The Inevitable Media of the Power Source.
In MFD forum this past week one of our contributors directed us to a number of corporate media stories about a vulgar display of power by a Winnipeg Manitoba bus company. After its workers soundly rejected a concessionary deal that Motor Coach Industries tabled in negotiations, the company brought out the heavy artillery of economic terrorism: Give us what we want or we'll leave town. The deal the company wanted would freeze wages until 2006 at which time workers would get an increase of 40 cents per hour through to2009. A new lower tier wage scale (about $9.00 per hour lower) would apply to new hires. A re-vote, supervised by the Manitoba Labour Relations Board, generated the desired outcome - the workers voted 64% in favour of accepting the deal that just two weeks earlier, 75% had rejected. There was jubilation or at least relief on the part of local and provincial politicians. All three levels of government - national, provincial and municipal had put $20 million worth of incentives to the company, to encourage it to stay put. Manitoba Premier Gary Dewar encouraged the workers to accept the deal. Jobs (about 1300 of them) would be saved, at least for the time being. Letters to the editor urged workers to "get real" about their expectations and recognize the importance of the corporate agenda.
Nowhere in the coverage about this story was there any question about the company's tactics. A threat to pick up and move away would be treated as a breach of the law in most Canadian jurisdictions if it were made during an organizing campaign. It would be called an "unfair labour practice". Similar threats during contract negotiations often lead to "bad faith bargaining" charges.
In 1999, the Ontario Labour Relations Board imposed what were then called "extraordinary measures" on a company that began moving its production work out of the province shortly after a union was certified at on of its Ontario plants, a move that resulted in the layoff of about 45% of its workforce. In that case (Rapid Transformers Ltd. And Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada). The Board ordered the return of all production work removed following the union's application for certification and the reinstatement, with compensation for wages, benefits and interest, of all laid off workers.
In June of last year, a panel of the Manitoba LRB, ordered tractor manufacturer Buhler Versatile to pay locked out workers approximately $18 million in lost wages and benefits after finding that the company bargained in bad faith. Threats of moving away and government handouts were also a part of that story.
But the corporate media didn't tell us about these decisions or offer up any commentary on how MCI's threats differ from those of these two (and other) companies. Who needs to know about that? Nor did it explain why charges were not filed with the MLRB or what the province's Premier was doing influencing the workers to tow the company line.
Nor did the corporate media tell us about research that suggests that most companies who threaten to pull up stakes and move away if they don't get their way - don't. This US study by Kate Bronfenbrenner of Cornell University examined employer responses to union organizing drives. It sheds some light on employer motives behind threats of closure: While over 50% of employers use threats of closure or relocation as a means of discouraging union organizing, only 3% actually make good on those threats. In addition to that, Bronfenbrenner found that threats of closure or relocation have no connection to the company's financial circumstances but are motivated almost entirely by anti-union sentiment. Although this study refers to the use of such threats during organizing campaigns, can employer motives for similar threats during bargaining be much different? It's possible but the corporate media isn't asking these kinds of questions.
Nowhere was there any examination of the actual need for this concessionary deal and, Apart from a brief reference to the jobs being safe "for now", there was no discussion about what - if anything - prevented the company from buggering off, with the concessionary deal and $20 million of taxpayer-funded incentives in its hip pocket. The corporate media was equally silent about what two decades of concession bargaining have achieved for workers: fewer jobs, lower pay, fewer benefits, more job insecurity. What was it that prompted the workers to overwhelmingly reject this deal in the first place? The corporate media would suggest that it must have been greed or self-interest or just not caring enough about the corporate agenda. But a more likely explanation is, they knew what it was going to get them. This brief (and funny) commentary by Michael Moore puts it in perspective. But the mainstream corporate media didn't tell us about that.
Nowhere was there any discussion of the impact on communities and workers of concessionary deals. Again, some twenty years of evidence has piled up that concession bargaining can have a devastating impact on communities. This well-known film,Roger & Me, also by Moore, tells the story of one US city and what its citizens got for embracing the corporate agenda. Is that news? Not according to the corporate media.
These are just a few examples of how the corporate media treats workers and their issues. It doesn't. Workers do not exist in the corporate media. They are not real people with real issues. They exist only as appendages of other organizations - usually the ones the employ them, sometimes the ones that represent them. Workers are not persons in their own right with opinions, concerns or aspirations. They are a faceless, voiceless mass to which things - usually bad things - happen. The bad things are unavoidable, necessary, and even good in that they help other more important people and organizations. The odd time that they are acknowledged, they are almost always presented as unrealistic, greedy, lazy, demotivated, the masters of their own miserable destiny.
The invisibility of workers in the corporate media is no oversight. The corporate media is the corporate media. It has a corporate agenda. Don't believe us? Read this. Faceless, voiceless, invisible workers are desirable workers. The faceless and voiceless are not "news". Only when they dutifully participate in activities that help the corporate agenda are they to be afforded any attention and even then, a pat on the back is usually followed by a kick in the butt for ever having questioned the corporate gods in the first place.
If you have ever wondered why the general public seems to be completely unaware of what you and your coworkers are thinking, doing or fighting for - even though there may be many of you and many people just like you - this is one of the main reasons. You're not supposed to exist.
This sorry situation is not likely to change. The corporate media will continue to be the corporate media. It will continue to ignore workers and their issues because it has a strong vested interest in doing so. Our mainstream unions won't help the situation much either. Most of them rely almost exclusively on the corporate media to get their stories out. If you count up the official media releases that come out of union communications departments and the number of union stories that actually appear in the media, you'll find that unions don't exist most of the time either. To make matters worse, the mainstream unions are not using the Internet as an alternative to raise awareness of workers and their issues. Most mainstream union web sites are bland, infomercials targeted at prospective members. Few, if any, offer any opportunity for actual union members to tell their stories or air their points of view.
