Auto Service World
Feature   July 1, 2004   by Jim Anderson,Editor

Earning a Decent Living?

Want to see wages and conditions improve for techs and Canadians in general? Find a way to put a hundred bucks in extra after tax dollars in every weekly paycheque, and see what happens.

On page 36 of this month’s issue of SSGM, you’ll find a letter from a very disillusioned tech. He’s a competent tradesman with business experience, and what makes him cynical about the repair aftermarket is an issue that affects all of us, in almost every economic sector: it’s getting harder to earn a decent living. I’m not referring to the unemployed, the poor or the underemployed, all of whom face even more serious problems. I’m thinking about hard working, dedicated people with full-time jobs who are earning less in inflation-adjusted dollars now than they were a decade ago, and work longer hours, too. Millions of Canadian fall into this category. The tech who wrote SSGM noted that the relatively unskilled workers on the assembly line earn more for hard, but less demanding work. The comparison is interesting. What makes autoworkers so relatively well paid? Clearly, the CAW is the difference, and has been extremely successful in winning wage and benefit packages that give autoworkers solid middle-class incomes. To achieve prosperity that way, however, won’t work. Guilds or associations have been tried, but anyone who owns a home in Canada can get plumbing and electrical work done by a local handyman at rates far less than a union tradesman. Consumer behavior will drive them to the lowest price if they perceive the service quality to be the same as the more expensive, read “licensed” technician, carpenter, bricklayer, etc. Even in the auto business, plants are shut down everywhere in the Western world to take advantage of cheap labour elsewhere, often Asia.

So why aren’t we on the streets protesting? Because unlike Argentina, where I recently observed multiple street protests in Buenos Aires about the state of that country’s poor and working classes, our standard of living has fallen gradually, over many years, so like the proverbial frog in the pot of slowly heating water, we’ll boil before we get the message that something fundamental is happening here.

In the meantime, Canadians are pretending that they can still afford comfortable lifestyles by borrowing on everything from new home mortgages to credit cards, mainly because of very low interest rates. They’re going up, with unknown consequences for the economy. In the meantime, the sponsorship scandal removed the one opportunity to put this issue before federal politicians. Just once I’d like to hear how a political leader would put more money in the pockets of Canadians. Tax cuts or social programs are the standard answers, but that’s just moving around money that’s already ours anyway. “Innovation” and “competitiveness” is talked about a lot, but that’s only going to work for the next generation of trained people who can fit into new industries. It’s great to work for a healthy Canada circa 2035, but I live in 2004. Want to see wages and conditions improve for techs and Canadians in general? Find a way to put a hundred bucks in extra after tax dollars in every weekly paycheque, and see what happens. There are many ways to achieve this, and I won’t go down that road, but as the world “globalizes” decisions made halfway around the world can cripple your bank account and mine. Maybe we need to take control of the process, Conservative, Liberal or NDP, and start thinking about keeping Canadians in their homes and jobs. On the streets of Buenos Aires, I saw curbsiders keeping ancient Ford Falcons and Renaults going with little more than wrenches and water pump pliers. And Argentina is far from a poor country; in fact it scarily similar in Buenos Aires to major Canadian cities like Toronto or Montreal. Those techs didn’t screw up their economy, and ours don’t damage Canada’s, but we’re sure not doing much to let the Feds know that we’re suffering, either.

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