12.08.2018

in which an old-fashioned mom-and-pop motel saves me from union busters

For the portion of my training taking place in Campbell River -- two days this week plus all of next week -- I was booked into the Coast Discovery Inn, a Coast chain property. Before this trip, I was unfamiliar with the Coast chain. Their slogan "Refreshingly Local" means they acquire already-established hotels and bring them into the Coast brand. We stayed at one in Tsawwassen the night before taking the ferry to Vancouver Island, I stayed at one in Nanaimo. They were both very nice -- lovely rooms, amenities, and service.

Based on those experiences, I was very disappointed when I saw my room in Campbell River. It was tiny -- one bed, and the bed took up the entire room. This is fine when you're out exploring Paris, but when you're living in a room for 10 days, it would be confining and inconvenient. In addition, Allan and Diego are spending the weekend (yay! can't wait!), and I don't see the three of us living in a shoebox together, even for a few days.

I asked if I could change rooms, and explained why. I was told: "All our rooms are the same size. The only difference is the size of the bed."

I asked, "You don't have any rooms with two beds?"

"But you are booked by yourself. Do you need two beds?"

I was amazed. One person staying in a room with two beds is standard. Rather than argue about that, I noted that my partner was arriving on Saturday, and bringing our dog, and we needed a larger room. He said there was a room available on Sunday. I said never mind.

I had arrived in Campbell River that morning and was checking in on my lunch break, so I would be able to crash right after work. I went back to the room, found another pet-friendly Campbell River hotel, cancelled the rest of my reservation, and went back to work, grabbing something for lunch along the way. (Not exactly a relaxing break!)

After work, I went back to the Coast Discovery Inn. The moment I walked in, I began to cough -- quite a bad "fit" requiring use of my inhaler. The whole place smelled very strongly, either from cleaning products or air "freshener". Luckily my room didn't also smell, or I couldn't have stayed even one night.

I went to the hotel restaurant for dinner. It was dismal. It looked like a coffee shop -- which is fine for coffee shops, but strange for a supposedly upscale hotel -- and the food was marginal at best. I had a decent night. Breakfast was the usual limited hotel self-serve options. I packed up the car and went to work. 

Later that day, I mentioned to someone that I was checking into a different hotel. She said, "I'm glad you're not staying at the Coast anymore. They are extremely anti-union."

Apparently the owner shuttered the hotel for nine months rather than work with the union representing hotel workers. Googling, I didn't find a lot on this: one story from the local Campbell River Mirror, and one in the Times Colonist. **

So, after work, I drove off to find the Heritage River Inn. The name is misleading, because it is an old-fashioned mom-and-pop roadside motel. My room is huge, with a full kitchen! This is very welcome, since I'll be here for a full week. It also has a wooden floor. The feature of mom-and-pop motels that is often an issue is old carpeting. On our road trip from Ontario, we stayed at non-chain motels in two towns, Wawa and Ignace. Both rooms had carpeting and a corresponding musty smell. They weren't mouldy -- I know that because my body is a mould detector -- but the carpets were somewhat icky. The bare floor solves this problem.

There are other chain hotels in Campbell River, but they are not pet-friendly. So if this room didn't work out, I would have to change a second time, after Allan and Diego go home, and I did not want to do that.

** I found this story from Unite Here, about a one-day strike earlier this month at this same hotel -- which means they did unionize. And from the small-world department, the union bulletin was written by someone I know.

3.27.2018

sheraton hotels' "green choice" is really just precarious work

These days, most hotel rooms contain some sort of green messaging, as companies are expected to show how eco-friendly they are. Usually guests have the option of not having their towels changed daily, which is supposed to yield big energy savings.

Last week at the Sheraton Parkway in Toronto, I learned that Sheraton's green policy is not exactly as advertised. I don't know if this qualifies as greenwashing, but it is certainly not full disclosure. The card reads:
Conserving water, energy and other resources is rewarding for you and great for the environment. Enjoy a $5 voucher at participating food and beverage outlets or 500 Starpoints® awarded at check-out for each night you decline housekeeping (except day of departure). It feels good to conserve.

To participate in the Make a Green Choice program, please tell us at check-in or look for the door hanger in your guestroom.
It may feel good to conserve, but your conservation doesn't feel good to hotel workers. For each guest who uses this program, a worker's hours are cut.

As I looked around my room, I could easily identify many ways Sheraton could be greener. For starters, disposable coffee cups could be replaced with mugs. Tiny plastic bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and lotion could be replaced with hanging dispensers. Why are any hotels using those tiny bottles anymore? That's a lot of plastic.

Sheraton participates in Clean the World, which distributes unused soap and shampoo products to third-world countries. I don't know how effective this program is, or how many Sheraton hotels participate in it, but the best way to cut down on landfill waste is to create less waste.

On this Sheraton's website (scroll down to "Highlights"), there is a list of all their green initiatives. Some are significant, some are just padding. But less impact on the planet shouldn't mean less work for low-wage, precarious workers.

Next time you stay at a Sheraton, please don't Make a Green Choice. Sheraton should find ways to reduce that don't reduce workers' paycheques.

3.26.2018

in the ontario election, the choice is clear. put down the polls and pick up your vote.

I am very frustrated by progressive reaction to Doug Ford becoming the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party. People are acting as if Ford has already won an election that is three months away.

I understand there is great -- and well-deserved -- anger against Kathleen Wynne's Liberal party. But are we progressives going to stand helplessly staring at polls as we are thrown from frying pan to fire?

Under 20 years of Liberal governments, public spending has been frozen, resulting in a decrease of more than 40% in public resources. Corporate taxes are at all-time low. Privatization is strangling both services and jobs. And now -- supposedly -- we're all going to vote for more of the same. Either literally more of the same in the Liberals or worse than that in the Conservatives.

And supposedly, we won't vote NDP because the NDP can't win.

We won't vote for a party because the party can't win because not enough people will vote for it. How stupid do you have to be to subscribe to that circular logic?

ONDP leader Andrea Horvath learned an important lesson in the last provincial election. She has returned to the principles that make the NDP the party of progressive people and of labour. The party platform includes full pharmacare, dental benefits, affordable childcare, and relief for student debt. If the 1% and the corporations pay their fair share, it's all within reach.

The brutal effects of corporate tax cuts are all around us. Students graduate college and university with massive debts, but can only find part-time, precarious work. 30,000 seniors are waiting for spaces in long-term care. If they live long enough to get a space, they barely receive minimum standards of care, as private ownership starves facilities of resources. The rise of precarious work means that fewer Ontarians have employer-paid extended health benefits, so people go without "extras" (ha!) like prescription medicine and dental care.

It's been proven beyond all doubt that privatization costs us more and gives us less. So-called public-private partnerships are the same corporate welfare in a different suit.

We need a government that will invest in public services. Healthcare, including dental care, pharmacare, and mental health. Education, including smaller class sizes and an end to student debt. Seniors, including safeguarding pensions and setting minimum standards of care. Publicly-owned transit and utilities.

Don't talk to me about Bob Rae. People who won't vote NDP because of something that a former leader did in the early 1990s are too stupid to be entrusted with the vote.

Don't talk to me about polls. If you read past the headlines, half the poll stories don't even say what you think they do. Fuck the polls. They don't actually predict the future. They just give direction to sheep.

Don't talk to me about strategic voting. You know what that will get you? More of the same.

If you care about public services and you believe in progressive change, there is only one choice this June.

Vote NDP.

But first, get out there and help as many others make that choice as you possibly can.

3.25.2018

from the 2018 cupe ontario library workers conference: libraries and the opioid crisis

I recently attended the CUPE Ontario Library Workers Conference, which has become a highlight of my year since I first attended (and was elected to the organizing committee) in 2015. It has eclipsed and replaced the OLA Superconference as the most relevant and enjoyable must-attend conference in my schedule.

When I first got my librarian degree, I was very excited about attending my first "OLA" (as it's always called). But I quickly learned that the sessions are a crap-shoot, sometimes relevant but often obvious and dull. There's also a great deal of boosterism by OLA and the member libraries. For the difference between the two conferences, for OLA, think employers and libraries, for CUPE Ontario, think labour and library workers.

In recent years, our Library Workers Conference has focused on precarious work and health and safety issues, two themes that are inextricably linked. This year's conference was called "Sex, Drugs & Bed Bugs," a light take on very serious health and safety issues. My full report is here on the CUPE 1989 website. (No bed bugs are pictured there.)

