Archive for the ‘Labour and Unions’ Category

“To be hopeful in bad times is not being foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of competition and cruelty but of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.” – Howard Zinn

So much promise and hope, and yet so much, still, of all the worst of us. That is, though, the stuff activism is made of, I suppose. While so much is so good, with many dear friends and promising small-scale commons, our little household has also been dealt with a whole lot of shit over the last year, as we came up against a hostile and profoundly aggressive radicalism that seems to be more interested in inventing ever more enemies for itself than in building alternative communities of solidarity, mutual aid and respect. (more…)


Read Full Post »

I am a union staffer. I work for an organization, recognized under a legal code as a representative of workers’ interests. I am a negotiator, bargaining with management to write joint agreements. I am an advocate, campaigning for improved working conditions and higher wages. I am a politician, brokering deals, managing political support, selling policy. I am a counselor, offering advice and support, drying tears, referring to specialists. And I am a unionist, arguing with bosses, fighting discipline, seeking more money for less work against managers who seek more work for less money. I work in an environment of contradictions. But make no mistake about it – I work; I have a boss; and my job depends on my ability to serve the interests of that boss. (more…)

Read Full Post »

People from at least 30 countries (including Egypt) have sent pizzas to help feed the folks occupying the Capitol building in Madison, WI.  It’s a small gesture of support, but concrete & immediate.
Here’s the info:  Ian’s Pizza, 608-257-9248. $20 gets a 20″ pie with drinks which will feed 8 people. Oh, and don’t forget something for a tip.
For background, here’s a New York Times piece on the pizza solidarity thing.

Read Full Post »

Some days the realities of work appear in all their nakedness.

Far as jobs go, mine ain’t all that bad. I mean, I generally get treated relatively well, I make a good wage, I get benefits and lots of vacation time, and I have the flexibility in scheduling to facilitate the demands of parenting. On top of that, I work for a union, so much of what I do is stuff I believe is important, and never do I have the concern that my labour is lining the pockets of some vicious corporate entity.


Working for unions involves its own collection of compromises. Some are general – y’know, unions are part of the labout relations regime, they are organizations that ultimately serve organizational interest rather than class interest, they are full of all the contradictions of any formal leftist group, and more than their share of compromise and sell-out. Not the union I work for, in particular – but all unions, by their nature, by virtue of what they are and the history of struggle and conflict and sell-out on which “the union” is based.

But all of that I deal with on an ongoing basis. All of that is par for the course, and common among union staffers the world over – and among union members and elected reps, too. Sometimes, however, the conflict between supporting worker struggle and representing workers in a legal process just smacks you right in the face.

Here’s today:

a group of part-time, non-tenured faculty who have collectively organized to push the university to fund more stable, more permanent positions. They did this on their own, because the union has no collective agreement language to help them. They organized, they fought, they won.

but in winning? Aha, there’s the rub. The employer gives them some of what they want. Comes up with some money and some proposals to address the concern, but not enough to fix matters for everyone. You part-timers want full-time stable work? OK. But there’s X numbers of you, and we’ll make Y numbers of positions. Solidarity put to the test, as is always the case in these scenarios.

so here’s where I come in. Workers come to me, cause they want to stand together as a group, tell the employer to piss off until the matter is resolved for everyone. They want to go bigger, involve more people, cause some disruption, move to more colourful protest.

me personally? I love it. They are fired up, they are ready to fight, they have shown that a litle collective action can get movement from the most instransigent employer, and I am encouraged by this fire and want to see it build and spread.

me as union rep? I know it’s taken years to get to this point. I know that at some point they will push too hard and the employer will push back. I know that if the boss gets fed up and simply pulls the money, or gives it to someone else, I don’t have a damn thing in the union stable I can do about it.

Caution restraint, and take the little gain you’ve made, hoping to build on it later. That’s my job, and in practical terms it really is the most reasonable and safest response. To do otherwise would be at best risky, at worst irresponsible. But to send that message, I simultaneously must dissuade the group from its collective, autonomous action. And that is a hard thing for me to do.

The workers want to fight on, risk the loss just to build the movement for another day. I need to manage the risk, find the compromise, somehow keep them just engaged enough that the spark doesn’t die but with enough of a damper that we can control it, pull back into retreat as need be, make sure we hold onto the little gains that have been achieved.

