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Considering Thought Control in Corporate Journalism: Canada’s Conservative Government and the Israeli State
Morgan Duchesney, Ottawa
Perhaps it’s time to have a “real” discussion about the role of corporate journalists in our society; including those at the CBC. The main value of the CBC is not nation-building but its provision of a modest counter-weight to the lack of historical context and genuine balance offered by the big players in the news business. The CBC’s opponents refer to this alternative viewpoint as “bias.” Sun Media, Post Media and other media corporations derive their bias from their dependence on advertising revenue and the vagaries of the stock market. They are thus obliged by necessity to defer to the ideological stances of those who enrich them. Should the provision of news, ostensibly a vital public service in a functioning democracy; be left to the fickle nature of what some call the free market? Full-time professional journalists are no more bias-free than anyone else in society and most corporate journalists claim freedom to write and say what they please. This is actually true because they generally owe their positions and journalistic freedom to their established record of faithfully reflecting and reinforcing the worldview of those who pay and promote them. As Daniel Goleman wrote in Vital Lies, Simple Truths, “Journalists, then, deceive others by conforming to the needs of power while deceiving themselves that they are responding solely on the basis of independent, rational thought.” The fact that you will never read an article like this in the corporate press offers some evidence of Goleman’s claim.
The theory of cognitive dissonance suggests that exposure to uncomfortable facts leads people to change how they perceive those facts. This discomfort is often remedied by the bias of exclusion which is itself a powerful form of censorship. The misleading lack of historical perspective is particularly notable in coverage of Israeli-Palestinian issues which are presented as if the situation is a recent phenomenon. In no corporate newspaper will you find mention of Israel’s Plan Dalet; the illegal pre-1948 campaign of wholesale expulsion (800,000 Arabs), land seizures, civilian massacres by the likes of Yitzhak Rabin and Menachim Begin and the intentional destruction of over 530 Palestinian villages. I have even heard corporate broadcasters justify the Naqba (Palestine’s Holocaust) by reminding listeners that Palestine under the Ottomans was not an “official” country and thus was fair game for takeover despite the presence of over 1.6 million Palestinians. Surely this is cause for resentment and determined resistance?
Comment in the corporate press is only allowed within the high, narrow walls of those presuppositions and assumptions acceptable to power. As Noam Chomsky wrote of acceptable public discourse, “One of the most effective devices is to encourage debate, but within a system of unspoken presuppositions that incorporate the basic principles of the doctrinal systems. These principles are therefore removed from inspection; they become the framework for thinkable thought, not objects of rationale consideration.”
You will never read in the National Post that the seizure of Palestinian territory was accomplished by intentionally stealthy increments starting as early as 1880. This incremental tactic is well established. It started long before the creation of modern Israel following the annexation of Palestine in 1948. “Those familiar with the history of Zionism will recognize the method, dating back to the 1920s: dunam after dunam, arousing as little attention as possible.” (Chomsky, 1996) The modern equivalent was expressed in the 1996 Israeli cabinet minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer’s description of illegal Israeli expansion into the West Bank, “I build quietly. My goal is to build and not encourage opposition to my efforts. What is important to me is to build, build, build and build some more.” (Ibid) The Israeli government, with full U.S. support, has traditionally chosen this subtle and gradual path of seizing Palestinian lands and perhaps more importantly, water resources. It continues to this day, again with full U.S. backing. This is the reality of what is euphemistically referred to as the peace process.
Nor will one find dissonant comments like the following remarks from Israeli general and parliamentarian Moshe Dayan candidly admitted in 1955, “What cause have we to complain of their fierce hatred for us? For eight years now they sit in their refugee camps in Gaza, and before their eyes we turn into our homestead the land and villages in which they and their forefathers lived.” A common theme in Canada’s corporate press is it’s thinly-disguised racist apologetics for the conduct of the Israeli military, who are after all, just like us: rational and peace-loving; unlike those emotional and capricious Arabs who refuse to meekly accept colonization. In Canada’s corporate press, Israel always “responds” to attacks, invasions are “incursions” and civilian atrocities are “unfortunate errors” committed in the course of pursing “terrorists.” Canada’s corporate journalists march in lockstep with the Harper government’s unconditional support for Israel’s territorial expansion and the inevitable violence. It has been said that Canada’s government and corporate allies are more Zionistic than most Israeli citizens who are only too aware that peace must eventually be made with their Palestinian neighbors.
