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Week six: Lockout night in Canada

What happens next at CBC? Stephanie Domet reports.

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It’s week six and frankly, it’s hard to believe we’re still out there. Do I start every entry like this, or does it just feel that way? I haven’t been to the picket line yet this week. I’ve done a bit of clerical and committee stuff, but not nearly enough to earn my $350 lockout pay this week. I’m planning a picket blitz for the next three days. I just couldn’t face it this week.

And from what I hear, I’m not alone. It’s enough, already. We want to go back to work. But we want to do it properly, with a good contract that won’t help dismantle public broadcasting in this country. Yes, that sounds impossibly idealistic, but ask anyone on the line: most of them have jobs that are secure, and whatever happens at the negotiating table, that probably won’t change. So what are they fighting for? They’re actually fighting for their future colleagues and for the future of the CBC. It’s not the norm in a contract dispute, but then, as we keep telling anyone who will listen, the CBC is not like any other business. It’s not a grocery store or a phone company. It provides a service, yes, but that’s not all it does. It has a mandate, from parliament, to serve Canadians. And those of us who work there take that mandate seriously. Which is why it really hurts to be on the street like this.

At this point in the lockout, even with both sides at the table, working through the weekends and into the evenings and everything, it still feels like there are more questions than answers. Questions like, if they’re negotiating, why can’t we just go back to work while they do that? Hey, that’s a good question. Here’s another good question: What the hell was the senior management committee thinking when they locked the doors on us? What did they hope to gain? And did they think they could win the PR war? If they did, they must have a few questions of their own. Like huh? Wha? And whose idea was this, anyhow?

Here’s a question that’s been at the back of my mind since this whole sorry mess started: What about hockey? Management says it has a plan for putting hockey on the air when the NHL season starts in October. I wonder if that plan looks anything like the plan they had for putting football on the air. That plan involved some shaky, ill-lit camera work, some field level mics and a field announcer who also presented paid advertising for Global. Yep, ratings went up. And then they went down. Curiosity satisfied, I guess.

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I tune in to Hockey Night in Canada, I’m there for Don Cherry and Ron McLean (mmm, Ron McLean) as much as to watch the Leafs start strong, get my hopes up and ultimately dash them. Again. But I digress. The point is, Cherry and McLean are in the Guild. They won’t be on whatever show the managers manage to jerry-rig together. Will Canadians still watch hockey? Without a doubt. Will they like it? Probably not. Will it make a difference in this lockout? If only.

Here’s another question: Could the corporation hire an independent production company, while its employees remain locked out, to produce Hockey Night in Canada, or a facsimile thereof? You’d think the answer would be no. But the corporation did engage an independent production company to produce a special—one that was planned in advance, that would have been produced by my colleagues—on the 25th Marathon of Hope last weekend. And it seems the corporation would like to hire many more such independent production companies. Randy Bachman’s excellent Vinyl Tap, a show on Radio One that replaced the heinous Finkleman’s 45s, is on the air right now, with new episodes. Recently, Bachman talked about relief for Hurricane Katrina victims. Is he a scab? No, he’s not in the union. The contract between his company and management requires him to make his show regardless. This is the wave of the future, if management gets its way. Contract out everything but the news—though is it so far-fetched to think the news service is safe? Just one more question with no answer. I don’t know much, but I feel pretty sure there’ll be plenty more of those if the corporation wins. And I feel pretty sure it’ll mean the rest of us—employees, journalism students, listeners, watchers and online readers, not to mention Canadians at large—lose.

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