Friday, September 02, 2005


What we're up against

A memo was recently penned by upper management (and reversed forthwith), sternly informing their (reportedly) restless juniors that any support of us picketers would not be tolerated. Dig this quote: "It's very important, if there is a lockout, that we bring a quick resolution to the work stoppage. A quick resolution will be helped by picketers focussing on the reality of their situation ... Making things more comfortable for the picketers does not support this goal."

Brilliant. Fantastic. Idiotic.

What does this sort of thing accomplish? Plenty -- for our side. It hardens resolve among union ranks by making us angry, and oh yeah! it weakens the management side by exacerbating divisions in their ranks.

Let's just get it out into the open: management of the CBC is abominable. We've been saddled with the most incompetent twits in corporate history. Decision after decision, attitude after attitude, meeting after meeting, they have succeeded over the years in completely alienating pretty much the entire staff.

Do they really think we're divided? Do they really think that any one of us would even think of taking their side? Come on! Each of us carries, as if branded on our frickin' DNA, anger built up over many years. Oh, there are stories we could tell, yes there are! Stories of scandal and missing money, yes we could! But we don't -- at least we haven't. Why? Partly for fear of consequences; partly a fatalistic belief that nothing we said or did could ever influence the leadership of the corp a jot or a tittle; and partly because it would damage the corp itself.

I myself am fearful of making public the talk that has circulated for years ... of potentially criminal acts. But this isn't even about criminality. It's about the fact that upper management exists in a bubble. Not only do those people have zero contact with the rest of us, they don't even exist on the same plane of reality. They're big on management-speak, and are addicted to obscenely expensive retreats at the Niagara Institute, where inane activities designed to make better leaders are taken note of for later ignoring.

In a corporation, the upper management are supposed to have a strategic sense of the company, its status and its direction. Well, guess what, the CBC pretty much runs itself. As for strategic direction, come on! It's the CBC -- where the hell are we gonna go! Our mission's been the same for decades. That leaves upper management with little to do but issue Napoleonic edicts that make no sense whatsoever, and cause the entire workforce to roll its collective eyes and sigh in disgust (the latest is a stupid plan to merge Radio and TV news into a single department, an idea that makes exactly no sense, and has in fact been proven to be idiotic when put into practice).

We're used to these ideas falling from the sky, being talked about, being the subject of meetings, being carefully sculpted into great clay pots into which staggering sums of taxpayer dollars can be poured (never again to return), then slowly vanishing.

Is this what the lockout is too? Another boneheaded idea by people with no concept of reality? Just another product of a jargon-laden board meeting? And are we, as usual, having to pay the consequences, with you the taxpayer being saddled with the bill?

Dare we hope that the primary outcome of this insanely stupid lockout will be an Ottawa that's slapped awake and made aware of the need for broadcasters to lead a broadcasting company? Dare we hope that, finally, at long, agonizing last, they've gone one idiotic bridge too far?

Sightings on the Line:
Avril Benoit, ultra-cute Radio host (and rumored to be headed for TV when the lockout happened), wearing the colors and thumping concrete ... your humble chronicler was just a tad too shy to take her photo.

However, here are a couple of pictures of the mind-bogglingly intimidating security personnel the CBC has employed to keep an eye on us:

(those two guys didn't look up when I took their photo -- several photos, actually. They didn't even notice I was there)

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


Why we fight

There's been a lot of talk about this lockout, and the conflict it involves between management and the union. I've also talked at length about my own belief that the union cause is absolutely justified and likely to win. But what's it all about?

I'm glad you asked! Let me fill you in.

People pay lip-service to the CBC's mission, to the point where it's become almost a cliche. Let me tell you what that mission is, in my own words:

The Purpose of the CBC is to provide a voice for Canadians, thereby preserving Canadian identity.

But what does that mean? What the heck is that identity?

