The Union is US


There’s no doubt that the Canadian Labour Congress’ Fairness Works campaign has helped to create a national conversation about unions’ contributions. As the labour movement’s very existence is challenged by conservative lawmakers, pitting workers against each other, the labour congress is making a simple argument: when workers thrive, we all benefit.

It’s a message that resonated with the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ), the largest labour federation in Quebec. Its leaders had an earnest desire to take that same message to Quebecers, but to also go further.

“Ours is a campaign that first and foremost targets our members,” explained Johanne Deschamps, political advisor with the FTQ. “What we asked unions to do is to train their members – facilitators in the workplace – to speak with their members. It’s about engaging members in conversations about the different issues.”

On one hand, the FTQ wants union members to have a closer relationship with their union. They also want members to have a greater sense of being a part of their union and to think critically about some of the conservative policies being proposed by the federal government.

“They often tell us, the union is YOU, whereas we want to tell them, ‘no. The union is US, together.’”

The organization recognizes that anti-union sentiment isn’t something that just exists within conservative factions of our society; there are anti-union misconceptions that are deeply engrained in the minds of our very members. Through a series of short YouTube clips, showcasing young union members, the FTQ is trying to dismantle the myth-machine.

“I don’t need the union; I can figure stuff out on my own with the boss,” reads one myth.

“What if things don’t work out with the boss? What can you do? Do you have any recourse? At least, with the union, you have other steps,” answers Lydia Bouzgaren, a PSAC member, in her video.

Deschamps said they drew inspiration from unions in Belgium, which launched a similar campaign that targeted both union members and the general population.

“They created a small booklet that was titled ‘Toxic Ideas’ – in other words, problematic ideas, and how to counter that sort of thing.”

And these days, toxic ideas are abound. Unions are battling a series of attacks at all levels of government.

“The federal government and provincial governments all seem to have this attitude, whether they’re conservative or liberal, they’re telling the entire world that there’s a problem; the debt is enormous, we have no money, so we have to cut.”

“But that’s a false argument because ultimately, they’re dismantling the state.”

“The province of Quebec, the government of Quebec, isn’t going to resemble what it used to look like before. The model that we worked on for so many years is being demolished.”

Deschamps points to the much revered Quebec daycare system, which charges parents $7 a day, as an example. There’s even a union-led campaign making the case for that model to be adopted at the federal level. But now, even that standard is being threatened in Quebec.

“It shows that even our gains can be challenged at any moment. Nothing is certain anymore.”

The political advisor acknowledges that keeping track of all these cuts and their impacts is a tall task – even for those of us whose jobs involve following these things day in and day out.

“It’s hard for us; imagine how tough it is for the general public to be accorded their rightful place in those things and to be indignant. One day, they’re going to get mad, because they’ll notice that the bill just went up – and they won’t necessarily have seen it coming.”

“I look at the title of our campaign – Pour un monde plus juste (For a fairer world) – and it takes on a special importance,” concluded Deschamps, her voice getting softer and sullen. “It really takes on a special importance because I really don’t know how we’ll get a fairer world with the decisions that these governments are taking.”

We’d like to extend a heartfelt thank you to Johanne Deschamps for taking the time to talk to us about the FTQ’s campaign and the conservative ideas and actions that plague our society. If you’d like to find out more about the campaign, we urge you to visit their site, keeping in mind that the content is only available in French.

Labour Day or Leisure Day?


In their heyday, Labour Day parades were a sight to behold. People lined the streets to see floats that stood as monuments to workers’ individual contributions to society. This was a day when plumbers marched alongside firefighters, in a show of unity among the working class.

But Labour Day parades have always had to compete with one of its main goals: getting time off for leisure. Indeed, for many Canadians, Labour Day is more synonymous with a long relaxing weekend at the cottage than with the labour movement.

“The tension was built at the very beginning,” explained Professor Craig Heron, who teaches history at York University. “It was a celebration of labour that had an implicitly political twist and a day of pleasure.”

“How you keep those things working together is obviously an issue.”

Heron points out that Labour Day was alive and well before Parliament made it an official holiday. In The Workers’ Festival, a book he co-authored with Steve Penfold, Labour Day parades are traced back to the early 1880s, years before the day was officially recognized at the federal level in 1894.

“It was first celebrated in Toronto in 1882, Hamilton and Oshawa in 1883, London and Montreal in 1886, St.Catherines’ in 1887, Halifax in 1888, and Ottawa and Vancouver in 1887.”

Back then, workers were simply asking their local municipality to declare the day a civic holiday.

“Then they would just celebrate it. Workers would take the day off,” explained Heron. “In 1894, [Parliament was] just putting the legal stamp on a fait-accomplit.”

