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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Too much to say

I've just got too much I want to write. There's the whole job security issue. I've said before that for the rank and file the actual issues are moot, have been moot since the strike mandate. There's no point in trying to convince us that the union is wrong and that we're taking this whole job security thing too seriously. That ship's already sailed.

But as it happens I do believe that it's an important issue, invariably misunderstood by the under thirty crowd. Others have defended it infinitely more eloquently than I can, but let's see if I can get these gnarled old fingers to convey some semblance of intelligent discourse from my stunted brain through this battered keyboard onto your computer screen.

So. Job security. The CBC wants to be able to conduct its business as cheaply as possible. Understandable, especially in light of the current fiscal situation. The CBC does not have enough money to do what it's supposed to do effectively. Well, that's the general perception inside the CBC and I'll accept it as a given for now. I don't know all the facts and figures exactly but basically the argument is that we used to get about 1 billion annually, now we get about 750 million (even if the numbers are off the essence remains true). We get a certain amount extra I believe every year, but we can't count on it, it's not guaranteed. Stick inflation on that and we're in a losing situation. So this is what Stursberg and company are up against. They've decided that more flexibility in contracting employees will help.

The under thirty crowd says, well who cares? I don't particularly want to stay in one job my whole life anyway. I'm into change. I want to be flexible. The world is changing, get with the program, you old fogeys. Contract work, freelancing may be all they know.

But then you dig a little deeper. The kid doesn't have a family to support. The kid is free to be poor. Can't look a bank manager in the eye because she doesn't have a guaranteed income, as another blogger wrote recently. Maybe works six months a year, tucking money aside for... what, a pension (because she sure as heck doesn't have one)? No. She's tucking money aside for the other six months of the year when she isn't guaranteed work. A pension? Well, that's way down the road, she'll cross that bridge when she comes to it, if she lives that long. Benefits? Who cares? She's young, healthy, has all her teeth, no kids to buy medicine for. And lets face it, if she needs some cash, she can just call up her folks. They're loaded.

Doesn't work quite that way when you're forty of fifty, retirement's looming, and you need a regular income to get a line of credit or a mortgage to feed and house your dependents. And you're not Stuart MacLean or however he spells his name, brilliant and capable of earning a fortune as a freelancer. Maybe someone with fairly nontransferable skills, doing overnight VTR, or television audio where the CBC is the only game in town 'cause they ain't hiring at CTV or wherever.

So job security is what you need. But are you entitled to it? Well, this is a question we have to ask ourselves as a society. Me, I vote yes, damn straight, go read John Locke and his social contract, it applies to big corporations as well as government, basically it applies to any institution upon which people depend for their well being. We put our body and souls into our work and our work owes us more than a paycheque and a slap on the back after six months.

But all that's just unpractical airy fairy reasoning, not likely to impress any hardnosed business manager. What may impress them (although probably not, those I've known only really seem to care about one thing: money... okay, that's a generalization, unfair, strike it from the record) is the impact on the quality of the product. Andy Barrie pointed out yesterday that when CBC Radio designed The Current, they made it a point to make all the staff permanent. No contract employees. Gee, I wonder why? Because The Current was to be a daring, hardnosed show where the journalists could well be left hanging in the breeze if they were on contract. Step out of line and you're outta there. So better not step out of line. Not so with permanent staff. Permanent staff can dare to be a little more honest, a little more cutting edge, because they're protected. Permanent staff = better product.

Wealth of experience. Bring in new people every time you want to produce something and you may well be getting superficial levels of experience. Permanent staff can have years of accumulated experience which they can bring to bear on their work. Tricks can be passed on to younger employees, experience that might well have been lost when that employee's contract expired last year, or experience that never had time to mature.

Enough for now. I'm still completely zonked from picketing ten hours yesterday with a bad cold, but I remain chipper. I may feel lousy and be locked out and there may be sweet F.A. I can do about it, but ya gotta stay positive.


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