* * * * *

The most moving part of the conference -- by far -- was a talk by outreach worker Zoe Dodd. Zoe has worked with marginalized people with HIV and Hepatitis C, and now her work has shifted to the opioid overdose crisis. She and her co-workers -- who are mostly volunteers -- had been telling the government that this crisis was looming for the past decade, but their alarm fell on ears that refused to hear.

Now the deaths from fentanyl overdoses eclipse those from HIV at the height of the AIDS crisis. Last year there was a 52% increase of fentanyl deaths over the previous year. Yet Ontario has refused to call this a public health crisis. British Columbia is the only Canadian province to declare opioid overdoses a public health emergency -- and this has saved thousands of lives.

Zoe Dodd (middle) and co-workers in Moss Park, Toronto
Death by overdose, Zoe told us, is preventable. The majority of those affected are already marginalized people living in poverty. (Indigenous people are 400 times more likely to die of an overdose than the general population.) Thousands who survive end up in comas, on life support.

There were coordinated emergency health efforts for both H1N1 and SARS outbreaks; lives were saved by those decisions. But when it comes to drug use, governments spend almost exclusively on enforcement, rather than harm reduction. That is, they treat drug addiction as a criminal issue rather than a health issue. This is a moralistic decision -- and a lethal one.

Frustrated and angry over both Ontario's and the City of Toronto's inaction, Zoe and her comrades acted on their own. They brought 10,000 vials of naloxone -- the drug that reverses fentanyl overdoses -- into Canada before it was legal. They raised $95,000 online. They pitched a tent and opened a site, staffed entirely by volunteers. At the conference, we were so proud to learn that CUPE Ontario bought the group a trailer, so they could safely serve more people! They did this while it was still illegal, a fact that makes me feel really good about my union.

This intrepid band of volunteers forced Ontario and Canada to change their policies. Now harm reduction sites are opening across the province -- including in Mississauga.

What does this have to do with library workers? Only everything. Libraries, as public spaces, are often places of drug use and of overdose. Library workers across North America are being trained in the use of naloxone, and they are saving lives.


Zoe addressed some myths about naloxone use, demystifying the process for all in the room. Many people -- including 1989 officers -- thought there was a danger of a person coming out of an overdose becoming aggressive and violent. Turns out this is simply untrue. Typically a person coming out of a drug overdose is groggy and confused. Their brain has shut down from lack of oxygen, and naloxone is beginning to restore the flow of oxygen to their brain. Far from being violent, they are only gradually waking up.

Many people believe that administering naloxone is dangerous, as we can be exposed to fentanyl or naloxone. This is also untrue. Fentanyl must be ingested to be harmful. Naloxone, Zoe said, is virtually "idiot proof". If a person is not overdosing, the drug has no effect. But if they are overdosing, it will save their life. (Note that more than one dose of naloxone may be needed.)

The most moving and disturbing part of Zoe's talk was hearing how she and her co-workers have suffered. Outreach workers and the people they serve are often one community. The pain they witness and endure is staggering. In one year, Zoe lost 30 clients and six friends. Outreach workers have committed suicide, overwhelmed by grief. There is a secondary crisis of trauma among the workers who have witnessed so much death. Now these workers are using their grief and anger to drive change. It was incredibly moving and inspiring.

The CUPE 1989 executive wants to get involved. For starters, we've decided on a three-part course of action. One, we'll get trained in the use of naloxone. Two, we will share this education with our members and our employer. And three, we will advocate for a greater role of social services in our libraries. We hope to host Zoe Dodd in our own libraries.

There have been some good stories about Zoe and her co-workers.

Meet the harm reduction worker who called out Trudeau on the opioid crisis in Vice

Front-line workers struggle to cope with opioid crisis in an issue of Now magazine with a great cover, and

'Drowning in all this death': outreach workers want help to fight drug overdose 'emergency' on CBC.ca.

This is the video of Zoe Dodd addressing Justin Trudeau during one of his extended photo-ops.


* * * * *

This year's group exercise at the conference was listing the "Top 10 Crimes" we've witnessed or heard about in our libraries.

Toronto Public Library tops the list with a murder -- by cross-bow. Naturally, theft is big. Sex in the stacks and study rooms. Public masturbation, urination, defecation. Attempted kidnapping. Illegal drug use and drug dealing, of course. Harassment. Sexual assault.

The crimes that appeared on the most lists were crimes against children: abuse, neglect, abandonment.

* * * * *

And since this is, after all, my personal blog, I'll share that I have been elected chairperson of the CUPE Ontario Library Committee. It's not like I need anything else to do! But our long-time chair has stepped down (more on that later), and I felt like I had to step up.

3.10.2018

beyond #iwd: fight for women by opposing privatization

Visit We Own It for all the facts on privatization.
When public services are privatized, everyone loses -- except, of course, shareholders of a private company, who increase their wealth with our money.

But did you know the pain of privatization hits women disproportionately harder? As this excellent article by Jane Stinson in Canadian Dimension says:
Privatization is not gender-neutral. It threatens advances toward women’s equality in the labour market and in the home.

In the labour market, privatization usually means lower wages for women workers, fewer workplace rights, reduced health and welfare benefits, no pension coverage, less predictable work hours, more precarious employment, a heavier workload and generally more exploitative working conditions.
In addition, in a society where women are still the primary caregivers for both children and the elderly, when services become both scarcer and more expensive, women's burdens grow -- often while their wages are shrinking. This is also a direct impact of privatization.

Here's a terrible, typical example. When the province of British Columbia privatized support services in health care, thousands of women lost their jobs, and those who were still employed saw their wages cut by almost 50%. Naturally, services were greatly reduced, which by definition increases poverty and isolation among seniors and people with disabilities.

The UN found that privatized education "exacerbates gender discrimination."

The International Journal of Political Economy found that privatized social security impacts women twice as hard as it does men.

Canada's National Network on Environments and Women's Health found that water privatization leaves "women – especially Aboriginal women – disproportionately making difficult choices about where money is spent, having to choose among food, shelter, and safe water." Fifty years ago, the very concept of privatized water would have seemed unthinkable. Today, it is a struggle between life and death -- a struggle that hits women much harder than it does men.

Let's make International Women's Day more than a hashtag. The fight for quality public services is the fight for women's rights and gender equity. Many thanks to the good folks at We Own It for making this connection visible!

1.05.2018

required reading for revolutionaries: jane mcalevey and micah white

I've wanted to write about these two books for a long time, but adequately summarizing them is a daunting task. I just want to say to every activist and organizer: READ THESE BOOKS. I don't want to represent the authors' ideas, I want you to read them yourself.

No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age by Jane F. McAlevey and The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution by Micah White are both aimed at activists and organizers -- people who already believe in the need for social change and are trying to influence the world in a progressive direction. Both books identify pitfalls and shortcomings in the current ways we approach our activism, and they offer concrete ideas for change, along with theory and philosophy to guide our decisions. Both are beautifully written, powerful, and essential.

No Shortcuts focuses on the labour movement, but McAlevey's analysis could apply to any movement. The labour movement is an excellent lens through which to view activism generally, since, if practiced well, it activates people across the political spectrum, and has a direct impact on the everyday reality of people's lives.

Advocacy vs. Mobilizing vs. Organizing

McAlevey, a long-time organizer and labour educator, identifies three systems of organizing, distinguished by the extent to which the workers themselves create a new reality, that is, worker agency.

The Advocacy model, where paid union staff, professional lobbyists, and lawyers work alongside the employer to dictate the terms of employment, is the least effective. Indeed, this model is not only ineffective, it is downright dangerous. It often results in concessions and wage freezes, and even more damaging long-term results. It poisons the very concept of union, teaching workers that unions are just another powerful force benefiting an elite few at the expense of the many. It's the perfect scenario for employers, and unfortunately is the norm in many unions.

Turning to the more positive approaches, McAlevey differentiates between Mobilizing and Organizing. In Mobilizing, a group of leaders make decisions and activate the workers to support them. All campaigns depend on some amount of mobilizing, but if the entire campaign is based on a mobilization model, a great potential is lost. The campaign may make some material gains, but it will fail to change the workers' relationship to their employer and their work; it will have failed to challenge the power structure. Any gains made will be superficial and short-term.

McAlevey shows that only the Organizing model builds worker agency to make significant, potentially long-term progress. McAlevey didn't invent this method, of course, but she's illuminating it and analyzing it for us -- showing us how it's done and why it works.

In Organizing, workers themselves create their own change. Workers make the decisions, learn from their own experiences, and build strength together. Organizing creates massive pressure on the employer, builds allies in the community, and -- most importantly -- creates confident leaders who can then organize others.

