This piece was written by a member of CUPE Local 500 (City of Winnipeg workers).
I wrote this back in March of this year – Egypt and Madison, WI were in the news and City of Winnipeg workers were in strike prep. It’s sat for a while, but I thought it was time to post it – especially with given the tsunami of uncritical NDP boosterism currently underway in many of our locals. Sure McFayden [leader of the Manitoba Tories who announced his resignation after they lost the election Oct. 4] would be a nightmare, but folks aren’t exactly livin’ the dream right now. It’s time to start talking to each other, instead of just taking cues from above.
It’s March 9, 2011 and as I write this members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 500 (L500) have just finished a second day of signing up for picket duty. This is the first time in years that L500 has prepped for a strike. If members do walk, it will be for the first time since 1919.
So, it’s been awhile.
A lot happens in 92 years. Great Depressions happen. So does a war, or two, or three, or four. Babies boom. Courts and law-makers say you can’t have a general strike anymore. The 60s happen and boomers rage – for a while anyway. Indigenous peoples show up where Eastern Europeans once were. Women show up too – standing up and speaking out. Big hair and Dynasty make the scene. Fridays are Filmon-ized. And then a decade and more painted Orange. Painted bright, so that you have to squint to see if there’s any value left there at all, any values at all.
It’s an unsettling time for working people, that’s, at least, easy to see. From the massive attacks on workers’ rights in Wisconsin and other places around the U.S., to Rob Ford’s obsession with ending a “gravy train” in Toronto, to unions in Egypt breaking free and saying “No!” to so much more than just a regime. It’s all happening. It’s all in the mix. But even though it’s there, it’s still just background.
We’re in Winnipeg.
And in the foreground here, for a local like L500, are elections – past, future, the fall-out, but mostly the forgetting. A ball park mayor is clearly the enemy so let’s reach for our friends on Broadway, or Ottawa even – there’s a few there, after all – and their friends too. Let’s help “elect our bosses.” (Then let’s forget about what they promised, or what they didn’t.) “Let’s do this!”
And while we do this, let’s not do something else. Let’s not really talk to our members unless we need them to bleed Orange for a month or two. Let’s not welcome them at the door when they climb up those steely Union Centre stairs. Let’s not entertain another point of view.
Maybe if we repeat ourselves Monday meeting after meeting, month on month, maybe if we say it a little slower, a little louder, with a drop of passion more, maybe they will get it. They may be skilled craftspeople, deliberate technicians, accomplished researchers, community developers, office multi-taskers, but they don’t know what we know:
that the fear of four more years of ball park games ought to be enough. That the thought of Blue on Broadway really ought to be enough — to staff phone banks, get on the horn, give weeks of time and attention, dedicate themselves to something bigger than themselves.
While at the same time forgetting themselves.
What a trick. What leadership – with followers invisible to themselves. Forgetting their own power. Or not even wondering where it went, or how things got this way. Until maybe they start hearing the background noise. Tune in to some footage. “Wonder how far away is Madison, really?” “Remember the last time we were in Toronto?”
But we’re in Winnipeg, and it’s 2011.
A Great Depression happened. And a war, or two, or three, or four. Babies boomed. Courts and law-makers said we couldn’t have a general strike anymore. The 60s happened and boomers raged – for a very little while. Indigenous peoples showed up and stayed. Women stayed too – still speaking out. Big hair and Dynasty came and went and came again. Fridays were Filmon-ized and now our members take furloughs.
And it’s been a decade and more painted Orange. Bleeding still. Maybe now beginning to stop.