Tag Archives: neoliberalism

Unions and media: Will journalists save themselves?

22 Mar

Unions get a rough ride from corporate news sources.

From the loudest and most angry leading the charge (the Sun) down to the soft opponents at (barely) progressive papers, like the Toronto Star, the industry as a whole is not “pro-labour.”

Part of this phenomenon is driven by the growth of and emphasis on business reporting. Rather than balancing coverage with the perspective of workers, the news about “business” is dominated by stories about what the masters, bosses and owners are or aren’t doing.

This is despite the fact that many of the unions who protect journalists are strong, vocal advocates for their members. However, when your members’ job is to report and analyze the news, media unions and guilds do not have the same influence on broad, public debate as does the sum of their individual members.

Across all platforms in the mainstream press, there’s an obsession with reporting corporate profits, losses and detailing the lavish or subdued personnas of those who fill the ranks of CEOs. Journalism is supposed to challenge power but instead tends to justify and normalize power’s abuses. The powerful are mostly exalted and those who challenge power are mostly treated suspiciously and critically.

This coverage is so extreme to one side that it’s fantasy to imagine the Globe and Mail dedicating a daily section to news about working people, labour issues and unions.

Instead, we have the Lang and O’Leary Exchange, for example, promoting neoliberal policies that effectively call for the destruction of the CBC. As if a television show advocating for the wholesale elimination of the jobs of the people who create the show isn’t totally insane.

This is cognitive dissonance at its finest and it’s pervasive. Uncritical, PR company-spun, regurgitated talking points are the standard and it has resulted in a crisis of logic in the mainstream press.

For example, when Rogers only made $466 million during its third quarter last year, the Globe and Mail referred to this profit as having fallen, sounding as if the company were in trouble. This narrative was then posited in such a way that made its sound as if laying off hundreds of workers was justified.

While it might make sense for a CFO to refer to profits that are lower than the year before in negative terms, profit is profit. It damages the credibility of news when journalists parrot the talking points of corporate executives.

If collective bargaining were reported like this, pay increases that were lower than last years’ pay increases would be reported as a pay cut.

If public services were reported like this, tuition fee increases would be reported as compound losses for students’ personal assets rather than an investment in a phantom future.

Journalists report through this narrow and lop-sided lens, influencing how Canadians think about corporations, profits and CEOs, as if they aren’t under attack from the very same forces. The craziest part of this cognitive dissonance is that “the media” is peddling a narrative that makes possible the self-destruction of “the media.”

It’s a machine that is hell-bent on its own suicide. The snake has finally gotten a hold of its tail and, starved, it’s eating the hell out of it.

It’s not self-destruction for everyone in the sector. The corporate executives or board members who own and profit from media holdings will be fine. It’s self-destruction for the journalist, the camera operators, the office cleaners and everyone else who relies on the industry’s survival for a pay cheque. But, unlike at Bestbuy where laid-off workers get laid off without warning, media workers themselves are the ones creating the terrain that will lead to them delivering their own bad news. Their consistent anti-union, pro-business rhetoric is at the core of the demolition of their field.

While watching the steady decline, the layoffs, the outrage, then anger and frustration that comes from journalists when they discover that they’re not immune from these forces, that despite their attempts at remaining ‘unbiased,’ ‘clean’ or ‘pure’ that they’re still caught in neoliberalism’s cross-hairs, I find myself deeply confused.

The only way to protect journalists as workers is the only way to protect anyone who is a worker: develop strong unions who can fight against the destruction of the craft, broaden union membership and raise members’ consciousness about the role they play in perpetuating the system.

Unions are critical to saving the asses of many people who work in telecommunications and this includes journalists. Unions are key to the survival of the profession. Either unions will protect the existence of secure, well-enough paying jobs with benefits, or journalism will be outsourced to an automatic news generator powered by a team of people in a basement somewhere.

Unions, though, are nothing without the power of their individual members behind them. Without workers using their labour to create the conditions that improve their industry, the union’s role will be relegated to trying to save some of the jobs announced in a round of layoffs.

The hollow, uncritical babble that’s held up as journalism today threatens the functioning of Canada’s democracy, but it also threatens to undermine and diminish the very industry that peddles it out.

If the quality and endurance of journalism jobs depends on the union, then journalists also depend on the public to have a generally favourable opinion of unions and the roles they play.

And we find ourselves again watching the snake gnawing at its tail.

Using their work to save journalism may not be an easy concept for an industry full of people who both chase after the carrot: fame, honour and being on TV, and who fear the stick: unemployment, joblessness and blogging. I know this war wages inside the stomachs of most young journalists.

