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Campaigns Against "Lazy" Workers

Last week George Robitaille, a Toronto Transit Commission worker, died of a stroke.  The reason his death was significant is that he was the target of an anti-labour and anti-union campaign last January.  A commuter took a picture of Robitaille sleeping on the job and this picture, after being posted online, went viral.  Pretty soon Robitaille was being used as an example of "the lazy union worker" and was mercilessly mocked by numerous mainstream news sources and Toronto citizens.  He was even compared to Homer Simpson and used as an example of why TTC workers were just greedy unionists who wanted to extort more money from the city of Toronto.  A recent Globe and Mail article suggests that his stroke was due, in part, to the stress caused by this reactionary campaign.

The fact that Robitaille had worked for the TTC for 29 years and had an impeccable record, that he even saved the life of a commuter in the 1990s, and that was on heart medication at the time of his "laziness" that probably caused him to fall asleep was ignored by those anti-labour passengers who seem to think that the unionized workers are out to ruin their lives.  And even if his record was not impeccable, the fact that he was caught napping on the job should not be a reason for complaint.  Were those passengers who were somehow offended by his "laziness" beyond the same criticism?  Who does not take part in a whole range of unconscious job sabotage: faking hours, taking longer breaks or breaks when they should not be taking breaks, checking facebook or playing solitaire during work hours?  And why should we, as passengers, be offended when a ticket collector is sleeping at his booth?  Doesn't that mean a free ride on the TTC?  You would expect that those entitled passengers who have assaulted bus drivers for asking for tickets would be more than happy to encounter a sleeping fare collector.  Especially now when the city of Toronto keeps raising the fares (and then blaming the fare-raising on the TTC workers rather than the profit-grubbing management).

The willingness to target workers for their supposed mistakes is a part of the general anti-labour and anti-union ideology that is being fostered amongst the general population in these days of recession.  A friend and comrade expressed frustration last night at peoples' desire to target workers and unions rather than the classes of people actually responsible for social problems.  My neighbours, for example, once complained about the "greedy" garbage union that went on strike a year and a half ago but were unwilling to question the reasons behind the strike or even consider the city management as the actual greedy party.

The central capitalist governments have bailed out banks, and the bank CEOs gave themselves bonuses, but we do not target these individuals with the same vitriole and self-righteousness as we target workers like George Robitaille.  And when the pressures of an economic recession forces unions to go on strike, those of us who aren't unionized or whose lives are slightly inconvenienced, hate the unions and workers  and call them "greedy" or "selfish" as if they were responsible for the recession.  They should just have to cope with poverty, tighten their belts, and realize there is not enough money to go around - and that money that is "going around" should really just go into the pockets of the owners, not the people who actually do the real work and who are suffering from the recession.  The capitalists want us to believe, as Badiou pointed out recently, "that it is quite impossible to cover the Social Security deficit, but that we have to cover the banks' deficit, no matter how many billions it costs us.  We must sagely nod our heads when no one even thinks of nationalizing a factory [or service] that runs into difficulty because of competition, even though thousands of people work there, while agreeing that obviously we have to nationalize banks that have gone bust thanks to their speculative activities." (Alain Badiou, The Communist Hypothesis, 96-97)

Now that the TTC is under attack by the current conservative city administration––now that there is all this talk of privatizing a public service––we can expect more Robitailles.  More surveillance on supposedly "lazy" workers, a surveillance in which we passengers are expected to participate.  And we will call them lazy, because only unionized workers can be lazy... Obviously the owner who sits in his office all day, does not have to work gruelling shifts, and who makes a fat pay-cheque by being a parasite on the actual value-producing labour of the workers cannot be lazy: you can't fall asleep on the job if you aren't exhausted and, even if you are exhausted and do fall asleep, the customers are not ever present to take pictures of your laziness.


  1. I think that things are a lot more complex than what you are trying to make them seem. I worked as a union organizer for the graduate students and instructors of my union. I got extremely disillusioned with the union when I discovered that its only actual goals were, indeed, to promote the "lazy" agenda. We were expected to fight first and foremost a) for grad students to have no grades and b) for us to be allowed and funded to stay in grad school for up to 9 years. Of course, those of us who were not spoiled momma's boys and girls and who couldn't envision staying in grad school forever, the union offered no remedy.

    It will take a long time for me to see any union as NOT promoting the rights of the underachievers.

    And yes, the idiot investment bankers at Goldman Sachs do sleep under their tables. How does knowing that they are stupid losers help me, exactly?

  2. Yes, things are always more complex - but that's not the point. The point is that someone who fell asleep at the job was used as a poster boy for reactionary anti-union bashing. Nor do I care about any argument about "lazy" workers when it is workers who are the basis for any value generated in an industry - not the managers who are always treated as a better class of people despite the fact that they're parasites.

    Unions promote the rights of the people who do the real work in the specific industry where unions are allowed to exist, and knowing the fact that the managers are idiot losers hopefully helps to promote a consciousness where we realize that workers can live without capitalists but capitalists cannot even exist without workers.


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