It was a bad week for media workers. Halifax-based newspaper The Chronicle Herald is getting scab-ready for a bargaining round in which they are hoping to lower wages, increase work hours, and layoff over a quarter of their sixty staff. The Toronto Star announced the closure of a Vaughan printing plant, meaning that 220 full-time and 60 part-time workers will lose their jobs. The industry is shifting, and workers are left wondering what tools they have to resist short-sighted profit-obsessed employers and present a vision of the future where integrity, sustainability, and quality journalism are at the heart of the industry.
This week, it was discovered that The Chronicle Herald reached-out to freelance workers as an attempt to replace locked-out staff. Freelancers are often young, fresh out of school journalists who are eager for experience and contacts in the hopes of eventually working their way into a career. Those are understandable goals, and they should be supported in their efforts, but undermining their comrades and allowing their services to be exploited by management would be misguided, and would only further erode opportunities for dependable, full-time employment.
There are no easy solutions to these problems since legacy economic models of publishing are no longer sustainable. Making matters worse, owners and managers of the Herald seem to think a crisis is a good opportunity to target their workers instead of finding a progressive solution that can provide an example for the industry.
Solidarity amongst workers is the moral basis of a peaceful society and democracy. It is also the glue that allows workers to resist being exploited under capitalism. Fortunately, media workers have an opportunity to equip themselves with the power and voice of a union. Despite the ongoing crisis at the Chronicle Herald, the media industry is likely to see new, unconventional organizing activity. For instance, the Huffington Post writers in the United States are the latest group of media workers to unionize.
In Canada, freelancers have been organizing under the Canadian Freelance Union. Their new website features actions and events the union has been working on, most recently calling for freelancers to refuse work from The Chronicle Herald. Their call aims to reach-out specifically to those workers who have never come into contact with a union. It is one that seeks to educate young workers and contextualize the high cost of a single short-term scab contract when contrasted with the damage from eroding good jobs in the media over the long-term. It’s a direct attempt at building worker solidarity across generations and across the union/non-union divide. It puts meaning in the act of performing work and getting paid for it.
Through organizing, media workers can weather storms where jobs are lost and journalism is undermined and do it together. In the long-term, media workers can also work together to put forward a vision for the media sector that is sustainable and worker-friendly.
• [[http://www.canadianfreelanceunion.ca/why_freelancers_should_refuse_work_from_the_herald_during_a_lockout][6 reasons freelancers should refuse work from the Chronicle Herald during a lockout | Rebecca Rose]]
• [[http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/nora-loreto/2016/01/nobody-likes-scab-journalists-must-oppose-chronicle-herald-lockou][Nobody likes a scab: Journalists must oppose Chronicle Herald lockout