I went to a lot of parties last weekend. The kind of parties at which the CBC lockout inevitably comes up. Maybe strangers are discussing how much they miss As It Happens, or maybe it’s someone who knows me, who asks how I’m handling the strike.
“The lockout?” I say, “Oh, you know.”
They respond one of two ways. They either look embarrassed and say, right, right the lockout. Or they say, strike, lockout, what’s the difference?
In some ways, the difference is massive. In other ways, there is no difference at all.
Ultimately, to the watcher/listener, they amount to the same thing: Antiques Roadshow and pasty, nervous anchors on CBC TV, endless CanCon and the Susan Marjetti Show on CBC Radio. In the end, it’s all a basic failure to fulfill our mandate; it’s all a slap in the face to listeners so loyal they think we’re their family.
And see, there it is. I can’t even start talking about the difference without getting all worked up.
Technically, the difference is this: A strike is a work stoppage initiated by the employees. Together, they decide to stop all work, picket their work place, hinder those who would cross their picket lines.
Strikes are notoriously unpopular, because they inconvenience the public. That’s the point, usually. The hope is that the pressure of an inconvenienced public (and the attendant financial loss the company suffers) helps the union of employees get what they want a little faster. Also, the public tends to think all strikes are about job security and pay raises. Maybe they are, though it’s usually at least a little more complex than that.
A lockout, on the other hand, is a work stoppage initiated by the employer. Literally, the employees are locked out, not allowed to enter their workplace, take a seat at their desk, carry out their usual tasks. The public tends to think lockouts and strikes are interchangeable.
For me and my colleagues, the lockout means our keys don’t work anymore at Sackville Street and Bell Road. We can’t get access to our voice mail. Our email accounts have been suspended. And, of course, it means we don’t get paid.
Of course, it means much more than that. It means that the work we’ve been doing—in my case for three years, in many cases for five, 10, 20 years, more—the work we’ve been doing is no longer of value to our employer. I believe it is symbolically important that we roam back and forth in front of the buildings in which we would much rather be doing our work. If we could get inside, we would. But we came to work today and the building was locked to us, with security guards in the parking lots to make sure we don’t set foot on CBC property. So the best we can do is walk back and forth here instead.
It is hard not to feel useless. It kills me a little bit each day to see talented, experienced broadcasters like Dick Miller, who’s probably one of the best radio documentary producers anywhere ever, or Karl Falkenham, who’s helped many emerging local musicians get their start, walking the line. But the symbology is important, and also, of course, that’s how we earn our lockout pay (it was $238.88 this week. We’re paid in US funds, and the Canadian dollar went up this week. Drat).
That labour disruption they talk about every few minutes on CBC these days? That announcement doesn’t quite live up to the reputation the Ceeb has for reporting the facts. It wasn’t labour that disrupted your favourite program. It was management.
Were they just being pre-emptive? Of course they were. Negotiations had been going on for more than a year, and the Canadian Media Guild membership had voted 87.3 percent in favour of striking. With the fall season coming, and Hockey Night in Canada, and a federal election campaign to come this winter, plus the Turin Olympics, obviously, management needed to hold the cards, to lock us out before we struck, or used the threat of it at some later date to get our way in the negotiations. It’s politics. I get that. But it doesn’t make me feel any better when I get up in the morning to go to CMG headquarters to answer phones, instead of to my desk to make radio.
And though all I want is to go back to work, I know it’ll never be the same. Because they locked the doors on us.