All progressive Canadians should support workers who are currently â€œlocked outâ€ by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation management. They are fighting an important struggle over the future of public service broadcasting in an era when powerful political and economic forces would be pleased by CBCâ€™s demise. But lost in the fog of advertising-driven media obfuscation is the reality that this battle is fundamentally about workersâ€™ power and independence.
CBC is trying to introduce an extreme top-down model in which a select few managers get to pick and choose whose contract will be renewed. Workers will have no right to their jobs. In the name of â€œflexibilityâ€ the CBC will become the modern equivalent of the scene in many films where Depression-era longshoremen crowd at the gate waiting to be chosen for a shift by all-powerful overseers. (Camera pans across a sea of hungry faces â€” a finger points at the lucky few. â€œYou, you and you, the rest go home, thatâ€™s it for
Everyone who has seen one of these waterfront movies knows the score: corruption and concentration of power.
The idea of public service broadcasting is that there should be some spots on the dial where commercial considerations are not paramount. Freed from the need to sell soap, journalists can report and artists create with public service as their primary goal. Culture and high quality journalism will flourish.
Of course we know that is the ideal, not the reality, of CBC. But it is important to ask if the ideal is more likely to be achieved through managementâ€™s model of precarious contract workers or by journalists and artists who are relatively secure in their jobs, not constantly trying to â€œsuck upâ€ to their bosses.
(There is a third solution, one used on the West Coast waterfront, a militant union and a joint worker-management hiring hall, but that is not on the current CBC bargaining table. Perhaps next time.) One way to determine whether or not it is the union or CBC management that will produce the best public service broadcasting: Instead of accepting being â€œlocked outâ€ workers â€œlock themselves inâ€ and run the radio and TV networks themselves for the duration of the dispute.
It would be the modern equivalent of the sit-down strikes and factory occupations that built North Americaâ€™s industrial unions in the 1930s and â€™40s. A lock-in would allow CBC workers to demonstrate the depth of their commitment to public service broadcasting. Instead of re-circulating government and corporate press releases, CBC journalists could, while locked in, truly question authority.
Workers could ban all politicians and corporate hacks from the news for the duration of the lock-in, only report on the concerns of ordinary people. If the lock-in was lengthy writers could begin developing TV series about secretaries or construction crews or young people trying to organize their fast-food outlets. Locked-in journalists could finally take a look at what the Canadian government has really done in Haiti. They could run the film that is available by journalist Kevin Pina about Canadian-trained police murdering unarmed demonstrators and U.N. forces massacring 50 civilians on July 6th.
Doing this would have the added benefit of actually putting pressure on politicians who control CBCâ€™s purse strings. Do they really care when the current lockout saves money and shuts down the one mainstream source of relatively commercial-free news? The government is certainly feeling no heat from CanWest or Bell GlobeMedia or Quebecor to get the CBC back up and running.
Perhaps, if CBC workers demonstrated through a lock-in what a true public service media could produce, there would be loud cries from those quarters to get the CBC back to normal.
Yves Engler is the author of two recently released books: Canada in Haiti:aging War on the Poor Majority (with Anthony Fenton) and Playing Left Wing: From Rink Rat to Student Radical. Both books are published by RED/Fernwood and available at www.turning.ca or http://infoshopdirect.com/redpublishing/
in the US.