Given this analysis, it's no surprise that McAlevey champions the most powerful of all workers' tools: the strike. Strikes not only demonstrate and leverage workers' greatest value, by withholding their contributions, they demonstrate to the workers themselves how powerful they can be. A successful strike is a transformative event, as the confidence it builds becomes deeply embedded in the workers' consciousness. Successful strikes lead, McAlevey writes,
to the ability of the workers to win for themselves the kinds of contract standards that are life-changing, such as control of their hours and schedules, the right to a quick response to workplace health and safety issues, the right to increased staffing and decreased workload, and the right to meaningful paid sick leave and vacation time.
To wage a successful strike, workers must be both organized and active. So the very tools needed to create the strike build the potential for success, in both the short-term and the long-term.

Case studies: the book's greatest strength and contribution to our movements

McAlevey offers many practical examples of the process of Organizing, such as transparency in bargaining and identifying leaders. These examples are beyond useful -- they are essential. But where No Shortcuts shines brightest, where it is the most useful and the most inspiring, is in the case studies.

McAlevey tells five stories -- four successes and one horrible shame. As a union activist, I found the stories of the Chicago Teachers' Union and the lesser-known campaign by workers at Smithfield Foods thrilling. Reading about them, I was filled with that sense of pride and joy that only the people's power can bring.
King County, Washington, has a population of two million. Ninety-three percent of its people are city dwellers; most of them live in Seattle. At the time I am writing this, the median household income is $71,175, and the average rent for a two-bedroom house is $1,123 per month. In 2014, there was a successful campaign to increase Seattle's minimum wage to $15 an hour by the year 2022 (by which time, incidentally, that $15 will not be $15; it will be worth less, since Seattle didn't index it to inflation). The story was banner news worldwide in print and broadcast media, and a cause celebre for many liberals.

Meanwhile, without the fanfare of a single national headline, another kind of contract in a very different region also introduced a wage of $15 an hour. Bladen County, in southeastern North Carolina, has a population of 35,843. Ninety-one percent of those people live in the countryside; the rest are in the county's few small towns. Thirty-five percent are African American. At the time of writing, the median income is $30,031, and the average rent for a two-bedroom house is $637 per month.

In 2008, in the county's tiny town of Tar Heel, 5,000 workers at the Smithfield Foods pork factory voted to form a union with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). It was the single largest private-sector union victory of the new millennium, and it happened in the South, in the state with the lowest rate of union membership in the entire country: 3 percent. The new, ratified contract not only guaranteed a $15-an-hour wage but also paid sick leave, paid vacation, health care, retirement benefits, overtime pay, guaranteed minimum work hours, job security through a "just cause" provision, and tools to remedy dangerous working conditions. The wage alone far outranks Washington's: given the dollar's buying power in Bladen County, King County workers would have to earn $26.40 an hour to equal it.
The story of how these workers organized themselves and achieved these gains is one of the most exciting labour stories I've ever read. It will astonish you.

In "Make the Road New York", McAlevey tells the story of serious, strong, and sustained community organizing, not only for labour, but for an improved quality of life for the entire community.

Finally, McAlevey tells two stories about private-sector nursing homes. Incredibly, the examples stem from two locals in the same parent union -- one working within an Organizing model of true worker agency, the other run by a cadre of professionals who maintain comfortable conditions for the employer. What these so-called union leaders are is downright criminal. The expression "selling out" is too mild. They are every employer's and anti-union politician's dream. (Curious? Read the book!)

For several years now, we've been witnessing the re-emergence of organized labour as a vital force in our society. Inspired by the Fight For 15 fast-food workers, working people are fighting back, gaining public support, and activating themselves in great numbers. McAlevey's book is a road map to more of those victories -- which means it's a road map to a better world.

The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution takes a broader view through a very wide lens.

Micah White is a creative thinker, an excellent writer, a social theorist, and an activist. He is the co-creator of Occupy Wall Street (although this was not revealed at the time) and the originator of the idea that became the Rolling Jubilee debt forgiveness. He has been a human shield in the West Bank and an astute critic of clicktivism. He was named one of the most influential young thinkers alive today by Esquire magazine. He's a visionary, and you should read his book.

Is this thing on?

The premise of The End of Protest resonated deeply with me. Ever since February 15, 2003 -- the largest public demonstration in human history, which was ignored by mainstream media, and failed to prevent the US invasion of Iraq -- I have been frustrated and dissatisfied with the standard methods of public protest. The disastrous G20 demonstrations in Toronto in 2010 further confirmed my discontent.

Holding pens, free-speech zones, kettling, pre-emptive arrests, paid provocateurs, violent infiltrators, mass surveillence -- the ruling class has learned how to effectively neuter public demonstrations. The demos and the responses are predictable. They are theatre. They have symbolic value, they may build solidarity, and they may make us feel good. But they don't sustain movements and they don't create change.

There is value in being in the streets, especially when public protest occurs spontaneously. But many activists and organizations seem obsessed with how many people attend any given demonstration, as if a larger head-count somehow correlates with a greater likelihood of change. I've been involved in planning large-scale demos, so I've seen the vast amount of resources they consume. For what? Again, I'm not saying there is no value. But... can't we do better?

The End of Protest argues that our methods of protest are outdated, and that in order to be truly effective, we need to "break the script" of protest. We need to create fresh tools.

A framework for revolution

In the first part of the book -- "Today" -- White analyzes Occupy Wall Street, which he calls "a constructive failure". He beautifully articulates what was great about OWS, where it was successful, where and why it failed, and what lessons we can draw from it. He explores why dissent is necessary, and expands into a unified theory of revolution.

White creates a matrix -- or a Cartesian coordinate system (a term that was new to me) -- as a framework for analyzing different methods of protest, using four descriptors: voluntarism, structuralism, subjectivism, and theurgism. He describes each one in detail with very useful real-world examples. (A one-sentence definition cannot do justice to these ideas, hence I am refraining from doing so.)

In the book's second part -- "Yesterday" -- White analyzes protests from the recent past and the very distant past, situating each in his framework. The historic examples past are fascinating -- the massacre at Wounded Knee (1890), the Nika Revolt (532 CE), the Conversion of Constantine (312 CE), and the victory of Arminius (9 CE). In the modern examples, White trains his analysis on Palestinian solidarity, democracy movements in Greece and Spain, and the Rolling Jubilee.

In the final section -- "Tomorrow" -- White riffs on what is and may be possible. Very briefly, he offers a vision of a dystopian future, "an eco-fascist nightmare" that is all too easy to imagine. In fact, I found it much easier to visualize that potential reality than White's predictions of a unified, global, progressive revolution -- and it breaks my heart to realize that.

But White also reminds us that the future has not been written, and the path to that revolution is unknown. In fact, in White's view, it must be unknown, because we need to invent entirely new tools: "Innovation that breaks the fundamental paradigms of the protest model is the only way forward." White offers eight principles of revolution, realizing there are probably many more, but these eight were derived from his own lived experience.

What doesn't work

In case you are concerned, White eschews violence, believing that political terrorism is a dead end. He doesn't make a big deal about this, doesn't harp on and on about peaceful protest and a commitment to nonviolence -- a performance leftist activists are expected to make for the mainstream. He merely states, deep into the book, that political terrorism doesn't advance our goals, and we must look elsewhere for solutions. But although we reject militarism and terrorism, the far greater enemy is inertia.

Two bits from The End of Protest that I really appreciated are repudiations of both clicktivism and the so-called ladder of engagement. Clicktivism, White writes, encourages people to believe that "political reality can be altered by clicking, sharing, and signing petitions". It creates a false theory of social change, and deepens entrenched complacency.

About the ladder of engagement, White writes:
The dominant paradigm of activism is the voluntarist's ladder of engagement. In this model, there are a series of rungs leading from the most insignificant actions to the most revolutionary, and the goal of organizers is to lead people upward through these escalating rungs. This strategy appears to make common sense, but it has a nasty unintended consequence. When taken to its logical conclusion, the ladder of engagement encourages activists to pitch their asks to the lowest rung on the assumption that the majority will feel more comfortable starting at the bottom of the protest ladder, with clicking a link or signing a virtual petition. This is fatal. The majority can sniff out the difference between an authentic ask that is truly dangerous and might get their voices heard and an inauthentic ask that is safe and meaningless. The ladder of engagement is upside down. Activists are judged by what we ask of people. Thus, we must only ask the people to do actions that would genuinely improve the world despite the risks. Rather than pursuing the idea of the ladder of engagement, I live by the minoritarian principle that the edge leads the pack.
I've learned a lot about the edge leading the pack through my leadership role with my own local union. Many people told me our members weren't ready to strike. But how would they ever be ready if no one led them to the barricades? Would there be a magical moment when members woke up suddenly organized and ready to walk? And how would we recognize that moment when it came? Our leadership evaluated the situation, assessed the risks, and articulated both risks and potential rewards to our members. After that, democracy ensured that our members were ready, with a 98.7% vote to strike. As our parent says, "Be Bold. Be Brave." Those of us who have a fervor to be bold, brave revolutionaries have an obligation to lead from that edge.

