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we move to canadalaura khttp://www.blogger.com/profile/05524593142290489958noreply@blogger.comBlogger6470125
Updated: 54 min 50 sec ago

update: mississauga library workers vote to form independent cupe local

Sat, 02/28/2015 - 07:00
When people are denied independence and told that they cannot govern themselves, it only makes them more determined to achieve their independence.

This simple principle repeats itself in matters large and small, throughout all history and all cultures.

The struggles of 430 library workers in the sprawling suburban city of Mississauga, Ontario are not exactly global news. But in the microcosm, we rocked the world. Our members voted overwhelmingly - 98.6% - to separate from the larger, merged local and become our own CUPE local.

As I mentioned a while back, the composite local was pulling out all the stops to try to prevent us from separating. Dues from our unit represent about 15% of their revenue. Without us, some serious lifestyle changes will be needed. They weren't going to let us go without a fight.

When we first planned our separation informational meetings and the vote, we envisioned an all-day "walk-in" vote, where members could show up at their convenience, show identification and be checked in, drop their ballot, and leave. This is how the Toronto Public Library Workers Union held their separation vote, over two days and in four different locations. 
TPL workers were forced to hold some voting in non-library locations, but we didn't get the walk-in vote at all. We were told that all voting must take place at an official meeting, where there is quorum, minutes are taken, the motion is read and seconded, and so forth - the trappings that constitute a formal meeting. 
At first, I was told that all voting must take place at only one meeting. Our members work in more than 20 different locations, in a variety of shifts and hours. If all voting was held at one meeting, we would have 30 or 40 people making a crucial decision for 430 members. Not only would this be completely undemocratic, denying access to the vote for hundreds of members, the vote itself would appear less legitimate. We would be open to charges of initiating a coup, and the National Executive Board might not accept the vote and issue us a new charter. Which was exactly the point.
As an alternative, I lobbied for a series of vote meetings - short meetings held throughout the day and evening, at which quorum would be achieved, the motion read, and so forth. At these meetings, members would cast ballots in one ballot box, to be counted after the final meeting of the day. 
These meetings would be timed to afford every member an opportunity to vote. No matter what shift and in what location a member worked, there was at least one meeting time she or he could attend. 
Explaining this to national representatives and waiting for their decisions was a bit nerve-wracking! But it worked. 
Next I explained to our membership that we were denied the walk-in vote, and how voting would work instead. This turned out to be a crucial turning point. Our members were furious that obstacles were being raised in what should be an open and democratic process. Members who had been undecided shifted strongly in favour of separation. Members who had previously supported separation now become vocal, making their support public. 
I asked a few members who have great respect and credibility for statements that I could publicize. I invited members to attend multiple meetings, to ensure quorum, so that if a member chose an unpopular meeting time, she would not be denied the opportunity to vote. Many members volunteered for this, and it became another channel through which people could demonstrate their support for separation and their solidarity with their union.
Through email and Facebook, and in our own workplaces, we campaigned.
The result was the biggest turnout we've ever seen outside of a contract ratification vote. 
In a series of seven meetings, 98.6% of voting members voted to separate from the merged local and form our own independent local.
It was an exhilarating - if exhausting! - outcome. But the true outcome was larger than separation: it was the process that engaged so many more members. It raised the profile of the union in members' lives. It brought us together. It built solidarity.
This year we will be bargaining for a new contract, at a time when library workers, like workers everywhere, are facing very difficult conditions. Full-time jobs are disappearing. Professional jobs are being de-skilled. Part-time workers face increasingly precarious conditions. Services are suffering, as budgets are balanced on the backs of people who can least afford the burden.
If ever a time was needed for solidarity, this is it. The larger local tried to scare our members into believing that being overseen by a larger, outside body would be safer and more secure. But we understood that no one can ever represent us better than we can represent ourselves.

walmart increases wages: workers united are winning, and the struggle must continue

Sun, 02/22/2015 - 08:00
Workers in the US have won a significant victory in their struggle for dignity and a living wage.

This week Walmart announced that within one year, all current Walmart employees will be paid at least $10/hour, and that newly-hired workers will start at $9.00/hour, with a real opportunity to earn $10/hour with six months.

While still far below a basic living wage of $15/hour, the increase does represent a recognizable improvement over the poverty-level $7.25/hour (the US federal minimum wage) that most Walmart workers now earn. And because Walmart is the largest private employer in the country - almost 1% of all employed Americans work for Walmart - the move creates pressure on McDonald's and other behemoth low-wage employers to get with the program.

McDonald's is feeling that pressure. In Chicago, the workers organizing under the banner Fight for Fifteen Chicago also realized a hard-won and significant victory: full-time hours and reliable scheduling. Since most fast-food workers are adults with families to support, the opportunity to work full-time is an important piece of the survival puzzle.

Naturally, Walmart announced the wage increase as a smart business decision, never mentioning the ongoing - and growing - worker movements like OUR Walmart and Low Pay Is Not OK. But do we imagine Walmart enacting these sweeping wage hikes without workers organizing and demanding it? Surely Walmart investors weren't suddenly seized by an attack of compassion. Lower wages equal higher profits. That's the only compassion capitalism understands.

From one perspective, the Walmart pay increase is table scraps - no, crumbs - at a gluttonous feast: Walmart's net sales were $473.1 billion last year; shareholders received $12.8 billion in profits.
But these wage increases will make a very real difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of working people. Equally important, this victory is incentive for low-wage workers to continue their fight for a living wage - and motivation for all workers to continue our struggles for dignity and respect.

the fight for democracy and independence, microcosm version, or, where i've been and what i've been doing while i haven't been blogging

Sun, 02/15/2015 - 05:00
It's always strange for me when the events that are consuming my time and my brain are not suitable for public consumption, not things I can blog about in any detail.

Some of our war-resister friends have left Canada, forced out by the Harper Government, but choosing to go quietly for reasons of their own. Others US war resisters are still fighting to stay in Canada. It's been a very dark time for the Campaign, and very strange for me to be only marginally involved, if at all.

In December I was elected the head of our library workers' union, which is one unit of a composite local. The local comprises 16 units, and our unit is separating to form our own local. We're the second-largest unit in the local, and they're not too keen on losing the revenue from our dues. Accordingly, they're doing everything in their power to try to stop us... which is only making us stronger and more determined to separate.

Ultimately, of course, it's up to our members. We've held a series of meetings where members can hear the pros and cons of belonging to a composite local versus becoming our own local. (It's more accurate to say returning to being a separate local: that was the case until a merger in 2001.)

These meetings have gone strongly in our favour, and in response the local has resorted to lies, scaremongering, and subterfuge, creatively interpreting obscure bylaws to try to invalidate our process. With six meetings down and one to go, they're pulling out all the stops. The vote is on February 26, and they are now prevailing on the national body to make it more difficult for us to hold the vote.

I know full well that we'll get there, but how much crap I'll have to go through until we do is anybody's guess.

There have been some scary and stressful moments, as I figure out how to parry their latest move. It feels like a test of leadership, too. I gather input from a team, but ultimately the decisions rest with me. I feel the weight of the responsibility, but also an exhilaration. I've been getting incredible positive feedback and support from members, which is like oxygen. Or caffeine. Or some other great drug.

I imagine myself navigating a ship through rocky waters, bound for safe harbour. Maybe if I played videogames I'd have a more current analogy!

I just need to get through these last few minefields. Then I hope to make an exciting announcement here on February 26.