That precious time off was all the more important at the end of the 19th century, when workers didn’t have vacation time – when Saturday was part of your workweek.

“The one-day holidays – Victoria Day, Dominion Day and an August holiday in some parts of the country – those were your only holidays.”

Ultimately, Heron sees the movement for paid vacation as an extension of that initial request for the fall holiday.

With so little time off, Labour Day parades had stiff competition from the get-go. It wouldn’t take long for union leaders bemoan the fact that many chose to spend that day of leisure at the local tavern or pool hall instead. Soon, the labour movement would be competing against a host of other options for holiday fun, where market forces sought to fill a void.

Nonetheless, the parade would draw an impressive crowd. Onlookers could get a glimpse of a craftsman’s work and his tools of the trade. For workers, it was a chance to present themselves as essential cogs in a society of producers. For unionists, it was a show of force for the labour movement – one they hoped would draw more workers into their ranks.

But that would change over the years.

“Labour Day evolved,” explained Heron. “What Steve and I wanted to emphasize in the book was how it was reinvented a number of times.”

The parades of the 1940s were characterized by what Heron referred to as “a much sharper edge” – with fiery protests more akin to today’s May Day demonstrations. After the Second World War, there was an attempt to merge activism with old traditions.

“You’d put on a show that drew on the cultural elements that people expected to see in a parade; you added the clowns, you added the pretty girls in the short skirts,” explained Heron. “Those elements that now look frivolous to us, they co-existed alongside floats that asked ‘What’s going to happen as a result of automation?’ and ‘We need Medicare!’”

Gradually, as the labour movement entered more tumultuous years in the 1970s, the frivolous elements were dropped in favour of more protest activities.

Despite this state of flux, one thing remained constant: Labour Day parades were a grassroots effort, usually led by a local labour council.

In Ottawa, the Labour Day parade is organized by the Ottawa District Labour Council. With the big day just a few days away, Labour Council President Sean McKenny’s voice is already ringing with pride and excitement.

“Everything is free,” said McKenny, urging everyone to attend the festivities. “We have hot-dogs, corn on the cob, bags of chips, soft-drinks and juice for folks – we have a bouncy castle and pony rides.”

Ottawa has been home to a Labour Day parade for well over a century. In recent years, the festivities have followed a standard formula: everyone meets at city hall and marches to a nearby park, where the fun continues.

The event, McKenny contends, puts the emphasis on family and leisure over activism and protest.

“One of the things that we often say around here is ‘we have 360-some-other days of the year to protest and rally; this is a day when we’re going to enjoy ourselves and celebrate all our hard work throughout the year.”

McKenny argues that in Ottawa, the parade is far from dying out. After being involved with its planning for over 20 years, he says the level of participation has undoubtedly increased. Moreover, he hopes that the family-focused attractions will act as an extension of the Canadian Labour Congress’ campaign, which aims to paint a different portrait of unions – one that counters public perceptions of union members as radical and constantly being on strike.

In this vein, Labour Day festivities continue to be an important communications vehicle. In Heron and Penfold’s book, the authors declare that parades “were intended to convey powerful symbolic, largely non-literate messages about appropriate social and political values and acceptable social relationships.”

“In the 1880s-1890s, there were parades all the time in the streets,” explained Heron. “It was a way of communicating. You expected to see parades; you went and watched them. What was on display there, in terms of what people looked like, how they dressed, how they organized themselves, what they were carrying, what they were showing off – all of that was a mode of communicating to the crowd that was watching.”

But in the digital age, where messages can reach a broader audience regardless of their proximity to a downtown core, is there still a place for parades? Could resources be more wisely invested elsewhere?

Professor Heron contends that there is still something very powerful and visceral about people getting together for a public demonstration.

“I think this is part of the debate that everyone is having about social media,” he responded. “It’s a debate we’re having at the university level about online courses – what’s the value of bringing people face-to-face for anything?”

Instead of replacing the act of taking to the streets altogether, social media can be used to bolster that act. Professor Heron pointed to both Occupy and Idle No More as great examples of movements that used these tools effectively to garner more boots on the ground.

“There’s incredible power in having people standing together, walking together, finding each other in a face-to-face environment,” he added. “It can’t be experienced any other way.”

“It does make people feel proud and powerful and capable of greater things. That’s why I think, again and again, in strike situations and in protests, people come back to it as a way to show to the world that there are people who care and feel some solidarity.”


If this article has inspired you to get involved in your local Labour Day Parade, please contact your local labour district council. In Ottawa, they’re hoping to recruit another 10-20 volunteers.

