A couple posts back Here we were talking in the comments about how the outgoing mayor of Toronto got the city into a garbage strike and lost a ton of popularity over it. Ziggyny in particular suggested that either caving in right away or holding the line forever would be acceptable but that holding for awhile and then giving up is simply not okay. I think this is a really good example of a very difficult situation that is made very simple in hindsight. Obviously if the mayor knows that the union will literally strike forever unless they get their deal he is much better off just giving them what they want right away but he does not know that at all. When he makes the decision to force a strike he only knows that they might back down and that the city cannot afford to pay what they are asking. Once he is in a strike situation his choices are entirely different; he must eventually give in and has to hope that the opposition will blink first. He can give in at any moment and gain public approval for ending the strike but he will have to suffer public anger at either increased taxes or lowered services elsewhere to pay for it.
Another consideration is that fact that he is dealing with many unions. Running the garbage strike forever simply isn't viable and giving in right away to any union that threatens a strike will bankrupt the city. Sad as it is a big part of negotiating is convincing the other side that you are absolutely willing to screw both groups over to strike a favourable bargain. I experienced this all the time in sales - the customer tries to convince the salesperson that they will walk out and never return if they don't get what they want and the salesperson tries to convince the customer that they will give up the order entirely to avoid lowering the price further. In sales it is merely a matter of both sides not wanting to give up the time they invested together but in city/union negotiations it is both sides not wanting to give up popularity, service and/or pay. Here is the bitch of the matter: The city simply cannot negotiate reasonably without the unions being convinced that the city will force a strike if they have to and the only way to make the unions sure that the city means it is to let strikes happen now and again. I bet that many of the strikes that happen really are just one side or the other trying to send the message that they won't be messed with and quite frankly that is just how things are always going to be until we get rid of huge union negotiating groups.
Note that doesn't mean necessarily that Miller or the city did the right thing in forcing a garbage strike but it does mean there are very good reasons for them forcing strikes sometimes and outsiders are going to have a hell of a time picking out which times are right and wrong. I tend to have a pro city slant to my thoughts because I have a lot of problems with big unions in general as I find that any job that ends up being done by unions ends up with nothing but problems to show for it. Unions had their place in times past but the basic protections they demanded are available to all employees now and at the moment they mostly act as giant parasites sucking off dollars from employers by getting their members more money and then taking that money in dues. While unions continue to fill public sector job categories wholesale we will continue to have these painful strikes and consistent overspending, no way around it. Sometimes the city is to blame for an individual strike but the situation as a whole really isn't their doing.