Well, not to put too fine a point on it, it's you, the listener/viewer. Writers, musicians, academics, politicians, business people, activists, farmers, students ... people. People who appear in our stories. It's not spectacular, to be sure. It's not Hollywood. It's not spectacular. It's just talking to people and doing stories about them.

What's the big deal about that? Let's see. For starters, there's the approach we take to covering stories. The tone. The attitude. Then there's the subjects themselves, and what they have to say. What it boils down to is, it's a Canadian approach to Canadian stories.

That's important. That's incredibly important. It's not as though the global frickin' village is awash in Canadian stories and Canadian voices. It's not like we're overwhelmed by opportunities to see the world from a Canadian perspective.

Go to the websites of news organizations around the world. Take some time to peruse some of the CBC's equivalents around the world:

German broadcasting
CNN (not a state-financed broadcaster, true, but a high-profile American voice)
CCTV - China Central Television
Radio Netherlands
ABC - Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Okay, so what's the deal with those news outlets? It's very simple. They present the world as they, citizens of their own countries, see it. The stories listed on their pages include world news and local news. Of course there will always be big international stories that everyone covers, but they're covered in their own particular way, and are accompanied by stories that directly affect their own countries.

See where I'm going here? The Canadian voice, the Canadian view of the world. It's important. I think we can agree that these are important things to keep alive. Some might scoff, I suppose, and say there is no Canadian voice or identity, and that's fine -- we all have our own opinions. But that opens up a whole 'nother discussion on national identity, which isn't the topic at hand. But I digress.

We're now left with one more question: is it necessary for a public broadcaster to ensure a Canadian voice in the world (and in Canada)? Can private broadcasters not fulfill that role perfectly well?

The answer: yes -- but only up to a point.

On TV, outfits like CTV and Global are able to do the big stories. They can have correspondents in Ottawa and the big provinces. Most importantly, they can buy reports from local stations (and the US). As for radio, forget it. A radio newsroom consists of one or two people typing up scripts, based on wire copy, that are read in five or ten-minute stints at the top of each hour.

They have a job, and they do it well. More power to 'em!

What they can't do, though, is devote an entire show to a discussion with a Canadian author. Nor can they air a live performance from a non-Canadian Idol musician, nor a detailed examination of local stories in every province and territory in the nation.

Only the CBC is able to really explore the many stories that are in this country from coast to coast. Nobody else can do it every day, and do it well. That's all there is to it.

So if you think Canada has a distinct voice, a unique view of the world, then you should support the CBC. And if you think Canadian stories are worth telling, then once again you should support the CBC.

I, and pretty much everyone I work with, feel passionately about our work. It's an unspoken thing; it's not shouted at revival meetings. But man oh man, are we serious about what we do. It's interesting, because over time you really start to learn about this country: its nooks and crannies, its characters, its small towns and neighburhoods, its provinces, its foibles, its eccentricities. And the longer you work at the CBC, the more patriotic you become. I mean it. Nobody loves the country more than the average CBCer.

Which is why we need to be careful about allowing contract workers -- you need that accumulated wealth of knowledge that comes with working there over time. You need that understanding of Canada's ins and outs. And you need that passionate devotion to telling its stories.

And it's also why the top managers who locked us out are committing a heinous crime in stilling that voice, and in pushing so hard for increased contract workers. Hell, it's worse than heinous -- it's damned unpatriotic.

Non-sequitur of the day:
Okay, I normally hate those online cartoons that get passed around. I find them insipid and not worth the time it takes to load them. This one, however, is incredibly sweet and fun: Kleeman and Mike

It's a brief portrait of two surfing buddies (and their cat). Have fun!

Monday, August 29, 2005


The sorrow and the pity (and the aftermath)

This is a bit of a rough one. I'm afraid I'll have to tiptoe over the lines dividing the various camps in this bloody mess. Who are the various camps? Well, I'll tell you.

