Tuesday, December 4, 2012


When I taught the English Writing class at my school, one of my favourite units was a unit on Journalism. I had some personal reasons for devoting time to that group of lessons. I had, earlier in my life, harboured thoughts of becoming a journalist. I enjoy reading good journalism, a commoditiy that is becoming more rare in modern society with each passing year. And, most importantly, I felt that it was important for young people aspiring to be good, involved and caring citizens to know the role journalism is supposed to play in our democratic society.

One of the resources I often used in my classes was to bring in the Toronto Sun for the students to study .... as an example of bad journalism. I began by declaring my own bias against this publication, and, to their credit, many of my students disagreed with my judgement, which they were always entitled to do: it provided some good and lively discussions. But, as I went through the paper, we began to realize that the Sun appealed to a certain demographic, and, while that is fair in the competitive world of journalism, we at least became aware of the Sun's approach and biases, and most of us determined that it would never qualify as a "serious" newspaper.

Fast forward to today's Sun's front page. Instead of focussing on the complex issues of stripping workers of their right to bargain collectively and fairly, instead of trying to be balanced in the face of upcoming job actions by teachers in most of Ontario, the Sun instead willfully chose to listen to the fear-mongering words of the Tory education critic, Lisa MacLeod, who raised the alarm bells of what she calls heavy handed tactics of the "union bosses" levying $500.00 fines on teachers who do not comply with the union sanctions, and having their names printed in a union publication she calls the "name and shame" list. She is quoted as saying how outraged she is by the bosses putting "the fear of God" in teachers.

The Sun, in its indignant and blustering style, devoted the front page to decrying the "BULLIES" in the union headquarters.  A pinned list of the possible sanctions was boldly presented: nowhere did the list state that the most important things (classroom instruction, extra help within the stipulated time limits of the contract,  essential supervision ) would continue to be performed. The apple with a worm in it was a nice touch, signifying that, somehow the entire profession of teaching has been corrupted by the worm of .... what ? Evil ? Poison ? Demogoguery ? Vitriol ? Hate ? Coersion ? The list goes on and on.

Wait a minute !! Isn't that the Sun imitating itself in those glowing terms? No, it couldn't be. Well, maybe ...

The truth is, the Sun got it wrong .... AGAIN ! The fact is, no union, and especially the teachers' unions, do anything, including job actions, without the members .... the teachers themselves .... voting. Yes, union executives make their recommendations known, but noone tells members how to vote. Voting is always done by secret ballot, and always after presentations are made to members and time allocated for members to question and, indeed, criticize the union executive. If a union follows the regretable route of establishing job actions, it is because the opposite party in the negotiations, in this case the provincial government, is simply not negotiating, and because the members realize that there is no other alternative to job action. Another fact is this ... it is always in the best interest of union negotiators to get a negotiated settlement. Failure to do so means that the executives risk feeling the anger of its members and being voted out of office. I've seen it happen.

Unions, like any modern organization, use sanctions on members who fail to comply with established practices. In this case, when a union is forced into job action, it must act collectively in order to be effective and, ultimately, bring about a settlement. In all unions, there will undoubtedly be those who do not agree with the planned course of action, even though the course of action was approved by the vast majority of the members. The minority may grouse and complain, and some will oppose the decision of the majority. And some will take deliberate and willfull steps to actively and publicly go against the union's stand and weaken its position. That happened when I was involved in job action. As a member of the union, I wanted to know who the people were who were undermining my attempt to convince my employer that we were serious about our demands, and that we wanted to bargain COLLECTIVELY in order to obtain a good settlement. ( What constitutes a "good settlement"? Any settlement that is agreed upon by both sides in a negotiation. ) And you can bet that I would not be too friendly toward any colleague of mine who deliberately or willfully took my tools away from me. So, the "name and shame" list was necessary and wanted. And, I would want them to be fined because, by weakening the union's position, they were actually prolonging the job action, and effectively taking money from my pocket.

These things seem to be lost on Ms. MacLeod and, of course, our good friends at the Toronto Sun. The picture they paint is an outdated and obsolete one of times before the Guilded Age when union bosses did in fact exercise unjustifiable control over the workers of their time: usually poor, uneducated, desperate and ignorant people fresh off the boat from God knows where.  These bosses were not interested in presiding over a democratic union, but, then again, neither were governments or corporations or businesses of that time period interested in presiding over democratic conditions or situations. That is hardly the description of modern unionized workers. Modern union workers realize that modern corporations and businesses and, hopefully, even governments have evolved and progressed to some form of democracy. Unfortunately, many people fail to see that unions have also progressed. These people comprise the Sun's readership, it seems. And the Tory backbenches.

So, the Sun goes on its merry warpath, blithely using the ravings of a misguided and goofy MPP, and stirring up the pot against teachers and unions .... to what end ? To sell papers to their loyal audience who love a good trashing and wouldn't know a proper way to report news if it bit them in their collective ass.

Which brings me back to the Sun. To be fair, the Sun did indeed provide a useful backgrounder to the "BULLIES" headline ... in a small paragraph at the end of the article. One wonders how many of the readers were able to make it that far before they skipped ahead to the second to last page where today's Sunshine Girl posed in all her lovliness.

When there's boobs and booty, issues and truth be damned, eh Sun ??

1 comment:

  1. Sometimes unions seem to go too far. For example look at the Twinkie union. They collectively bargained away their jobs. Some teachers just like to teach - shame on them.