Wednesday, May 30, 2007

On se calme

The strike is over and it seems the anti-union, anti-worker sentiment has died down a little, or at least it's quieter. I had a lot of conversations during this time and some of the debates were very interesting. Most of the people who opposed the strike were annoyed that they were being inconvenienced and didn't want to be the vehicle for the argument. I get that. I don't think CN is a lobbying body to bring the argument of Native protesters to parliament, and they probably felt used too when the trains were stopped.

I noticed something else too: the CSN and the workers themselves were not terribly good at getting their message out. It is a very thin line to walk to get people to continue supporting you even when they are suffering from lack of service. I saw this on two different picket lines when my parents protested wage freezing (I'm a child of public school teachers god help me) and again when bus drivers struck in my second-last year of high-school. You need to get your message to the people as they are the ones who vote and therefore can pressure those in office to behave appropriately. There were a few postings on various websites and some articles for sure, but I wouldn't call it a coherent message carried out directly.

I have also noticed something in the last few years that worries me greatly: blue-collar workers and technical staff are down in it for some reason. These guys get to your house at 2am when a pipe bursts. They work on live electrical wires day in and day out so that power can get to your homes. They breathe in cement dust, pick up glass and crush bricks and the thanks they get is largely being condescended too by people who pay for these services.

I can't begin to count how many times I would act as a translator/negotiator/mediator between office workers who wished to complete a project and the construction workers who would carry it out. The construction workers were consistently people who could and did memorize circuitry, pipes, fire alarm and prevention equipment, roof drains etc. In other words, there's some brain power there and the attitude is generally someone who wants to work for him/herself. As such, why would a manager who answers to a director who answers to a VP who answers to a president who answers to a CFO suspect that a construction worker can't think on his/her feet or needs to be kept in the dark?

When expert opinions are given, this too for some reason is not taken seriously. Apparently when we are told by a doctor that we have a broken leg and must wear a cast and use crutches for six weeks, this is acceptable advice. When a plumber tells us a pipe is cracked and we must replace the join behind drywall to prevent leaks, we want a second opinion, or we want to patch it rather than replace it. Is it reasonable to get a second opinion? Of course! But time and again I have had bosses tell me what they want that opinion to be before I get it. It boils down to, I just want it to work and I don't want to know how or why (no problem) and I want it to be cheap and non-intrusive. (problem)

In the media as well, I have seen very few examples of major characters who hold technical positions. Such shows as Roseanne and Titus were around for a long time, but now it's mostly doctors and forensic workers. Why in shows like Scrubs and CSI is there always a kind-hearted yet bumbling and dunderheaded custodian? Why is the guy who keeps the lights on in a hospital the butt of a joke constantly? This holier than thou, I could do this myself but I don't want to get my hands dirty has to come from somewhere and I bet it's from people who shop at Home Depot and think that because a website showed them "step by step" instructions, they are some kind of expert.

Part of being handy is knowing your limits and understanding where a fun do-it-yourself project gives way to a major renovation that requires skilled technicians and contractor oversight. Knowing this line can not only save dollars, but prevent injury.

We've still got a brain-drain going on. We are missing doctors, nurses, electricians, plumbers, tradesmen, exterminators etc. It seems like a difficult problem to solve that won't happen overnight. We can begin by treating the ones we have a little better. We can accept that everyone has different talents and skills and admit we don't all know how to properly sodder a new join onto an old pipe. We can admit that it is worth it to work together, tradesmen need accountants after all.

We can change our sentiment and instead of tearing each other apart, we can build.

1 comment:

Craig Sauvé said...

Excellent post. Very pithy, thoughtful, appropriate and apt.

It's dreadful how skilled labor is treated as inferior to the cubicle-oid. What, if we don't wear a lab coat or a suit-and-tie, then we're schmucks? I don't think so.