We know that we are real, so what do we to make our voices heard?
We can make ourselves heard, we can raise awareness of our issues, and we can even fundamentally alter society's views about work, workers, unions and the workplace. We can do this by making use of the resources that we have at our disposal: our ideas, our experiences, our skills and talents and our technology. So...
Want to write for MFD?
We've got a good thing going with our web site and, to those who may have wondered when UFO (lawsuit) season began - we're not going away. Judging from the activity in our forum and the confidential communications that we receive, the MFD community is growing and is just bursting with people who have a lot to say.
Now's our opportunity to create something that is very much lacking in our larger community: A real voice for working people. The media of the Power Source. It will happen if we make it happen. The more of us who participate, the sooner it will happen, the better it will be and the more visible it will make workers and their issues.
So, send us your news. We know you have some, probably a lot and we know you can communicate about it.
You don't need to be professional writer. If you can write an intelligible post in MFD forum, you can write a brief item about an issue or event in which you're interested. A couple of paragraphs may be all you need to give the world the lowdown on something that's going on where you are. Even bullet points will do, if you're uncertain about sentence structure. We'll see to your spelling and grammar if you miss something. Short and to the point is often a good thing as readers who are unfamiliar with your issue may lose interest if they see a longwinded piece. If you feel inclined to write something longer, by all means.
You don't need to identify yourself. You can, of course, write under your own name if you want but pseudonyms or anonymous pieces are OK here at MFD.
You can contribute what you want, when you want on whatever subjects you want. Occasional contributions are welcome. If you'd like to participate more regularly, that's fine as well. Maybe you'd like to be a regular reporter from your local or your workplace or do a regular commentary on a certain subject or around a certain theme.
The sky is really the limit in terms of what the news is. Don't think about what the corporate media considers news. We'll never have any news if we do that. What is news to you? What's happening at your workplace or within your union? Are you involved in any activities or events that you think others may find interesting? Are you going to be in bargaining soon? What are people saying? Is your employer spreading a certain message around? What position is your union taking? Have you had any grievance or LRB hearings lately? What happened? Win or lose, we always learn something from these experiences. Have you just joined a union or are you considering changing unions? What led to those decisions? What's happening in your workplace? What kinds of policies or practices are in place? What is the effect of those on you and your coworkers? What about equity and diversity issues within your workplace or your union - what's happening there?
You don't need to confine yourself to the news. Don't forget, there's also opinion and commentary. What do you think about what's happening around you or in the broader community when it comes to workers and their issues? What kind of workplaces should we have? What kind of unions do we need? What would you do if you were President of your local, national or international union? What can workers do to more effectively communicate about their issues?
Who, what, where, when, why, - the rest is up to you. That is how we can build the media of the Power Source.
For those who think it can't be done, here are some encouraging stats that turned up in MFD forum this week, from a US government study about Internet usage:
- In the last few years, Americans' use of the Internet and computers has grown substantially.
- The rate of growth of Internet use in the United States is currently two million new Internet users per month.
- More than half of the nation is now online. In September 2001, 143 million Americans (about 54 percent of the population) were using the Internet - an increase of 26 million in 13 months. In September 2001, 174 million people (or 66 percent of the population) in the United States used computers.
- Children and teenagers use computers and the Internet more than any other age group.
- Ninety percent of children between the ages of 5 and 17 (or 48 million) now use computers.
- Seventy-five percent of 14-17 year olds and 65 percent of 10-13 year olds use the Internet.
- Family households with children under the age of 18 are more likely to access the Internet (62 percent) than family households with no children (53 percent), and non-family households (35 percent).
- Computers at schools substantially narrow the gap in computer usage rates for children from high and low-income families.
- Internet use is increasing for people regardless of income, education, age, races, ethnicity, or gender.
- Between December 1998 and September 2001, Internet use by individuals in the lowest-income households (those earning less than $15,000 per year) increased at a 25 percent annual growth rate. Internet use among individuals in the highest-income households (those earning $75,000 per year or more) increased from a higher base but at a much slower 11 percent annual growth rate.
- Between August 2000 and September 2001, Internet use among Blacks and Hispanics increased at annual rates of 33 and 30 percent, respectively. Whites and Asian American and Pacific Islanders experienced annual growth rates of approximately 20 percent during these same periods.
- Over the 1998 to 2001 period, growth in Internet use among people living in rural households has been at an average annual rate of 24 percent, and the percentage of Internet users in rural areas (53 percent) is now almost even with the national average (54 percent).
- The highest growth rate among different types of households is for single mothers with children (29 percent).
- People with mental or physical disabilities (such as blindness, deafness, or difficulty walking, typing, or leaving home) are less likely than those without such disabilities to use computers or the Internet.
- While 80 percent of Americans access the Internet through dial-up service, residential use of broadband service is rapidly expanding.
- Between August 2000 and September 2001, residential use of high-speed, broadband service doubled-from about 5 to 11 percent of all individuals, and from 11 to 20 percent of Internet users.
- Americans are going online to conduct an expanding range of activities.
- Forty-five percent of the population now uses e-mail, up from 35 percent in 2000. Approximately one-third of Americans use the Internet to search for product and service information (36 percent, up from 26 percent in 2000).
If you are interested in participating, contact us.