Never be afraid of ideas

I fear that the lessons of The End of Protest may dismissed by the people who most need to contemplate them. White challenges several core beliefs of modern-day activism, and many of us cannot tolerate that kind of challenge. Organizers and activists may read this book, consider, and then reject all or some of White's ideas. But dismissing or ignoring those ideas would be a grave error. If our goal is to create revolutionary change, we owe it to ourselves and the world to read this book and engage with its ideas.

9.16.2017

what i'm reading: the radium girls by kate moore

Readers of a certain age might remember clocks and watches with glowing green dials. The dials were painted with radium, the radioactive element discovered by Marie Curie. We had clocks like this when I was growing up. I have a distinct memory of my mother saying, "The women who worked in the factories where these were made got very sick. They had to put the paintbrushes in their mouths, in order to paint the tiny numbers and dots, and they all got sick, and some died."

I never forgot that -- yet I never heard it mentioned anywhere else. Who were those women? Why were they putting a radioactive substance in their mouths? When I saw a review of The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women, I knew that someone finally had answered those questions. The story of those women was finally told.

And what a story it is.

The young, working-class women in Orange, New Jersey, and Ottawa, Illinois, who painted radium dials thought they had it made. Not only was the pay better than most work available to women, but they got to work with radium, the exciting glow-in-the-dark substance that everyone was talking about. When one "girl" got sick and died, a doctor ruled the cause of death was syphilis (despite zero evidence and the impossibility of that claim). Another death was ruled pneumonia (also wrong). But as more and more of the workers became sick -- with horrific and inexplicable symptoms -- the pattern became obvious.

When the watch-painting first began, in the late 1920s, the danger of radioactive substances was still largely unknown. Faced with suspicions as multiple workers became sick, the company commissioned a study... then suppressed the findings.

As the women lost their teeth, suffered broken bones, lost their hair, lost pregnancies, became weak, and died, their employers worked overtime at suppressing the truth, denying responsibility, refusing to pay for medical care, and blaming the workers themselves.

If this story was fiction, the companies' actions would be barely credible; readers would say the author laid it on too thick, making the company out to be monsters. Some of the dirty dealings left me gasping. At one point, the women were all seeing the same doctor. They didn't know that the doctor worked for the company. Then it turned out he wasn't even a doctor! Officially, the women died of radium poisoning. But this book leaves no doubt: these workers were murdered.

Labour laws at the time were in their infancy: if a disease wasn't on a short list of specific conditions, workers had no legal recourse. What's more, even those few conditions were subject to a strict statute of limitations -- for which radium poisoning, by definition, would never qualify.

The media and publicity were much different, too. The two factories in two different states, with workers suffering through the same ordeals, were unknown to each other. When the New Jersey cases finally garnered national and international attention, the workers in the Illinois factory realized they were in the same situation. And when the Illinois women took the company to court, the town turned against them. With the country in the grip of the Great Depression, anyone who could supply jobs was welcome. (This itself is a sad and telling commentary about working class life.)

Sick, disabled, and dying, the women were truly on their own. But they fought back, and they didn't give up. Their fight changed the world. Labour laws changed, scientific and medical knowledge were advanced, and precedence was set for greater corporate accountability.

Fans of Hidden Figures and the less famous but equally amazing Glass Universe will want to read this book. If you enjoy hidden histories, stories of struggle and perseverance, and real-life heroes a la Erin Brockovich and Karen Silkwood, this book is for you.

My only criticism of The Radium Girls is the writing itself. It could have used another round of editing to tighten up excessive detail and delete some unprofessional colloquialisms. Whether anyone who is not a writer or editor will notice, I don't know. Any qualms I have about the language are far outweighed by the riveting story.

9.04.2017

labour day 2017: demand more


CUPE Ontario's striking new graphic urges us to be brave, to be bold, and to demand more. Those two words -- demand more -- deserve our attention.

Every single law or regulation that protects us at work is a product of the labour movement. The right to days off. The right to a meal break. The rights of children to attend school. Paid holidays. A minimum wage. Maternity leave. All of it.

Many broader rights that have benefited our society were championed by the labour movement ahead of the mainstream, such as protection from discrimination for the LGBTQ community. All this, and so much more, was the result of working people, standing together, and demanding more.

We all know that union density -- how many people in any community are members of a union -- has declined greatly in the past decades. As corporations moved their operations to other countries to take advantage of cheap labour and the absence of environmental and health and safety laws, manufacturing jobs all but disappeared from North America. (Let's remember "the Chinese" are not "taking" jobs. Canadian and American companies choose to maximize profits, and governments and laws make it easy for them to do so.)

As well-paid, full-time manufacturing jobs disappeared, we saw the rise of precarious work -- poorly paid, part-time jobs that don't enable workers to create a secure life for themselves and their families.

In their short-sighted rush to squeeze more profit out of the system, employers have wrecked the economy and damaged the life chances of an entire generation.

It doesn't have to be this way.

We can demand more. We must demand more!

Unions are central to this struggle in many ways.

Workers fortunate enough to belong to a union are the forward guard of the demand for more. Through the power of collective bargaining, we can win better pay and better working conditions for our members -- and raise the bar for everyone in our communities.

Courageous non-union workers who organize themselves and stand up to employers -- like the Fight for 15 & Fairness (in Canada) and the Fight For 15 (in the US) -- get crucial help and support from labour unions.

And finally, unions have the resources to speak to governments on our behalf, to make sure governments do the right thing for workers, our communities, and all of society, rather than acting for the narrow interests of employers. Here in Ontario, CUPE is a leader in that effort.

CUPE 1989 wishes you a happy and proud Labour Day.

On Labour Day 2017, let's pledge to Demand More: at the bargaining table, on the picket line, at the ballot box -- and in the streets.

This post also appears on the CUPE Local 1989 website.

8.13.2017

join the ndp and vote for niki ashton: deadline aug 17

The deadline to join the NDP and vote for Niki Ashton is August 17.


Last night I saw something that shocked me, and today I did something I've never done before: I joined a political party. And I did it so I can cast my vote for Niki Ashton for leader of the federal NDP.

* * * *

I worked on Saturday, and was very busy, with zero time to check headlines or social media. After work, I was watching the Red Sox trounce the Yankees and idly tapping on my tablet, when I was stopped cold.

Heather Heyer was killed when a Nazi rioter
drove a car into the crowd.
I am not easily shocked. Perhaps I think I am shock-proof. But the spectacle of an angry mob carrying torches and Nazi banners, openly attacking a group of peaceful protesters, hit me like a gut punch.

I've been writing about the collapse of the US empire, the US becoming a third world country, the fascist shift, and so on, for a long time. It's not like the rise of the white supremacists came out of nowhere. And it's no surprise that police and local government allowed this to happen. So on the level of "this happened" -- no, it's not a shock. But emotionally, psychologically, even physically, the force and weight of it hit me. Men holding Nazi banners, chanting about Jews and Muslims. A peaceful protester and two others killed. Right now, in the country of my birth.

And from the White House, silence.

And from Ottawa, silence.

White Supremacists surrounded peaceful protesters
and attacked them with pepper spray and torches.
I have no illusions about the priorities of Canada's oil-rich federal government and the shirtless Prime Minister. But I imagined they had at least the veneer of humanity. Nope. It's more important to please the US than it is to speak out against white supremacy and Nazism. They might be only empty words, but Trudeau won't even speak them.

I watched the spectacle in Charlottesville, Virginia, and I felt sick. Not a figurative "this makes me sick," but a literal churning stomach, cold chills of fear, tears in my eyes. Wondering, What's next? Wondering, where are hundreds of thousands of Americans in the streets, shouting a huge, loud, collective NO! ?

