Saturday, March 4, 2017

The passing of the guard

The passing of the guard The recent passing of past Canadian Auto Workers and Canadian Labour Congress president Bob White is a tragic loss to all his family, friends, and loved ones. Hopefully they will find comfort in the font of love and respect that will flow their way in the wake of Bob’s life and his life’s work. In terms of Canada, and perhaps the world, it is impossible to view the passing of Bob White through a single lens. With the passing of iconic Canadians such as Bob White we are witness to not only the passing of the person, but the passing on of their passion for the work, the changes they made to Canada and the world as they marched and lead us through this life to new generations. Bob White’s work in the trade union and social justice movement was both pioneering and transformational. Suggesting that Bob was the only transformational and pioneering leader of progressive movements would be and is unfair to his peers, sisters and brothers, across progressive movements such as labour whom all made equally profound contributions. The list would be long and distinguished, Jean Claude Parrot, Lynn Williams, Kealey Cumming, Shirley Carr, Walter Reuther, the leaders of the Winnipeg General Strike, the strikers that brought about the Rand formula, the miners in Elliott Lake that brought about the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and so many more. The aim of organized labour is to improve the lives of workers, workers’ families, and their communities. The aim of business is the pursuit of capital and with forty plus years of predominantly business oriented, worker unfriendly governments the world over, these goals frequently contrast with the aim of labour. Organized labour has long recognized that reaching their goals must be attained holistically and that the sharing of wealth is imperative to that success. Bob White professed a sound sentiment some years ago, when he noted the it is the workers, without whom not a wheel would turn, that are the wealth makers. Philanthropic endeavours by business make it appear that their approach is a similar holistic approach, but no such endeavours would have taken place without the pressure of workers and their representatives insisting that businesses share their prosperity with workers and the community at large. It is this insistence on the sharing of prosperity or the creative way of dealing with challenges to this prosperity that made Bob White and this genre of labour leader the transformational leaders that they turned out to be. Measuring success in the context of workers’ rights and a fair and compassionate state is a bit of a mirror of Bob White’s accomplishments. Human rights, international solidarity with workers fighting apartheid, working to eliminate racism, woman’s rights, unwavering belief in Canada and Canadian workers through taking Canadian Auto Workers out of the UAW and into the CAW, bare knuckle fighting against the corporate agenda and neo-liberalism, ensuring that Canadians have decent paying jobs to go to, political action in the streets and in the legislatures, pushing back against unfair trade and the realization that a fair and compassionate society is not only possible it is ours for the making. These profound and progressive steps have all been achieved by the hard work of organized labour leaders, the rank and file and like minded individuals. Each victory was won by an undiminished belief that a socially responsible and fair society is possible and will be achieved through solid collective action. Based on decades of demonstrated contempt for workers by governments and business these leaders of workers and their members still took on the struggles and won the day by mobilizing workers and the community. Should these leaders and their supporters leave nothing behind, but their legacy of progressive change and the firm realization that fighting back and creating a better society for all was absolutely necessary, then they have paved the path for the next generation of activists and the new and transformational ways that will change the world and society for the better in spite of this time of ever increasing attacks on workers and the charter rights that embed such things as collective bargaining. Ending this letter to you with two quotes is appropriate. “Unions raise the standard for all workers just as a rising tide lifts all boats” and the United Steelworkers refrain of “One Day Longer” tells the story of how we all benefit from the struggle, what the struggle is likely to look like and what it will take-one day longer than the opposition to the fair and just society. Dave Trumble Vice-President, Bruce County Grey-Bruce Labour Council

Friday, February 17, 2017

Labour Education

Experienced a full day talking to co-op students. The day was to be about Health and Safety and it certainly was. However, a very astute teacher recognized the possibility of expanding the two sessions to provide some education about unions, labour councils and the labour movement. At one time discussions about labour and unions took place regularly in secondary schools. I had my own educated guesses as to why this faded away from the curriculum and to some degree these guesses were validated today. During a break today this topic came up and the next few lines outline more or less what appears to have happened. There may be other reasons, but this seems to be the essence. Starting in 1995, as governments and media became less and less worker and union friendly this trend was adopted by more and more of the community at large. Covering the topics of unions and labour took place in a variety of ways. The teachers did it independently, invited speakers to their classes and made use of union speakers from the speakers' bureau of the Ontario Federation of Labour. Such speakers spoke from the heart and aided immensely in a better understanding for students of the benefits of a strong and robust labour movement. The negativity towards workers and unions, as mentioned above, manifested itself into the community voicing concerns about this valuable addition to the students' understanding. As misplaced and inappropriate as denying of students a clear understanding of unions, labour and the engine for positive social change that unions and labour are, this took its toll on teachers and schools inviting speakers in and ultimately lead to the demise of widespread and responsible sharing of this information as teachers felt less and less comfortable bringing speakers in. This ultimately took us to the point where education about unions and labour is at best hit and miss, or as happened to me, took place because of an inspired educator. Denying students a deep and full understanding of unions and labour is denying them information that is as important and profound as anything in any history book. It denies them the history of people and events that formed the foundation of almost every positive social change we have collectively experienced.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Fake News and the Labour Movement