This article relied heavily on information found in Craig Heron and Steve Penfold’s book, The Workers’ Festival: A History of Labour Day in Canada. Professor Heron is the author of several books on the Canadian labour movement, including The Canadian Labour Movement: A Short History. Incidentally, that book features a few UNE members on the cover!

Thank you to both Professor Craig Heron and ODLC President Sean McKenny for taking the time to speak with us.



Exclusive: our interview with Hassan Yussuff


Union of National Employees reporters caught up with Hassan Yussuff, President of the Canadian Labour Congress, after his speech at the UNE Convention for an exclusive interview. The following is an excerpt from this conversation.

Union of National Employees – There is a difference between talking about what you’re fighting against and painting a picture of what you’re going to achieve. If you were going to describe the country that you are working to rebuild, what would it look like?

Hassan Yussuff – It would be a fairer country. Working people would be valued in terms of their contribution. The things that matter to working people would be a top priority of our government: good jobs; a better health care system; better pensions so people who have spent lifetime working can retire in dignity in their retirement; a future for young people so they won’t have to live with their parents, so they can have their own place because they make enough money. These are very basic things about any society: feeling it has a purpose and that it is going in the right direction. We’re losing all that. We’re told we can’t have good healthcare anymore because we can’t afford it. We’re told we can’t have good jobs because we live in a globalized economy. We’re told we can’t have pensions because they are way too rich. These are fundamental things and we have to say that we’re all entitled to them. There is more wealth in this period in our history than there was in our foreparents’ when they were trying to create pensions in the first place. We are told that young people can’t expect a full time job or a pension, yet the wealthy seem to have done quite well. I hope my daughter will find this country is a better place than the one I came to. Respect for women’s rights and childcare should be a basic right, not something she has to fight for. Those things are not dreams they can be a reality. We have the money. We can do that. It’s just a priority of the government and a leader to say, ‘hey, do it’. If they can find billions of dollars for tax cuts [for corporations], certainly they can do this.

UNE – In your speech, you focused on the benefits that the labour movement has been able to win for our country and for all Canadians. That’s the message that is going to reach people, isn’t it?

HY – I think our role in labour has been about elevating the rights of others, not just ourselves. When we lose sight of that, we lose the public. We have to reengage the public about the good that we do. The other side has been framing us. How are we going to find a way to tell the public that, without us, you won’t get better laws; without us, things don’t improve? The things we fight for are not just for our members; they’re for our whole society.

UNE – You talk about mobilizing and organizing for the next federal election. Do you have any specific suggestions for members?

HY – We will organize political action conferences across the country to discuss a common strategy so we can get the message out about what the government action has been against workers. We want our members to recognize that they are not alone, that affiliates can work together. We have to train people about how we can carry on those conversations in the workplace, help them identify some of the challenges and issues that are going to be the ballot questions in the next election.

UNE – There has been a trend to drive a wedge between the existing workforce and new workers through differences in the benefits and pensions they qualify for under collective agreements. The rights that each can expect are different for each group. Do you feel that this is a strategy that the government is employing?

HY – Yes, this is a well-known strategy. There is a huge issue with how we build our solidarity with younger people. It is a very systematic way of undermining the credibility of the union. Union members rarely recognize that the employer created this two-tiered system. They don’t understand the context and they blame the union. A massive amount of the current workforce will be leaving in a short amount of time. [The government] wants to change the nature of the relationship with workers and they don’t have many years in which to do it. This attack on rights is saying to the new generation that you shouldn’t expect to get benefits and pensions. Clearly we have to take this on because fundamentally this is about the future of young people.

UNE – You mention the exodus that is about to happen. In our union, a lot of seasoned veterans will be retiring soon. Is CLC concerned about how some of the powerhouses of the labour movement are entering retirement?

HY – We are struggling with that right now in the Congress. It’s a concern but I am also confident to know that there are a lot of bright young people coming along. It’s not a detriment to the labour movement. I just think it provides some weaknesses because experience is invaluable as you struggle with these bigger challenges. In many cases we have people who have been around and have lived it and experienced it. But on the other hand, change is exciting. It can lead to renewal and different ways of doing things.

UNE – One of our members on Twitter was joking that you are everywhere. And it does seem like you are speaking and travelling quite a bit, even though you were only elected three months ago.

HY – I am always excited about what the next day holds for possibilities. The opportunity to speak is invaluable for our message and there is a sense that something different is happening in Congress. We have an election coming up and I feel that we need to challenge the government’s agenda. We need to confront it and we need to speak about it. We’re fighting a government that is destroying everything. My job is to inspire our membership. Right now, they don’t think they can win. I’m here to help people get out of that rut. You have to make them feel and believe that they can make a difference. There are times when I am going to have to get some rest; but I figure, after Harper is done, there will be lots of time to rest.

