Carleton University staff are on strike. Classes continue, but picket lines are set up. Unfortunately, by the first day, there had been an incident. A couple of picketers were hit by cars. The picketers are okay, thankfully, and I won’t judge whether it was malice or negligence (or a mixture of the two).
Of note to people heading to Carleton, OC Transpo buses are not going on to campus. The O-train and Para-Transpo will, but regular buses will not. I wondered what the reason was behind this decision, as the website gave no explanation. So I tweeted OC Transpo. Quickly, I received this response:
@jonathanmcleod For passenger safety & scheduling adherence, buses are not going into campus. The O-Train continues to run thru campus.
— OC Transpo (@OC_Transpo) March 10, 2014
This is a reasonable explanation. It could be convenient cover so that OC Transpo can escape controversy. News reports also stated that some taxis would not cross the picket line, as some drivers are unionized.
Which is also reasonable…almost.
The ability of labour to organize is an important freedom that provides safeguards against economic power structures that might otherwise oppress them. It’s not exactly 1919 out there, but in our capitalist system, power dynamics tend to tilt in favour of the owners of capital rather than the providers of labour. Pooling workers’ economic power helps to level out this power imbalance.
Taxi drivers, however, are not a completely powerless class of worker. In Ottawa, the taxi industry is heavily regulated through its plate system. The city bars new entrants to the market unless they can get a taxi plate, which tend to sell on the market four five- or six-figures. Owners of plates can make a good bit of coin either by selling, leasing or otherwise leveraging their plates. The economic rents that are extracted are enormous.
This is a system that insulates and protects current industry participants against new competition. It also allows certain actors to get rich through government privilege. Riders (customers) have their options artificially limited by municipal ordinance, and are held hostage to the whims of drivers and taxi companies.
Taxis benefit tremendously* from this privileged status; it is only reasonable to expect them to do the very thing that the government prevents others from doing.
*If you are unsure that they benefit tremendously, you need only look at the extensive lobbying efforts of the taxi industry to maintain this racket.