walking the line

some mornings i get to work and look at my blog – and i want to write in it – but can’t think of what i should write about. i want to contribute daily because it’s a good practice to be in, and because i am secretly pleased with myself when i can write or at least post photographs 5 or 6 days in a row.

and when i feel like this, it’s not because i have nothing to say, because (as y’all know) i *always* have something to say…. but usually that i have too much to say and i want time to filter it through and decide what is actually important.

as usual, i have a lot going on – particularly because the union i am a member of and organizer with is on the precipice of starting full-blown strike action – and i hold the official position of “area strike co-ordinator” for half the downtown core. this means i am responsible for ensuring that 1500 people know about and participate in any strike activity (which included the strike votes we took through the month of april).

in all my years of organizing, i don’t know that i have ever had such a definable area to organize before – 5 major worksites, 1500 workers, from hastings to georgia and from thurlough to main. in each of those sites, i have between 2 and 5 contacts, and it is those people i organize with so that each of their members is informed and ready for the day we move into a position of strike legality.

as of thursday i am leaving my federal government post to work for the union full-time for at least two weeks and during those days i will visit each of the worksites, leafletts in hand – give lunch-hour strike training courses – and travel around the lower mainland to participate in pickets and actions by other segments of our union who are already on strike. our earliest date for being legally able to go out on the picket looks like october 3rd right now, which is the same day the house of commons meets for the first time in this session – fortuitous timing for our members in ottawa, though no demonstration has been announced yet.

of course this could change, as we have experienced significant delays in these final negotiating stages which i’m sure is no accident. the federal government has every reason to delay at least until they are sitting again, as making decisions (or tough stands) in the interim would prove difficult for them.

once we are actively in a strike period i will be back in the workplace full time except days of action and strike.

as for the demands – they are the usual: wages and working conditions. the current wage offer by our employer is not even the rate of inflation predicted over the next three years, and is unfair in light of canada’s much stronger economy. as one of my non-union (but supportive) colleagues commented to me yesterday “if you can’t win an increase in the good times, you sure aren’t going to win one in the bad times” – and i couldn’t have said it more succinctly. for more than 5 years federal government workers suffered wage freezes because the economy was in the tank – we tightened our belts like everyone else was asked to, lost thousands of jobs and took what amounted to pay cuts during those times. now we hear that canada’s economy has done so well in the past two years, we are now in a high inflationary period (which is why the bank of canada adjusted interest rates last week), but somehow our members don’t deserve increases to keep up with that rate.

the reality is, compared to the private sector and the consumer price index since 1991 our wages have consistently slipped – putting an end to the old canard that government employees are paid more than the private sector. this may have been true during the public spending heyday of the sixties and seventies, but not anymore. (of course, as government employees we do have better service packages and more workplace rights than in the private sector – but i would argue that instead of us sliding back, our fight should help to move everyone forward).

i will be busy over the next few weeks, and doing a lot of public speaking and meeting faciliation (not to mention general rabble-rousing), but can only hope it will lead to a better agreement for our members, and in general advance working class demands across this country overall. i hope it’s not asking for too much…..

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