Here’s a headline from Post Media’s Ottawa Citizen:
“Hamas a ‘dangerous cancer,’ retired Israeli general says.
I will contrast it with an alternative headline of my own creation, which will never appear in the corporate press:
Israeli expansion into the West Bank and Gaza a ‘dangerous ‘cancer,’ retired Hamas leader says.”
As a vivid example of exclusion bias; I offer the total absence of mention in Canada’s major newspapers of Israel’s military actions in Gaza prior to its murderous December 2009 attack that eventually killed over 1400 Palestinians, mainly civilians and 13 Israeli soldiers. If nothing else; the sheer magnitude of the casualty ratio is worth noting. Not until 2012 have reports appeared that Israeli soldiers were routinely refusing commands to kill unarmed civilians. Unreported in Canada’s corporate press was the fact that Israel had previously broken a four month ceasefire on November 4, 2008 then accused Hamas of doing the same on December 27 to justify its subsequent blitzkrieg. The January, 2009 Gaza attack, which employed white phosphorous and cluster bombs against civilians; was conveniently timed to derail the Cairo peace talks between Hamas and Fatah which might have unified the two Palestinian parties and it was also scheduled to end before the U.S. presidential elections.
With utter contempt for democracy; the Israeli government was punishing the people of Gaza for daring to legally elect Hamas, a party hostile to Israel. Canada’s corporate press simply nodded sagely as if this were perfectly alright. The Gaza invasion with its massive bombardment was falsely portrayed as a war between military opponents fighting more or less conventionally. No mention was made of the ludicrous imbalance of force: Palestinian rifles, mortars and crude rockets versus Israel’s modern fighter bombers, attack helicopters and long range artillery. No Canadian corporate journalist mentioned the fact that in the period 2001-2009, fourteen Israelis had been killed by Palestinian rockets versus the 5000 Palestinians killed in Israeli attacks. Delaying political accommodation through military violence is a proven way to facilitate the illegal seizure of territory so horrific massacres makes sense to conquerors and those who arm and support them. The logic of slaughter dictates that it, “…enrages, divides and demolishes the political threat of peaceful negotiation.”
Canada’s corporate media largely played their proper role in the Gaza invasion and the punitive sanctions that followed; tut-tutting about the sad but inevitable cost of Palestinian “terrorism” and rallying around poor little Israel; a nation with nuclear weapons and military forces superior to any of Europe’s NATO members. The whole event was presented as just another case of Israel tidying up its neighborhood. Can you imagine Western media reaction if the Palestinians had gotten their hands on advanced weapons and laid waste to Tel Aviv? There would be no room on the newspaper pages and television screens for anything but 24-7 outrage and howls for vengeance.
Rather than seek to change the pervasive reality of the corporate media, one can instead ignore it or pay greater attention to the lessons of its intentional exclusions. However, this requires energy, curiosity and an informed perspective. Individual citizen are perfectly capable of reaching their own conclusions by reading alternative publications, internet sources and networking with like-minded people in social justice organizations. Isolation, apathy and ignorance the main enemies of freedom; are not difficult to defeat. We all have the power to think our way to whatever reality we seek to embrace.
Files attached to this post: thoughtcontrolmedia26oct12.pdf
Margarita Lopez, a union leader who is fighting ongoing efforts to privatize the public water system in Colombia, says she cannot leave her house without her two bodyguards.
“It's obvious my life is in danger,” says Lopez, “without the bodyguards I would have to leave the country immediately.”
Lopez was in Nova Scotia last week as a guest of the Nova Scotia chapter of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). She is president of SINTRACUAVALLE, a relatively small union in Colombia representing municipal workers who operate water and wastewater facilities in the Cauca Valley.
Over the last 14 years Lopez and her union have averted no less than five separate attempts to privatize the publicly owned facilities. The last such effort, between 2010 and 2012, was only staved off at the very last moment, after contracts with a private investor had already been signed.
