So we pay taxes to the company; what makes it public?


Around the world, the working class has been subjected to increasing attacks in the name of profit. Canada is no exception. Public broadcasting is one of many sectors whose funding has been slashed by the stooges of big business in government. As a result, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has taken the same approach to cost cutting as used in all sectors; they have chosen to attack the benefits and security of the workers. Management is trying to force through a new contract on their employees – a contract eliminating restrictions on the broadcaster’s ability to contract out work instead of hiring full-time employees.

On August 15th, residents of Iqaluit and countless other isolated communities across Canada were cut off from the outside world when CBC management locked out their 5,500 unionized employees. The vastness of our country means that it is simply not profitable for the Canadian capitalists to provide the service of basic communication to more isolated parts of Canada.

For example, in Nunavut, the only news from the outside world that Inuktitut speakers can understand comes from our public broadcaster, the CBC. “We are a window to the world for our elders,” says Joanna Awa, vice-president of the Iqaluit local of the Canadian Media Guild (CMG), which represents all of the non-Quebec workers of the CBC (Nunatsiaq News, August 19, 2005).

Why, many Canadians are asking, have we been deprived of this basic service which we all supposedly pay taxes for? Many will begin to question the validity of a public broadcaster that is willing to sacrifice job security in the name of profit and lock out its employees, refusing even to negotiate with them.

Flexibility and remaining competitive in a changing global industry seem to be the textbook excuses for employers these days. “It’s about addressing a changing broadcasting world,” claimed CBC spokesperson Jason McDonald, “With new, experimental shows that may not work out, does it make sense to have a permanent employee for whom you have no work?” (New York Times, August 19, 2005)

But the CBC’s previous 1996 collective agreement already included a clause to allow for non-permanent workers to be hired in special circumstances, such as trials of “new, experimental shows”. Because of that clause, about 30% of CBC’s current workforce is employed on a non-permanent basis, giving the CBC plenty of flexibility (Globe and Mail, August 20, 2005). The truth lies elsewhere.

“What they really want to do is break the union,” says Gerry Whelan, the CMG’s Atlantic staff representative (Halifax Herald – August 16th, 2005). Mark Thompson, professor emeritus at Sauder School of Business, explains – “It is not only this strike, but the next strike and the one after that.” “The more you contract out the easier it is to hold out […] So you give the company what they’re looking for and you’re condemning yourself to a weaker position in bargaining” (Macleans, August 18, 2005).

So it’s really a question of breaking the workers’ ability to stand up for themselves, for their jobs, and for their benefits. But how much of a difference could this new contract really make?

“As time goes by, if we agree that the CBC can hire an unlimited number of non-permanent people, what kind of a work force will we be looking at a year from now? It won’t be 70-30, let me tell you. It’ll be probably closer to 50-50. And two years from now? That is what the problem is,” said the CMG’s president Lise Lareau. “Let’s say there is a downsizing next year. Parliament cuts our funding further. And in a department, let’s say news, there are 10 people on contract and there are 2 permanent people sitting there. Who do you think will get the layoff notice?” (The Globe and Mail, August 20, 2005)

The lockout shows signs of being long and bitter. On their website, the CMG explains that “It has now become painfully obvious that CBC management is prepared to risk the future of public broadcasting in order to get its way. Management refuses to move from its position of permitting entire classifications of employees to be hired on short-term contracts. And it now refuses to bargain until the Guild agrees to that position ? something the Guild has said repeatedly it will not do” (August 9, 2005).

It is clear that if present conditions continue, the CBC management can hold out as long as they want. Remember that the CBC receives approximately 11 million dollars per week from the federal government to run their English-language networks (CMG News Release, August 22, 2005). At the time of writing, the CBC has been receiving this money as usual, despite the fact that they aggressively locked out their employees, and don’t have to pay them. The Liberal government is providing tax-payer dollars to finance the continued attacks on the security of Canadian workers. When we remind ourselves which class the government represents, this is really no surprise.

This is just one more example of what we have come to expect. However, people are starting to question, “why are we paying for public broadcasting when all we get is the same corporate agenda?” People are starting to demand change. At the moment the majority of the media is owned and controlled by a small number of rich men, and even the one public broadcaster is trying to emulate their methods. How can there be any serious discussion about the issues facing society when only the rich control the airwaves? In Venezuela, this debate has reached its most acute stage with corporate-owned TV stations deliberately backing, organizing, and promoting a coup against the democratically elected and widely supported government. In response, media workers and the general public are putting forward the demand of people?s control of the airwaves.

Instead of lowering the bar by letting public broadcasting be corporatized, we need to raise the bar by spreading it universally! All media ought to be under public control and ownership, democratically run by media workers. All political viewpoints could have access to the airwaves in proportion to their democratic support in society. The NDP currently has about 20% support nationally – do NDP viewpoints receive 20% of the coverage? No way! When media workers and the general public democratically control the media, then both the problems of contracting out and corporate control will be solved. The outcome of this lockout essentially poses the question, “who controls the airwaves – the corporations or the people?”

Fightback joins the CBC and Telus workers, and our sisters and brothers around the world, who are fighting against contracting out, casualization, and all forms of privatization.

 No more contracting out! 
 No more imposed contracts! 
 Victory for the CBC workers! 

September, 2005