Canadian media, unions, and a flashback
Today, there is more news about layoffs in Canadian media industry. This time it’s not the CBC that is getting decimated, but Postmedia. They are laying off 90 reporters and merging newsrooms in Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, and Ottawa. In the meantime, the people responsible for the chaos are collecting seven and six figure salaries. I guess it takes enormous effort to be consistently that greedy and incompetent. The situation is no better in Halifax where the unionized employees of the Chronicle Herald have voted in favour of a strike action after the management presented a truly reprehensible list of demands.
All of it is a bit of a deja vu, to be honest. In 1999 and 2000, Ms. M and I worked for a small news agency covering southern Alberta for major metro dailies. Those were contract positions filled mostly by students like us and they required that you have your own equipment and a car and that you work from home. We lived in a small bachelor apartment in Inglewood and, honestly, those were sweet times. We were newlyweds and we thought we were making inroads in the media industry. Then the Calgary Herald strike happened. It lasted a year if I remember correctly. At one point, about half way through the strike, we were all hauled into a meeting with our editor and this guy they brought from Ontario (St. Catherine’s, I think) as the new publisher whose job was to bust the union. He intermittently yelled at us and tried to sweet-talk us into crossing the picket line. When it became obvious, with the exception of one person, that none of us had any intention of doing so, he told us he will make sure none of us ever worked in the media industry in western Canada. He was true to his word. As far as I know, none of us did – except the guy who crossed the picket line. That asshole who threatened us? He has recently published a book about leadership.
It became quickly obvious to me and Ms. M. that if we wanted media jobs, the best we could do was to move and so we did. A couple of months after we left, the Calgary Herald strike ended. One of the conditions was that the union had to be dissolved.
On this week’s episode of Canadaland, Jesse Brown has a conversation with Nora Loreto about the role of unions in Canadian media. In the interest of full disclosure you should know that I do support the show financially with a subscription. In this episode Jesse Brown, the host of Canadaland, is his usual somewhat pompous and somewhat unaware-of-the-world-outside-of-his-bubble self and Nora Loreto doesn’t appear to understand anybody younger than 35, but I think it was very important to have that conversation publicly. We need unions more than ever, but something needs to change and it needs to change quickly. The unions have to figure out how to make themselves relevant to a new generation of workers – journalists included.
In 2000, we did not cross the picket line because we had respect for the Herald journalists. We were never approached by the union, never offered their side of the story, nobody explained to us what was at stake. In the end, they were just lucky we felt solidarity with the people we saw as our colleagues. Or maybe we were just not yet aware that it would take another 15 years before we paid off our student loans. They can’t expect to be that lucky all of the time.
In the photo is a decidedly non-unionized shoeshiner on the Water Street in St. John’s