The Inevitable Media of the Power Source
"...it does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds..." - Samuel Adams
Looking back over the year 2001 the small, tireless, sometimes irate, group involved in this web site has been doing just that. We're making good progress and, as the New Year begins, we can take pride in having accomplished a lot. We've broken through some barriers and taken some fundamental steps forward. On one level it's hard to believe how much has happened but from another it all seems somehow so inevitable.
What we've accomplished:
We've moved the action from their venues to ours. That's a big step. To date, union reformers have confined their efforts at taking on the biz-unions to venues like the courts or government agencies or in the mainstream media. None of these venues lend themselves well to our kind of mission. All are part of the same mainstream system as the biz-unions and are more sympathetic to their interests than ours. The courts take forever and cost piles of money, politicians don't want to alienate "big labour", labour boards are concerned only with unions and employers, and the mainstream media could care less about workers. The Internet, on the other hand, provides us with a venue that is much more effective and very available to us. Out here in cyberspace we can talk about whatever we want, whenever we want to whoever is interested in engaging us. We can exchange information and ideas and talk with each other about what we want. We have instant access to an enormous number of people and it's what those people (rather than corporate media types, uncaring government officials or unresponsive politicians) think that matters most to us.
"It's hard to fight an enemy that has outposts in your head." Sally Kempton
One of the most difficult things for oppressed people to do is to overcome the conditioning of the disempowering value system of our rulers since it's something that we internalize without even knowing it. It's common for the rulers to define themselves in ways that make it difficult for the ruled to oppose them. By defining themselves as good and righteous and acting always in our interests, they persuade us that we are weak, vulnerable and dependent on them for protection. It's hard to fight against that something that is supposed to be looking out for your best interests. It's also difficult to talk about issues that are defined by the rulers as evil, taboo or just plain old not good for us. It's tough to rebel, unless of course you know the game that's being played with your head - and we've got it figured out.
"Now we can indeed find each other. We can tell each other what we have abandoned, what we now believe. We can conspire against the old, deadly assumptions. We can live against them." Marilyn Ferguson
We're defining our issues and ourselves. What we want is what's good for workers. We want to talk about workers' options and workers' choices, about what kinds of unions and what kinds of workplaces we want and how do we get there. Those are our issues and our agenda. It's not about "raiding" or being loyal to the "house of labour". For a lot of workers, the house of labour is just another oppressive place. We'll call it like we see it.
We've started to define terms and concepts in ways that are meaningful and empowering for us: The words we use are important. They influence how we perceive others, organizations and concepts and ourselves. As far as we're concerned, we'll call it a "union" if it looks like one.
Otherwise, we'll call it a "biz union", or "biz-partner union" or a "machine". To us, a union is an association of workers. It's an organization that helps workers, that puts workers and their interests first, all the time. It's an organization that's democratic and inclusive and goes where the members want it to go. If your org doesn't fit that bill, we'll give it another label. Similarly, we've stopped calling ourselves the "rank and file" as those terms imply militaristic obedience, conformity and deference to authority and that's just not what we're about. We're the Power Source. Union representatives: If we're not seeing the qualities we expect in a representative in you, don't expect us to call you that. If you bully us, patronize us, abuse us, mislead us or put your interests ahead of ours - we'll call you something else - machine head. Lawsuits to get us to shut up? We call them "UFO's". That's the gist of our response to them - "You, F.O.!" Hey, it's not all work, we have fun too.
We're going to keep evolving more of our own terminology in the future. How we define ourselves and those who try to control us is important - it either gives us power or keeps us powerless.
"Provide the means and the ends will take care of themselves." Mahatma Gandhi
We are our own media. We are an alternative media site, one of a growing number on the net. Our aim is to bring knowledge to the Power Source about their unions, their employers and the labour relations system that affects their working lives in very big and, at times, hurtful ways. We also want to raise awareness among the community of workers of the options and opportunities that exist for them so that they can decide what kind of unions, what kind of workplaces and what kind of future they will have. Knowledge is power and our hope is that our efforts will help empower the Power Source.
You've probably noticed that, as we rang in 2002 our site changed somewhat. Webmaster sleK has been busy coding his fingers to the bone to bring us a new, more evolved, easier to navigate cyberspace base. All the information from the previous site is still here and we plan to add more information and resources in the weeks and months ahead. We also plan to increase the frequency of our front-page news items and are aiming for daily updates along with weekend features.
The mainstream media ignore workers and their issues. You will occasionally find labour stories in the press or on television news, but these are confined to a narrow range of issues: mostly strikes, the odd major layoff and occasional sound-bytes of pontificating mainstream labour leaders. Labour stories are most often found in the business section of newspapers, as if labour exists only as an extension of business. Stories about workers themselves are fewer and further between and follows a set format - hard luck or feel good stories that are filler material rather than news. Workers are portrayed either as lucky or unlucky depending on what their employers do or don't do to them. They have no thoughts, views or aspirations of their own that are worth reporting. Of course, when we consider who owns the mainstream media, none of this is surprising.
