Labour Day - Made in Canada

Once upon a time, the time being just after Confederation, Canadian workers didn't have a minimum wage, regular work hours, health and safety and regulations, medical plans, pensions, or anything else we just assume comes along with a job. We also didn't have holidays like Labour Day, either.

At that time there was a very powerful, and hypocritical man named George Brown, who published a newspaper called the Globe. As the Civil War was raging in the United States, Brown wrote bombastic editorials calling for the abolition of slavery. Unfortunately, he wasn't above treating the workers who ran his printing presses as slaves - he fired many and had several more arrested just because they had organized themselves with the Toronto Trades Assembly and asked if they could work 54 hours a week. At that time, Canadian law viewed union activity as a criminal conspiracy in restraint of trade.

The Trades Assembly retaliated against Brown's tyranny and an unfair law by taking it to the streets. They staged a parade through the streets of Toronto on April 15, 1872, where 10,000 people waved colourful ribbons, listened to marching bands and speeches calling for the release of 24 union leaders and the legalization of trade unions in Canada. A few months later, on September 3, a group of unions in Ottawa staged their own parade, and they marched on the home of Prime Minister John A. MacDonald by torchlight.

The Ottawa workers took the Prime Minister from his house, loaded him onto a carriage, and took him to the steps of Ottawa's City Hall. MacDonald may have been languishing from one of his legendary bouts with the bottle at the time. He may have been caught up in the excitement of the demonstration, or he may have seen an opportunity to sabotage a political rival (Brown was a Liberal whose editorials were consistently critical of MacDonald's Conservative Party).

Whatever his motivation, he set the nascent country towards a course of social and economic justice when he declared that night that his government would decriminalize Union organizing and 'sweep away all such barbarous laws from the statute books'. In the decades that followed, Canada's Unions would bargain for economic security and better working conditions, while at the same time pressuring governments to establish benefits for all Canadians, such as public education and health care.

The Toronto Trades Assembly would go on to celebrate the anniversary of this important victory with an annual rally in picnic. In 1882, they invited representatives from the American United Brotherhood of Carpenters to the festivities, who in turn staged the first American Labor Day events in New York on September 5, 1882. In 1894, the government of Sir John Thompson made Labour Day a statutory holiday in Canada.

However you celebrate Labour Day this weekend, remember the hard work and sacrifice of the workers who came before us to achieve the benefits that we enjoy, and enjoy this made-in-Canada holiday - you've earned it.


Caution: Slow

The week before Labour Day finds this page with not that much to work with. I find the notion of 'slow news days' unsettling: is it that nothing is happening, or is it just no one is watching?

I'm waiting on the City of Vancouver's response to CUPE's counter-offer before adding any further comment on the civic workers strike. At this point, no one has announced plans for a Labour Day rally or demonstration at City Hall in support of CUPE 15/1004/391, but this page is keeping his ear to the ground.

Also, Michael Vick has plead guilty to running a dogfighting ring where bets were placed on the fights and the losing dogs were tortured to death. This kind of behaviour from a professional begs the question: Why was everybody so mad at Barry Bonds again?


La plus ca change, La plus qu'ils restent stupides...

Earlier this week in Montebello, Quebec, Dave Coles from the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union sabotaged the security plans for the summit on the Security and Prosperity Partnership, and sparked an important debate about how Canada's police state does its business. Brother Coles calling out of three Surete du Quebec officers masquerading as protesters lit up YouTube postings and had Internet activists carefully scanning photos to notice that the "protesters"were wearing the exact same SQ-issued boots as their riot police counterparts. Their fascist little jig being up, the SQ was forced to admit that they had tried to infiltrate what was a peaceful protest being staged by middle-aged union members.

Those of you who remember the Oka incident will appreciate when this page says these kind of tactics are "par for the course" (insert rimshot here) for the Surete du Quebec. From helping Maurice Duplessis to bust the Asbestos Strike of 1949 to firing rubber bullets a teddy-bear launching protesters at the 2001 Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, the SQ never fail to serve and protect...the rich and powerful while trampling on the rights of everyone else. Who polices the police? Public Safety Minister Stockwell, the cabinet minister responsible for summit security, doesn't really care, and says Monday's incident should be left to an internal police investigation.

