"When a country is well governed, poverty and a mean condition are things to be ashamed of. When a country is ill governed, riches and honor are things to be ashamed of." - Confucius, Chapter VIII of The Analects.
"Everywhere I go I see teachers driving Ferraris, research scientists drinking champagne. I tried to drink a Coke on the bus, and they took away my pass!" - Krusty the Klown in "Bart the Fink"
The first quote is the one I mentioned on yesterday's Gang of Four. The second quote, borrowed from the typically prophetic writers of The Simpsons, more or less sums up some of the things I've been hearing, and some of the things I've been reading about the job action by Ontario's teachers. Yes, I do think the two quotes are connected.
Today is being called "Super Tuesday" because of the large number of teachers taking part in one day strike today. As consequence, thousands of kids across the province will get a day off from school, and thousands of parents will be forced to scramble to make some kind of accommodation. Some of them will surely curse to the high heavens the teachers, that exclusive class that's lucky enough to earn a starting salary of $50,000 per year. Why that's practically Warren Buffet money!
The truth is, it's not, and further if you ask most teachers they appreciate that some belt-tightening must take place at all levels, including their own. Lost in translation is the usual politics of any union fight, the push and pull between solidarity of the brother(sister)hood and the other realities of the situation: there are children to teach, bills to pay, and ultimately the attitude of you can't fight city hall, or in this case, Queen's Park.
What's tough is realizing that there is more than one right side in this, and more than two sides all together, but more importantly is that this situation could have been avoided if the provincial government had approached the situation by treating everyone like grown-ups. There was no "contract crisis" when Bill 115 was introduced and passed. No one was talking about strikes, and for that matter no one was thinking about it (at least publicly) since the contract doesn't expire till year end. It's a controversy created by a Premier looking for a wedge issue he could have the advantage in capitalizing on, and apropos it's kind of blown up in his face.
But to return to the two quotes I started this blog with. The Krusty quote represents the populist view of the situation: greedy teachers that should count themselves lucky to be paid so well for the privilege of teaching our children. Well, I've met a lot of those kids, and I've got to tell you, the teachers don't get paid nearly enough. And isn't there a discrepancy? We call people who become teachers, soldiers, police officers, firefighters, et al, our heroes, but let's face it, we don't pay them like they are.
To wit, there's another ongoing labour dispute right now: the NHL lockout. What we have here is millionaires fighting with billionaires over a couple of extra zeroes on paycheques most of us can barely comprehend let alone ever have a hope of collecting. But when the dust settles, despite protests to the contrary, the faithful will happily fork over hundreds of dollars for tickets, jerseys and merchandise. I've always found this particularly perplexing in the case of the Toronto Maple Leafs and their fan devotion since they haven't won a championship in going on half a century; they haven't even made the playoff in nearly a decade. Say what you want about how much teachers get paid, but for what tantamounts to a couple of bucks a year on your tax bill, your child gets an education.
Which brings me to that Confucius quote, and what the great philosopher was referencing as wealth was not the extremely wealthy, but rather anyone who has more than you. You have a job? You should count yourself lucky? You've got a dental plan? Well I don't, what do you have to complain about? Vacation days? I have to re-budget if I have to take a sick day! This is how our ill-governed society works, and frankly, this is how many want it to work.
If we're fighting each other over who's getting paid a decent wage, and who has the best benefits, then we're not scrutinizing the people who are really living high off the hog. Like the bankers and money managers that orchestrated the financial collapse of 2008 by selling securities they knew were toxic, and duping several million people into buying financial products they knew all along were bound to failure. These people never went to jail, or were forced to pay back all that money, and while they go skiing in Aspen, or sit sunning themselves in the Caribbean, the people affected by their evil puppet mastery of the market fight over the scraps that fell off the table.
The Occupy Movement last fall tried to make people relish they were pinballs in a machine controlled by an elite few, and for a while anyway people woke up to that fact. But were back at square one, looking with suspicion at those with a living wage, benefits and union protection rather than asking the pertinent question: how can a country with so much wealth not afford a decent quality of life for everyone? And why are we so prepared to fight teachers over pennies, rather than go after bankers for millions? If know the answer, you're smarter than I am. And Confucius.