UNE – Thank you Mr. Yussuff.

You can find out more about the Mr. Yussuff’s speech to our convention delegation in our August 13th newsletter

Tribal people under attack


This International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, Survival International is calling attention to some of the tribes who fell victim to genocide. The international organization, which advocates on behalf of tribal people worldwide, fears history could repeat itself if urgent action isn’t taken to protect a particular tribe on the Brazilian-Peruvian border.

Early last month, Survival International learned that a formerly uncontacted tribe (a tribe that had no previous contact with industrialised societies) reached out to the Ashaninka, a neighbouring tribe in Brazil.

“This uncontacted tribe said that they left their home because their elders had been massacred by non‑Indians and that all their homes had been burned,” explained Ilana Nevins, spokesperson for Survival International. “There were so many people killed that they couldn’t bury them all – that those who couldn’t be buried had been picked at by vultures.”

The organization suspects that illegal loggers and cocaine traffickers are the likely culprits of this flagrant level of violence. Many of the area’s tribal people have already been pushed further into the forest as illegal logging and drug traffickers encroach on their land.

In addition to violence, isolated tribes that come into contact with people from industrialized societies are highly susceptible to introduced diseases. In the mid 1990’s, more than half of the Nahua people were wiped out following their first contact with loggers.

Seven tribal people who made contact last month were already showing signs of influenza, a disease to which they have no acquired immunity. FUNAI, the Brazilian government body charged with protecting tribal territories and their people, treated five young men and two young women for the disease.

With 70 uncontacted tribes within its borders and 14 million hectares of land (roughly two-and-a-half times the size of Nova Scotia), FUNAI has a daunting task – and not enough funds to do it. But Nevins says things have been improving.

“There are people – FUNAI staff – that care deeply that making sure these people and this land is protected,” said Nevins. “But that’s not enough; right now, there aren’t enough funds to make sure that all the uncontacted land is being monitored – that illegal loggers, miners and other people focused on resource extraction are kept out of this land.”

Survival International would like to see the Brazilian government allocate more funds to FUNAI. At present, they are calling on the government to urgently re-staff a government outpost that was overrun in 2011 by illegal loggers and drug traffickers.

The staff there was working to monitor and protect the land where the uncontacted tribe is believed to have resided.

Survival International is asking people to sign and send an email to the Brazilian and Peruvian governments, calling on them to monitor and protect these uncontacted tribes and their land.

In March of this year, the Peruvian and Brazilian governments signed an agreement to cooperate on cross-border monitoring and protection.

“So far this has not been sufficient to ensure that these people are protected,” concluded Nevins.

Members can find out more about Survival International at You may also be interested in other articles we’ve written about tribal people, including: Rethink Your Vocab and last year’s article on oil exploration encroaching on the Matsés’ land, which is located within Peruvian borders.

May 18 – International Museum Day


May 18 is International Museum Day; so, you may wish to plan a visit to a museum near you this weekend! Our nation is home to some very spectacular museums; for a great number of our members, it’s also where they work!

But our museums haven’t been immune from budget cuts in the name of austerity. The members who work in that sector are grappling with some unique challenges.

“Most people who work within museums, galleries and archives would much prefer to have funding agencies at arm’s length,” explained Terry Quinlan, professor of conservation at Algonquin College, in Ottawa. The college has the oldest-running museum studies program in Canada, with 40 years in operation.

Our national museums have the all-important task of collecting, researching, interpreting and preserving items of cultural significance – items that we all own, collectively. Meanwhile, the federal government has a legal obligation, under the Museum Act, to provide the means for these institutions to perform that work.

“That’s a fundamental core requirement of public institutions; the federal government must supply them with the funds to achieve their mandate.”

Increasingly, however, museums are rubbing shoulders with corporations to meet their fiduciary responsibilities. Quinlan points to Barrick Gold’s $1M sponsorship of the Canadian Museum of Nature as a troubling example of this trend. He calls the increasing amount of corporate influence “frightening”.

Despite the new source of funding, however, there’s still a disturbing amount of cost-cutting happening in national museums and historic sites.

“Across the country, we’ve seen pretty major slashes,” explained Quinlan. “If you take a look at Parks Canada, many people are unaware that Parks had service centres across Canada that cared for our collective cultural artifacts from all our national historic sites.”

The government shut them down; there’s only one facility left in Ottawa. According to Quinlan, even that facility’s operations have been scaled back; they used to have about 20 conservators – they’re down to about 7.

