EDITORIAL: Negotiations on the brink

There’s no getting around it.

A strike is the worst-case scenario in any labour-management relationship.

It’s push coming to shove, and whatever the principles involved, ordinary people can’t help but feel embroiled in an artificial, adversarial position.

It’s a situation that  tends to bring out the worst on all sides.

In the game of brinksmanship – with employers and unions alike advancing pieces across the board and waiting for the adversary to blink – strategy replaces directness, and seeking an early resolution is interpreted as weakness.

Some appear to thrive on this kind of warfare; most of us end up suffering from it.

In the heat of battle, principles and loyalties come down to a decision to cross or not cross a picket line; ill-considered statements are made, friendships bruised and the normal good will of colleagues battered.

We see this tension occur daily, not only with the current strike against the City of White Rock by CUPE workers, but also in the series of escalating teacher job actions.

Those who simply say “everyone should get back to work and put an end to my inconvenience” are ignoring the fact that it takes a deal of soul-searching for matters to reach such a pass. Union members who vote for a strike feel they no longer have a choice, just as employers decide they, too, must resist demands.

In White Rock, what many took to be a smooth-sailing ship has struck what appears to be an iceberg. To the mayor and city manager, the tip – demands for long-term benefits and clearly defined hours –  may have seemed hardly worth striking for, but they may be overlooking a great deal under the water that took a long time to form and adds up to a significant rift in the hull.

In the school conflict, Education Minister Peter Fassbender may have a fair point when he says that to simply throw money at current problems could lead to ultimate economic disaster. But this, too, overlooks the fact that teachers – who feel they are dealing with over-large class sizes while not keeping pace with compensation levels – have had a lot of time, not to mention provocation, in reaching their current state of dissatisfaction.

In both situations, those of us on the sidelines can only hope for a resumption of fair and meaningful negotiations. The time for brinksmanship has passed, once we’ve all hurtled over the edge.

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