In that case the union organized intense information campaigns and used local media to galvanize public opinion. Following massive protests, the Colombian government, bowing to public pressure, rescinded the agreement at the very last moment.
“The social impact of privatization would have been huge,” explains Gonzalez. ”It's a sustainable company, but not a profitable one. So the little bit of profit that we do realize, all that money is re-invested so we can continue to be sustainable. When the companies are in private hands, then the income just lines the pockets of the owners.”
If water systems were privatized service would suffer, at great cost to the population of Cauca Valley, who experience high unemployment and a low standard of living, says Lopez. “Privatization would limit access to water for many because they would not be able to pay for it.” Lopez says massive lay-offs would be another outcome of privatization.
To be a trade unionist and activist in Colombia requires great courage. Over 3000 labour activists have been killed in Colombia over the last 25 years. 60% of all assassinated union workers anywhere in the world are from Colombia.
Lopez is very much in the thick of it all. “All these struggles against privatization and corruption have been accompanied by pain and violence for union workers. I have been subject to a lot of violence, threats, persecution, harassment, and psychological torture,” says Lopez.
The Colombian government is doing little to stem this violence, perpetrated by paramilitary organizations and thugs on the payroll of corporations. Much of Colombia's recent past has been marked by armed conflict with various revolutionary movements. Closely allied with the United States, critics consider Colombia a neo-liberal poster child.
Despite the danger Lopez finds it impossible to walk away from it all, tempting as it may be.
“In my own case, the work that I have been able to assist with has been fundamental in safeguarding water from privatization. Because I have a vocation for service, for this I have risked my life. To protect the families of the trade unionists, and to protect access to potable water, this has become my goal,” says Lopez.
For Lopez the struggle is no longer just a local issue. Because of their earlier successes Margarita Lopez and her union have become prominent players in national debates over privatization of water. This for Lopez is another reason to stay put.
“My union has become known nationally as a union that fights privatization altogether,” Lopez explains. “So for me to walk away from all this, it would be better for me and my family. But then it has become even more necessary.”
CUPE has been supporting battles in other countries, like the one Margarita Lopez is fighting, for quite a while. Kelti Cameron, a Dartmouth native now living in Ottawa, works for CUPE and focuses on international solidarity. She accompanied Lopez on her visit to Nova Scotia.
“It is through our Global Justice Fund that we provide for the most part financial and material support to other unions and other organizations in social movements globally. It's more than just a transfer of money, it's based on the principle of worker-to-worker and union-to-union solidarity,” Cameron explains.
Not all support is material. For instance, CUPE also works to hold the Canadian government accountable for its actions abroad.
“We have lobbied very hard together with the Canadian Labour Congress and non-government organizations in opposition to the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement because we're not recognizing the human rights violations. That is work that continues,” says Cameron.
Danny Cavanagh, president of CUPE Nova Scotia, sees similarities between the anti-privatization fight in Colombia and the one here at home.
“These fights against privatization never end, because these companies continually beat on the door,“ says Cavanagh. “One of the issues that we will soon be faced with in this country, and in this province, will be the push back against privateers who want to upgrade the wastewater treatment plants to meet the new federal standards.”
Lopez and her union receive financial support from CUPE through its Global Justice Fund, allowing the Colombian union to build a resilient anti-privatization network among affected communities and increase citizen participation.
“We are overcoming the barriers that privatization puts up, raising the awareness of our customers, building alliances from the social base in a methodical fashion,” says Lopez, “in order to create a deeper awareness of water as a public good.”
“This is a real show of brotherhood and sisterhood,” says Lopez, pointing to the assistance from CUPE. “It illustrates how if there is something wrong for one we all need to come together to solve that problem. It would be so fabulous if other unions would take this as an example.”
America's Deadliest Export - Democracy
By William Blum
Alright, let's get this straight. William Blum is one bad-assed, living, breathing, encyclopedia of US military and clandestine incursions the world over. He knows this stuff inside and out, and his seminal book Killing Hope should sit front and centre on the shelf of every self-respecting human being who thinks they know how the world ticks. Where have the Yankees spoiled the hopes and dreams of real democratic processes taking root? Blum knows the answer, it's probably way more than you expected, and he's willing to share. Thank the Gods and Goddesses for Blum.
