Made in China buses: Is the fearmongering necessary?

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.

via Victoria bus drivers set for overtime work ban starting Monday, union says

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


3 comments for “Made in China buses: Is the fearmongering necessary?

  1. twitter_phlegyas
    October 19, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    It’s a good point you make about Blaming the Chinese for the abysmal quality of some of their products. AS VW buff, I’m frequently required to resort to Chinese parts because they are sometimes the only remaining source, but sometimes the quality is so utterly poor that it breaks on installation! Easy to blame it on “Chinese crap” without stopping to realize that everything is manufactured according to spec, and lousy specs makes lousy components. Having said that, the state of Chinese industry reminds me of 19th century England, with it’s poor environmental record and exploitation of workers, and it’s not something I want to support. Yet it’s only through industrialization – and the selling of cheap consumer goods – that China has lifted hundreds of millions of workers out of agrarian poverty to a significantly better standard of living. What’s the solution? I’m not sure. But quality of equipment had to be considered; safety standards are one thing, but equipment that is unreliable costs a lot more in the long run; ask anyone who ever owned a automotive product manufactured in England, especially in the 1970s

  2. November 30, 2012 at 6:30 am

    “safety” is used as a bargaining chip. the canadian government does not care about peoples safety, otherwise, theyd shut down every mcdonalds, because it is proven to be threatening to human health. toyotas were recalled in the usa for being “unsafe”. the real reason was that the japanese pm was trying to kick u.s troops out of japan, and the u.s regime figured if they put pressure on toyota, then it would influence japanese government. it turned out they were right, and hatoyama was ousted. the canadian regime is probably trying similar tactics. your buses will have safety issues until China gives canadian corporations concesions in China.