If you live in greater Victoria, you must be aware that BC Transit and CAW Local 333 are negotiating a new contract. Like a number of contracts negotiated in this time of fake austerity, the negotiation is contentious because there are actual mandates from the government that salaries cannot increase unless “savings” are found elsewhere. I am not privy to how these negotiations are going, so no second guessing here on strategy or tactics. I hope things get settled, because I travel more than a thousand kilometres by bus every month and driving to work is not what I want to do, neither is crossing a picket line.
All that being said, this new tack is disturbing.
Williams said B.C. Transit “wants the unrestricted right to bring in Chinese-built” community shuttle buses with lower safety standards, which could be piloted by part-time drivers “at a significantly lower wage rate than conventional bus drivers.”“B.C. Transit literally had to go to China and get these buses designed and built there to get around higher safety requirements,” Williams said in the release.
Yes, China bashing is a quick way to gain sympathy. and happening quite a bit this month because the Chinese and Canadian governments are negotiating a secret trade agreement (Leadnow campaign link) that gives corporations of both countries all kinds of rights and privileges that we could only dream of getting for ourselves.
Is there any evidence that Chinese made buses are unsafe, especially when they need to conform to Canadian safety standards? Is there any evidence that these standards are being gamed? These are different questions from “are these buses suitable”? “Are the lifecycle costs for these buses being understated”? I wish CAW Local 333 would take the time to frame this issue more accurately, because this issue is not about China, it is about us.
Lost in all this China bashing and a cynical attempt to appeal to our “other” phobia is the obvious conclusion that it’s not the “made in China” aspect of manufacturing that makes a product less durable or of poorer quality, it is the insistence of markets to lower standards on the products to cut short-term costs or to increase profits. China, like many other countries, probably more than Canada, manufactures large quantities of high quality products routinely. It’s not China’s fault that your crappy London Drugs coffee grinder can’t actually grind coffee and breaks when your cat sneezes near it. It’s the fault of the companies that sell you stuff, and our own inability to balance short-term price vs. long term cost. It is also the oppressiveness of the Chinese government combined with consumers need for cheap, and market profit needs that exacts a high price on the Chinese makers of the high quality IPhone.
So, ask hard questions about the suitability of the buses, and question the market mechanisms that brought us here. Unions are a very necessary buffer against market excess and corporate control. But do we have to use “made in China” as a cudgel again? As my friend says,
Made in China has become a short form for criticisms of the market, which are credible. But the problem is that it slips in the othering too