The non-picketing union members
There's lots of these, though only God (and perhaps the head of the union) knows their true number. There are several reasons for them not to picket; they've gotten other jobs, they can afford to stay home, don't care enough about the issues, or are strongly opposed to the union point of view. I tend not to have too much contact with these folks, but not out of any personal emnity -- picketing keeps me pretty busy, so I haven't been doing much socializing of late (which I can't afford to do anyhow).

The picketing union members
Lots of these too. I suspect the majority of union members, though there's no way for me to know. These are the folks I see on the line. They're the union members who are in this thing up to their ears, keeping track of what's said in the media, the status (if any) on negotiations, and of course the latest products of the rumour mill.

Managers who support the lockout
Yep, there are some of these. It's hard to know about proportions, but in my little slice of the corp, I'm quite sure they represent a small minority of managers. The official word from the Guild is that only a handful of true believers are sauntering the halls, and they're all perched at the top of the organization charts, where the air is thin and meetings always include free food. On the other hand, as I mentioned in an earlier post, there are denizens of the lower levels who are also members of the corporate Kool-Ade brigade.

Managers who oppose the lockout
It seems likely that these folks are in the majority. Lots of them came up the ranks from production units, and are very chummy with folks, like your humble narrator, who now reside on the other side of the recently-constructed barbed-wire fence. Yet, despite their frequently-rumoured lack of enthusiasm for this nonsense, they have to work harder than anyone else in the corporation. The lousy shows you're not listening to, watching, or clicking on? Those are being done by these managers. They're racking up insane amounts of overtime, which, while being accompanied by juicy bonuses will also inevitably have physical consequences. None of these folks are seventeen years old (if I may be so bold), and most of them have families to support. There are also people being flown in from "the regions," as the units outside Toronto are called, to work Monday to Friday; they're then flown back home for the weekend, then flown back to T.O. to do the show on Monday. Or so the stories go.

Of all these groups, and this is where I risk being at the receiving end of more wrath than I care to contemplate, the one I feel the most pity for is the latter bunch -- the managers who oppose the lockout. They're in a miserable situation of having to work their butts off for something they don't believe in. And that's not all. Because they're the main conduit between management and the rest of us, they're going to have to deal with the aftermath. They're going to have to deal with us.

And let me tell you, there's a lot of resentment out there, and pretty much zero pity for these people. Most picketers I speak to seem to expect these unhappy managers to have resigned en masse as soon as the lockout was made official, or stand up and bellow their opposition. Really, I don't know what they expected these people to do about it. Certainly they're far too low on the totem pole to affect any kind of change in policy (we all know from years of experience how deaf the corp is to dissent and dismay).

I realize that, as managers, they signed up for a whole package of things, including an acknowledgement of which side of the hypothetical fence they reside. In that sense, their opinions of the lockout were determined when they took their jobs in the first place.

But it's not that simple. We still know these people and work with them every frickin' day. I really, really hope that the leadership on both sides make major, sincere efforts to broker peace, not just a contract. Otherwise the ugliness has only started.

Another group, by the way, I feel a great deal less sympathy for (though the sympathy needle is still twitching) are those union members who aren't picketing. They probably don't realize that, once this is all over and we're back inside the building, those who picketed and those who didn't will be known. There's a powerful comradeship among those on the line. With luck, those who didn't join us won't be penalized.

Am I being too touchy-feely? I suppose so. Through all this, my anger, and there's plenty of it, seems only to be directed at those I feel are responsible for it. And the number is small.

Should I feel sorry for us picketers? I should, and I do. But I have zero doubt that we will win this thing. I also sense a real awakening in the troops about their strength. Indeed, not only do I doubt that the Empire will fold and the Jedi will win the day (just to get geeky for a moment), but I even have the nutty idea that the whole culture of the CBC will change. No longer, I feel, will the staff be numb, passive recipients to brainless hogwash handed down from on high. This is a bunch of people who believe passionately in what they do (not just the picketing, but the mission of the CBC), and have been forced to fight for it. Maybe I'm crazy. I won't deny that possibility! But I do see a new day dawning. Damn, that does sound crazy! I need to start wearing a hat while picketing -- that sun is harsh.