Worse still, while it ignores our issues, the mainstream tries to tell us what to think. We should be happy with our lot, in fact 90% of us are happy (based on a survey of 1,000 people out of the total Canadian workforce of about 10 million), Big Mac and Colonel Sam are the 8th and 9th best employers in the entire country (based on a survey of 161 employers out of a total of over a million), you get our point...
Labour's mainstream doesn't treat us much differently in its own media. Most of the big union sites are little more than infomercials for potential members. The rest is just backslapping among local execs for their accomplishments - real or imagined. Few contain anything that could be called resources for workers and none encourage independent thought. (Have a look at www.ufcw175.com - it looks like like an Internet gaming site.) None allow for open discussion and few are even updated on any regular basis. The official "discussion" site of the CLC is quite restrictive. Notice how the forum administrators decide on the question; notice how structured and narrow the questions are and notice how even though most of the questions are about democracy, union democracy is never mentioned.
In the mainstream media - corporate or labour - workers exist only as appendages of their employers or their unions. It's hard to get our heads around our issues if there's no place to discuss them or to air them. It's tempting to think of ourselves and our issues as unimportant if we are treated as though we don't exist. We are changing that.
So don't just sit there!
We want you to help make this an awesome media site for people who work for a living. We want to hear from you. Tell us what's up with your union or at your workplace. We're looking for news items as well as articles on a wide range of subjects. If it's connected to union democracy or to building better workplaces, tell us about it. If you're having trouble thinking of something, here are some possibilities:
- Are you getting organized or changing unions?
- Are you running of union office on a reform platform?
- Have you taken on the bureaucracy? What happened? Tell us about your experience.
- Have there been changes for the better in your union? Tell what they are and how they came about.
- Do you have concerns about the kind of representation you're getting? What are you doing about it (or thinking of doing about it)?
- Do you have advice for other union reformers or other workers about how to get good representation? Pass it along.
- Do you have some info on a story we're following or an article or series that we've featured?
- Are you thinking about what a really good union should be like and want to share your thoughts with others?
- Have any thoughts about what's wrong with the workplace and what the workplace of the future could/should be like?
- Have you had an arbitration or LRB hearing? Tell us about the outcome and the whole experience.
- Have you got a new collective agreement? Has your union bargained some changes that are going to help you and your fellow workers? Tell us about them. (We do good news too.)
- Tell us what you'd like to see on this site.
Come on, don't just sit there, do it. Contact us.
"In any society, the population submits to the rulers, even though force is always in the hands of the governed. Ultimately the governors, the rulers, can only rule if they control opinion - no matter how many guns they have. This is true of the most despotic societies and the most free...If the general population won't accept things, the rulers are finished". (Noam Chomsky describing "Hume's Paradox" in The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many)
We're having an impact already. As much as the biz unionists hate to admit it, this site is getting a lot of attention. Information from this site is coming up at membership meetings and in discussions in staff lunchrooms and on the shop floor. As much as the biz unionists pretend we don't exist, their lawyers and spin-doctors visit here on a regular basis. They send their troops to disrupt our discussion forum. They smear our contributors. All to no avail - it only makes us stronger. Although they've had a standing invitation to present their views and to defend the actions of which we've been critical, they haven't once sought to do so. It may be that they can't bring themselves to so openly and publicly acknowledge our existence or it just may be that there is no rational explanation or reasoned defense for a lot of the stuff they've done.
The leaders of the biz unions have relied on secrecy and control over information to keep themselves in power and keep the members in their place. What the people don't know can't hurt me. In the absence of knowledge, plausible denial (denying something because nobody can prove you did it) makes for a good strategy. When confronted with some unpleasant or damning allegation by a suspicious member, deny, deny, deny and, for good measure, pull on the loyalty strings. "What proof have you got? If you loved me, you wouldn't accuse me of such things." Members who don't have the whole picture or who don't have the facts are likely to give you the benefit of the doubt. It's been a good strategy but now the picture is getting clearer every day.
It's quite painful for the biz-union guys. Their secret deals are being exposed, their self-serving MO's hung out for the whole world to see. What a nerve we've got sticking our noses into their private business (that's how they perceive the union) and, worse yet, making it public. It's hard to believe that these union leaders who hold themselves our to be public figures, who chase after the media, who are always claiming that they're acting in the public interest, can be so indignant about being in the spotlight when it catches them with their pants down. Oh, it just isn't fair.
But the biz-unionists can take comfort in one thing: It was inevitable that it would come to this and that it would happen this way. That inevitability comes from the workings of the labour relations system - the system that gives the biz-unionists their power. Later this week, we'll tell you about that.
Coming up in 2002:
- More news.
- More of your news.
- More shocking stories about the biz-unionists and what they've been up to.
- More tales from the trough.
- More on how to get empowered.
- More controversy.
- More MFD.
The Power Source Learning Series. Yes, we're developing our very own series of "in the classroom" (not "virtual") educational sessions. All about getting empowered, this is stuff your mama never told you about unions, business, government and, most importantly, how to get empowered at work.