Blum's latest book, America's Deadliest Export – Democracy is another classic work. It's not the earth-rocking tome that Killing Hope is, and there is the whiff of cynicism about it. But damn, Blum's a serious veteran of the war on error. He was outside the White House handing out anti-war fliers before I was playing G.I Joes and throwing tantrums in the Toys R Us, so we've got to allow him the odd rant from the soap box.
America's Deadliest is like watching Renoir do some paint by number, just because he can. Blum hops, skips and jumps from topic to topic, undressing the mainstream disinformation as a matter of point. The chapters are set up in such a manner that you, with your atrophied attention span, can flip from 'Wikileaks' to 'Libya' to 'Dissent and resistance in America' without missing a beat. It's heavy information, to be sure, so having stand-alone chapters like this, where you can walk away, process, and say 'Holy shit this is one mad, mad world', before you dive back in is a welcome respite.
The book is a compendium of old and new material, which, in the world of the manic news feed, always runs the risk of trying to turn stale information into something freshly baked. But Blum is so damn eloquent and informed a writer that his dishes have no expiry date. Why should I bother, in 2013, with the chapter about 'Condoleeza Rice' or 'Yugoslavia'? Because Blum says I should. And that's enough for me.
The missiles, bombs and American flag that adorns the cover – as well as the title – might frighten off the meditating, granola crowd, as well as the American Idol crowd, which is a bit unfortunate because William Blum deserves a much larger choir to preach to. That this man remains sidelined is a statement to our collective prioritization of...well, I don't really know why, to be honest.
My suggestion is buy the book, do some rudimentary arts and crafts, and make your own cover. I'd personally put a picture of a silhouetted, cross-legged, asexual, individual with all their chakras lit up and glowing, on said cover. Give it a title like 'Unlocking the energy of your past lives in five easy steps' by Omni William Blum.
Conversely, depending on your intended, unsuspecting audience, you might want to try something with a sunset, with a title like 'Enabling your inner entrepreneur.'
Gift it to your favourite star child or go-getter, or place it surreptitiously on their bedside table with a seagull feather marking the page where Blum lays down your favourite enlightenment bomb. Blum can't do it alone. You've got to pass this one along.
SOURIFEST '13 - L'AUTO-SOURICIÈRE DU PEUPLE.
Place des Festivals.
11 mai, 2013.
Text from The Social Housing Coalition website:
Hundreds of people in nearly two-dozen different communities have been rallying every Saturday for months to STAND for social housing and to end homelessness in BC. The target of these actions has been the BC election, with hopes of making social housing an election issue.
Both the BC Liberals and BC NDP have blacked out social housing from their platforms, as though the housing crisis and more than 100,000 people facing homelessness did not exist.
On May 11th we will STAND before the election one more time to demand the parties act to end homelessness and the housing crisis in BC. All our communities will STAND together to march downtown with our red “Social Housing Now!” banners and show all the parties that our campaign is not finished and we’ll see them on the other side of the election.
This action is also part of a call from Quebec for actions for housing across Canada throughout May, calling on the federal government to create a national housing program. For more on the Canada-wide actions see: http://defendoursocialhousing.com
Organized in Vancouver by Social Housing Coalition BC
The Spartacus Books collective has been incredibly supportive of the Vancouver Media Co-op, providing meeting space and more. Read their statement, and make sure to check out the last section about how to support their move. Solidarity!
Spartacus Books is being evicted!
Here's what some of us think about it. Feel free to share this statement:
WHO WE ARE
Spartacus Books is a nonprofit bookstore and resource centre run by a collective of volunteers. We have been located in or around the Downtown Eastside since our doors first opened in 1973.
As an independent radical bookstore, we carry books, zines, comics, and magazines you won't find anywhere else, covering a range of subjects including anarchism, race and society, community organizing, gender, queer studies, feminism, radical theory, First Nations, prisons, labour, imperialism,DIY, political economy, ecology, and literature. We host regular anticapitalist events and meetings, and we offer free computer and Internet access and a free public phone available 24 hours a day. We aim to be a safe, welcoming, inclusive space for our neighbors and an organizing hub for Vancouver's radical community.
