No More Strikes? - Stocks and the Economy - Patrick deWitt

Hour One

In the bad old days of the early trade union movement there were men and women who went to jail fighting for the right to strike.

Or were beaten. Or were killed.

But that was way back then.

Pretty much everybody these days believes union members have a right to withdraw their labor to improve their economic lives.

But when employees are dealing with a government things are different.

A government can order you back to work. It can even order you back to work before you've stopped working---as it did this week with Air Canada flight attendants.

Which raises an interesting question----has the strike, as a bargaining tool, lost its effectiveness?

Is it or should it be a thing of the past?

In Hour One this morning, the future of the strike---Does it have one?

Hour Two

If the state of the strike is uncertain, the state of the stock market is even more so.

It is up one day and plunging the next. It is bullish on Tuesday- and bearish on Friday.

What is going on.?

Roger Martin runs a prestigious business school where he spends a lot of time telling students there is something intrinsically wrong with the system.

Now he's telling us. He has written a book say that capitalism could learn a thing or two from professional football.

In our Second Hour he will try to explain it to Michael---using small words of course.

Hour Three

Patrick deWitt works hard at his writing but his interest is fiction not history.

His novel The Sisters Brothers is a hilarious, sinister look at cowboys and the Old West. Definitely not the cowboys and Indians of your youth.

The book has garnered much praise and a host of award nominations.

Patrick deWitt in our final hour.

Elsewhere in the show - Richard Gwyn is back with volume two of his award-winning biography of Sir John A. MacDonald, a feature documentary on Canadian mining companies and human rights, thoughts of those quit-smoking pills, a ton of your mail and some great music to move you gently out of summer into fall.

Hour One

No More Strikes?:

It was over before it started.

On Tuesday, the union representing Air Canada's flight attendants struck a tentative deal with the airline's management. The agreement came just a few hours before the workers would have been in a legal position to strike.

Last minute deals are not uncommon in the world of collective bargaining, but there was something very unusual about the circumstances of this particular negotiation. As union members were preparing to put up their picket lines, the federal government was preparing to force them back to work. Not only that, Minister of Labour Lisa Raiitt announced her intentions publicly. In the shadow of that proposed legislation, the two sides reached a settlement.

This was the third time since the conservative party won its majority that the government has used its new found clout to put an early end to a labour disputes. Last spring , legislation, or the threat of it, was used to send both Air Canada customer service representatives and striking postal workers back to work.

Which raises the question.... Is the strike now a tool whose time has passed? And if the power to strike disappears, does the whole collective bargaining process also disappear into history?

Joining Michael in our Toronto studio was Brian Langille. He's a Professor of Law at the University of Toronto, where he specializes in labour law and labour policy. He's also an editor of the International Labour Law Reports.

Nancy Riche is one of Canada's leading labour activists. She's a former Executive Vice President and Secretary-Treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress. She was in our CBC studios in St. John's, Newfoundland.

Disc:

Mavis Staples with "Hard Times Come Again No More".

Mail - Paul Martin:

Last week. Michael talked with former Prime Minister Paul Martin about the educational work he's doing with first nations' communities. That prompted many of you to send us your thoughts.

Hour Two

Roger Martin:

One of the many good things about Sunday is that the stock markets are closed. This gives portfolio managers and plain old investors the opportunity to pray, cross their fingers, and do whatever else comes to mind in the hopes that tomorrow might be the day the volatility at least slows down. If last week is anything to go by, you might not want to hold your breath. it was a rollercoaster, and not the good kind. By Friday ...both the Toronto Stock Exchange and the Dow lost what they'd gained over the course of the past year.

But few would be surprised if the downturn this week was followed by an equally dramatic jump in the opposite direction next week. It seems the only predictable thing about the stock market these days is volatility.

Stock prices are not only falling or rising dramatically from day-to-day, they're also swinging wildly over the course of a single six-and-a-half hour trading session. Fluctuations of 4 percent or more in a single day are occuring far more often in North America than they ever did in history.