I'll be interested to see if this attitude of mine will carry on for the next few weeks (months?) ...

Non-Sequitur of the Day:
PartiallyClips -- this is an online comic strip that I think is really damn funny. The main focus is on corporate life, but there's a fair portion of geeky humour in there too.

Some examples:

Sunday, August 28, 2005


What ... an audience? No way!


Scrolling down the paragraphs of this humble blog, I suddenly noticed a comment. A comment! Someone calling herself "pubgirl" left a brief message by clicking on the "comment" link at the bottom of one of my entries.

Pubgirl writes: "Thanks for your postings. The CBC seems like apart of my day-to-day routine and without it there's I'm enjoying reading about the goings on that I'm not able to see for myself. Take care."

All I can say is ... WOW!! A reader! Just when I'd convinced myself I only had three readers: me, myself and my mom!

It's enough to make a girl cry, I swear.

Though the downside is, it means I'd better start actually putting some thought into my posts!

By the way, pubgirl, who apparently works in the publishing industry, has a blog of her own. Do please pay her a visit.

Non Sequitur of the Day:
Mark your calendars, mateys: September 19th is talk like a pirate day!

Saturday, August 27, 2005


Tales from the icky

Just a brief(ish) entry today.

Item: A certain member of the management team, crossing the line as usual, encountering a familiar face, falling into friendly conversation, and making no bones about a bitter anti-union bias. Union member talking with said management person comes away so furious that said union member was shaking for an hour, muttering in disbelief that someone once friendly could utter such nastiness.

Item: A certain member of the union shows up in the morning, signs in, leaves, returns at the end of the day, signs out. Does this several times a week, earns their strike pay, doesn't picket at all. Somehow doesn't seem to think people notice. Somehow doesn't realize that people care. Most of all, seems utterly oblivious to the fact that such behavior is completely unacceptable, especially when people in crutches -- in wheelchairs, for God's sake -- are managing to put in their 20 hours a week.

Really, I don't see what's so difficult about the situation.

People often refer to this situation as a strike. Really it's a lockout. What difference does it make? It's a conflict. A powerful conflict. People's livelihoods (and therefore their lives) are on the line. Their relationships are in jeopardy. Their health. This is a bloody nightmare for people on both sides of the divide (though I personally, as regular readers will know, have little sympathy with the senior managers who brought this all about).


If you're a manager, even a younger, clueless manager, don't choose the picket line, at high noon, with exhausted, emotional picketers around you to vent your anger at the union. This is a gas-filled room; why in God's name would you want to play with matches? I can say without any doubt that more mature managers, going right up the food chain to the top, would have been horrified on hearing such a conversation. They might very well agree with the sentiments, but would also understand full well the ramifications of expressing them at that time and place. Their advice, I feel sure: shut your damn pie hole.

And if you're a picketer, for crying out loud, understand what's going on around you. Don't want to picket? So don't frigging picket. Get another job. Freelance. Whatever. But for God's sake, don't scam us! You think everyone's happy as clams walking the line? You think you're the only one who would rather take their strike pay and bugger off? We're all in this, and the folks on the line are doing the best they can ... I can't begin to express the kind of anger people feel when they see someone cheating on their hours like that. They feel betrayed. Don't for a moment think you aren't being noticed. Either show up and picket or don't try to get paid. It's very simple. Again, it's a very emotional situation: you don't want to mess around. Grow up already!

Pardon the grumpiness today, gentle reader ... just seems to be one of those days.

Non Sequitur of the Day:

This man was spotted in a New York City subway by a young woman named Thao Nguyen. She was sitting there, minding her own business, when she noticed this guy staring at her. She avoided his gaze for awhile, but then suddenly noticed he was exposing himself. Reacting quickly, she pulled out her camera phone and snapped his photo. He tucked his worm back and got off at the next station. It was the middle of the day.