SPARTACUS BOOKS IS BEING RENOVICTED! We are being kicked out of our current location in the Heatley Block at 684 East Hastings St. Our landlords, who bought the building from Atira Property Management in late 2012, have terminated our lease and told us to vacate the premises by July 31. The owners have been doing renovations in our building and are also forcing out our neighbours. It's clear that we are all facing the threat of renoviction, as new rents in the building have as much as tripled.
We are not the only community space in this situation. Rhizome Cafe recently announced that they are closing due to rising costs, and VIVO Media Arts Centre has just been given notice to vacate the space they have been using for the past 20 years. These rent increases and de facto evictions are part of a larger process of gentrification — a process that is forcing our friends and neighbors from their homes in the Downtown Eastside and throughout Vancouver.
It's not just social spaces that are affected. In 2012 alone, with over 850 residents already living in shelters or on the streets, the DTES lost another 426 affordable rooms to higher rents. Formerly-affordable housing is being renovated and rented out at higher rates; new condo developments like 60 W Cordova and Sequel 138 are marketed to the middle class, as are businesses like Pidgin and Save-On-Meats. As neighborhoods are transformed to appeal to a more profitable target market, open and inclusive community spaces are squeezed out, while low-income residents are marginalized, harassed, evicted, and displaced. Our eviction is just one part of this bigger picture.
WE ARE LOOKING FOR A NEW HOME! If you know of any spaces that might be a good fit for a radical bookstore, resource centre, and community space, please let us know! Spartacus Books will be in its current location at 684 East Hastings St until July 31 or until we move, whichever comes first.
If you'd like to support us, you can buy our books, donate to help us cover the costs of moving, or stop by our space with kind words, baked goods, or offers of mutual aid. Better yet, organize with your neighbors and allies to resist gentrification! We want Spartacus Books to be around for the next 40 years, and the best way to make that happen is to SMASH CAPITALISM.
On day four of the Building Resistance tour, we traveled from Smithers to the Unist’ot’en Camp located 66km down a logging road just outside of Houston BC. To access the camp, we must cross a bridge over the Morice River where we asked for consent to enter the territory. The Unist’ot’en Camp is a resistance community set up to protect the sovereignty of the Wet’suwet’en territory by stopping ALL pipelines.
Whether it is the Enbridge Northern Gateway Proposal or the Pacific Trails Pipeline (PTP), the resistance camp stands along the exact route of these pipelines and where they will be stopped. We were lucky to have been there during the Spring Work camp and have the opportunity to meet all the people volunteering to expand the blockade. The cabin built on the initial pipeline path has forced industry to re-route the pipeline to much more difficult terrain. They are now working on building pit-houses and an impressive permaculture garden on the new path of the proposed PTP.
We were told the the camp was recently visited by RCMP officers who accused the camp of blocking a "public" road. The Indigenous land defenders reminded the RCMP that they were not permitted on the unceded lands which are Unis'tot'en territory. We also heard that suspected RCMP planes were circling the camp, the location of the pit houses, and the permaculture gardens--which would indicate ongoing surveillance. It is clear that the blockade is posing a serious threat to those invested in constructing PTP.
This pipeline would transport unconventional gas from fracking operations in the Liard Basin and Horn River Basin to a processing plant in Kitimat where the gas is liquefied (LNG, liquefied natural gas) and shipped overseas on supertankers. This pipeline would bulldoze precious habitat through unceded indigenous lands and increase the risk of contamination from pipeline leaks and ocean tankers. The proposed PTP would be part of fracking expansion in BC. Fracking is a source of energy that, in its complete life cycle, can be as bad as coal when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to environmental devastation and major climate change contributions, PTP would pave the way for the Enbridge tar sands pipeline.
For Rising Tide Vancouver Coast Salish Territories it was essential to stop by the Unist’ot’en Camp during our tour. The formation of our group was greatly inspired by our members’ experiences and relationships from the summer action camp last year. It was a great opportunity to build relationships, and compelled us to take action in solidarity with frontline communities when we returned home. Most members of Rising Tide are settlers to this land and with that comes a tremendous amount of privilege and power. We have a responsibility to confront the settler colonial state of so called Canada as well as the corporate and capitalist forces which seek to further pillage and steal the land from the rightful stewards.