It's been said that fear and greed are always the biggest motivators of the market - but how to explain the manic and erratic shifts that are becoming so routine?

The market themselves are easy enough to quantify - they go measurably up or down. But what --if anything--do those numbers have to do with the real economy--the economy that MOST of us live in? And for that matter, how does a stock price relate to the real value of the company it's attached to?

Roger Martin believes that all the volatility is a reflection of a fundmental flaw in modern capitalism - a flaw that threatens the system itself. Mr. Martin is Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.

In 2007, Business Week named him one of the 10 most influential business professors in the world.

And he's also an author. His most recent book is called "Fixing the Game: Bubbles, Crashes and What Capitalism can Learn from the NFL" and in it, he argues that our focus on shareholders is dangerous and destructive for the economy.

Roger Martin was in our Toronto studio.

Mail - Zwicker:

We were deluged with mail in the aftermath of our interview with Barrie Zwicker. He believes that the American Government deliberately faked the 9/11 attack on America in order to construct an excuse to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. Some of you thought it was about time that the truth finally was aired on the CBC. But most of you weighed in on whether it had been a good idea to allow him on the air at all.

Richard Gwyn:

Late at night on November 3, 1873, an inebriated John A. MacDonald rose in the House of Commons to offer a 4 hour long spirited defence of himself and his government. It was to be in vain. In what was clearly the lowest point of an incredible policial career, even John A knew he was doomed..but he offered this observation to his fellow members of Parliament:

"There does not exist in Canada a man who has given more of his time, more of his heart, more of his wealth, or more of his intellect and power such as it may be, for the good of this Dominion of Canada."

On the one hand it appears an incredible boast, on the other hand it rings true, and this is the story that Richard Gwyn tells in volume two of his already award winning biography of Canada's first Prime Minister: "Nation Maker: Sir John A. MacDonald: His Life, Our Times Volume two: 1867-1891."

Richard Gwyn was in our Toronto studio.

Hour Three

Unfinished Business:

Two weeks ago there was an election in the small central American country of Guatemala. It was dubbed the oligarchs vs. the narco traffickers.

In the weeks leading up to the vote, armoured-car rentals went up by 70%; candidates were gunned down; more than 40 people were killed and no one was particularly surprised. This is the background against which Canadian mining companies have been doing business for the past 50 years, right through the 36 year-long civil war, a war that killed two hundred thousand people, most of them indigenous Mayans.

For the most part, todays violence revolves around the drug cartels and the mines.

Now, the anti mining forces are fighting back in a new way.Guatemalans are launching law suits in Canadian courts against Canadian mining companies.

The latest is a multi million dollar claim against Hud Bay Minerals filed by 11 Mayan women allegedly raped when they were cleared off the land 4 years ago. The law suits are a new tactic in an old war - a war over land: - the government and the mining companies on one side, the Mayans and human rights workers on the other.

Here is Karin Wells documentary Unfinished Business.

Patrick deWitt:

A few years ago, the novelist Patrick deWitt was wondering around a garage sale when he came across an old picture book called The Forty-Niners, about the California gold rush. He handed over 25 cents and went home with the book.

He was intrigued by the thought of a literary experiment; Could he write a novel based largely on a dialogue between two taciturn cowboys on horseback?

The experiment evolved into dark but hilarious Westeern which has touched off a slew of accolades and award nominations.

The Sisters Brothers is set in the American west in 1851, during the Gold Rush. Two brothers have been hired as hit men by a mysterious boss, The Commodore -- to track down and knock off a prospector/inventor in San Francisco.

It's about rogues who bounce from one adventure to another - always surrounded by, or creating, big trouble.

And it's also a funny and touching story about sibling loyalty, love and ... debauchery, cold blooded murder and too much drink.

The Sisters Brothers is Patrick deWitt's second novel - and it is nominated for Canada's Giller prize and short-listed for Britain's prestigious Man Booker Prize. It's thought to be the first Western ever nominated for a Booker.

Patrick deWitt was in the NPR studios of KPOR in Portland, Oregon.

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