While the preservation side of things is taking a hit, so is these institutions’ capacity to really engage and educate visitors. Sadly, 26 historic sites lost the interpretive guides that make history come alive – that make learning more engaging. On Parks Canada’s 2012 list of national historic sites moving to the “self-guided” format, Laurier House was twelfth on the list.

“We have been partnering with Laurier House for 15 years,” said the conservation professor. “I’ve watched those guys get beaten up something fierce in the last six years. It’s an exceptional site, there’s plenty to interpret, tons to share with the public, and they’ve completely scaled it back.”

Professor Quinlan says there’s a push to do tours of the site through an app.

“It’s completely bizarre,” he added. “I think that some divisions of the federal government are quick to jump onto technology and suggest that because it’s a cheaper way of doing things, it’s a better way of doing things.”

“I don’t buy that. Give it five years, you’ll see.”

But if you can’t engage people through the internet, you have to get them in the door. Quinlan says many museums are trying innovative ways to reach people outside their typical audience.

“One of the bigger challenges – and a lot of institutions are trying to do this now – is to capture that middle-of-the-road demographic,” he explained. “People between the age of 20 and 35 – they’re trying to get them engaged in learning about their collective cultural past. They’re trying contemporary technology to do that; they’re trying innovative ways to do that.”

According to him, the Canadian Museum of Nature’s Nature Nocturne series are a great example of trying to reach that demographic. The museum describes its late-night events as “a chance for adults to play and enjoy the museum on their own terms.” All the galleries are open to visit, but there’s the added bonus of music, food and drink… and a dance floor!

“The Royal Ontario Museum is doing something very similar to that,” added Quinlan. “Who knows how successful those things are going to be; they’re just starting now.”

“I think it’s great. I think that if you try to remain the institution of the past, you’re not going to survive. It’s just not going to happen.”

Rethink your vocab!

With the Indigenous Games well under way in Brazil, we felt this would be a great time to discuss our vocabulary. We took this opportunity to speak with Survival International, an organization that advocates on behalf of tribal peoples.

They’ve recently launched a campaign called Stamp it Out, aimed at challenging language that has, for centuries, belittled tribal people and portrayed them as somehow being in a transitional state towards inevitably joining industrialized societies.

These ideas are imbued in words such as ‘primitive’ and ‘stone age’.

“Primitive is one of the words that people use in the media,” said Kayla Wieche, a spokeswoman for Survival International.

“It’s an example of racism against tribal people,” she added “that somehow industrialized societies are further along than tribal people – that’s what the word ‘primitive’ really conveys.”

And of course, if a society is deemed to be “primitive” or “stone age”, it’s not a far leap for some to decide that industrialized societies know what’s best for them.

Wieche said the word was recently sprinkled liberally throughout a book review featured in the Wall Street Journal.

“It was really shocking to see that sort of racism in a major US newspaper.”

Survival International is urging allies to send e-cards to those who seriously need to rethink their vernacular.

The organization has followed up this campaign with a similar one aimed at India, where such words are freely used without a second thought. The campaign is named “Proud, not primitive”.

What other words do you think we should strike from our lexicon? Leave a comment below!

Stand up for Tribal Peoples

International Day of the World’s Indigenous People is August 9 – we’ll feature a different article on that day, but in the meantime, given the urgent nature of what we’ve learned, we’re kindly asking you to take action to protect the Matsés and uncontacted tribes of Peru by supporting the work of Survival International.

We’ve featured the great work of Survival International on this website before. In Canada, the organization has advocated on behalf of the Innu Nation, who are still reeling from the effects of colonialist attitudes.

But, Survival International is indeed a global organization – and one that advocates on behalf of tribal people everywhere.

“We really want people to understand and respect that tribal people should be free to make their own choices about their land and the way they live,” explained Survival International Spokesperson Kayla Wieche. “We help them protect their lives, land and human rights.”

Tribal societies around the world are facing many threats: theft of land, violence and racism, resource extraction and the inevitable contamination of land resulting from that activity.

Thus, Survival International’s position is that companies must refrain from working on tribal peoples’ lands unless they have their free, prior and informed consent.

“The tribal people have to agree with what they’re doing and they have to be fully informed,” said Wieche. “And if they don’t want companies to work on their lands or they don’t want loggers to take their forests, then they have the right to say no.”

It’s precisely this type of encroachment – from the logging industry and oil exploration – that is so damaging for tribal people – especially in the case of uncontacted tribes.

In 2008, Survival International was thrown into the spotlight when it released some amazing photos of isolated tribes – tribes that have no contact with industrialized societies.

“People were just so… taken by the idea that there were still isolated peoples throughout the world.”

But just because they live outside mainstream society doesn’t mean they don’t know about the industrialised societies, Wieche cautions.

