“A man will do more for his stubbornness than for his religion or his country.” Edgar Watson Howe
“This is an impressive crowd: the Have's and Have-more's. Some people call you the elites. I call you my base.” George W. Bush
When I was much younger, idealistic and just out of school in Canada, I held down a job as a Union negotiator for a couple of years. It was just plain frustrating. Governments dug in and were just not willing to move. The Union took the same line. It was a constant standoff. The Union asking for things that could only be conceived in a pipe dream from outer Space. The Government offering a pittance completely out of the realm of reality, not even close to the increase in the cost of living. Often this standoff, by both sides, resulted not in a new contract but some form of job action, lock out or strike.
Does that remind you of the situation in Thailand? If not, it should. The UDD has made unreasonable demands, although some of them do hold water and are justified. The Government has rejected, out of hand, any attempt to try to resolve or defuse the situation by negotiation, instead embarking on a policy of force and the intimidation of live fire. Neither is trying to solve a problem. Forget about the previous meetings that just turned into a sideshow, neither group was negotiating in good faith, neither can claim the moral high ground.
One Union negotiation does stand out in my memory. It had dragged on for about a year and ended going to negotiations at the local level. I was picked, for some reason I will never understand. I have always thought that I was being thrown to the wolves to protect the other negotiators.
I had never met their negotiator but the word was he was a hard ass. I decided that I may as well step into the deep end and I called him up. I asked if he would like to have a lunch meeting sometime that week. Surprisingly he said yes and he would call me back in a few minutes. As promised, he called and had arranged a local Chinese Restaurant for that Friday at noon. It was easy so far.
I arrived and was escorted to a private room where at the huge table sat Murray. He was a big good-looking person with that graying hair distinguished look. He was wearing what looked like an Armani suit. He said hello and with that, I sat down wearing my golf shirt and jeans. I felt at a disadvantage, a big disadvantage, this guy obviously had vast experience over me.
I made some joke about going to play golf after lunch. That was the kicker, Murray was a golfer. He told me about his club, one of those that cost a bundle. I told him I played at a little nine hole public course. He told me he played at that same course all through his University days. We had made a connection.
Unexpectedly he said to me. Would your people take 4% increase over a year? Previously their highest offer was 0.5%. I said maybe they would accept 6%, trying to get more. He said that was not possible, but he might be able to get you 4.5% and throw in some little benefits that your members might find to their advantage. I told him, I might be able to get the membership to accept 4.5% if the perks looked good to them.
I told him one of the big sticking points was overtime pay. When some of our members had to work large amounts of overtime in a pay period, they often ended up with a paycheck that was less than if they had not worked any at all. It all want to higher taxes because of the way taxes were calculated. He said he did not realize it was even a problem and asked me what they wanted. Time off for overtime worked rather than pay, I answered. A swap, hour for hour, which they could bank and take off as extra days or to add them to their holidays. We discussed some limitations on the amount of hours that could be banked or taken at a given time and negotiated a bulk payout once a year if the maximum bank time was reached. He told me that he would work some stuff out and get back to me as soon as he could. With that, we finished lunch and were on our way.
About 9:00 pm that night, the phone rang. It was Murray. He told me that they would accept the time off clause if we would accept the 4.5%. I told him it was doable and with that, we concluded the deal. Everything went through the local Government and the Union without a hitch.
I only met Murray once more. He told me that he was retiring in less than a month and that was the only reason he agreed to the time off clause. He said once the government found out what it really meant he would probably have been fired and jokingly said “You might even be shot”. We laughed, I thanked him, wished him well and we parted. I have never seen him since.
What we negotiated was the first Union/Government time off in lieu of overtime contract in Canadian history. It is now a normal clause in Union Contracts. It was simple, it only took about an hour, because each party was willing to talk, accept the realities of the other’s problems and compromise.
There is no reason the UDD and the Government cannot sit and hash out their problems. If one side wins, the other does not and the country will suffer an incredible loss. What they need to do is leave their personal egos outside a private room and try to come to some consensus and time line that everyone in the country can live with. That way everyone looks good and the country can move ahead. Any other result will be catastrophic for Thailand either now or in the future.
I do not have the answer, I wish I did. If the UDD puts Vera in a room with Abhisit, they can hash something out. Veera seems to be level headed, open minded and willing to compromise. Abhisit on the other hand seems to be defensive and afraid to lose power now or in an election. My feeling is that these two without the more radical voices, around both of them, and without having to play to the cameras. Can come up with a consensus and move the country forward. They have to forget about themselves and the way they look to their supporters and then think seriously about the consequences to the country if they fail.
The UDD has to be willing to peacefully protest elsewhere, remove the stockade, return any weapons they may have confiscated and allow the police a special group to keep the peace and oversee the protests inside the protest area. In return, the Government must be willing to remove the combat troops and riot police, rescind the SOE and reign in the M&M group as well as tone down their anti UDD rhetoric and restore PTV. That would show good faith on both parts and could be a starting point for worthwhile negotiations.
“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” Henry Ford
“I offer you peace. I offer you love. I offer you friendship. I see your beauty. I hear your need. I feel your feelings. My wisdom flows from the Highest Source. I salute that Source in you. Let us work together for unity and love.” Mahatma Gandhi