So I sit here now, after they’ve left. I managed to find a few places to suggest they can still push while warning them about what’s to be lost if they move too fast or push too hard. And I think:

if those folks never came to ask my advice, we might just see a major confrontation here that could inspire others.

if those folks talked to me like a stranger on the street, I would’ve been a whole lot more encouraging, and may well have wanted to be a part of whatever action ensued  myself.

if I didn’t spend my days on the minituae of collective agreements and labour relations, I would speak far differently to a situation like this.

But I am a union rep. I do know the system well. I do find myself thinking in terms of written agreements and potential risks, and what the law would do with this case should it somehow get there. And I do speak to them from that place – indeed, that’s exactly why they sought me out.

Yeah. It’s  a union. The union thing is what I do. And that means compromise. That means providing the answers the union needs to give, not the answers I am inclined to give myself.

But if it came natural, and if I didnt have to face these issues, they wouldn’t have to pay me to do it.  That is the nature of work, after all.

Read Full Post »


As we near the end of November, Meg is returning from the bargaining table, and I am about to take off for union meetings in Ottawa, with a fresh tattoo on my arm of the IWW sabocat – symbol of the wildcat strike and industrial sabotage.

I won’t write much myself today, but instead want to take a moment to remember our martyrs of the struggle – those few names we know, and those countless others in un-marked graves or left by the side of the road. They are in all times, in all countries, in all struggles, so what is here is only the smallest remembrance.

The IWW has long marked Red November, Black November – an occassion to recall all of those killed by state and capital – because that month, particularly, is the anniversary of some of the most notable murders, among them:

Nov. 22, 1886 – Thibodaux Massacre. Dozens of striking Louisiana sugar workers massacred. Newspapers of the day note, “Lame men and blind women shot. Children and hoary-headed grandsires ruthlessly swept down! The Negros offered no resistance, they could not as the killing was unexpected.”

Nov. 11, 1887 – The Haymarket Executions. Four leaders of the campaign for the 8-hour day in Chicago, Illinois, are executed by the state.  Albert Parsons, August Spies, George Engle, and Adolph Fischer, whose struggles and murders are commemorated in the mural that is reproduced as the banner of this blog.

Nov. 19, 1915 – Murder of Joe Hill.  IWW organizer and author of countless labour songs and poems, Joe Hill is executed by the State of Utah on a trumped-up murder charge that even the US president of the day, Woodrow Wilson, didn’t swallow.

Nov. 5, 1916 – The Everett Massacre. Cops and deputies kill 11 Wobblies when they open fire on a peaceful crowd of 200 attempting to dock at Everett, Washington, for a free speech fight.

Nov. 11, 1919 – IWW organizer Wesley Everest, arrested after a confrontation between Wobs and Legionnaires,  is taken from his cell, castrated, and hung beneath a railway bridge. After his death, his body is riddled with bullets and returned to the jail to be laid on display as a warning to the other Wobs in custody.

November. A time to remember struggle and resistance, and captured by another Wobbly songwriter and poet, Ralph Chaplin:

Red November, black November,
Bleak November, black and red.
Hallowed month of labor’s martyrs,
Labor’s heroes, labor’s dead.

Labor’s wrath and hope and sorrow,
Red the promise, black the threat,
Who are we not to remember?
Who are we to dare forget?

Black and red the colors blended,
Black and red the pledge we made,
Red until the fight is ended,
Black until the debt is paid.

Read Full Post »

Y’know, doing the union thing can be mighty strange, particularly when you come to it as a radical. The way various emotions are triggered, the competing and conflicting ideas and analyses and reactions you feel – it involves living with and in multiple identities. And I don’t mean putting on a game-face or playing a role, though there’s certainly lots of that. No, this is something else. You really do become different kinds of person in the process. Responsible and reasonable negotiator. Expert advisor. Enforcer of the law. Radical troublemaker. Pissed-off worker. Hurt employee genuinely wanting to be valued for your contribution. All of these come into play, often simultaneously. And that can be not only hard to manage, but hard to live with emotionally. It can throw you into some real turmoil.