The timely intervention of Brother Coles and its distribution through the Internet shows what happens when experienced Union leadership and today's technology are combined: we can prove the empire has no clothes, even if they're wearing the same boots.


Stick it up your Legion Hall

In my recent travels to Calgary and the Canadian Rockies, this page was stunned to learn that Calgary City Council has actually voted against placing "Support our Troops" decals on City vehicles. Actually, I'm not sure if stunned is the word to describe it. The Mayor of Calgary is one David Bronconnier, who likes to refer to himself as "Bronco" in the hopes that some of the Wild West milieu rubs off on him. When asked about how the city would handle protesters at the G-8 summit in nearby Kananaskis in 2004, his worship advised that "someone should tell these people the 60's are over". Calgary unflinchingly errs on the side of the right wing, making this decision something out of the mirror/evil twin universe.

That being said, Calgary City Council made the right choice. While not coming down for or against Canada's "mission" in Afghanistan, Calgary's Aldermen believe that "Support our Troops" is a politically-loaded term, which in fact, since 1991 pretty much equates to "Support the War, or else". When this page thinks of the word 'support', I think of kind, nurturing, listening behaviour, not the asinine Coach's Corner patriotic bullying that passes for 'support' these days. It doesn't surprise me that members of the Royal Canadian Legion are screaming for Calgary's Aldermen to be banned from Legion Halls and Remembrance Day ceremonies, this is, after all, the same Legion who engage in such exercises of diversity and tolerance for other points as trying to bar Observant Sikh veterans from Legion Halls.

Gentlemen, as much as this page appreciates your service to your country, yelping about banning elected officials from public gatherings over a sticker pretty much flies in the face of everything you and your comrades in arms sacrificed. Your local government has no business in beating Stephen Harper's war drum, and it's just too bad for you that they know it. Besides, it's not like they've taken the flag down from City Hall.
That's more like something Gilles Duceppe would do.


Cry havoc, and unleash the dopes of war...

It looks like Sam Sullivan and the NPA didn't get their money's worth from their latest push poll concerning Vancouver's civic workers strike. It's annoying that $9,000 of taxpayers money went to a poll, that when all the results are seen, doesn't reveal anything new: Vancouver is still polarized between small-minded, anti-union NPA voters who can afford their own houses (and the municipal garbage pickup that comes with it), and those of us who want the people who work for the City of Vancouver to actually be able to afford to live in the City of Vancouver.

What's worse for the NPA is that since the City's patronage of The Wilcox Group has been exposed, it's public relations offensive against CUPE has been reduced to rank-and-file NPA supporters screaming up and down Internet discussion boards and letters to the editors. Since returning from Banff yesterday, this page has been catching up and has been amused such hysterical bluster as:

"The Union's all for preserving their rights. What about our rights as citizens and residents of Vancouver?"

"City workers should think for themselves and not be manipulated by union bosses."

"If we privatize City services, taxpayers would save and there would be no more strikes."

I'll address these points in order. First of all, all Canadians have the right to organize unions, bargain collectively with their employer, and if necessary, go on strike if negotiations fail. That's been confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada on a number of occasions. Just because someone doesn't like it when someone else exercises their rights doesn't mean those rights should be taken away.

Secondly, "union bosses" more than likely refers to a Union Bargaining Committee, which is elected by members of the affected Local. The Bargaining Committee surveys those members as to what they need in their next collective agreement. By comparison, the City of Vancouver doesn't consult with taxpayers as to our priorities: do we want fairly compensated municipal workers or such grandstanding poor-bashing crap as "Project Civil City"? Another thing, I haven't seen any Union elections where a candidate with the same last name as the frontrunning opponent pops up out of nowhere and steals enough vote to swing the vote. Excuse me, who was supposed to be manipulative and political?

