The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Labor Victory

After an seven week lock-out, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation went back to work in a decisive victory for workers that could change the nature of the public broadcaster and the character of labour struggles for a long time to come.

It is not only the terms of the agreement that are a victory for the members of the Canadian Media Guild; it is also the fact that in these seven weeks they have turned from a motley crew of individual journalists and techies into a strong and united union. All the divisions created by the workplace and the management — radio versus television, journalist versus technician, host versus producers — were erased in a few weeks by the real divide of worker and management.

Public broadcasting in Canada is quite different than in the United States. Both radio and television are major networks in English and French. Their journalism far surpasses the corporate media in both professionalism and balance. They are nevertheless influenced by the prevailing winds of right-wing and corporate politics. Whether the experience of the lock out will change this remains to be seen but it very well could.

For the first couple of weeks CBC workers who believed in a common vision with management about public broadcasting were first hurt and then angered by the tough, insensitive and ignorant treatment they were receiving from management.

Then something almost magical happened. They used their creativity to fight back. Here is just a partial list of what they created:

blogs podcasts Shelagh’s caravan Songs about radicalizing during the strike the brilliant “silenced” campaign Andy Barrie moving his whole Toronto morning radio show to CIUT community radio talent packed rallies across the country

Using their creative talent to build a labour struggle in keeping with their values and experiences was the genius of the workers’ response to the unjust lockout. They were led by blogger Tod Maffin who immediately transformed his blog into CBCUnplugged. He posted the last comment on that blog on Wednesday October 5 saying:

From the beginning, I wanted CBCUnplugged.com to be a community project like a virtual meeting place, not just one person’s blog. I wanted us to have a place where we could all gather, help each other, share ideas, even disagree respectfully, and I think for the most part it worked. I hope that spirit will live on when we’re all back in the way we communicate with our audience and Canadians.

It worked beyond Tod’s dreams. Sometimes a struggle can be transformational and I believe that indeed this spirit of creativity and solidarity will continue once the CBC is back to work. More than one CBC worker told me over the course of the lockout, “I will never be able to work under those circumstances again.” It’s to be hoped that the CBC journalists — radio, television and online — will keep fighting for their vision of public broadcasting once they are back at work.

And the Guild let the thousand flowers bloom never trying to shut down any of the creative endeavors but rather supporting them. Except for bargaining, it was a completely decentralized struggle with union leaders following the lead of their membership. What a concept. As for management., they blew it totally. It was sheer arrogance that led to this lockout. They figured the Guild would cave in a couple of weeks and they would have their cake and eat it too, winning the casualization of the work force in time for the fall season. But they figured wrong and now not even The Globe and Mail editorial board can support them.

If Robert Rabinovitch, President of the CBC, has an ounce of pride he will resign and if he doesn’t, the CBC board should fire him. And then there is the board, a pathetic group of patronage appointees with little or no appreciation for what the CBC means to this country. How about reappointing the board from public applicants whose expertise is their knowledge of the importance of the national broadcaster to our communities.

The mainstream media argued that it was the upcoming hockey season that forced a settlement. But despite what the corporate media are saying, it was the public pressure on the Liberals as Parliament came back. People across Canada want our CBC back. I for one felt bereft without CBC news and CBC radio in particular. Most of the community support is for radio. Partly that’s because radio is a much more intimate medium than television but it’s also because CBC radio is not commercial and CBC television is.

Shelagh Rogers, who hosts a popular national show called “Sounds like Canada” met that radio audience travelling in a caravan across Canada. She told me that it was her greatest experience in the last 25 years. It was wonderful that she took her Canadian-as-maple-syrup image into the streets and communities of the country to build support for workers in the lockout.

What became clear is what is always clear to those of us who still call ourselves socialists. It is the workers who produce the value of any enterprise, not the management. The CBC are the people who work there and the audience who make it such an important part of our lives.

Here’s a message to the Paul Martin Liberal government. Sweep the top management out of there and bring in some people who will get out of the way and let those tremendously talented people do their thing. Canada will be the better for it.

Judy Rebick, publisher of rabble.ca, is the author of Ten Thousand Roses: The Making of Feminist Revolution. She holds the Sam Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy at Ryerson University in Toronto This article first appeared in rabble.ca

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