But something must be done. It’s time to stop this slow, mass suicide. It’s time for an intervention.

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Supporting Ontario teachers

23 Jan

Screen shot 2013-01-23 at 2.03.41 PMAll progressive struggles are connected, even when those connections can be hard to determine. Drawing these connections is not always easy. Neoliberalism has fractured our communities and conservatives (Conservatives and Liberals alike) have pitted one sector against the other to be able to control our organizing. Progressive people have to work to repair these damaged relationships and better connect the struggle with which they are most connected, to others happening in their communities, provinces or country.

In Ontario, Premier Dalton McGuinty has capitalized on division in his campaign against Ontario’s teachers. In an attempt to fight against his tactics, a group of activists and I created this Q&A on Bill 115 and teachers’ struggles. Feel free to share it, add to it in the comment section or offer your feedback.

While Bill 115 is about to be repealed, because much of its contents was forced upon teachers in a contract, its elements will remain.

What is Bill 115?
Bill 115 imposes a contract on all education workers (teachers, educational assistants, custodians, social workers, secretaries and lunchroom workers), some of who earn minimum wage. In early 2013, the McGuinty government intervened in the relationship between “management” (school boards) and the unions’ normal negotiation processes and forced a contract through legislation on all public elementary and secondary school workers.

The Liberals announced that they intend to repeal Bill 115 once implemented, proof that is unfair and likely unconstitutional because it restricts collective bargaining rights. If the legislation is eventually challenged for its constitutionality, there won’t be anything that can be done to change it, as it won’t exist any longer.

Really??
Yes. This is dirty politics at its worst. BIll 115 also doesn’t allow for appeals to the Labour Board or a third party arbitrator. No recourse exists to challenge or change the Act. This is why many teachers have resorted to withholding work that they would normally do as volunteers. Unfortunately, students who rely on extracurriculars, and the majority of teachers who love coaching or supervising clubs, suffer the most.

The government knew that this would be teachers’ only recourse and are banking on it damaging teachers’ image with the public to lose public support.

What are the biggest problems with the imposed contracts?
These imposed contracts undercut the role of the elected School Board trustees as management to determine what they think is best for their communities. It also removes teachers’ elected representatives from negotiating a fair contract for education workers. The Ontario government is circumventing two forms of democratic representation and forcing its will on both sides of the bargaining table.

In addition to the wage freeze, Bill 115 changes how sick days can be accrued. Teachers get no vacation pay. Instead, they are paid for 10 months of work, pro-rated over 12 months. Previously, many teachers could bank unused sick days and have them paid out much like workers’ vacation days or time in lieu. The new “use ‘em or lose ‘em” policy means sick days will now cost double what it used to to pay them out (when factoring in the cost of sick day usage and paying for supply teachers).

But teachers have it pretty easy. I do tough physical labour all day. They play with kids.
As with all workers, teachers are dedicated; they know it is a privilege to work with, advise and mentor your kids. On an assembly line, defective parts are thrown out–but teachers cannot just discard the kids that need extra help.

The impact teachers have on the lives and outcomes of our children is profound. If our government treats teachers like this, you can bet that they will treat other workers just as poorly.

I’m confused; didn’t Dalton McGuinty resign?
Yes, but even though he’s stopped all business of the Ontario Legislature since early October, he decided to stay Premier until the Liberal Party’s leadership race in late January. Every decision that he has made since he prorogued parliament has been done without the democratic force of our government behind it.

It sounds like he’s trying to use the teachers as a distraction.
Probably. Remember that he resigned and prorogued government amid allegations that his party wasted hundreds of millions of dollars in the temporary closure of a gas plant in Mississauga. His minister of energy, Chris Bentley, was facing a motion of censure that could have landed him in jail.

Will this affect me as a worker in another sector?
Yes. The teachers are being used as a test case. If the government is able to interfere in the collective bargaining process of a sector, even if the interference may be unconstitutional, they will use similar tactics against other workers. Bill 115 has allowed the McGuinty government to circumvent the only democratic process that workers have, and force them to take concession contracts.

Do you really think the government would come after private sector workers in the same way?
As industries change and as foreign ownership continues to play a role in labour politics, the Ontario government is going to look for what pieces of anti-union legislation to keep wages low and boost corporate profits. The closure of the Electro-Motive plant in London is proof that our governments are uninterested in protecting workers. Just as we will fight U.S.-style Right to Work legislation when it appears in Canada, we have to fight Ontario anti-union legislation in other sectors.

The Liberals only react when they think it will cost them votes or support. This means that all workers have to oppose Bill 115 and support education workers, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because when we’re targeted by these policies, we’ll need support.