Ms. Nguyen has posted that photo online, and blogs have been linking to it in hopes of nabbing this perv. I know it's a long shot, but if you know who this dude is, make the call! After all, today he's exposing himself on the subway ... who knows what he'll be doing a few years from now?

Friday, August 26, 2005


Of dogs (and dogs)

To pooch or not to pooch? Some dissension to report, over the issue of bringing dogs to the picket line.

It makes sense to bring the li'l fellers, what with all the walking (though some of 'em get awfully tired, it's plain to see). Also, those little yellow Canadian Media Guild stress balls are practically tailor-made for canine chompin'. And of course there's the social aspect ... they get plenty of petting done.

However there are safety concerns. After all, everyone thinks their dog is sweet as sweet can be, until they take a bite out of someone. And of course, being in a picket line when emotions are running high (and climbing higher), there are major stakes. Okay, the obnoxious skateboarding kids who insist on practicing their rude, ear-splitting art in the middle of a very crowded Simcoe Park might not trigger horrendous fallout were they to fall victim of a nip. But what about a senior CBC manager?

Think of the potential if one of those creatures (the dogs, I mean) were to bellow at a manager as he or she crossed the line. Said manager could easily interpret said bellowing as intentional intimidation. And really, who could blame them for thinking that?

Hell, the other day I saw one person's dog bark hysterically at a small child wearing a LOCKED OUT sign, his parents having come down to show support. Typically, the dog's owner shook a finger at the kid. Were I a manager faced with such a situation, I have to admit I'd be fit to be tied.

The Guild therefore makes a point of telling people (via the picket cap'ns) that they strongly recommend against bringing dogs to the picket line. Theoretically this will keep the union's hands clean should something happen (though there's talk of having dog owners sign waivers).

In other dog news, the wonderful people at UNITE HERE! ( website here), who represent hotel workers, returned a visit today from some locked out CBCers, who walked down the street to the Royal York Hotel to offer support for their ongoing negotiations. Did I say they returned the visit? Oh, they did far more than that: they held a gonzo barbeque. These angels of mercy set up a big-ass grille, lugged in crates of fresh buns, dragged over cases of pop (and coolers and ice), not to mention mountains of condiments, and served us lunch.

That's no mean feat, remember ... of the 5,000-odd CBC employees walking the line from coast to coast, the lion's share are here in Toronto. Okay, not everyone is on the line at all times (and Lord knows a certain number don't show up at all), but we're still talking hundreds and hundreds of people. Add to that the fact that picketers are always coming and going according to their own scheduled, so the queue was constantly being refreshed with new diners.

God only knows how much food got served, but the grillers were there for a good six hours. They offered sausage, hot dogs, hamburgers and veggie burgers. It was wonderful.

Thank you, friends. Really. It means so much to all of us. And may you find success in your struggle, winning all that you deserve. Solidarity!

Oh, and Jack Layton came down too.

The photo: a panoramic shot of the lineup for the BBQ. Click for a larger image (and apologies for the quality -- if I was a master of Photoshop, I'd be off in Silicon Valley, not working for the CBC!).

Notable appearances:
Joe Schlesinger, fabled CBC TV news host, was spotted walking the line. I've been told that he's on holiday, like most of the network's hosts, but came down to walk the line anyway. Well done, sir.

Non Sequitur Of The Day:
Mortaritaville,, a song written and performed by a pair of American soldiers, singing about the war in Iraq, specifically a place nicknamed Mortaritaville; it's a base outside Baghdad that receives daily mortar attacks. Make sure you listen to the end ... the ending's clever (and poignant). Click here to play the song (note: The song's in Windows Media format -- it will open the player directly)

Thursday, August 25, 2005


Tales from the outside

Today:Last week, I had a very interesting conversation with a member of the teacher's union. This fellow was in town for a conference, and was part of a group who trooped down to the Broadcast Centre to fly the flag (they had actual flags ... looked pretty cool, actually, very European).

