Nose pressed to glass

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

We beat the bastards

German armed forces surrendered unconditionally. Hostilities in Europe ended officially at midnight. God save the King. More later ...

I'm back. I wanted to chew on this victory for a few days before I ruminated publicly. (OK, I did run into the street in my sailor uniform and kiss strange women hoping someone would take our snapshot and it would turn into an iconic image.) Seriously, the parties were fun although I was afraid that, at one point, I would be mounted by Pedro the horny Gnome.

I guess the bottom line is that we won although I'm still not sure exactly what it is that we won, other than the right to go back to work. It's strange that all through the lockout I couldn't put my finger on exactly what it is mangement was trying to do and now we have a settlement that provokes a similar sense of mystery.

I know Stursrabinochalmers didn't get the contract bonanza that was supposedly vital to the very future of the CBC, and maybe democracy itself.

The lockout also laid bare the internal and external ills of the corp, especially the awful way many casual and temp workers are treated (props to those who spoke out) and TV's many woes. The upside of that is a chance for renewal and positive change.

I know management lost the public relations battle in an astounding way. I won't be surprised if this "dispute" forms the basis of chapters in several P.R. and industrial relations textbooks.

Here, in my opinion, are management's prime mistakes:

- Locking us out. Many, including Zerbisias of the Toronto Star, hailed their pre-emptive move as a brilliant tactic to avoid a pre-Hockey Night in Canada strike. Like the Bush doctrine that may have inspired it, it turned out to be a disaster. Being locked out -- kept from our desks and the airwaves by an ideological obsession nobody outside the Broadcasting Centre's 10th floor could understand -- turned out to be a club with which we could beat management over and over again. I certainly never tired of it. The sympathy we got from media commentators and politicians, not to mention members of the public who wrote to MPs, would have been anger and impatience if management had only waited for us to strike.

-- Deciding to lose the PR war before it even started. They had that crappy, ugly website and Jason MacDonald spouting obvious crap. A few bad ads and the Rabinovitch op-ed piece that was impenetrable and illogical. We had a multitude of local and national sites with real content, podcasts, alternative radio shows, the much-loved Shelagh Rogers on the road, events on the picket line and, of course, the bloggers. I'm sure only a tiny fraction of CBC listeners and viewers actually read the blogs but among those few were the journalists covering the dispute. CBC Drone was quoted more than Rabinovitch.

-- Not doing real replacement programming right out of the gate. I couldn't believe that Stursberg didn't have a faux-National ready to go with a flick of the switch. What was he doing during the 15 months of negotiations? Reporters and columnists seized on the Antiques Roadshow reruns and gleefully spanked the bosses. The few attempts at original material were similarly skewered (did anyone else see the first-day thing on a Newsworld where an old reporter-turned-manager droned on about Indonesia for what seemed like hours? It was like something you'd see presented in a church basement, maybe called "My Indonesia" by Bertrand Cuthwaite). By the time The National With A Strong Focus On Quebec And Moncton finally hit the air, it was way too late.

-- The biggie. What we had here, to quote a certain filmic prison warden, was a failure to communicate. Management couldn't sell its message because it couldn't, or wouldn't, articulate it. Why is it vital to the CBC's future to have many more employees on contract? I still don't know. I never saw any real attempt to explain, much less prove, the idea or to explain where it came from. It's amazing to me that national TV, radio and online networks were shut down for seven weeks, robbing taxpayers of the content they paid for and employees of their livelihoods, over a goal that nobody understood. The people who sided against the workers didn't side with management -- they sided against the CBC as a whole, demanding it be destroyed or turned into a charity case airing computer tutorials. In the end, on the communications point alone, we couldn't have lost unless we committed suicide.

But we didn't -- quite the opposite. And here's the beauty of it. We beat them by being creative and having fun. We also used technology in a way that, on the inside, would have been smothered by bureaucracy and navel-gazing. The blogs especially were interesting because they were organic -- something that grew naturally without union direction and must have seemed like a swarm of wasps to the spinners inside.

So where do we go from here?

Well, I'll make one bold prediction - Rabinovitch will resign, probably this coming week. He's too damaged -- when the board chair is dissing you in public, watch out -- and there's too much anger for a head not to roll. Rabinovitch will say it's for the good of the corporation, he's helping the CBC heal and move forward to put in place the many excellent changes he's fostered, he was on a contract extension and didn't really plan to stay much longer anyway, etc. etc. It'll be a hard thing to swallow but he's a rich, connected business guy so he can just go screw someplace else up.

Stursberg will still a little longer but the new prez, who will have a broadcasting background, will push him out. Chalmers I'm not sure about but I think she'll find it pretty difficult to regain the respect of radio people so she won't stick around either.

I am optimistic that, in the end, positive change will come, painful as it may be for the TV side.

Well, I'll end by saying thanks to anyone who read the blog and to my colleagues who won a war well-fought. See you on the inside -- I'll be the one with the red nose (but I'll just look down at the carpet like I did before).


Sunday, October 02, 2005

To Hull with them!

A few days ago, I'd thought we'd be spending the pre-Thanksgiving weekend giving pre-thanks that a deal had finally been hammered out. Next week would see both sides sell the deal and then a vote and then we'd all troop in to work full of turkey, pumpkin pie and long-simmered bile.

A deal may still be nigh or it may be a month or more away. I can't tell. Fontana is playing tough guy, which is to our advantage, but what are his options if the two sides can't agree? Now the Liberals are apparently saying the government might fall in the next couple of weeks. It would be a disaster for management (let's see the BBC cover that) but also for us if we were stuck in limbo.

I know, lots of you are saying "it can't happen" but I don't think I was the only one saying the same thing Aug. 14. Fontana's "cone of silence" has just been extended. Let's hope it doesn't end in K.A.O.S.

Some stuff I promised last time:

- "An interview with the Toronto radio staffer that Susan Marjetti has not yet called." That was a joke, a promise I can't deliver on. She was calling everyone, moaning about how she never wanted to be on the air and how terrible it is inside. Featherbedding at its worst. She's obviously political but how crass to try to moan and commiserate with people who haven't seen a cheque in weeks? She obviously enjoyed being on air, and don't tell me she didn't love kudos from Margaret Wente. I'm guessing she signed off only when it was apparent her telemarketing work wasn't doing the trick.

- "Managers' nickname for Simcoe Park, where the fun never stops." The Lido deck, a reference to the party headquarters of The Love Boat, where shuffleboard was always on offer and anyone from Liza Minnelli to George Hamilton might start a conga line. I'm apparently not the only one to have my nose pressed to glass - they've been watching from the other side as the Barenaked Ladies, Ron Sexsmith, the great bake-off etc. gave us lockouts a boost.

- My last prediction was about a breakthrough on the near horizon. I was sort of right - Fontana summoned both sides to Hull. But we're still locked out.

Two new ideas:

- There was talk that Bernard St. Laurent was being called on the carpet by Esther Enkin for some perceived journalistic ethical failing. Puh-leese. After all the shit that management has pulled - the "labour disruption" tag on radio, linking only to the management side from, covering all the queries in Question Period on the first day Parliament resumed except those about CBC (and leaving the placeline off QP story sign-offs to hide the fact that McQuaker is doing them from Toronto), re-running old sports competitions without saying on the screen that it's not live ....

Whither Enkin's credibility? I'm sure the company line will be "Let's not talk about the lockout, we've got to move on and return to our first-rate reporting blah blah blah..." If that doesn't fly maybe there will be a vague promise of an inquiry into lockout failings with a report to land sometime in 2007. (Kreskin moment - such a report will say lines were crossed but with good intentions, really nobody to blame, time of crisis, yada yada)

I say if management is still calling what it puts on the air "the CBC", manager-journalists should be held to the same standard and treated exactly as we would be in peacetime, including reprimands, suspensions, whatever. Enkin should be part of the post-lockout housecleaning and, if she's not, I hope people take her to task the first time she tries to get all Poynter-institute on somebody's ass. If you are invited to one of her meetings, put her feet to the fire or walk out.

On the topic du jour, l'affaire Common: Management must love seeing us turn on each other like starved rats in a cage. The Toronto newsletter shouldn't have re-published the Zerbisias column about it. I say, everyone take a deep breath. If Workman was going to be recalled next June and if Common had been told before the lockout he was going to get a foreign posting, I can't really fault the guy.

I know he has a reputation of being out for himself but I have to think some of the virulent reaction is jealousy. People are making it sound like he'll rue the day he sold us all out but, come on, he'll be in Paris for three years. Why would he care? In his shoes, I think most of us would do the same.

But a huge huzzah for Paul Workman. I'll give thanks for him. Pass the stuffing.