Writing about the Sunday Times on Tuesday is kind of weak, but I started this entry yesterday and just didn't get a chance to write it. If you read the City section, you probably noticed the editorial that scolded the Transit Workers for demanding too much in their contract negotiations. Following a set of terrible public employee contracts that began with DC 37's, mandated "productivity increases" have become the norm, and the NYT's argument in this anti-TWU editorial is that if OTHER city workers take em, it's only fair for the TWU to do so as well. Anyone who understands pattern bargaining knows that it's in the interest of city workers generally if the TWU holds out and doesn't take a concessionary contract.
What is a productivity increase and what role has this particular management demand played in recent contract negotiations? The mgmt. strategy for the productivity increase is to demand that in exchange for a cost-of-living raise, or employer contribution to benefit package, that workers should increase their productivity on the job, whether by working a longer day, as the city's public elementary and high school teachers will, or by going back early at the end of the Summer, as the city is demanding that CUNY's faculty do. Such demands are insidious and play into the aggressive work ethic of neoliberal capitalism. First off, they don't acknowledge the general "productivity increase" that has led to a rising GNP in the US. As Lee Sustar noted in his Counterpunch article, "The One-Sided Class War,"
productivity gains that emerged in the late 1990s continued to accelerate, which meant that fewer workers could produce more. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 4.3 percent average annual increase in productivity for 2001 to 2004 was last matched in 1948 to 1951.
The global "speed up," sometimes known as "lean production"is erased in all the PR discussions when management asks workers to give even more of their labor over in exchange for benefits and wages that they were already entitled to. Speed up in education could be seen in increased class sizes and other examples of "workload creep," as professors are asked to take on increasing administrative and advisement responsibility. For transit workers, it's seen in demands that subway station agents take on increased responsibilities as the MTA cuts back on staffing to save money, and similar increases for other job titles- despite the fact that the transit workers have already increased their productivity. Let's hope Toussaint doesn't lead the way to sucking up concessions in this round, but everyone I've talked to thinks that he probably will.
On a more hopeful note, I read in today's Times that Jonathan Tasini, who writes the blog Working Life, which I've linked here in the past, is planning on running in the primary against Hilary Clinton on an anti-war platform.