MONTRÉAL, le 10 mai 2013. Le procès historique contre l’ex-dictateur et général Efraín Rios Montt et pour génocide et crimes contre l’humanité contre des populations mayas s’est finalement terminé par un jugement de culpabilité aujourd’hui à 16h, heure locale de Guatemala.
Le procès contre Rios Montt et Rodriguez Sanchez, dont les audiences ont débuté le 19 mars dernier, a donné la tribune à plus de 60 experts et près d’une centaine de témoins d’origine maya Ixil ayant survécu aux exactions commises durant le règne de l’ex-dictateur, dont 94 ont signalé qu’au moins un membre de leur famille fut assassiné par les forces armées. Rappelons qu’Efraín Rios Montt a été à la tête d’un gouvernement militaire pendant un peu plus d’un an entre 1982 et 1983, période qualifiée comme la plus meurtrière du conflit armé interne qui a sévi au Guatemala de 1960 à 1996. Celui-ci a bénéficié jusqu’en 2012 d’une immunité comme membre du Congrès. Pour sa part, Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez agissait comme chef de l’intelligence militaire durant la même époque. Le procès concerne des actes perpétrés dans la région Ixil (département du Quiche) en 1982 et 1983.
La lutte pour la justice et la réparation des victimes de génocide et de crimes contre l’humanité a été semée d’embûches pendant plus de 30 ans. « Le procès lui-même a reçu des dizaines d’obstacles de la part des avocats de la défense, qui cherchaient à invalider le procès », dit Marie-Dominik Langlois, coordonnatrice du Projet Accompagnement Québec-Guatemala (PAQG).
Le tribunal a donné absolution complète à Rodriguez Sanchez des accusations portées contre lui, arguant qu’il n’entrait pas dans ses fonctions de donner des ordres.
Dans un jugement historique, le tribunal dirigé par la juge Barrios a condamné Rios Montt à 50 années en prison pour génocide et 30 ans supplémentaires pour crimes contre l'humanité, pour un total de 80 ans fermes, sans possibilité de sortie et prenant effet immédiatement. Il s’agit de la première fois de l’histoire de l’Amérique latine qu’un ancien chef d’État est trouvé coupable de génocide dans un tribunal national.
« Il s’agit d’une incroyable victoire pour les survivants du génocide, surtout dans un pays où les taux d'impunité pour de simples homicides demeure au dessus de 90%. Depuis le dépôt de la plainte, il y a douze ans, ils ont couru de grands risques. C'est un immense honneur qu'ils nous ont fait en sollicitant notre accompagnement", dit Etienne Roy-Grégoire, membre du conseil d'administration du PAQG.
« Le procès pour génocide du général Rios Montt en Guatemala a suscité en moi un très grand espoir pour voir finalement fonctionner la justice dans mon pays. Le plus grand génocidaire du peuple maya doit payer pour ses crimes. C’est le temps enfin que l’histoire du Guatemala soit écrite non pas avec du sang mais avec dignité et justice pour toutes et tous. Les victimes et leurs familles doivent recevoir réparations pour leurs souffrances. Un peuple sans justice, c’est un peuple sans Paix. », affirme Lesvia Vela, guide spirituelle maya résidant à Montréal et membre du PAQG.
Le tribunal se réunira lundi le 13 mai pour discuter des réparations aux victimes.
Le Projet Accompagnement Québec-Guatemala (PAQG) accompagne les victimes du conflit armé depuis plusieurs années dans leur lutte pour la justice et la réparation. Le PAQG, préoccupé par les récents événements, surveille de près les développements du procès et est d’avis que celui-ci doit continuer pour mettre fin à l’impunité et pour que le pays atteigne une paix véritable.
K'jipuktuk (Halifax) – Workers and locals at the Nova Scotia General Employees Union's (NSGEU) biennial passed the hat, the union matched the donations, and all told just over $11,000 was raised to cover the costs of living for recently dismissed Just Us! baristas Shay Exnuga and Elijah Williams.
Exnuga and Williams' complaint over being dismissed because of their attempts to unionize - a contravention of the Trade Union Act - is now before the Nova Scotia Labour Relations Board.