Being a radical in the trade union movement ain’t easy, and it takes its toll. It is a constant struggle to hold onto one’s values, one’s critique, one’s politics while working in an environment and for a labour-relations regime whose very premise is the sell-out, whose foundation is opportunism and self-serving justification, and whose daily work involves the search for what is overwhelmingly a fiction – common ground with the boss.

But there’s another challenge as well, which has a more personal dimension. We remain workers, and though we may critique and rail against notions like ‘productivity’ and ‘value’, somehow still we carry those within us. Much as we know these concepts and the culture they arise from belong entirely to the boss, we somehow still feel pride in our work, and want our contributions to be recognized. We can scoff at this stuff on a collective or abstract level. But individually, it still matters. Alot.

I wrote here last Spring about a moment in which I faced all this in my own working life – in a conversation with my employer about my job, a dispute between us, my decision to quit that particular work, and the emotional toll it took on me. Well, last night it was the girl I love dealing with these kinds of feelings, that mix of rage and hurt, of fight-back and defeat, of seeing the boss act exactly as we know bosses do and yet still being floored by it, by that personal hurt that comes when one’s work isn’t valued, one’s dignity doesn’t matter, one’s contributions are not deemed worthy of any real attention. It hurts.

Cause though capital’s shit about values and teamwork and contribution is just so much garbage, the struggle of us as workers does indeed start from our labour, and the desire to re-define ‘value’ and ‘worth’ in new ways, collective ways, life-giving ways.


Read Full Post »


Some months ago I got all hot for a project on professional wrestling as work, and attempts at unionization of wrestlers. I wrote a blog post about it here, and was all fired up to do a couple of different pieces – something for a popular sports magazine, to get the issue some light, something academic, and something concrete around the how-tos that could potentially help to re-kindle an organizing drive. As so often happens, however, the writing never really materialized, and the whole project sat hibernating in the back of my brain for some future date.

Well, a couple of days ago I decided it was time. I pulled up the blog post, saved it as a word document and started thinking on how I’d expand and re-write for the various audiences. And the very next day, out of the blue, my friend Colin phoned from Toronto. Colin’s doing labour law at U of T, and soon will be heading out to BC to article with the firm that represents the union I work for and a host of other faculty unions around the province. Colin, however, was calling with a whole other piece of news. He’s taking a course in sports law, and the prof has worked as counsel to that all-time fave wrestler of mine, Bret Hart. So, Colin’s planning a paper on the whole unionization of wrestlers thing that I had told him about, and wanted to let me know he’d get that to me in a few months so I’d have some legal work to use in my articles, or so we could put something together ourselves. He’s also particularly keen on doing something practical on the issue and trying to push this into some kind of unionization drive.

Funny how that works, how minds can just re-connect on a topic from so far away at exactly the same moment.

Anyway, from all of this, I’ve been thinking again on the wrestlers’ union thing, and finding myself thinking in particular about ‘The Wildman’ Marc Mero.

Marc Mero was never my favourite wrestler. He was skilled, no question. He was interesting to watch work in the ring, no question. But on the other side of the business – the character-development, story-line, entertainment side, Mero never really grabbed me. Hockey player, football player. and boxer, Mero moved into wrestling in the early 1990s, his major characters over the years being Johnny B Badd – a Little Richard knock-off; ‘Wildman’ Marc Mero – standard wrestler plus a little manic insanity; and ‘Marvelous’ Marc Mero – a hyper-jealous, hyper-arrogant a boxer-turned wrestler whose greatest triumph involved winning a match against his wife, whose increasing popularity shadowed his own, driving him insanely jealous. Yeah. that was indeed the storyline.

Marc Mero walked away from pro-wrestling in around 2005, mainly due to various injuries that could not heal properly while he continued to work. He opened a body-building and fitness studio in Florida, and has been there since.

But that’s all just background. What really matters is what else Marc Mero is doing.

When I was talking to Bret Hart, one of the last questions I asked him was who else I should speak to about working conditions in the industry and the whole question of unionization. He gave me a few names, but one comment stuck out in particular. “Talk to Marc Mero. The WWE [virtually monopolistic-wrestling corporation] still tolerates the rest of us, and we’re on decent terms despite our critcisms. But they hate Marc Mero, and have gone after him hard.”

