Discovering which way is up

If your airline flight is delayed this winter because of icy runways, you may have Saskatchewan potash miners to thank for much of the inconvenience.


The phrase "Saskatchewan potash miners" doesn't come up much in conversation, but it certainly should be kept in mind these days. A shortage of potash, a form of potassium carbonate, caused by the 99-day miners strike this fall, has left many U.S. airports with low supplies of a key runway de-icer because they didn't buy sufficient advance quantities of it.

What other effects are we seeing from the strike? Well, as often happens during an extended strike, the timing was meant to be the worst possible for the business, which can be counter-productive for the strikers as well as the strikee. When 500 miners struck three mines owned by Potash Corp. they did so just as the company was pulling out all the stops to meet huge demand for potash-based fertilizer to boost crop yields in the face of rising food prices.

Now, airports, agri-business operations and other users of potash-based products are turning to alternative materials they are finding (a.) available, and (b.) often less costly.

So, the miners got most of what they wanted by putting a stranglehold on their employers, who themselves had been pulling in record profits, but in the long run may have shot themselves in the collective foot.

All of which reminds me of the beleaguered U.S. automakers and their highly-paid union workers. Their history consists of decades of demands for ridiculously high pay and perks and corporate waste and greed passed on to consumers. The auto consumers, just like the potash consumers, found alternatives -- buying Japanese and Korean cars, for example -- that were much more palatable.

How many times does a lesson have to be repeated before everyone learns a lesson?
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