* * * *

Some people think it's funny that the Nazis used
"tiki torches". I'm not laughing.
Despite the very justified focus on the current POTUS, the US has been moving in this direction for a long time. The spectacles we saw at Trump rallies did not materialize overnight, without context. An oligarchy completely unresponsive to the needs of its people, an economy based on the transfer of wealth from poorest to richest, no meaningful work, no social system for education, housing, and, until recently, health care -- a populace armed to the teeth, like its government -- xenophobic scapegoating -- and the legacy of racism that has never stopped, never even taken a breather: all this gave birth to what we're seeing now. I've seen some people on Facebook imagining (fantasizing) that if Hillary Clinton was POTUS, this might not be happening. One could just as easily fantasize that it would have happened the moment she was elected. The powderkeg would still exist, and the catalyst wouldn't be far behind. The Democrats certainly had no plans to reverse the course of the last 30 years.

The truth is, in the US, there was no choice. There's the party of cats or the party of cats.

Of the many things that attracted me to Canada, one of the strongest was the presence of an actual, viable third party, a party that more closely represented my values. But in recent years, the NDP has been disappointing, to put it mildly. The party was using the same playbook that ruined the Democrats, moving farther and farther to the right, hoping to capture the so-called centre -- a strategy sure to lose before it even gets started. It's been depressing. My activism has never been around party politics and elections, and the NDP's rightward shift pushed me even further away.

But people's movements have surged in recent years. People are fighting back. Occupy, Idle No More, Black Lives Matter, The Fight for Fifteen -- activism around climate change -- the popularity of Bernie Sanders' platform -- union fightbacks -- all taken together, have created a groundswell. A context where real change might suceed. Where we might have hope.

And right now, in Canada, we do have hope. At last, there is someone running for NDP leadership who wants to recall the party to its roots: Niki Ashton.

From Ashton's website:
I am running because I believe we need a clear vision. We need fundamental change. We need to build the NDP as a movement for social, environmental, and economic justice.
The way forward for the NDP is clear. We must work tirelessly for true reconciliation with Indigenous people, for the protection and preservation of our environment, for working Canadians, for women, for people living with disabilities, for racial justice, for justice for transgender and non-binary people, for LGBTQ+ justice, and for the right to be who you are, and to love who you want to love. 
We must build a political movement that connects with the many Indigenous, racialized, student, environmental and labour movements that are driving progressive political change. We must move ahead with a positive agenda that tackles rising inequality and climate change. We must build a movement that has the strength of the people at its core. We must unite, and build people-centred policy as our foundation. As a party, we need to embrace the thousands of activists across this country who have paved the way for our movement. Their fight is our fight, and together, we are stronger.

I want people to know that we are in their corner, with every decision we make. I want Canadians to feel at home in the NDP because they see themselves reflected in the values and principles we fight for every single day.

It is time to be bold.
It is time to create the Canada we know is possible — we must accept nothing less.
It is time to address inequality in a real way, with real action.
I know we can do this.
I know that together, we can build a movement.
Today I realized that I must help Ashton build that movement. I need to exercise whatever power I have, to vote for Ashton for leader and to urge others to do the same.

August 17 is the last day to join the NDP in time to vote in the leadership election. You can do so here, from Ashton's own page, to show that you joined in order to support her.

Thanks to all my activist friends whose words and actions led me to this change! Solidarity always.

It's time!




7.31.2017

an open letter to loblaw: greed is not good -- especially for public relations

Loblaw Companies Limited
1 President's Choice Circle
Brampton, Ontario, L6Y 5S5
Attention: LCL Customer Relations Centre

Dear Loblaw Ltd.:

I am a Loblaw customer and I was extremely disappointed by recent public statements made by Loblaw CEO Galen Weston, Jr., regarding the proposed raise of the minimum wage in Ontario. Mr. Weston claimed that the proposed wage hikes will result in higher prices and more self-checkout aisles, and speaks about labour costs "ballooning" by $190 million.*

Mr. Weston clearly values Loblaw's shareholders more than it cares about its customers. When I spend my hard-earned money, I don't think it's too much to ask the store to provide check-out and bagging, and for there to be adequate staff on-hand to minimize time spent waiting in line. Instead, Mr. Weston implies that if the minimum wage is increased, I will be forced to provide his very profitable company with free labour by doing my own checkout.

When a company posts $990 million in profit in one year (2016), it is reasonable to expect it to raise employees' wages, provide more hours (which means better service for customers), and consistent scheduling.

I can imagine that Mr. Weston, who is the second-richest person in Canada, does not understand what it's like to (try to) survive on a part-time, minimum-wage job. Not only is the wage well below a basic standard of living, but hours are inadequate, ensuring the need for a second job. Inconsistent scheduling makes it impossible for workers to hold a second job -- or to attend school, which might increase their chances of ever earning more than minimum wage! By paying minimum wage and offering only precarious work, Loblaw contributes to poverty in Canada.

And then there's the company's image. From a public relations point of view, wouldn't it be smarter for Mr. Weston to champion the minimum-wage increase, and voice its concern for its employees, rather than whining about the cost of running his wildly profitable business? Mr. Weston would do well to listen to Toronto Star business columnist Jennifer Wells, who reminds him "that the company’s people are assets, not just a cost centre". (It's an excellent column: I hope Mr. Weston will read it.)

It's not too late for Mr. Weston to salvage the company's public image. I look forward to reading his retraction and apology, and Loblaw's support for more fair and livable employment laws in Ontario.

Sincerely,

Laura Kaminker
Mississauga, Ontario



* Although the word "ballooning" is not quoted directly, every media story about Mr. Weston's statement uses it -- not a coincidence. I was unable to locate the media release online.

------

Other ways to contact Loblaw are listed here.

7.07.2017

happy strike-iversary!






The City of Mississauga has a community recognition program, through which community groups can have their banner fly at City Hall for a day. When the program was announced, I said to a few of my union sisters, "I know a flag I'd like to see there...". I was only joking -- but they took me seriously! This morning, to the astonishment of many, the beautiful pink CUPE 1989 banner is flying beside Mississauga City Hall!

This week marks one year since the members of CUPE Local 1989, Mississauga Library Workers, walked off their jobs and onto the picket lines. It was the first strike in our local's history and the first strike against the City of Mississauga.

I am a member and now the president of Local 1989. In the past year, I've been invited to speak on panels, in conferences and conventions, in rallies, meetings, and gatherings of labour activists. Our local was honoured at the CUPE Ontario convention, and featured in a conference called "Building Strong Locals," held in Halifax. Everybody wants to hear how we built a winning strike, and it's been my great honour to share my reflections.

I never get tired of talking about the gains we made, especially for our lowest-paid members, and about how the strike transformed lives. But except to my partner and a few others, I don't talk about how the strike and my union work effects me personally.

Leading the bargaining team, the strike, and our union has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. I love being a librarian, but even that is far outweighed by the satisfaction I find from my union work. Leading our team through bargaining and through the strike used -- and tested -- everything I had. It felt like all my experience, all my knowledge, and all my skills, from every thread of my life, had come together for this purpose. That was extremely exciting and energizing.

It also came at the right time in my life. I'm less volatile, more focused; I have a longer fuse, and a good deal more common sense. Dealing with the physical and mental limitations from my health issues was not always easy, but I'd rather struggle with getting enough rest at 55 than popping off in tirades at 25. (I did pop off once or twice in bargaining. Hey, I'm entitled to some fun!)

Our union continues to thrive. We're enforcing the terms of our collective agreement, protecting gains we have made, and always, always, always striving to engage our members. We're also identifying and developing future leaders, so the gains we've made don't unravel when the current team steps away.

I've made great friendships. Like my comrades from the War Resisters Support Campaign, these friends are from greatly diverse backgrounds and lives, linked by our belief and commitment to this work.

Tonight, members of CUPE 1989 will gather for our "strike-iversary," to reminisce about the experience and reflect on what we gained, how we've changed, and what lies ahead.

3.24.2017

ontario librarians: should the ola support staffless libraries?

This week, the Toronto Public Library announced plans to open libraries with no staff. Not just no librarians -- we've seen that in many places -- but no staff whatsoever.

This was bad enough, but we were further horrified to see that the Ontario Library Association, a membership-based organization that is supposed to further the interests of libraries and librarians, seems to support this idea. OLA Executive Director had the chutzpah to re-frame this as "innovative".

If you are a librarian in Ontario, I hope you will provide feedback to the OLA through this petition: The OLA Should Oppose Staffless Libraries. Please consider sharing with your own library network.