Huh? marc Mero – really? Hadn’t heard his name come up at all before now. So what was the deal here? A visit to his training institute’s website, an email, and fifteen minutes later Marc is writing back keen to talk.

Apparently, after leaving the wrestling business, Marc Mero started getting real vocal about the industry’s rising death toll. And he pinned the blame squarely on the owners. The working conditions, the pressure for bigger bodies, the soul- and body-eating schedule of life on the road, the requirement to work through injuries. Wrestling, Mero said, was killing people left and right. Wrestling owners and promoters, he said, actively encouraged behaviour they knew to be life-threatening. Wrestling, he said, destroyed people, leaving them hurt, psychologically-damaged, and vicious. He pointed in particular to the murder-suicide of Chris Benoit – by all accounts just about the most professional and non-aggressive of wrestlers until years of steroid abuse fucked his brain so bad he murdered his wife and child before killing himself in a psychotic episode. Lots of wrestlers spoke about it, lamenting the tragedy, many indeed taking about ‘roid rage and the impact of abuse of performance-enhancing drugs. But Mero pointed more directly to the industry and the owners, and placed the blame squarely on their shoulders.

And loud. He started getting on every TV show and radio program he could. He talked about the kind of masculinity wrestling encouraged. He talked about the culture of violence. He talked about the drugs as a job requirement. And not content to make his case to newscasters and policy-makers, Mero went straight to the heart of the wrestling industry’s market. Mero went to kids.

Entirely on his own dime, Marc Mero put out the call that he would visit any school that would have him to talk about body image, drugs, masculinity, violence, and wrestling. Now, officially, it’s all billed as a positive-choice, anti-steroid message. But talk to Marc for a few minutes, and it’s pretty damn clear that there’s alot more going on here, and that it’s this work with kids that is precisely what has the wrestling business so pissed off. Because as far as he’s concerned, ‘making positive choices’ is about rejecting the cultural values wrestling promotes. Because talking about steroids means talking about masculinity, violence, working conditions.

Marc Mero was the first wrestler in the WWE to get a guaranteed annual contract rather than getting paid on the basis of a share of the door. Since he managed that, others pushed for the same, and a significant part of the industry has now shifted as a result. Marc Mero isn’t on a union drive, but when I asked him about unions he’s enthusiastic, and eager to do what he can. So there’s some politics here, and some experience in tackling working conditions.

But mostly, Marc Mero is just spending his time and money talking to kids, one by one doing his thing to counter the industry that he was part of so long and that has taken so many of his friends in the last few years. Mostly Marc Mero is just talking loud – to adults about drug-induced psychosis, corporate responsibility for deaths in the ring and out, and the need for regulation and oversight of an industry that is shaping culture in profoundly dangerous ways. And talking, too, to kids – about steroids and self-worth and the difference between healthy and unhealthy competition and bodies and masculinity and the ability to make choices. And though those are words that on first blush appear the most motherhood-and-apple-pie, though those are messages that initially appear indistinguishable from every self-help book on the shelves, they are also the words that have the wrestling industry most on the ropes. And that’s pretty fucking interesting to me.

Cause it’s part of the same struggle waged by the Jesse Venturas, the Konnans, the Bret Harts, to collectivize, to transform working conditions, to go union. But it’s waged on a whole other terrain – hitting hearts and minds of the kids who are the market today, and the cannon-fodder tomorrow. And it’s the one thing the owners can’t turn into a gimmick, can’t package and re-sell.

Reminds me, funny enough, of Pete Seeger. Black-listed for his socialist politics during the McCarthy era, Seeger decided if he couldn’t sing to adults about strikes and struggles, he’d sing to kids about seemingly-innucuous things – all flowers and peace and love. But when you look back on his career, it was that work – that going out to kids with pretty simple messages – that had the greatest political impact. He didn’t know that when he started. It wasn’t apparent in the words he sang. But it mattered, and lasted.

Now, I don’t expect Mero knows that. In fact, Mero may not even have any fucking idea who Pete Seeger is. But seems the owners know that kids count. Alot. Cause while kids don’t make policy, they sure as hell make culture.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »