Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Union shops.

I took a peek at the London Free Press tonight, to see what's going on back-home-a-ways, and saw a story that described how Unifor is looking to organize workers at Toyota plants in Woodstock and Cambridge. (Apparently it isn't the first time they've tried.)

Like an idiot, I took a look at the comments section below the article. At the best of times, they're inoffensive and stupid... but, of course, this being an article about unions, it brought out the labour-bashers in full force.

London has been a manufacturing town for a long time, but lately a lot of industry has left the area for Right To Work (i.e. "right to work for less") US states, Mexico, China, the whole nine. Now, you'd think that, in an environment like that, people would be in favour of organizations that look to protect workers and good-paying jobs, right? Wrong.

I saw a comment which went along the lines of, "If unions went away, that would make the cost of doing business less, which would make goods cheaper, and you could live on a lower wage and still buy these things." There are, however, several things wrong with this.
  • Prices are, as economists say, "sticky downward" -- they go up quickly and easily enough, but they don't come down without a big fight.
  • You mean to tell me that some company which is chintzy enough to cockblock their workers' (totally legal) right to unionize wouldn't just pocket the difference between union and non-union wages as profit?
    • They obviously would.
    • If they didn't, and their shareholders found out, that company would have a mutiny in the boardroom.
  • Your motivation for denying people their right to organize and flex their collective muscle is because you want to be able to buy a couple of things a little cheaper?
All of this, of course, is against a backdrop of overall declining union enrolment, especially in the private sector. What I don't get is how people (a.) notice things are generally getting shittier for working people, (b.) see the decline in rates of unionization, and (c.) don't put (a.) and (b.) together.

Could it possibly be that unions help raise the standard for all workers? Think about it... two companies, X and Y, run widget factories. X is unionized and Y isn't; Y pays lower wages than X for the same job. Now, if the gap between wages at X and Y is too big -- i.e., Y is too low -- Y isn't going to be able to attract enough workers, because they'll all go to work at X. (If they settle for Y, they're probably not going to be as happy or productive, and their output suffers; you get what you pay for.) Therefore, wages at Y are tied to the wages at X, and a rising tide lifts all boats, q.e.d.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Rolling Stone's top ten albums of 2013.

First off, I have a pretty cruddy cold. Just puttin' that out there.

When I read Rolling Stone, I often get a little discouraged. All those words spilled about the likes of Miley Cyrus, Drake and Eminem? Who the hell cares! Nobody's going to care about them in 20 years, which is why I usually listen to old stuff: has it stood the test of time, or is it disposable and ridiculous? (I'll do you a favour and tell you to stay the hell away from the Billboard charts. They're depressing.)

But, alas, their editorial staff have given me hope. They've rated the top 50 albums of 2013, and while the three artists I've mentioned above do indeed appear in the list, they're not in the top ten. So that's something, at least.

Without further ado, here are RS's top ten albums of 2013.

1. Vampire Weekend -- Modern Vampires of the City
I admit I don't know a whole lot about this band, but what I've heard sounds interesting and quirky. (I have a KEXP compilation album on which they appear, live in the studio, and it's a good cut of a good song they did a few years ago.) Definitely worth checking out.

2. Kanye West -- Yeezus
Haven't knowingly heard a single note from this album. Don't feel the compulsion to check it out. Didn't he just name his kid North? Moving on.

3. Daft Punk -- Random Access Memories
I'm not much of a fan of electronic music, but what I've heard of this album is interesting and weird and kinda funky. I'm not going to run out and get this album, but I can appreciate its place.

4. Paul McCartney -- New
I was driving somewhere a couple of weeks ago and heard the title cut from this album on the radio. My first thought was, "Hey, whoever this is, they sure as hell like the Beatles." Then the voice kicked in, and I thought, "Hold on a minute, is that Paul McCartney?!" And then, without a word of a lie, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. For someone who idolizes the Beatles, to hear what could easily be a cut from that band in 2013 if they still existed... wow. Amazing.

5. Arcade Fire -- Reflektor
There are a few reasons why I'm not much of an Arcade Fire fan, which I've outlined before. But, y'know what? The title cut of this album ain't bad at all. I can deal with this.

6. Queens of the Stone Age -- ...Like Clockwork
Josh Homme can be a prickly SOB, but I'll be damned if he doesn't write some interesting music; Songs for the Deaf has aged quite well. I know people who hate this band, but frankly I can't figure out why -- they do know he has a sense of humour, right? There aren't that many bands that are both heavy and melodic at the same time, and this is one of them.

7. Lorde -- Pure Heroine
Look, I get it -- she's precocious. So were Tracy Chapman, Fiona Apple, Adele and Amy Winehouse. What I've heard from her has been... well... alright, I suppose. Not terribly compelling. But then again, I don't listen to lyrics, and the electronic-y instrumentation of "Royals" doesn't really thrill me.

8. The National -- Trouble Will Find Me
I'm a little torn on this band, frankly. They sound kinda moody and gloomy, which doesn't usually sit well with me, and their singer sounds like Morrissey after a couple of roofies. But I went to a show they put on at Yonge Dundas Square in the summertime, and it was actually really, really solid. The true test of a band is their live show, which is why it's baffling to me why anyone would ever want to see an electro-whatever band (or a rapper, for that matter) in person. What's there to watch? Someone at a laptop, hitting F3 over and over? I guess if you're tripping on MDMA, I guess it doesn't really matter.

9. Arctic Monkeys -- AM
Full disclosure: I hated this band when they were 19 and telling women how good they'd look on a dance floor; they were loud, fast, and not particularly good. But have you heard anything from this album? They've grown up, they really have. And it's much, much better.

10. John Fogerty -- Wrote a Song for Everyone
Well, he re-recorded a lot of CCR stuff with a bunch of guest artists. I suppose that's alright, but I've always thought it was weird when bands re-did songs they already laid down, years later. I'd hope that the original remains the definitive version, but... ah well. I guess he took decades away from his CCR stuff during all those legal battles and really wanted to play those songs again. Can't fault the guy for that; they're great songs. Still seems weird, though.

There's good music out there, folks. You just won't find it on too many pop radio stations, is all.