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A Different Drummer.

Mr Block

"Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work."
Universal Declaration of Human rights. 23.2

The above sentence is an assertion; it's the assertion upon which this whole website is founded. But strangely enough when I first started writing the content that was eventually to evolve into this website, I was blissfully unaware of the sentences very existence. What I was aware of was an internal sense of justice, and by that I mean an intuitive sense of what is right and wrong, that does not depend upon knowledge of written law or regulation. And I believe that this is something that almost everyone has, unless they suppress it within themselves, in order to better enable their ability to exploit others, to profit from their suffering.

I started working at MOLSON brewery during a three week shutdown, working as a maintenance mechanic. I was laid off at the end of this period, but was called back to fill manpower shortages resulting from sickness and vacations. I made a point of making myself available and gradually was employed more frequently as others in this system either moved up to permanent positions to fill retirements, or found more permanent work elsewhere.

Eventually I reached a plateau. I would be predictably laid off, just prior to acquiring the seniority required to qualify for the contract benefit package, then after being laid off just long enough to loose my seniority I would (again predictably) receive a call requesting that I show up for work. This situation was to me clearly, an unethical game, played by the company, in order to cheat workers out of benefits they clearly deserved, but there was no way to prove that the timing was anything more than coincidence, and I needed the work, so I could do little more than grumble under my breath.

About this time, some changes were made to the contract, and the core number concept was introduced. This meant that the number of people on benefits was frozen at a specific number. This number (140) was actually smaller than the number of people already on benefits, but those amongst the excess were simply grandfathered into the scheme. The immediate effects of this was that the "layoff game" no longer served a purpose and employment was steadier for persons who had been victims of that game. But it also placed the prospects of qualifying for benefits on a distant horizon, a horizon literally years away.

As years passed it became evident to me, that I was in every sense of the word a full time regular employee, that is in every sense but in the recognition that made the difference between benefits and no benefits. My employment provided no paid sick leave, no long term disability plan, no pension benefits, and no prospect of a lay-off package in the event of a plant closure. If I was to be diagnosed with a serious but curable illness that required perhaps a year of hospitalization and rehabilitation, I and my family would be facing a financial disaster, with perhaps no guarantee of a job waiting for me when I recovered.

When the fundamental injustice of this blatant discrimination began to sink home, I started to get very angry about it, as I think any right minded person would understand. But what also struck me was the fact that I was amongst the most fortunate ones. Because I was a line-mechanic, I was at least earning the full hourly rate for my trade. The packaging line operators that fell outside the core number constraint, not only suffered from the same lack of benefits, but also had to make do with a substantially smaller wage package than their brothers and sisters on full benefits.

As the fundamental injustice of the situation solidified in my mind, I began to realize that economic discrimination knows no boundaries; if it works, then the system will use it to extract profit. The nominal basis for the discrimination is irrelevant, as long as it works to secure profit. The pretext for discrimination is just that, a pretext, it can be about colour, race, culture, or sex, and it can be something as abstract as a number. It is constrained only by the limits of creativity of the evil mind.

One cannot be aware of evil like this and keep it to oneself, the subject demands discussion and debate. And of course one cannot suffer the injustice of discrimination like this and not want to be an agent of change. So I began to discuss the matter with my fellow workers, both rank and file, and stewards, and committee members. I'd even raise the subject at crew meetings, anything to try to raise some consciousness of the problem. But it did not seem to be enough, so I wrote a short essay, and one morning posted two or three copies of it about the brewery.

Later that day, as I walked past one of my postings, I noticed a whole bunch of writing on it. Upon closer examination I could see that about 20 signatures had been added to my own. My humble poster had turned into an impromptu petition. The next day the petition/poster had disappeared but it didn't matter, I knew I had the beginnings of a credible campaign.

It was about this time that I became interested in HTML. I was sniffing around a bookstore and noticed a pile of discounted computer books, I picked up one about HTML 4.0 and thumbing through it, learned that it had something to do with web pages. I didn't even have an online computer at the time but I had a secondhand P2 and started to write some off-line pages just for the intellectual challenge of learning the code. I soon had a rudimentary site put together, it was fairly trite stuff, but I got dial-up and started having fun. Since I was at the time writing essays on the two-tier system, I started to throw some of this stuff in for filler, but eventually it started to take over the site, so I coined the domain 'NoMoreTiers' and it became dedicated to the one topic.

Since then the articles on this site tell there own story but before concluding this article I'd like to touch on a few thoughts with regards to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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I was searching the web for material relating to wage equity and was finding a lot of feminist and women's rights sites, interesting, but I was looking for something more general in application, and then I stumbled on Article 23. That simple sentence in Section 2 seemed to embody and crystallize in one sentence every thing that I felt about the injustice of the situation I was living with every working day.

But it also left me with a sense of disbelief. I could understand that employers with their greedy selfish motives would be willingly ignorant of this international labour law. But why would union negotiators allow themselves to be drawn into concessions that flout this law when by resisting them they hold not only the moral high ground but the legal high ground too? And if they were ignorant of this international law (which would be excusable since most union officials don't have a professional legal background) why would their legal advisors allow them to get into such agreements?

It would seem to me that pay inequity has no place on the negotiating table any more than skin colour or chattel slavery, and it's certainly not something that should be considered a bargaining chip for concessions. Where pay or benefit inequity exists the victims should be brought up to the standards considered acceptable for everyone else, this is the precedent that has been set in all other areas of discrimination, why not this one?

One final thought. On December 10, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Following this historic act the Assembly called upon all Member countries to publicize the text of the Declaration and "to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories."

Now if this declaration has been so widely "expounded" how come no one knows anything about it, or abides by it?

In Solidarity,
John Barker

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January 2004