* * * *


* * * *

March 23, 2017

Shelagh Paterson
Executive Director
Ontario Library Association
Toronto, Ontario

Dear Ms. Paterson:

We, the undersigned, are public librarians in the province of Ontario and members of the Ontario Library Association (OLA). We are concerned and disturbed by the OLA’s apparent support for current trends in library staffing that are grossly detrimental to our profession and to the public we serve.

The Toronto Public Library has announced plans to open staffless libraries. This is antithetical to the core values of our profession and to our shared vision of what libraries are and should be.

In a Toronto Star article about this development, you are quoted as saying, “we’re very lucky here in Ontario that we have a library culture that is willing to try new things . . . and I would say that sometimes what drives that is budget cuts.”

We are deeply disturbed that, rather than advocating for adequate library funding, the OLA would re-define budget cuts as a driver of innovation.

The Star article also quotes you as saying, “I think you may not actually see the librarian in your visit to the library, but there is a librarian behind the scenes putting it all together and delivering a really excellent service.”

A staffless library can never be “a really excellent service.” Librarians and library staff “behind the scenes” of a building devoid of people are not enough. A truly excellent library service is one in which educated, trained professionals offer a wide range of services that support literacy, lifelong learning, and social engagement, and enable communities to thrive.

The OLA’s mission statement states that the organization enables members to “deliver exemplary library and information services throughout Ontario.” A library without librarians – indeed, a library without library staff of any kind – is not an exemplary library, and is indeed not a service of any kind.

Further, the OLA’s vision of an Ontario where everyone is “free to imagine, learn and discover, and recognize and celebrate library and information services as an essential resource for realizing individual aspirations and developing communities” is exactly the opposite of the current trend towards minimal – and now, nonexistent – staffing. A staffless library privileges members of our community who are affluent, information-rich, and technologically literate, and increases social inequality.

We believe the OLA should unequivocally oppose the staffless library.

We believe the OLA should actively advocate for well funded, fully staffed libraries, and should actively promote the value to the community of librarians and other educated, trained library staff.

Sincerely,

The Undersigned Ontario Librarians

Sign here: The OLA Should Oppose Staffless Libraries.

9.04.2016

happy labour day



How have labour unions benefitted our society? Union activism brought us:
Weekends! Literally. There used to be an expression: "Don't come to work on Sunday, don't come to work on Monday." Meaning, if you took one day off, you were fired.
Vacations - any vacation
Paid vacations
The 8-hour work day
An end to child labour, so every child could have an education
Rest breaks
Equal pay for equal work for women
Sick leave
Canada Pension Plan
Universal health care
The minimum wage
Pregnancy and parental Leave
The right to strike
Anti-discrimination rules at work
Overtime pay
Health and safety rules
The 40 hour work week
Worker’s compensation for on-the-job injuries
Employment Insurance
Pensions
Public education!
Collective bargaining rights
Wrongful termination laws
Whistleblower protection laws
Anti-sexual harassment laws
Holiday pay

Unions even help nonunionized workers get better pay and benefits. Here's how.
Unions have a substantial impact on the compensation and work lives of both unionized and non-unionized workers. This report presents current data on unions’ effect on wages, fringe benefits, total compensation, pay inequality, and workplace protections.

Some of the conclusions are:

Unions raise wages of unionized workers by roughly 20% and raise compensation, including both wages and benefits, by about 28%.

Unions reduce wage inequality because they raise wages more for low- and middle-wage workers than for higher-wage workers, more for blue-collar than for white-collar workers, and more for workers who do not have a college degree.

Strong unions set a pay standard that nonunion employers follow. For example, a high school graduate whose workplace is not unionized but whose industry is 25% unionized is paid 5% more than similar workers in less unionized industries.

The impact of unions on total nonunion wages is almost as large as the impact on total union wages.
The most sweeping advantage for unionized workers is in fringe benefits. Unionized workers are more likely than their nonunionized counterparts to receive paid leave, are approximately 18% to 28% more likely to have employer-provided health insurance, and are 23% to 54% more likely to be in employer-provided pension plans.

Unionized workers receive more generous health benefits than nonunionized workers. They also pay 18% lower health care deductibles and a smaller share of the costs for family coverage. In retirement, unionized workers are 24% more likely to be covered by health insurance paid for by their employer.
Unionized workers receive better pension plans. Not only are they more likely to have a guaranteed benefit in retirement, their employers contribute 28% more toward pensions.

Unionized workers receive 26% more vacation time and 14% more total paid leave (vacations and holidays).

Unions play a pivotal role both in securing legislated labor protections and rights such as safety and health, overtime, and family/medical leave and in enforcing those rights on the job. Because unionized workers are more informed, they are more likely to benefit from social insurance programs such as unemployment insurance and workers compensation.

9.03.2016

labour day readers' advisory: books and movies that celebrate labour

I spoke to a customer yesterday who was visiting from Denmark. He described himself as a trade-unionist, and he came to the library, looking for me, to learn about our strike!

He also said he had read a book he loved, and was looking for more like it. He described the book: "by a Canadian author, takes place in Toronto, about the struggles of workers building a viaduct". It is some measure of my Canadian acculuration that before he finished his sentence, I idenfitied Michael Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion, an excellent work of historical fiction and labour history.

For the "more like that" question, I immediately thought of The Given Day, by Dennis Lehane, which led me to write this post about historical fiction in general. 

So on the Labour Day weekend, I thought it would be fun to do a little labour-themed readers' advisory. Here's my list.

Fiction
In the Skin of a Lion - Michael Ondaatje
The Given Day - Dennis Lehane
Ironweed - William Kennedy
The Ink Truck - William Kennedy
The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
In Dubious Battle - John Steinbeck
The Jungle - Upton Sinclair
The Lacuna - Barbara Kingsolver (on my to-read list)
Work Song - Ivan Doig (same)
For the Win - Cory Doctorow
Rivington Street - Meredith Tax

Nonfiction 
There is so much good nonfiction out there, a list of labour-themed nonfiction would be overwhleming. I will just highlight a few.
Triangle - David Von Drehle (I wrote about this here and here; it's my number one pick in this post.)
Fast Food Nation - Eric Schlosser
Nickled and Dimed - Barbara Ehrenreich
Bait and Switch - Barbara Ehrenreich
Big Trouble - J. Anthony Lukas
Why Unions Matter - Michael D. Yates
Only One Thing Can Save Us - Thomas Geoghegan
Which Side Are You On - Thomas Geoghegan 
And this excellent list from a public service workers' union in the US, which includes fiction, nonfiction, and film.

Film
Matewan
Made in Dagenham
Pride
Jimmy's Hall (Paul Laverty/Ken Loach: see every film they make)
Bound for Glory
Silkwood
Sometimes a Great Notion
Norma Rae
Harlan County, USA
Bread and Roses (more Ken Loach)

Yours?

8.14.2016

fight for 15 and fairness: brampton forum for decent work

After our members returned to work, but while I was still on staycation, I attended a community event organized by labour activists in Peel Region. It was a beautifully planned event, with music and food and lots of opportunities for participation.

In Ontario, the Fight for $15 & Fairness
is focused on the Ontario Ministry of Labour's
Changing Workplaces Review.
Each of the three keynote speakers was brilliant and revelatory. First, Gurjeet Sran, an economist from York University, blasted through the myth that raising the minimum wage hurts the economy. (In fact, raising the minimum wage actually helps the economy.) Sran also spoke about the pressing need to raise the corporate tax rate. Even though most people in the room were familiar with these arguments, it's always good to brush up on facts and strengthen your knowledge.

Next, Monica Avero spoke about the fight for justice for workers at Toronto Pearson Airport. Avero is a Unifor member and belongs to the Toronto Airport Workers’ Council, an alliance of unionized and non-union airport workers. The conditions at Pearson -- Canada's largest workplace -- are nothing short of shocking. Minimum wage pay, constant on-call hours, inhumane shift scheduling, and no guarantee of hours are the norm. Wage theft abounds. Workers frequently sleep in the airport for a few hours in between shifts, not leaving the airport for days at a time in order to get more shifts.

If a worker can stick it out long enough to earn more than $13/hour, their contract is terminated. The work is either offered to someone else, or the same person can apply for the job at an even lower wage. Last year, hundreds of workers in the airport's refuelling, wheelchair assistance, and de-icing services were laid off and forced to reapply for jobs at much lower pay rates. At least 200 of these workers were never rehired. The previous year, parking attendants were targeted. Avero herself has been working at Pearson for 18 years; she still earns minimum wage. Welcome to the world of deregulation and privatization.

