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Fanning the Flames.

Work by Ford Madox Brown

A fellow worker writes:-
I found your web site a couple of days ago while conducting a search on another subject. It's encouraging to find other voices out there besides the Members for Democracy forum and I must say you've put together something valuable.

I've only read a couple of your commentaries so far. It's good actually to see a site that seems to focus on one clear injustice, of the many, in the working world.

The multi-tier issue is one that I find particularly perverse and Members for Democracy participants have discussed it, it being the situation at so many UFCW work sites. (I worked at a Safeway myself for 4 shifts before quitting in disgust, though they put me in the bakery, which was under some other useless union.)

My own battle has been underway now since a botched arbitration a few years ago. Actually, it would probably be fairer to describe that hearing as a kangaroo court. After several months of dithering and trying to coerce me into walking away from it, the various union officials and paid staff never even showed up for the hearing. I've since gone through numerous subsequent legal proceedings before even more adjudicators, with another one currently underway.

The one aspect that relates to your own focus is that I was deemed a probationary employee (at least by the employer) at the time of my termination. It was evident to me the union's attitude was the same as that of the employer (I apparently hadn't paid enough dues to be worth the effort) and the like bias extends throughout the labour relations and legal regimes even into the appellate courts.

Nevertheless, I am convinced that challenging the system in the courts is the way to win. There are workers here in B.C. who are attempting to do this, each case being different and sometimes difficult to understand for almost everyone except the litigant.

Despite the corrupt practices of the present and past decades, times are changing. The Internet is key, for we need not all be completely uninformed anymore, and knowledge is power.

NoMoreTiers replies:
I am always encouraged when I hear from another fellow worker who has decided not to take shit lying down, who has picked up the gauntlet and faced the challenge of fighting back in some way.

You have chosen the courts as a battleground, and because nobody knows your own case better than yourself, I am confident that in your case this is the way to win. But there are many victims, many forums and many ways to fight back. I do not think that the privileged, especially those who have gained privilege through the oppression of others, have any moral right to dictate to the oppressed, the method by which the oppressed will gain their liberation and rights. There are many ways to skin a cat, and most of them get the job done if tempered with common sense, intelligence and a sense of responsibility based on our own internal sense of moral justice.

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The important thing is, that there is a large enough critical mass of people doing the right thing. This is where education and publicity are important, and truthful, honest propaganda vital. The traditional media has always been expensive and consequently owned and controlled by the boss, whereas the web is so cheap, that it is practically free and requires only will and a little talent, effort and determination to reach a potentially wide audience. So I think you are right again when you say that the internet is an important key.

You made some comparisons between Members for Democracy and nomoretiers.org. I personally see Members for Democracy as an excellent site providing many features, which are well beyond the technical and intellectual capacity of this site, especially in the area of providing a vehicle for mutual communication and advice. It is also an important source of news and analysis on the labour scene as well as promoting democratic reform.

On the other hand, nomoretiers is focused on a particular issue, this is due partially to my own experience and anger, but it is also a result of my observation of fellow workers. So many of our friends, arrive at work so focused on getting through the day and back home to the wife and barbeque, that they hardly notice just how much they are being screwed on a day to day basis. It is bad enough that even the most privileged employees are substantially underpaid, but when one realizes just how much the boss is lying, cheating and stealing from probationary, temporary and junior workers under two-tier systems, well, the only words I can think of is "it's staggering". Most people however go through work-life assuming that what appears to be normal must be immutable and therefore acceptable as a matter of necessity.

These are the people I am trying to reach. I don't want to bog them down with the complexity of too many individual cases or with difficult legal arguments, but I do want to bring to their attention the immorality of the situation. To shine light on the thieving ways of the employer and the current complacency of many unions, and to hope that workers will take charge of the situation and take action for change. To use a wobbly phrase, I want to "Fan the Flames of Discontent".

In solidarity

John Barker

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June 2004