“Most of the time, especially in the Amazon, these people have suffered real wrongs at the hands of industrialized society. They do not want to participate in it.”

“It’s a real conscious choice.”

According to Survival International, 90% of the Indian population in western Amazonia was wiped out during the 19th century rubber boom. Even today, contact with industrialized societies would be devastating for these tribal people.

“They don’t have immunities to the cold or the flu – and that can and does wipe out about half of uncontacted populations when they encounter people from industrialized societies.”

And a threat to those very communities has a home in Canada: a Canadian-Columbian company called the Pacific Rubiales Energy Corporation. It’s listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange as PRE.

“They’re exploring for oil on a block of land that is located on a proposed uncontacted tribe’s reserve,” said Wieche.

The nearby Matsés people believe that these uncontacted people are their relatives and that they’re living in the land that is being explored by Pacific Rubiales.

Survival International is calling on the energy company to stop oil exploration on that land. They also have oil exploration planned for the contacted Matsés’ land.

“Already, they’re doing seismic testing.They have helicopters flying over the area and it’s really disrupting the tribe’s way of life. It’s scaring away animals,” said Wieche. “It’s really jarring.”

The Matsés have appealed to Pacific Rubiales’ shareholders to divest from the company if they decide to continue to explore on the territory.

“We’re asking people to write to Pacific Rubiales,” said Wieche. She added that people should also call on the Peruvian government to cancel their contract with the energy giant.

You can learn more about this – and take action – on Survival International’s website.

Murder in Buckingham

For those who aren’t too familiar with the National Capital Region’s suburbs, you may not have heard of Buckingham. It’s a small community of roughly 10,000 people, though it’s now technically part of the post-mega-amalgamation of the city of Gatineau.

But in the early 1900s, Buckingham was very different.

“Let’s say it was like many similar areas in Quebec, Ontario and elsewhere: it was almost a one-industry town,” explained Pierre-Louis Lapointe, a historian and author of several books about Buckingham.

For the town’s denizens, the options were limited; there were only two large employers in the area: the Electric Reduction Company and the MacLaren Company.

The MacLarens were very much the textbook definition of robber barons; they amassed great wealth by exploiting natural resources, having the right connections in government and not paying their employees very well.

By 1906, having bought out their only major competitor in town, the MacLarens owned two sawmills and a pulp mill. At this point, they’ve bought up every piece of the river that they can get their hands on – all the better to keep other companies from encroaching on their turf.

But just to be on the safe side, the MacLarens also acquire exclusive rights to deliver electricity and build railroads within the town.

“This enabled them to stop the other construction of any railroads going through the municipality,” explained Lapointe.

Without a railroad to carry lumber elsewhere, farmers and land owners in the area had little choice but to sell their lumber to the MacLaren Company.

“It was one of tools they used to build their monopoly.”

For the men employed by the MacLaren Company, times were tough.

“Do you think it’s human to give $1.25 per day to men who work from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. in water, in mud, on logs?” a worker is quoted as saying, in 1906. “The work is brutal and painful. And I have six kids; why don’t you try feeding that, educating that, clothing that and do the same thing, you, on a dollar and a quarter a day!”1

In 1906, the cost of living is quickly rising.

“By then, the employees can’t take it anymore,” said Lapointe.

The employees try to unionize and the MacLarens soon orders a lockout. The company hires armed guards; scabs are brought in to carry logs. The conflict culminates on October 8, 1906, when workers try to implore the scabs to leave work.

“Despite the mocking and the anti-French sarcasm hurled at them by the guards, [the workers] are determined to keep their calm. But, suddenly, a sinister commandment rings out, that will put a spark to the powder. Shoot them! This cry comes from the ranks of the guards.”2

“It was an ambush,” said Lapointe.

Two men were killed: Thomas Bélanger and François Thériault – both members of the executive. During the funeral, the men were hailed as martyrs of the labour movement.

The MacLarens were later acquitted of Murder. According to Lapointe’s book, the prosecutor was furious and declared that he would appeal the judge’s decision. It wasn’t long before he received a telegram from the attorney general in Quebec telling him not to appeal.

The MacLarens had friends in high places.

In the months and years following the troubles of October 1906, more than 60% of unionists would leave the village. The MacLarens had blacklisted the rabble-rousers – and this list was circulating amongst other employers in the village, who didn’t mind complying with the MacLaren family’s wishes.

“One of the people interviewed about this subject told me the case of a boy, who after having passed exams and interviews, was called to R.M. Kenny’s office who pulled a notebook from his desk drawer and interrogated him about his family ties to such and such worker tied to the troubles of 1906… And to conclude dryly: ‘Sorry, there’s no job for you here!’”3

“In a few years, the population of the town of Buckingham decreases by 25% – which is enormous,” adds Lapointe.

