I was frustrated by Wally Seccombe's analysis of the public sector in "Community Economics or Nanny State" and hence felt compelled to put in my two cents' worth.
In the article Seccombe states that .... If the Left could effectively address the issue of efficiency in public services to most people's satisfaction, the steam would go out of the Right's campaign for across-the-board tax cuts." This statement rubs me the wrong way.
I am a member of the Canadain Union of Postal Workers. While I would argue that Canada Post could defintiely improve and expand its service, I do not agree that the problem is lack of efficiency
In the past number of years the average productivity of postal workers has actually risen. In Seccombe's terms we have become more "efficient." But this begs the question as to who benefits from this efficiency. Postal workers certainly are not benefitting. While our efficienecy has improved, our injury rates have skyrocketed. Inside workers are suffering from a rash of repetitive-strain injuries and external workers are coping with back, shoulder and foot problems. The public is not benefitting from the increased efficiency of postal workers. There are still numerous areas served by so-called Community Mailboxes instead of by door-to-door delivery. Postal counters are still being privatized and some rural post offices have been shut down. And finally, this increased efficiency has not led to an increase in frill-time, full-year jobs. In fact, just the opposite is true. The number of "regular" postal workers has plummtetd, while the number of temporary and casual postal workers has increased.
The fact that Canada Post has increased its efficiency rates has done nothing to solve the problems in the post office. And I worry that Seccombe's prescription for increased efficienecy of the public sector will end up benefitting no one, but will look good statistically.
In discussing the future of the public sector, I believe that we have to throw out the concept of efficiency and instead begin the debate on how to shape a public sector that will address the needs of the public in a respectful manner, while at the same time providing a workplace that recognizes workers' rights.
In contrast to Seccombe, I would also argue that some public services need to be run on a centralized basis. The Post Office is one such example. If the Post Office were to be run by different community groups all across the country, it would not be able to provide a half-decent level of service. There are numerous other examples.
The article tended to give the view that most public services are primarily social services. I think that one of the goals of the Left has to be to redefine the nature of public services. We must conceptualize public services as being broader than social, helath, and educational services. We have to argue that public services include the protection of our rivers and streams, and the monitoring of the food we eat, the air we breathe, the roads we drive on, etc. If we are to truly challenge the Right's inane call for tax cuts we must emphasize the broad range of services that the government supplies.
Marion Pollack is trade union activist in Vancouver.
Wally Seccombe responds to Marion Pollack and Ed Finn (see May/June issue):
I agree …