If the conditions at Pearson are shocking, the conditions for temp workers around Ontario are off the charts. Navi Aujla, a graduate student, followed in Barbara Ehrenreich's footsteps, working for temp agencies in the Toronto area. The agencies employ mainly new immigrants from racialized communities, and mostly women. As a rule, they pay less than minimum wage, expect round-the-clock availability, and are in constant violation of almost every clause in the Employment Standards Act. Many major companies use agency workers for the majority of their workforce. The agencies are completely unregulated, and what regulations there are, are not enforced.

After the main speakers, a member of the audience took the mic to talk about his situation. A Somali man, he was a successful lawyer in his home country. In Canada, his degree was not recognized (an extremely common situation), so he went back to school and became a qualified accountant. He sent his resume to 500 accounting firms and did not receive as much as a single phone call. Why would that be? His name is Abdullahi Barre, and this was in early 2002.

Barre took many different jobs, earning whatever wage he could. After many years, he found work as a parking attendant at Pearson Airport, and worked his way up to $14/hour. . . until everyone was fired and rehired at $11.25/hour. That's when he joined the Workers Action Centre and became active in working for change.

With the event just days after CUPE 1989's ratification vote, the organizers asked me to speak as well. It was exciting to report on a win, and to talk about how our strike energized and activated our members.

But the best part of the event, for me, was that two random 1989 members attended, on their own -- and one even spoke a bit, during the open mic portion. I don't know if either of these members had ever attended a union meeting before, and here they were at a community organizing event in Brampton. That might be the biggest win of all.

8.08.2016

what the strike meant to us, in our own words

Image: "We Hit Them Like A Wave" -- Diane Davies

After CUPE 1989 ratified our new contract, I said I would write about the intangible gains we made through our strike, the kind that aren't written in the collective agreement. I've heard labour activists say that strikes are a "transformative experience" -- a life-changing event -- and now I know why. Standing up for ourselves, asserting our own rights, is a crucial part of every person's development. But learning how to stand up collectively is a different level of power.

For many of our members, the strike was their first time seeing themselves as part of something larger than themselves -- seeing our union not just as 400 library workers who happen to work for the same employer, but as part of CUPE, and part of the labour movement itself.

Striking together brought so much unity and solidarity among our members, so much goodwill and love and caring. Of course there were some complaints and some finger-pointing. Nothing is ever 100% -- even our ratification vote was only 99%! But the huge majority of our members were supportive and caring -- and determined.

At work, we are full-time and part-time, we are pages, librarians, library assistants, couriers, cataloguers. But on the line, we were one: we were 1989.

I could go on and on about this -- I often do! -- but I'd rather let our members speak in their own words. These are quotes from emails and from our closed discussion group on Facebook. Although I am quoting each anonymously, these all are actual quotes from our members. And from most of these, I've removed effusive thanks to the leaders and the bargaining team!

Reflections after we returned to work
It was sad we had to go out, but I'm glad I was part of it before I left. That was the first time in my entire 39 years working for MLS that I felt we were truly united! We should all be proud of that. (from a recently retired member)
***
The journey we all were on for three weeks was enlightening, because now we all know that striking is not easy, but we made friends along the way. We had a unity, a togetherness, instead of the divisions between part-timers and full-timers that some of us thought might happen.

It wasn't all about the money but also the principle of the matter -- fairness, equality, respect, being valued.

What I learned after I went back to work was how much our customers really cared and loved us. I heard "Thank God you are all back!" "I really miss you guys!", "You're a sight for sore eyes!"

It was a lot of sweating, walking, with moments of happiness and despair, but for a good cause and I would do it again.
***
We got lots of "welcome back" greetings and warm feelings when we reopened yesterday, as well as some unexpected ire from patrons angry about the raw deal the City had offered us. Seems like some regulars were letter writing (in our favour) during the strike!

Later we received two lovely pictures from little kids welcoming us back as only little kids can. Proof that we make a difference. We matter to people!
There comes a time in your life when you have to take a stand. Fight for what is right. Fight for "the greater good" and not just think about yourself. For me, this strike was my time. I will never pass by another strike and think that a quick honk is enough support. I will always stop to ask if there is anything I can do to help. Water, snacks, words of encouragement. Make calls. Walk the line with them. Whatever I can do to make a difference no matter how small.

As much as it's not fun to be forced to strike by the employer, I have grown through this experience and wouldn't trade it for anything.
***
Celebration Square will look empty and sad without all the pink-wearing ladies and gents. It wasn't easy, and I am happy that strike is over, and we will go back to do what we love with all our passion. But still, I will miss our togetherness and unity and friendship and feeling that we are doing something very important, that we are changing Mississauga Library System forever, that we have a very strong voice and determination to do what is right. This is even a historic moment because this was the first time that our library went on strike! Solidarity and love to all of you.
***
I will probably retire next year, but I feel so good about what we all just did, leaving our union in such better condition, proud of ourselves, no longer afraid to strike. I am so glad I had a small part in this. I am so glad that I got to experience a "kinder gentler strike" and to witness solidarity in action.
***
I still can't believe the unity the strike created. I admit feeling a little let down once the picketing ended, knowing that I wouldn't be seeing so many of my colleagues daily. It was way better than any staff appreciation or team-building exercise our employer could come up with. The caring about people, checking up on one another, lifting morale when one of us was having a tough day, making sure colleagues were staying hydrated and being safe on hot, hot days.

We have all changed as co-workers. People I used to pass in the building with a smile and hello now take time to stop for a quick chat.

I know for myself, I will never look at striking workers the same. I always used to honk when driving past a strike and even dropped off coffee and Timbits when the teachers were out, but now I will go out of my way to drop things off to the picket lines and find time to walk with picketers. I will tell them to stay strong and they will look back on this time fondly. I know I will!
***
My first day on the strike, I was a little uncertain as many probably were. Within 15 minutes, up went the flag, someone handed me a sheet of chants. "Be a rebel," she said. And so I was. My favourite part was blocking the executive garage, and chanting at the corner of Burnhamthorpe. Apparently the city received many complaints about the noise.

I met the most wonderful people and the kindness of strangers. Bringing water and freezies and honking. We really had a lot of public support. I learned so much and wouldn't change those three weeks for anything.

Returning to work we realized the public was totally with us. So happy to see us back. I find it funny they were more appreciative of our return from the strike than when we were closed for 18 months [for renovations]. Many of our customers read between the lines of City's press.

I will never pass a picket line again without honking or stopping to see if they need anything. Another thought I had mid point of the strike was: it wasn't us vs. them, it was US FOR US.
***
Let me tell you about returning to work at the Lorne Park branch. Every person that came through our doors said, "Welcome back, we missed you." Of course we told them we missed them also. Lots of hugs from regulars. Then patrons started bringing in treats. A large fruit tray from one, and homemade, still-warm banana muffins. We were missed as much as we missed them.

I did miss them, but I wouldn't have traded our three weeks together for anything. Connecting with old friends and making new friends. Together, fighting for fairness.
***
All reports about our return were positive. Customers brought staff cookies, someone brought a potted plant! Everyone was saying, "Welcome back! We missed you." Customers asked, "Are you happy, did it work out for you?" I have not heard one report of a negative comment from our customers.
During the strike...
Today was a really interesting time. Standing up for worker's rights at the library was a unifying experience. It was really encouraging to hear so many commuters honk their horn in support!
***
I can't believe how many caring and talented people work for the library. There are too many to name individually, but I see at least one of them being brilliant every single day. It stuns me that our Employer can be so willfully disrespectful to those who give so much of themselves seemingly as naturally as they breathe air.

It's ridiculous how our Employer has turned so many of its best and brightest against itself. There are incredibly dynamic library workers, and often it's these very folks who are channeling their boundless energies and exceptional levels of commitment into keeping our Union strong while standing up to the very organization they give their proverbial blood, sweat and tears to every day.

I love how united we are. We have 20+ year veterans picketing with fresh-faced newcomers. Librarians and senior librarians with couriers and technical services processors. Full-timers, part-time part-timers and pages. Everybody sounds passionate, committed, and fed up with always being treated as an afterthought.

Also, in my role, I get to more branches and departments than most, and every day I see the great things that we do! It really is impressive how we've come together across all job classifications. That alone shows how badly our Employer has screwed things up: EVERYBODY has had enough!
***
I didn't realize how big an impact a strike can make until I heard comments from our supporters. Kinda like being a part of something bigger than oneself.
***
I have never felt such a deep sense of belonging. I am so proud!!!!
***
I'm falling in love with my Union!! I am seeing so much of the best that people can be these last few days (ha ha...with some exceptions, of course, but I tend to ignore those parts).