In 1934, the workers try again to unionize. The Pulp and Sulfite Workers’ Union got more than 60 workers to sign union cards. Unfortunately, the company got wind of the organizing attempt thanks to a spy among the workers.

The company reacted by firing those involved.

“It’s a second attempt to unionize that was killed in its infancy,” summed up Lapointe.

The only thing to ever strike a blow to the MacLaren Company were improvements to the road system, which allowed the town residents to sell lumber to other companies.

Around that same time, Lapointe explained, the provincial government of Quebec looked into the work conditions of lumberjacks. They institute a sort of minimum wage, which forced the MacLaren company to increase their workers’ salaries.

And finally…

“What helped employees the most, as funny as it sounds, was the Second World War,” said Lapointe.

At that time, practically everything was considered essential for the war effort. Unions weren’t allowed to strike and bosses weren’t allowed order lockout.

“The MacLarens were forced to accept the creation of a permanent bargaining committee between the employer and the employees,” said Lapointe.

“It marks an important change in the working conditions. And by 1944, a union is finally recognized by the MacLarens.”

This story isn’t well known outside Buckingham. In 1990, Lapointe wrote about the 1906 conflict in a book detailing the history of the town of Buckingham. The book was published in both English and French, but Lapointe says the English copies have all vanished.

“They can’t find it anywhere in libraries. I don’t want to imagine… but the MacLarens have a long arm,” he jokes. “It’s a story that doesn’t make certain elements of the capitalist society very happy.”

Lapointe said that this story illustrates how there are always links between politics and economics – and that rarely can they be proven as clearly as in the story of the conflict of 1906.

“Today, we blame unionism and unions for all that ail the economy and society,” wrote Lapointe in his 1983 book. “It’s important to remember the role that unionism played in improving our lives. We have to pick up our heads like Thomas Bélanger and François Thériault… for them, and for all those who sacrificed themselves for their brethren, we owe it to ourselves to react. We surely owe them that.”4

[Editor’s note: We are extremely thankful to Mr. Lapointe for allowing us to share excerpts from his work and for speaking with us about the conflict of 1906. All facts in this article were gathered from Mr. Lapointe’s book and from a phone interview on June 25, 2013.]

[1] Lapointe, Pierre-Louis. (1983). Buckingham : ville occupée. Diffusion Prologue inc. Ville Saint-Laurent, Québec.

[2] Idem

[3] Idem

[4] Idem

Injured Workers: a painful identity

On top of dealing with their physical pain, injured workers often have to grapple with a new sense of identity. According to Sharon-Dale Stone, an associate professor of sociology at Lakehead University and the principal investigator for a study on injured workers, there’s a stigma associated to being an injured worker.

Her paper, entitled Workers Without Work: Injured Workers and Well-Being, looks at how injured workers’ well-being suffers as a result of being deprived from work. Stone and her team of researchers conducted twelve focus groups in Western Ontario to obtain first-hand accounts on how their lives were impacted by their injuries.

“For me, personally, it was gratifying to be able document these stories because I had known for a long time about all the horrible things that had happened to injured workers,” said Stone during a phone interview. “And by documenting what they go through and publishing it, I would be in a position to make some small level of change.”

Injured workers are often met with a sense of distrust – as if all they want to do is stay home and get paid. But Stone’s study suggests that most workers truly want to get back to work; their injury is a devastating and distressing event in their lives.

“The hardest thing of my life was not being able to go back to nursing,” said one woman in Stone’s study. “That’s what I loved. I truly loved it and I was working towards my RNs, I was working and going to school, unions, Friday night and Saturday.”

“We live in a society that encourages all of us to distrust each and everybody else,” explained Stone. “We also live in a society that privileges the visible, which means that if you have any kind of invisible injury or disability, you’re automatically suspected of trying to get away with something.”

“It’s a huge problem because most disabilities aren’t visible.”

In addition to coping with their new reality, injured workers also have to deal with family members and co-workers who aren’t as understanding of their situation.

“The hardest part is when you get some co-workers saying well, ‘I wish I could be off like you’, and stuff like that,” said one man, who was a pipe fitter.

Another participant of Stone’s study, a bulldozer operator, reflected on the lack of understanding from his family.

“With my family, I think I was totally rejected, because I wasn’t working,” said the man. “My father is very traditional where, you know, you never miss a day. You work, and you work no matter whether it’s raining or, if you are sore, whatever.”

Some injured workers reported feeling abandoned by co-workers with whom they were close.