January 3, 2017 “Fake News” and the Labour Movement There is a possibility that “fake news” may have been a consideration in the recent American election outcome and with its proliferation in many facets of life, “fake news” is currently the subject of talk shows, pundits, etc. There is clear evidence that for some ,fake news may pass for factual news but despite appearances it has no semblance to fact based journalism or source verified news. Through trained journalists carrying out hard nosed journalism, legitimate news reporting and analysis will arrive at conclusions, or at least educated opinions. Hard news and reporting is not designed to please everyone, but there is research, debate and if proven, legitimate publication. People may disagree with resulting opinions and/or outcomes that are reached, but by and large the effort is honest and unmolested, unlike the news reported by the fake news purveyors who exaggerate, misinform, use racism, hate, intolerance, wedge issues and / or corporate dollars to interfere with editorial boards. Wedge issues are a cornerstone of fake news as it demands that readers be drawn into discussions that are, by design, put in place to distract people from the issues that need attention. Intrinsic to the standard for legitimate news is accountability. Before fake news, if a media or journalistic source intentionally set out to mislead there were consequences, such accountability did not necessarily have substantial weight, but could range from subscriber issues to legal action against the source. There exists a vast quantity of media personalities and social media users intentionally providing and/or propagating misleading reports and lies. This may also be multiplied by corporate dollars pressuring their lapdog media outlets and by extension their too often repugnant and regressive on air personalities. Up to this point unfortunately there seems to be no accountability for those delivering fake news. Some fake news has a very long shelf life as it is very well reported. An example of the immediate or obvious issues with fake news is that of American President Barack Obama, despite there not being any verifiable information or conclusive evidence, the birther movement in America sustained the question of his birthplace for several years. Additionally, a subscriber or reader of fake news in America took it upon himself to attempt an armed rescue of children who he believed were being held hostage. Fake news is partially sustained by pandering to a portion of the population, that who, because of their personal convictions wish to believe what is provided and by those who either choose to accept fake news without verifying its legitimacy or sadly for any number of reasons are incapable of determining its authenticity. Fake news owes much to the posting and reposting in the social media world and such actions flow out the same roots of verification and pandering. Keeping fake news alive cannot be solely attributed to the left or the right of the social or political spectrum, but its damage cannot be overstated: Did fake news change the course of an election? It will be more appropriate for historians to debate and decide that. Let us be clear though, provocation is one of the pillars of fake news. There will always be topics that generate strong feelings, fake news is typically aimed at these susceptible topics, the already noted example of the birther issue is one such item. Although fabricated, some people wanted to believe bad things about President Obama, aided solely by endless shares and retweets the purveyors of fake news pushed this as far as possible. Fake news is not limited to misleading information on a global scale, but does evolve into numerous smaller manifestations and will exist by sustaining itself by the same rules as fake news on a global issue, nonetheless it does remains damaging. Examining this more closely we can look at the damage done to the labour movement. The labour movement by its very structure, is inclusive and works for the collective good. However, with a concerted campaign of disinformation about the labour movement that predates the social media amplification of fake news by decades, the damage done by the fake news of today is easily multiplied. The labour movement has been overtly attacked since the Mulroney, Reagan, Thatcher triumvirate of economic horror. The attacks have undermined an entity that works for the good of all workers. This attack, both legislatively and in the media, has aided in the decrease in union membership and backlash towards unionized workers in all sectors. There is a direct relationship between the declining wealth of workers, the strength of the middle class and the decline in union membership. Those that have committed themselves to damaging the labour movement, or any progressive movement for that matter, have a tool that knows no bounds and exists with no known method of accountability. The damage that can be done to the labour movement or any progressive movement is all but limitless. Anytime that progressive movements are vulnerable the entire balance of liberal democracy teeters on the razor’s edge. The labour movement is the last self funded barrier between economic totalitarianism and workers maintaining their rights in the workplace and the damage done before fake news is a malignant cancer eating away at workers’ rights in the workplace. The possible damage that fake news could inflict is now almost incalculable. There are numerous legitimate accusations against fake news and an undermining of workers’ rights is but one. Fake news is used by those wishing to see the labour movement weakened to the point of negligible influence, or perhaps destroyed completely. Along with working within the workplace on behalf of its members, the trade union movement is active in the legislative environment. To remain effective, the density or percentage of unionized workers needs to be enough to bring pressure to bear on employers and on legislators to improve workers’ rights and benefits. Fake news attempts to dress up legislation such as so called “right to work” as something noble in the workplace. In reality “right to work” is a corporate and legislative initiative designed to decrease union density and undermine the effectiveness of the labour movement. Similarly, fake news is being used to pit public sector union members against private sector union members. Fake news reports that public sector union members have somehow been awarded lucrative wages and benefits where private sector union members have been intentionally deprived of similar wages and benefits. Instead of recognizing that the benefits that any union member receives is the result of years of open and fair collective bargaining, ultimately advancing the standard of living and working conditions for every worker, the fake news end game is to pit union member against union member. Fake news is being used to suggest to union members and to the general public that public sector union members receiving these wages and benefits are the reason for government debt issues, when these debt issues are part of government inaction on the loss of manufacturing jobs and the continued habit of providing corporate tax breaks. Left unchecked fake news can be used to undermine any entity. It may alter history and destroy institutions with little chance of recovery. The job ahead of us all, despite the fake news attack is to be responsible well informed citizens, voters, union members and workers. Never forget that the gains of union members elevate the standard of living for all workers. Dave Trumble, VP, Grey Bruce Labour Council