Other unions within the province have also come to the assistance of the baristas and their union drive. The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Nova Scotia recently donated $1,000 to the cause; the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) Nova Scotia intends to donate the proceeds of a solidarity auction; while the Public Service Alliance of Canada – Atlantic has publicly cancelled all contracts with Just Us! Coffee Roasters until the baristas are reinstated and are allowed to unionize at their place of work.
“I have to say that I'm absolutely blown away, by not just inter-union solidarity, but with worker to worker solidarity in Nova Scotia,” says Jason Edwards, organizer with the Service Employees International Union local 2. “Even beyond the structures of the union, workers are saying to Shay, Charlie, Eli and myself: 'Your fight matters. We care about your fight. And we care not just about ourselves getting a few dollar increases in our next bargaining round.' They actually care about people's rights being respected and about labour in general for all people in the province.”
Three baristas at Just Us! Spring Garden Road are alleging the coffee co-op failed to give them breaks.
“It has, since the beginning of our employ, been the practice of the employer to deny employees their statutory minimum 30-minute, uninterrupted break when working in excess of five hours,” Charlie Huntley, Steven Large and Clark McMillan state in a complaint filed to the labour board on May 6.
“We’re only asking that the company uphold minimum provincial standards,” Huntley said in a press release posted on a website created to voice employee concerns. “We’re on our feet working hard for hours and hours; we deserve a few free minutes to eat our dinner.”
Baristas at the café’s Spring Garden Road location have been trying to join the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) since January. In late March, two former employees who were part of the union attempt allege they were unfairly dismissed. The SEIU filed a complaint to the labour board on their behalf.
The Labour Standards Code of Nova Scotia states that employees are legally entitled to “a rest or eating break of at least one-half hour” for more than five consecutive hours worked.
The code also states employees are not entitled to regular breaks if “an accident occurs, urgent work is necessary or unforeseeable or unpreventable circumstances occur” and “where it is unreasonable for an employee to take a meal break.”
If an employee has not been provided a rest or eating break, they are entitled to eat while working, the code continues.
“On numerous occasions, this issue has been raised with management at the café. In these discussions, employees have mentioned the contents of the code,” the complaint states.
“This is just one example of why we want to form a union,” Huntley said on the website. “We’ve repeatedly asked management to address issues like this and nothing has been done.”
In early April, several sources, including Huntley, told the Halifax Media Co-op employees had brought up concerns about breaks at staff meetings, but didn’t think their concerns were addressed.
As a remedy, the baristas are asking Just Us! to comply with the code and post a notice advising employees of their right to a 30-minute break for shifts of more than five hours.
Management disputes allegations
Just Us! general manager Debra Moore said Friday she didn’t know of any employees who had been denied breaks.
“To my knowledge, no one at Just Us! has ever been denied a break,” she said. “It just isn’t happening.”
She said the coffee co-op’s policy is to give a 15-minute paid break in addition to a 30-minute unpaid break for every four-to-six hour shift. Baristas make the decision whether to take breaks or not, she said.
“We staff so that there are enough people to take breaks,” Moore said.
She said the last time the Just Us! break policy was revised was two years ago. That was the last time employees complained about breaks, she said.
“It’s fairly clear to me that for whatever reason, the union is just wanting to keep the pressure up, so this is just another situation,” Moore said. “The complaint itself from what I’ve read is just so full of holes. I think it’s a way to keep the pressure up and keep us in the news.”
SEIU Atlantic representative Jason Edwards said Wednesday the goal of the complaint was both to ensure employees concerns were recognized and keep the story in the news.
“There is that element of course, that public relations or public image that comes out of it, but at the same time, if something like that could have a two-fold positive outcome where people actually do start getting their breaks.”
Moore said management had met with the union once, and they would meet again May 14. She said the two sides would discuss whether to reinstate the two employees who say they were unfairly let go.
The labour board has offered to mediate, if necessary, Moore said.
“We’re optimistic,” Edwards said, while acknowledging a need to be diplomatic.
The labour board hearing is set for the end of June.
Full disclosure: Charlie Huntley is friends with the author.
The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.