Magazine article Canadian Dimension

Pipe Dream or Possibility?

Magazine article Canadian Dimension

Pipe Dream or Possibility?

Article excerpt

Does Canada's labour movement want its very own independent newspaper? Last fall, during an Action Canada Network assembly held in Toronto, this topic was placed under a microscope during a special forum.

In a cavernous hall located in the bowels of Toronto's city hall building, a couple of hundred delegates listened to four keynote speakers - one of whom was myself - opine on whether a labour newspaper was really feasible. Overall, people were enormously positive to the idea, the one voice of pessimism coming from Jean-Claude Parrot, executive vice-president of the Canadian Labour Congress. He said the CLC had looked at this issue and concluded that the expense and resources were simply too overwhelming.

Parrot's bucket of cold water was a reminder of how labour's bureaucracy is either feet-on-the-ground realistic, or simply trying to dissuade people from a project that union leaders don't feel comfortable backing. In 1996, compelled by the prodding of Darrell Tingley, then-president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), the CLC set up an ad-hoc committee to review the possibilities of establishing an independent newspaper. But despite some half-hearted discussions, the CLC has shown no sign of taking any further action.

It's long been apparent there's little support at the CLC's executive board for starting up a labour-friendly weekly, a conclusion strengthened by a letter I received in January from Mary Rowles, executive assistant to CLC President Bob White. Rowles suggested the money for such an endeavour was too rich and doubted a large-enough audience existed to sustain a newspaper. "If the general public is like union members and they get their news from TV, maybe we're looking at the wrong media," she added. Rowles may also be chary of admitting that in the fractious, faction-riddled and thin-skinned labour movement, many union leaders would never support an independent newspaper that would actually cover their very own unions.

Rowles wrote me in response to a discussion paper I'd cobbled together and mailed out earlier this year to a number of trade union leaders, activists and people on the Left. The paper contained the results of a survey I conducted with four unions, asking workers whether they wanted a labour newspaper. With the assistance of CUPW researcher Chris Lawson, I've been pursuing a long-held dream of founding an independent labour newspaper, especially in light of how stories and issues about working people are rarely addressed by the mainstream media.

As a journalist, I've written about the labour movement for about 15 years, primarily for Our Times magazine. For a couple of years in the mid-nineties, I was even a columnist and writer for Labour Times, a monthly paper published by Canada Law Book. Labour Times was around for about five years before the company killed it off and turned it into something more banal and pro-management called Workplace News. Yet Labour Times proved that an independent labour publication could cover the labour movement, garner an audience and not lose money (admittedly, it never turned a profit, either). And stories that were not "anti-union" per se, but were not obsequious towards labour's leadership and the NDP, could appear in print.

After Labour Times died, I thought it would be a worthwhile endeavor to see if there was support for an independent, self-sustaining labour publication that appeared more frequently than Our Times, and was more controversial and militant. In so doing, the question has emerged: why doesn't Canada have its own independent labour newspaper?

Why Not?

The reasons are numerous. One is because labour's leadership has not seen the need for such a publication, generally being wary of any media, fearing its potential independence.

Yet Canada once did have a very vibrant working-class, labour and socialist press. In fact, nearly 250 labour journals were established between 1867 and 1948, with 70 publishing by the end of the 'forties, having a combined circulation of more than 300,000. …

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