Now, this teacher was a very knowledgeable fellow. He basically laid out how this thing will go down.

Stage One: Fear
In this stage, the folks on the picket line are, pardon the language, shitting bricks. They're thinking about bills that need paying, houses that need paying down, and kids that need feeding. They also don't rate the union's chances of success very highly. They're pessimistic as hell. They dread the prospect of management posting conditions (inviting employees back to work if they meet certain conditions), knowing lots of people will cross the line and return to work. Or maybe the strike/lockout will just go on for frickin' ever, and in the end the union will be broken.

Stage Two: Fatigue
The physical reality of the picket line sets in. Joints ache. Feet hurt. Eyes scan the sky for bad weather. Winter becomes a source of terror.

Stage Three: Dealing With It
The joints start to loosen up. Pounds start to fall off. Pants get looser. Walking the line has its benefits. Meanwhile, there's lots of chatting going on. Discussing the endless rumours, or just catching up. There's plenty to do. Counting laps, maybe (the Broadcast Centre is supposedly half a kilometer in circumference). Deciding whether it's better to leave the watch at home, to make the hours slide by. Or maybe invest in an iPod. Books are brought. Newspaper articles are discussed.

Stage Four: Getting To Know You
Daily gabbing with co-workers expands. You begin to talk to strangers. Maybe you sometimes nodded at them in the hallway, or shared a gag in the coffee line downstairs, but in the new reality they're telling you their life story, about how they had a gonzo bike crash at the age of eight, or spent last spring in Sardinia and oh my God was it ever beautiful!

Stage Five: Waking Up To Reality
You suddenly discover that you're really, really pissed at management. Those numbnuts are trying to stick it to everyone ... not "just" the techs, nor the clerks, but everyone -- thousands of people, people who believe passionately in what the CBC is there to do, so in effect they're stikin' it to the whole damn country, the bastards!

Stage Six: Knowing Thy Enemy
Alas, yes, management is the enemy, though it's hard to acknowledge because, after all, we have to work with these people, not to mention, hell, plenty of 'em came from production, so they very much identify with the union. But hey, it's an adversarial process, and even a prosecutor and a defense attorney might be the closest of buddies, but if they're sharing a courtroom they have to maintain a distance. When this realization sinks in, a part of you wonders what it's going to be like when we go back. It's a bit scary, because those on the "front lines" of management -- the ones we actually see and speak to -- are undoubtedly the ones least supportive of the lockout, yet will have to pay the biggest price when we return, being the tip of the spear (so to speak). But don't put a face to it. It's just management. The future will take care of itself.

Stage Seven: The Odds Are Better Than You think
Management's case is weak as hell. Many of them are overworked, exhausted, and putting out cruddy programming. They don't have much, if any support from the public, and will soon start to face pressure from the folks that depend on the CBC -- politicians, cultural industries, sports, small communities, news junkies, you name it. Meanwhile the CBC, however much people (including us) enjoy jokes about the public's indifference to our existence, starts to be missed. People who tune in for specific programs, or specific purposes start to get annoyed that they can't get it anymore.

Stage Eight: Seeing It As A Crusade
It's not the way it used to be. It's not just a hassle. And it's not just something affecting you, the result of jerky union and management leaders unable to talk to each other like grownups. No, you're engaged in an actual battle. Solidarity isn't just a hackneyed word, it's something you feel in your guts. You want management to post conditions, so they can see how solid the union is. You revel in every ounce of support from newspaper columnists and other unions. It gives you a rush to delay managers from going into the building and trucks from coming out. Perhaps for the first time in your life, you feel like you're taking part in something bigger than yourself. You're in a battle, a crusade, a contest of right versus wrong ... and you know -- you know that right will win!

Smart fellow, this teacher. Wish I'd gotten his name.

Notable Appearances: Some awfully cheerful radio lasses, who took time out from soliciting honks on Front Street to pose for a quick photo.

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