Really, I am in awe! Thank you and the rest of the team for your strength and perseverance!

Woohoo! Onward march!!
During some tough times...
I support our union! Goodbye 0.5% and minimum wage! We will not blame our union whether we achieve our aims or not. Because: no fight, no hope at all!!!
***
I've been a library employee (and union member) for almost 30 years. In that time, we've come close to striking on two occasions (one of them within a hair's breadth) but we've always backed off. Why? First, fear; second, a na?ve belief that if we were “reasonable” our employer would recognize this and reward us “the next time”. This “next time” never came, so we drew a line in the sand—and our employer hasn't just crossed it, they've obliterated it with their mean-spirited and insulting offer. I'm sure they did this because they assumed, as in past years, that we would back off. Well, the chickens have come home to roost -- only we're not chickens. We're taking a long-overdue stand against the erosion of our standard of living.

I've spoken with a number of people on the picket line and haven't heard one word of dissent. I wonder if the City realizes that everything they've said and done thus far has only galvanized support for the strike? They will not break us. We all stand together.
***
This letter [from the library director] is an insidious attempt to divide us; its aim is to plant doubt in the minds of the Union members, weaken our trust and ultimately sap the vigour, commitment and passion that Union members feel right now ( and which [the director] and the other senior managers can witness so vividly from their library offices when they observe us out on Celebration Square).

It must be rankling some of them immensely to see us all together so strong and committed. A cliché but true: divide and conquer. This is what she is trying to do to us.

It is shameful that she is resorting to this tactic and indeed an insult to our intelligence; it is once again treating us as if we are children.

Please know that I stand by you and the rest of the Union leaders. I have not yet received this letter in the mail from Rose. When I do, I will follow up as you suggest (send her a simple, polite response that I stand with my union).

I trust that the rest of our Union membership will do the same.
***
Tsk tsk tsk, don't the employers know their attempts to divide us backfires? It's amazing how loud librarians can get. Today I'll test my hearing. But so far so good. I think it survived yesterday.

Sending positive thoughts/vibes/prayers to the bargaining team this week. Go get them!!!
***
Before we went on strike, I already had a bit of activism experience . . . . Now I'm involved in a different type of activism (our Union strike) and it's fascinating to see where the two types of activism share common ground: ultimately both are profoundly powerful agents for positive change and deeply life-changing for the activists.

I'm sure all of our CUPE Union members who`re working so hard together in this current struggle with the City feel this.
***
Yes! We need to persevere and support each other and stand up for the fairness of this strike. I envision our strike also helping other struggling workers in the process.
***
I, for one, am willing to be out on strike for however long it takes; you can count on me.

I believe (as you do) that if we keep it up, we WILL prevail.

I've worked for the Mississauga Library System for over two decades and never at any time had any illusion about the employer-employee relationship.

It feels very good to finally have a strong, truly committed Union leadership to inspire library union members to stand up to the City, make it accountable for its actions and demand a fair contract for library staff, a contract that respects good working conditions and a just, equitable remuneration for all levels of staff.

Alongside this it's wonderful to see the strength and friendship among library staff as we unite together in this strike.

Also wonderful to see the community support we're receiving from so many of our customers; truly heartwarming!

Not to mention the support and encouragement our Union is receiving from so many other unions and labour organizations.
***
I am not at all surprised at the behaviour for the City, having worked the library/City for 42 years, this is what I have seen and known for a long time. They have taken advantage of the library staff because we were seen as weak and as we continued to back down at the last minute when a strike was so close it seemed to confirm that. Going on strike is a very difficult thing to do especially for a group who make such low wages, therefore making it very hard to have money in the bank to get you through a strike -- and management knows that and uses that. I feel the City would not and do not treat or feel the same why about the other City Unions that are mostly dominated by men.

Your words say it so clearly and I do hope all of library union members are able to hang in there. This is a very hard fight against an unfeeling or caring employer.
When we returned to the table...
Dear Laura

We are with you and the bargaining team.

Thank you.
***
Good luck to you and the bargaining team. I wish the city would realize what a dedicated crew we (the library workers) are. To strike in summer heat and not falter. It must say something about us as a group.

One thing about this strike. You can meet staff you don't usually work with and catch up with staff that you do. Whether they be your branch or another.

I appreciate seeing the extra support we are getting. The Fight for 15 Fairness, Maureen O'Reilly, Fred Hahn, so many others. Yup, this is bigger then just us. I would love to see minimum raised to 15 across the province.
When we reached a settlement...
I can't believe it! This is so wonderful! I am so proud to work with such amazing, strong, dedicated and compassionate people. Congratulations to everyone for a fight well fought!
***
I will cherish my wonderful memories of picketing, rallies, friendship, unity.
***
I will definitely miss walking and talking to everyone as well! I will miss our togetherness and preserverance, I will always remember this bonding experience! Love you guys!
***
18 days ago, my sisters and brothers of CUPE 1989 set out on a journey to show our employer that we were fed up with our working conditions. That we would no longer stand for these unfair working condition.

This strike has taught me many things (some not so good, but let's focus on the positive); there are so many amazing people that work in our library system, the support, the SOLIDARITY. The support of the public and other unions in this fight was unbelievable.

I hope that we never have to experience this again, but it is now a memory I will cherish, better than any staff appreciation our employer will ever put on for us. I was definitely feeling the stress this past week, but everyone was so supportive and I'm so proud of what we've accomplished together.

I hope that our fight will help others fight for what's fair and help end precarious work. I say all this still not knowing what the deal will be, but I trust that our bargaining team would not settle for anything less than we deserve. I don't know about you, but I'm celebrating this weekend!
***
What a wonderful experience this was for all of us. This strike gave me confidence!! I got to know so many wonderful members from the library system and from other wonderful CUPE members. It's an unforgettable experience for me. I will cherish this wonderful memories
Let's carry this hope, loyalty and friendship forward into our workplace and stay respectful and kind to all of our friends who fought this battle and carried the flags and talked the talk... let this be our future mission!
***
I was starting to feel the stress, my morale was down and then a few conversations with colleagues and a couple negative comments made by people made me take a step back and say 'hey wait a minute' and that just motivated me more. Thank you so much for your tireless efforts for us and thank you to everyone who was out there on the picket lines every day in the heat, no matter what, fighting the good fight. I have had the chance to talk to and meet so many people I didn't know before so thank you for those connections as well. I am on vacation next week but I will be excited to get back and see all the excited kids for the summer programs.
***
Every time I wear a pink shirt from now on it will mean something more than just wearing a pink shirt.
***
I am so excited to go back to work but I will miss every moment of my picketing!! Wow! We had so much fun. See you all [at the ratification vote] with our similing faces. We did it! We won!!!
***
I feel like we won the lottery! Only we didn't win it, we FOUGHT for it!
After a member expressed concern about part-time getting "more" than full-time...
I knew in time opinions like this would surface. This is EXACTLY what the employer wants. They want staff to have the "this doesn't effect me, so I don't support the movement" attitude.

This is the response that I myself have received from friends and family: "But you're full-time permanent now, why do you care about other levels that you probably won't go back to?" But once they hear the issues they understand.

I care because I was part-time for 15 years, and I received nothing. I care because when I became full-time I suddenly had all these things I never had before, I was suddenly so much more important, when nothing had changed. My work ethic stayed the same, my intelligence level was the same, who I was still the same. But because I was now full-time, suddenly I mattered.

I care because suddenly my 15 years of part-time service meant nothing (they didn't want to give me my service pin because I was now full-time, though I completed more then fifteen years at part-time -- my manager had to fight for it). I care because I've known many people in this system for many years and we've all at some point felt that part-time staff meant nothing and that has finally changed.

The bargaining team has made me believe that change is possible, that we CAN make a difference but we MUST stick together. It's never too late to help your teammates receive things they should have had a long time ago. Full-time or part-time, Pages or supervisors we are all human beings and deserve to make wages we can live on. Solidarity, today, tomorrow and always!!!!
***
I understand the stress, we're all feeling it. I know as this goes into a second week people are coming to the realization that this could possibly go on for a while. Know what's lost now will be regained in the future. The City now knows we're not afraid, they know that we are willing to do what needs to be done, and I hope that because of this they will deal with future agreements with more class and dignity than this round, because they know we won't back down. I put all my trust in our leadership and the bargaining team. There will always be bumps, it's part of life. This will all be worth it in the end. Solidarity always.