open-line radio station where the host was – very effectively – asking callers what would be an effective solution:  cut through the rhetoric, the ‘rights and wrongs’ of each side’s positions, and actually try to come up with a solution which might work.  Very constructive – my compliments to him (though I have criticized him in the past on this blog).

I am a slow thinker… so, it was not until it was too late to call in that I got an idea – one I have not heard discussed anywhere before, but which I thought might break this stalemate.  And, if acceptable, this could help unions throughout ‘The West’ reinvent themselves for the emerging economy.  Have we not all seen evidence of just how out of touch with today’s economc and cultural situation many of the labour unions are?  Perhaps this could help…

It is impossible to serve two masters.  The employees cannot possibly be managed by both the union and the City at the same time – not in an effective way which would create an aimcable workplace atmosphere.  As long as there is a power struggle, there will be tension and stress and things will not work well.  Translating to bureaucrateese:  ‘Responsibility to multiple governance structures with non-congruent goals often results in an environment which has historically been unlikely to result in a positive atmosphere within the community of practice; in particular, one which would be conducive to collaborative efforts implementing best practices, thus creating a centre of excellence.’

The Resolution of the ‘Ottawa Bus Strike’ :

  • identify all sides’ responsibilities
  • identify all sides’ goals
  • find a solution to satisfy all of these

Responsibilities:

An employer – private or public – has a responsibility to its customers, citizens/shareholders as well as to its employees to manage effectively.  Here, the employer is the City of Ottawa.  In order to do fulfil its responsibilities, the City must retain management control – it is not their right, it is their responsibility to the user’s of OC Transpo (Ottawa’s public transit), to the citizens of Ottawa (the taxpayers) AND to its employees.

The labour union also has a clear mandate:  look after the interests of their membership in the workplace.  To this end, it is their responsibility to negotiate the best possible contract for their members form the emplolyer.

The employee/union member has the responsibility to live up to an agreed-upon contract.  They also have the responsibility to elect a union leadership which understand and accurately represents their best long-term interests.

Goals:

The goal of the City is to provide service to the citizens in the most effective manner possible and to live up to its responsibilities to the City’s employees.

The goal of the union is to manage things to be most beneficial to its employees.

The goal of the employees/members is to have a good job with fair compensation, with a good working conditions.

The way to satisfy all these responsibilities as well as all the goald – the best win-win solution – (in my never-humble-opinion) is to ralign who the employer is!

If these civil servants ceased to be employed by the City, but became employees of the union instead, all the goals and responsibilities would be satisfied!

The City and the union would negotiate a contract,  clearly and specifically defining all  the services the union will provide to the City,  and the price the City will pay the union for these services.  All expectations and details would be clear in the contract, with legal consequences for non-compliance from either side clearly spelled out.

The benefit to the union?  The members would retain the self-management which they are demanding by this strike – plus more.   This would not only respect the union’s jurisdiction, it would present them with an unprecedented opportunity to truly look after its membership

The benefit to the union members?  Since the union leadership is elected by the members, this would, in a very real way, be a form of self-government and would empower them.  This could only improve the workplace atmosphere – as they would be in full control of their working conditions!

The benefit to the City?  By contracting the union, rather than its members, the members would no longer be City employees, which would remove the City’s responsibility to them. The City could abolish the now-redundant layer of management and streamline its operations.  The final contract’s cost would be fixed, which would make the city’s budgeting much more efficient.

Is there a down side to this solution?

If it works,l could this model be used by other labour unions to help themselves re-structure, in order to remain relevant in the emerging economy?

Update:  Today, on day 35 of this transit strike, an opportunistic Councillor turned his back on the principles he defended as late as last week and broke ranks with the rest of the Council and, in a transparent effort to secure the backing of the powerful unions in his upcoming bid for the Mayor’s Chair, he has thrown his support behind the union. 

Still, according to my proposed model, his position would be accommodated:  the union would indeed retain the control they seek.  They would have to accept the responsibility which goes with the control they are striking to retain.

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