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A CBC Lockout Event, and Why You Should Care

The CBC Lockout continues.

And tomorrow night, at 8pm speakers and entertainers will gather in Massey Hall to talk, entertain, and generally promote discussion of the lockout. ACTRA and the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting are organizing the event by a bunch of guilds and unions.

Speakers will include Alice Munro and June Callwood, the Right Honourable Joe Clark, John Polanyi, and R.H. Thomson.

Performers include Air Farce, members of Moxy Fruvous, Mark Eisenman Jazz Trio with Bonnie Brett, Russell Braun and Benjamin Butterfield, and Slim and DonnĂŠ with Ndidi Onukwulu.

The event website
doors open at 7:30
admission is FREE

Perhaps you'd like to know why the lockout matters, and not just because you miss 'Sounds Like Canada.'

It has to do with unions. And the continuing battle between public and private and that nebulous 'arms-length' categories.

The CBC's mandate is outlined in the 1991 Broadcasting Act. It basically says content has to be for and by Canadians, serve and reflect regional communities while maintaining a national identity, provide equal quality programming in French and English, include Canadian diversity in content, and be made available to Canadians efficiently by appropriate means.

However, in 2002, eight corporate objectives emerged, most of which sound like reiterated mandate business talk, but some sound more like private company objectives, including generating cash flow and improving stakeholder relationships.

This is where you raise your hand and say, but Katherine, it's a public company, we're the stakeholders.

We are indeed.

The CBC has decided it's in our best interest for them to make more profit (which is moot; as a government agency the whole point is to spend all the money). They're starting to work like a private broadcaster.

The guild is feeling the crunch because it's expensive for companies to keep full time employees. As most of us young kids have found entering the work force, they like to keep us as 'contract' or 'freelance' workers. Why? Not because they hate us, but because it costs a lot of money to cover insurance, paid vacation, pension funds, and overtime pay which guilds have fought so hard for over the past few decades.

The CBC has already stopped producing most programming in house, which means they need to buy and maintain less equipment, and have fewer actors, writers, techies, producers etc on full time pay and benefits. A lot of their equipment is old because they can't afford new stuff. And they've had enough lay-offs to scare people who've been working for them for years, because it used to be one of the safest bets in the industry.

Once you've squeezed every savable drop by buying old programs from the UK and the US and independent Canadian production houses (smaller companies who can sell their programs on the cheap, who have to, really, to get anything aired at all), and you've stopped buying and maintaining equipment, you turn to your employees, look at the raises that've accumulated over the years and start doing the math.

Is it fair or ethical? Nope. Does it fit in with the mandate? It's hard to say. Because the lockout at the CBC is a reflection of a larger change taking place in Canadian business and politics. Just look at Wal-Mart.

Companies don't like unions because unions have the kind of lobbying resources and therefore political sway that individual workers don't. Company owners will tell you that less regulation means expansion, and in a way that's true, but it also means fewer rights for the employees. Companies have no vested interest in looking after you into your dotage.

The job of unions, and the government, is to protect the rights of the people trying to make an honest dollar and put food on their table. If companies can get the government to put more money and less law into the private sector, they win, in that their bottom line gets more zeroes and their shareholders can afford that new yacht.

It's ok for the companies to try that, it's their job - once you're a publicly traded company, your job is to make the investors as much money as possible, obviously part of that involves getting pesky government rules that make running the company more expensive go away.

The issue is that the government and the unions are supposed to stop the companies from getting so good at their job that everyone ends up on welfare, or in psychotherapy, or in a trailer park. The companies try to make money, the regulators make sure the worker bees like us (and the places we live) don't suffer.

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photo by Tanja-Tiziana, taken at the CBC Lockout Love-In


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