Thursday, May 16, 2013

Booze power

Here in Ontario, the provincial government holds an essential monopoly on the sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages other than beer (which is a private monopoly), via the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, generally known as the LCBO. The first long weekend of the short Canadian summer is coming up... Victoria Day, also known as "May-Two-Four", both because Victoria Day, always the third Monday in May, buzzes around and sometimes falls on that day, and because "a two-four" is local slang for a case of 24 bottles of beer. It's the weekend that the cottages open up, you see.

The union to which LCBO workers belong has chosen this moment to strike. Odds are, at midnight tonight, they will be going on strike. The radio stations are telling us to expect long line-ups as people stock up in advance of the province going dry (at least for wine and liquor) till who-knows-when.

I do drink again; after taking two years off, I decided to start enjoying beer when I go out again. But I'm not keeping it around the house, so I'm not really inconvenienced by this all that much. I have a strange relationship with unions... I'm pro-collective bargaining; I think it's an important feature of a democratic society and the only real hedge we still have against the rich simply siphoning off every drop. But I hate strikes! I hate the inconveniences. The disruptions. So I was kind of miffed when I heard about this, in the abstract.

Recently, though, I heard the practicalities of it. There are a lot of people working for the LCBO part time. Many of them took the jobs in the understanding that, shortly, they'd be full time. Some people have languished in part time positions at the LCBO for years. The issues of the strike seem to be job security and putting more of the current workers on full time. I think these are laudable goals. I stand behind them.

Every time some politician or right-wing newspaper wonk gets on his soap box and recommends selling the LCBO off to the private sector... like one of his big business buddies, say... we hear the same old song about how the LCBO is actually a money-spinner for the province, bringing in billions of dollars in revenue every year. Okay, fine. We pay slightly higher prices and have no competition, but we have two advantages: a wide variety of items since the LCBO is one of the world's largest single buyers of wines and spirits, and the revenue stays in the province and goes into the till. So I say, if we're making good money off of it, let's put some of it into giving the people keeping the lights on and the shelves stocked a decent wage and standard of living. In my mind, any good business should accomplish that before anything else.

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