“I still don’t talk to almost all the men that worked for me for all those years,” said one construction worker. “Before that, we might well have been sitting in the bar together all evening or spent the weekend in. As soon as I was hurt, hey, you’re an outcast; you’re out of it!”

On top of all that, injured workers also have to deal with the difficult process of claims, retraining or obtaining modified duties. One participant in Stone’s study, an equipment operator with back, shoulder and neck injuries, recounted how his employer’s concept of modified duties was to have him wheel cement using a wheelbarrow.

Leslie Sanderson, a labour relations officer with the Union of National Employees, said this situation is often a product of poor medical evidence – in fact, she says it’s often the biggest hurdle to obtain proper accommodation.

“Employers, employees and unions have to rely on medical opinions,” explained Sanderson. “If your doctor isn’t familiar with the process of providing medical recommendations for accommodations, that becomes a difficult task for everyone relying on that information.”

According to Sanderson, a common difficulty is getting doctors to provide the proper information. She said employers should be sending proper letters asking for proper information, along with the employee’s job description.

“When did you see the person? What’s the prognosis for return? What are the restrictions and limitations on this person returning to work and what are the recommended accommodations? A lot of doctors do not understand what is required – and a lot of employers don’t send the job description along with this letter. The doctors really need that document to understand the worker’s position.”

But even if employees succeed in getting modified duties, they can still be faced with a lack of understanding from their co-workers. In Stone’s study, one customer service clerk shared her experience:

“My coworkers are something else,” said the woman. “They make you feel like you’re this high, cause you can’t do something. And they’ve actually voiced it. ‘Do we have to do everything around here?’… and I don’t appreciate them rubbing it in my face on top of it. Because an injury is not just – it comes with a lot of other problems that you have to deal with. So you don’t – you don’t need that. You don’t need the BS from co-workers that don’t understand it.”

Sanderson often encourages members with significant health problems to be open with their employer.

“That comes with some risks,” she cautioned. “But if you’re open with them, there seems to be more trust created. It’s easier for people to understand that.”

Sanderson believes the issue of accommodation is especially topical, given the aging demographic of society as a whole.

“Personally, I feel that we should never have to deal with accommodation issues in a grievance,” said Sanderson. “It should be a process where we’re all working together to get a worker back to work as quickly as medically possible.”

As for Professor Stone, she would like to see unions regularly educating their membership on the issue of injured workers – going beyond injury-prevention training and focusing on how to treat injured workers.

“They should be sensitising everybody to the fact that it’s not the worker’s fault that they got injured. They need the support of their co-workers. They need the support of their union. They need the support of management.”

World Day of Social Justice

In 1912, Helen Keller sent a cheque to support the striking textile workers in Little Falls, New York. In the accompanying letter, Keller concluded:  “Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other’s welfare, social justice cannot be attained.”1

Unions have long advocated for social justice. At the PSAC, the Social Justice Fund has worked to “advance the role of our members in building stronger communities, a better country and a more just and humane world.2

According to Louise Casselman, the PSAC Social Justice Fund Officer, the fund helps address inequities both at home and abroad.

“Unions are not just about putting bread on the table – that’s obviously an important aspect – but it’s also about reaching out and being active in the society we live in,” said Casselman.

About half of the fund helps support programs in Canada.

“We have a literacy program that we support, for example, in Nunavut, in the Prairies and  Atlantic regions and, right now, we’re supporting literacy programs for injured workers in Ontario and also immigrant workers in the area of Montreal.”

Literacy skills are especially important in our modern economy. The 2005 International Study of Reading Skills revealed that a great proportion of Canadians scoring lowest on literacy were immigrants or individuals who grew up with a mother tongue other than English or French.3

The majority of Canadians struggling with literacy report earning less than $25,000 a year.4

The fund also supports after-school programs for at-risk-youth and shelters for victims of domestic violence. The union is also teaming up with Canada Without Poverty to fight for decent public housing.

“We’re all working together to improve the lives of those people who are more marginalized in our society,” said Casselman.

She adds that many of our members are involved in these programs at the grassroots.

“It’s hard,” admits Casselman. “Union members work all day long, and then volunteer at night for their Local, Area Council or Human Rights Committee – it’s all volunteer time – and then they’re involved in the community. It’s a lot on their back.”

“It’s really important to bring attention to all this work, so we want to recognize all those champions of social justice that we have in our union.”

[1] Helen Keller, and Davis John. Helen Keller: Rebel Lives. Saint Paul, MN: Consortium Book Sales and Distribution, 2003. Print.

[2] PSAC Social Justice Fund Mission Statement

[3] The Daily, January 9, 2008, Stats Canada

[4] Idem