As for privatizing City services, imagine what your property tax bill will look like once monopoly private contractors start guaranteeing profits for themselves. Also, if the Supreme Court of Canada told the BC Liberals they couldn't rip the successor rights of the Hospital Employees Union, then the City of Vancouver can't rip up CUPE's either. Besides private sector workers are not prohibited from organizing, so any attempts at "labour cleansing" through privatization are eventually futile.

It appears that for CUPE members and Vancouver residents who need the services provided by those members, things are about to get a lot dumber before they get better.



If you haven't had the chance to go camping or see a movie this summer, the Anti-Poverty Committee (APC) provides you with the perfect opportunity to do both (and protest the NPA's criminalization of homelessness) at Grandview Park on Saturday Night.

"Sam Sullivan’s project Civil City is socially cleansing the poor. As hotels are closed to make way for the Olympics, it has become illegal to be homeless. The public parks have tuned into police states and homeless people are arrested for trying to sleep in them."

The APC will be rallying against the NPA's 'Project Civil City' at the Park at 8:00 PM, followed by an outdoor screening of The Simpsons Movie at 9:00. After the movie, it's one big slumber party under the stars - bring food, tents, and blankets.

Hopefully this action helps Sam Sullivan be a little more Ned Flanders and a little less Monty Burns. Enjoy the show.


Predictions Made Easy

City of Vancouver spokesman/slander jockey Jerry Dobrovolny says that the civic workers strike may go into the fall.

This page will take a piece of that action. When the city says the strike "may" be prolonged, what they really mean is that it WILL be prolonged. Despite the fact that Vancouver is surrounded by municipalities who have successfully negotiated contracts with their CUPE staff, Sam Sullivan and the NPA refuse to get serious at the table.

Other cities have found flexibilty by dropping out of the GVRD/Metro Vancouver Labour Relations Bureau, but Vancouver has been left holding the stingy, patrician bag. On the issue of job security, the city claims that CUPE's concerns about contracting out are unfounded. If such is the case, why does the city refuse to negotiate language in the collective agreement to that effect? The NPA is stalling at the table in the hopes that piles of garbage and closed facilities will turn the public against the Union, and perhaps the province may yet step in and risk their precarious standing with the Supreme Court of Canada if the Olympic agenda appears to be imperiled by an extended strike.

Any settlement at this point will be paid for through CUPE members own lost wages, while the NPA will hopefully pay a much higher price at the polls next year.


What would Jesus do, and could he get a permit for it?

Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan and his NPA-controlled City Council like to give uplifting names like "Project Civil City" to the projects they undertake to cope with the city's escalating homeless crisis. However, when it comes to religious organizations who wish to ease the suffering of the homeless, the response from the city isn't civility, it's bureaucratic hostility. In the spirit of such institutionalized anti-social behaviour as forbidding transit users to share bus transfers at the end of their ride, Vancouver City Hall insists that the 10th Avenue Church and other religious organizations need a 'social services permit' in order to continue to carry out local mission work to feed, clothe, and provide shelter for the people at Vancouver's margins.

This page is by no means a religious person, but I do recognize that where government and business have failed, the only other people holding up the social safety net besides strong trade unions are the churches. As a liberal democracy, Canada subscribes to the separation of state, and this page says that separation cuts both ways. Particular religious viewpoints should be infiltrating public institutions, and the state should not prohibit the church from conducting traditional activity that benefits the entire community.

Matthew 22:21 says "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and render unto the Lord what is the Lord's" I hope the 10th Avenue Church and their allies can forgive this page as I say to City Hall: "Caesar, get the f**k out of the way!"


The lights go out on Broadway

This page doesn't have so much of a point to make today as I do to relate what yesterday's shooting at Fortune Happiness Restaurant was like for me. While it may not be an incident that I had direct involvement with, it did take place only a few blocks from my home, where we caught the disturbing ripples of the violent splash made by the gunmen.

Because of the way the news broke, I left for work yesterday morning feeling confused, and to be honest, somewhat frightened. Living near East Broadway, I usually wake up at 4:00 - 4:30 AM to the sound of police sirens, but yesterday morning the chorus seemed a little louder than usual. The first report I saw (CBC Newsworld) said there had been a shooting in 'Downtown Vancouver', which led me to believe that it was another case of clubland posturing gone horribly wrong. The next report I saw (CKNW.com) said several people had been shot near Commercial Drive, which left me shaking as I headed out the door to work. For those of you outside the 604, Commercial Drive is central hub of Metro Vancouver's transit system: two Skytrain stations and the terminus of the crosstown 99B express bus line.

I didn't get another update until I made it to work, about 3 km away from home, and the crime scene. There were no buses heading west, and I saw the eastbound 99B being diverted south onto Kingsway. That aggravated my fear that a shooting had taken place at very crowded transit station. I walked as quickly as I could to the point of running, feeling that I needed to be high above the street in my office as quickly as possible, rather than being on the street looking up at the police helicopter directly over me that was looking for the two gunmen.

However, it was a pale sense of relief when I found out that it was Fortune Happiness where the shooting took place. Vancouver Police believe that the shooting is likely gang-related, and questioned the activities of the victims who were getting a bite to eat at 4:00 AM. With all due respect to Constable Chow, there are a lot of people doing things at 4:00 AM: janitors, security guards, convenience store clerks, taxi drivers, bartenders, bloggers drinking coffee, so I honestly don't know one's innocence should be shadowed by what time of day it is. The scary thing for me and my neighbours is that people were shot in our neighbourhood.
Mount Pleasant has come a long way, it's been at least two decades since the supermarket had a holding cell, there are far fewer shoes strung over telephone lines pointing to the crackhouses, and prostitution has moved further down Fraser Street or into the massage parlors and mini-brothels around the neighbourhood. Little kids play in Sahali Park without fear of more than getting pushed off the swings, and grown-ups can walk to work, the coffee shop, the market, and feel safe. Not as safe as I felt before yesterday's tragic step back, but still, safe.


and a side order of Dignity...

This page, like a lot of you, eats. When I'm not eating at home or from a reusable lunchbag in front of my office building, you can find me eating in one of Vancouver's reasonably-priced restaurants. I greatly enjoy the variety of menu items, the care taken in preparing them, and the competent professional service which brings them to my table.

However, I can do without a side order of low-cut blouses, mini-skirts, midriff-baring tops, and especially high heels. For this page, imposing a dress code on servers only contributes to the runaway exploitation already taking place in Canada's hospitality industry, where workers are expected to rely on customers' generosity because their employers refuse to pay a living wage. Of course, nothing elicits that generosity from (male) customers like low-cut blouses, mini-skirts, midriff-baring tops, and especially high heels, which means that young women who work as servers feel they need to play along lest they end up with the short end of the breadstick.

There is nothing wrong with dressing for the occasion. When I go to a Mexican restaurant, I feel it's a somewhat more authentic experience if the staff are wearing Ponchos. If I go to an Indian restaurant, I like to see someone wearing a Sari. However, I really can't be bothered to go to the Earl's, Joey's, Moxie's, or any of the other "urban/hip" bar-restaurant hybrids because there really is no occasion, other than overpriced pub fare and a side order of stale self-importance.

That would be why these places compensate by insisting that their staff dress in a manner to titillate their customers, which doesn't just brush up against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms like so many drunk patrons brushing up against the rear end of a second-year Arts major trying to pay her tuition, it also brushes up against Occupational Health and Safety Regulations. If your kitchen is anything like mine, it has a number of things that can get very hot, are very sharp, don't treat exposed flesh all that nicely, and aren't that easy to carry while wearing little stilts on the heels of one's shoes.

Remember when the best thing one could say about a meal was that "It's just like Mom used to make"?


The Reset

Two weeks away, and I still don't know which will happen first, an agreement between CUPE and the City of Vancouver, or Barry Bonds 756th home run (for those of you scoring at home, I usually write these posts a day in advance).

As I mentioned previously, this page has been taking care of real-world work projects (with 'real' as a marker for being paid real money), and also taking some time off. In a couple of weeks, I'll be tackling some family business in Alberta, a place that, although I was born and raised there, becomes more distant and disturbing with each passing year.

I don't know...maybe it's the idea that up until yesterday, people thought it was O.K. to operate a live firing range at Alberta's biggest shopping mall.