Solidarity in the 'new' economy | Graham Cox

The labour dispute at the Halifax Chronicle Herald has again raised important questions of maintaining inter-generational solidarity. There are no easy solutions to the problems of the Herald as they are the result of economic models of publishing that are no longer sustainable (if they ever were). Unfortunately, the owners and managers of the Herald seem to think that this crisis is a good opportunity to target workers instead of finding a progressive solution that can work for the industry in the long-term.

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This current crisis is being discussed in much of the media only in terms of the so-called New Economy. However, the “New” part of the economy is simply that there is disruption to the old funding mechanisms of some businesses. In terms of employment and worker issues, the New Economy is looking very much like the Very Old Economy.

Old economy or new, the response from socialists and unionists must be based in solidarity and towards finding a solution that allows journalists to be employed and does not undermine their craft.

Solidarity is the moral basis of a peaceful, democracy society and is the glue that allows workers to resist being exploited under capitalism. Solidarity is also a conscious choice – you have to decide to act in solidarity – and it is learned – not inherent at birth. As such, many new workers with little work/life experience, understanding of history, or conditions of work in the broader society too often act in anti-social ways which undermine solidarity. This is even more likely when these anti-social attitudes are promoted through our media and educational institutions.

The current response to the Herald’s actions are understandable, but anti-social. Both the scabs and the response from their union have missed the point of solidarity and are rightly called-out as wrong by those from the outside. In situations like this, it is important for the rest of society to debate what real solutions are available to maintain local media, support the local economy and make sure workers are not undermining each other. The answers to the crisis will only be found if everyone is involved in the solution.

When a society chooses to prioritize individualism, entrepreneurial attitudes, and under-value collective social values, society itself is undermined. The results can be seen in the rise of rather nasty sentiments about “others”, especially in times of economic crisis. Blame, cynicism of political structures, and xenophobia are harder to address in times of crisis if understanding of social and economic solidarity has not been established.

It seems liberals want to re-package precarious employment, piece work, lack of employer responsibility, elimination of social insurance protections into “entrepreneurial” attitudes, freedom and self-fulfilment. The challenge on the left, is to show that true freedom and emancipation is only possible with adequate protections for workers and families. The model of industrial organization must evolve, but the goals of emancipation that organizing is based around are still relevant. In some ways, the broader social protections that resulted from union activity (like employment insurance, welfare and social health insurance) for non-union members is more important than at any time since unions became legal. We must think of how union protections can be better socialized across society and how we can fund that system and maintain democracy over it.

The solutions to the crisis at the Herald are found in the same democratic way. Critical media, especially local media, will disappear unless the risks and rewards of journalism are socialized. We must find a way to pay for media, provide jobs for inspired new journalists and protect those currently in the industry from predatory employers who put the bottom line ahead of the important services they are entrusted to provide.

For journalism, like the taxi industry, a whole rethink is likely still needed. The solution will be found in non-profit, tax-funded, journalist-run organizations. Much like how we fund public university research.