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(DV) Williams: Christmas Spirit and Governor Scrooge







Christmas Spirit and Governor Scrooge
by Ian Williams
December 25, 2005

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I have to almost agree with Bill O’Reilly.

Charles Dickens wrote a Christmas Carol not a Holiday Song. But I wonder whether modern America has missed the point. Dickens did not cast Ebenezer Scrooge as a hero, let alone a role model, because he was mean and nasty to his employee Bob Cratchit.

It was after the visits of the ghosts of Christmas, past present and future that Scrooge had become a kind, considerate and model employer -- one upon which Dickens wanted people to emulate him.

The day before Christmas Eve, the agent for the debt collection agency who has been trying to recoup unpaid fees from an overseas publisher called me up. Of course it is asking a bit much for a debt collection agency to show any great signs of Christmas Spirit, but he and all his colleagues had just been told they had ten days to move across the continent to another office, or collect their pink slips on New Year’s Eve.

There was no offer of help to relocate their homes and families, and no redundancy package. Instead, there was a combined threat, or promise, that if they stayed to the very last day, they would retain health insurance for a further thirty days, but if they left a day early, their coverage would be cut off immediately.

Of course there was no union in the place, so what we saw was “Labor Market flexibility” of the kind that European emulators of American barbarism are trying to force through. Employers should be able to fire workers at a whim, with little or no notice, no consultation and precious few benefits for those thrown on the street.

Of course, in that other outstanding example of Christmas spirit Governor George Pataki did come across unions. He essentially engineered a Transit strike in the week before Christmas so that he could come across as a tough guy for the impending Republican presidential primaries. I think it was Pataki I heard on the radio eulogizing the sacrifice of troops fighting for freedom in Iraq, while the Transport Workers, by implication, were backing the insurgents by demanding the same pension rights for new workers as existing staff.

I gather that the freedom to strike was not one of the freedoms for which the troops are fighting. Indeed, the International Labor Organization has in the past considered the laws in American states like New York banning strikes by public workers as in violation of the conventions against forced labor.

Remember, the management could go to the courts to get fines against the union for refusing to work without a mutually acceptable contract, but there is no legal mechanism for the unions to take the management to court for worsening existing conditions. As Anatole France said over a century ago, “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”

And remember the background. The Metropolitan Transit Authority is controlled by the Governor, beholden to Republican rural counties in upstate New York who do not use the system. If they come into Manhattan, they are driving SUV’s or using the proportionately more heavily subsidized commuter railroad system.

It is of course a telling subtext that they are overwhelming white while a good proportion of MTA passengers, and a distinct majority of the transit workers, are not. So when they call Roger Toussaint, the Trinidadian Transport Workers Union leader “thuggish” they were using coded language. I mean, it is bad enough that white white-collar workers expect pensions and healthcare, but they can be fired. But when uppity black blue-collar workers want to keep them, who do they think they are!

The citizens of the city of New York were not asked about whether they agree that the MTA can hide a billion dollar surplus when it was raising fares and then spend it down rapidly so they could plead poverty before the wage negotiations. And they will not vote for Pataki anyway. I trust the ghost of Christmas present will haunt the rest of his presidential primary campaign and consign him to the political oblivion he has worked so hard to deserve.

Merry Christmas Governor Scrooge.

Ian Williams writes extensively on the UN for publications including The Nation and Foreign Policy in Focus. His regular column, The Deadline Pundit, can be found at the Globalvision News Network: He can be reached at: