CBC management takes a hard line

This is no ordinary labour dispute. The future of public broadcasting is at stake. But the issues are similar to issues in other work places. Replacing good full-time stable jobs with contract work is a central feature of neo-liberal work place restru

It is ironic that the need for flexibility is one of the main arguments of the CBC management in their pathetic attempts to justify the almost three-week long lock-out of their workers. Locked out of the jobs they love, CBC workers are finding myriad ways to reach out to the public to build support. Talk about flexibility.

So far they have two major web sites with a third one promised soon. CBC Unplugged is the brainchild of radio producer, blogger and podcaster Tod Maffin. While independent of the union, it is chock full of information about the lock out from the workers' perspective, including a long list of CBC worker blogs and podcasts. A source of news from Nova Scotia is CBC Lock-out. The Canadian Media Guild has its own site that provides regular lock-out news.

On Monday, Toronto's popular morning show host Andy Barrie will be broadcasting from CIUT radio, a campus radio station at 89.5 FM. The entire cast and crew of Metro Morning are signing on as CIUT volunteers to broadcast a daily show called Toronto Unlocked. CBC radio workers are doing shows on community and college radio stations across the country but this is the first one that will feature the entire cast of a local morning show. These kinds of shows are a version of a sit down strike in that CBC workers are showing that they are the CBC — not management — and it is what they do that's important.

Solidarity events are happening daily at the CBC headquarters in Toronto. Similar activity is happening across the country. I was down there Thursday for a local support rally at noon. Later in the afternoon, two young CBC producers, Garvia Bailey and Tori Allen, reached out to their contacts for support and got such a great response that they called the resulting concert, “CBC Lock-Out Love In.”

“Tori and I have done stories with artists from across the city and the country so we thought weâe(TM)d call on these artists about doing a concert. We realized that CBC is really important to what they do as young people,” explained Garvia.

“We got such a tremendous response, we had to turn some people away,” Tori continued.

Other plans are under way for a rally jam-packed with artists and performers at Toronto's Massey Hall in support of public broadcasting. On Monday's Labour Day Parade, the CBC locked-out workers will lead off the parade in most cities across the country.

Terry Walker, the President of the Toronto local of the Canadian Media Guild told me, “Spirit on the picket line is unbelievably high. They are so incensed about being put out in the street, they want to make management pay for it.”

Talking to familiar faces and voices among the picketers confirmed the growing anger on the line. CBC reporters and producers who believed that management and labour at the CBC had a common vision are beginning to question whether their interests and those of management really coincide. They are getting more and more angry at the seeming inability of management to understand their jobs or their situation. An opinion piece by CBC President Robert Rabinovitch in The Globe and Mail earlier this week that was filled with inaccuracies and wrong assumptions is fueling that anger.

A leaked memo from management published in a recent On the Line, the Guild's daily picket newsletter reveals the changing attitude of CBC management.

    “On the Friday conference call, we were asked whether managers were expected to visit the picket lines in their locations. Some of us remember a day when spending a few minutes with picketers was encouraged. Those days were a very different situation than the one we're in nowâe¦there should be no other managers or other non-CMG staff visiting the line nor should there be any attempts to 'improve the mood' on the line, by providing food or drink, for example. It is 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 focusing on the reality of their situation. Making things more comfortable for the picketers does not support this goal.”

This might not be a surprising attitude to most workers but for CBC reporters and producers it is a shock that management is taking such a hard line.

Meanwhile, negotiations began again on Wednesday. Arnold Amber , CBC President of the Media Guild, told me that they were just settling some secondary and tertiary issues so far.

I suspect that CBC management thought that the Guild, never a very militant union with a 53 year history without a strike, would cave at the first pressure. All workers at the CBC recently merged their unions into the Guild. Instead, what often happens when management treats workers unfairly is happening at the CBC: the employees are starting to identify as workers and radicalize.

Union solidarity has also been strong. Amber said the Guild has received pledges of $40,000 from the Steelworkers and $25,000 from the Canadian Auto Workers. Picket line solidarity has also been outstanding.

This is no ordinary labour dispute. The future of public broadcasting is at stake. But the issues are similar to issues in other work places. Replacing good full-time stable jobs with contract work is a central feature of neo-liberal work place restructuring everywhere.

One difference is, we don't often have high profile voices like Peter Mansbridge, Shelagh Rogers and Andy Barrie speaking out against it.

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