4.23.2017

what i'm reading: swing time by zadie smith

Zadie Smith is on my list of "authors I will follow anywhere". I may not love everything about every book she writes, but that's unimportant. For me, her books are always worth reading -- the writing is beautiful, the characters feel real, the insights into the human condition are interesting and thought-provoking and ring true. I'm always excited to hear Smith has published a new book, and Swing Time did not disappoint.

Smith is no minimalist. If you like your novels plot-driven, you might wonder, why did I just read so many words just to go from A to B? I do love and admire minimal writing -- such as Kent Haruf's -- but I also love the lavish, textured tapestry that Smith lays down. Her writing is rich in detail, but not overburdened.

Swing Time is narrated by a woman looking back at different times in her life. The story cuts back and forth among three narratives, as time passes and the narratives move closer together chronologically. I knew the three threads would come together, but I didn't know how -- and when they did, the movement was so seamless that I barely realized the anticipation was over.

There's a lot going on in this book. In terms of plot, there's the narrator (she is never named) as a child, with a stridently intellectual and political mother of Jamaican descent, who is all about "our people," but not so much the individual person who is her daughter, and a laid-back, white, working-class dad. And there's her best friend Tracey, with whom the narrator takes dance lessons and obsessively watches old movie musicals. Tracey is talented, dominant, and perhaps unstable -- a constant but shifting presence in the narrator's life.

There's the narrator as a young woman, trying on different versions of herself, and finally falling into a job as personal assistant to a globally famous pop star. Working for Aimee -- who is drawn along the lines of Madonna in her heyday or Beyonce, but is neither of those -- brings the narrator into a world where there is no boundary between life and work, and where an entire universe revolves around one person.

And there's the narrator in west Africa, where Aimee wants to build a school for girls, where the brown British narrator and the white Australian pop star are referred to equally as "the Americans," where an entire village sees less money in one year than what Aimee's entourage spends on coffee in a week.

In each thread, we meet characters who are fully imagined, real people, and who carve out their own way of being in the world, their own space on a complex matrix of wealth, class, colour, family, belief, resistance, accommodation, compassion, and self-interest.

And more. Music, dance -- friendship, ambition -- class, colour -- ancestry, history -- all manner of parenting -- fame, charity, poverty -- altruism, narcissism, celebrity worship -- self-awareness, self-absorption -- all is woven into Swing Time. Smith creates a world where everything is relative. Fame and wealth, talent and invisibility, ambition and purpose are all constantly in flux, and only exist in relation to everything else. Including -- especially -- race, class, and power. In the world of Swing Time, there are no absolutes.

For me, nothing ruins a novel faster than a lot of exposition. Don't break your narrative to explain things to me; don't use your characters as dictionaries or billboards. Smith does the opposite: nothing is explained. Places in London and New York, cultural references of working-class Brits, Muslim practises in Africa, historical references -- Smith throws it out there, and it's up to the reader to catch on, whether from context or Google. Some readers might find this frustrating, but it keeps the pace upbeat and the narrative voice true.

Swing Time is what is sometimes called a Bildungsroman, a kind of coming-of-age story of an adult. It is a riveting and richly rewarding read.

4.22.2017

what i'm reading: giovanni's room by james baldwin

James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room, a landmark in LGBT literature, is one of our library's current "Raves & Faves". The 1956 novel takes place in Paris, narrated by a young American man who is trying to come to terms with his sexuality.

In the past, this was said to be a "gay novel;" now it is seen as "bisexual novel". Leaving aside the obvious fact that novels don't possess sexuality, those labels are interpretation. The narrator himself doesn't have a name for his orientation; for him, neutral, descriptive language doesn't exist.

The story takes place in 1950s Paris, alive with expatriates, in a male subculture that is an open secret. The men who frequent Guillaume's bar are more open than they can be in their hometowns and original cultures, but their lives are still lived largely underground.

Our narrator -- his name is David, but the name is seldom used -- tells the story during a momentous night, one of pain and shame, looking back on the events that led to that night. David is engaged to an American woman, and he desperately wants to fully embrace a conventional life with her. When he falls in love with an Italian bartender named Giovanni, he cannot simply turn away. They have a relationship, and it ends in tragedy.

More than anything, Giovanni's Room is about shame -- what happens to people when their identity, their entire concept of themselves, is considered wrong, dirty, and shameful. What happens to their relationships, what happens, if you will, to their souls.

An older man -- a "queen" and a pathetic person in David's eyes -- gives David this advice, and for me it sums up the meaning of the book.
I looked over at Giovanni, who now had one arm around the ruined-looking girl, who could have once been very beautiful but who never would be now.

Jacques followed my look. 'He is very fond of you,' he said, 'already. But this doesn't make you happy or proud, as it should. It makes you frightened and ashamed. Why?'

'I don't understand him,' I said at last. I don't know what his friendship means; I don't know what he means by friendship.'

Jacques laughed. 'You don't know what he means by friendship but you have the feeling it may not be safe. You are afraid it may change you. What kind of friendship have you had?'

I said nothing.

'Or for that matter,' he continued, 'what kind of love affairs?'

I was silent for so long that he teased me, saying, 'Come out, come out, wherever you are.'

And I grinned, feeling chilled.

'Love him,' said Jacques, with vehemence, 'love him and let him love you. Do you think anything else under heaven really matters? And how long, at the best, can it last? Since you are both men and still have everywhere to go? Only five minutes, I assure you, only five minutes, and most of that, hélas! in the dark. And if you think of them as dirty, then they will be dirty — they will be dirty because you will be giving nothing, you will be despising your flesh and his. But you can make your time together anything but dirty; you can give each other something which will make both of you better — forever — if you will not be ashamed, if you will only not play it safe.' He paused, watching me, and then looked down to his cognac. 'You play it safe long enough,' he said, in a different tone, 'and you'll end up trapped in your own dirty body, forever and forever and forever — like me.'
David is tormented by an almost existential inner conflict. Giovanni, on the other hand, feels that David is exaggerating, almost fabricating his troubles. He feels David should be able to love and marry his fiancee, and love men at the same time.
'Well. You are a very charming and good-looking and civilized boy and, unless you are impotent, I do not see what she has to complain about, or what you have to worry about. To arrange, mon cher, la vie pratique, is very simple — it only has to be done.' He reflected. 'Sometimes things go wrong, I agree; then you have to arrange it another way. But it is certainly not the English melodrama you make it. Why, that way, life would simply be unbearable.'
David cannot conceive of this. He can only love Giovanni, and hate him for what he represents, and hate himself for loving this man that he both loves and hates.
Giovanni had awakened an itch, had released a gnaw in me. I realized it one afternoon, when I was taking him to work via the Boulevard Montparnasse. We had bought a kilo of cherries and we were eating them as we walked along. We were both insufferably childish and high-spirited that afternoon and the spectacle we presented, two grown men jostling each other on the wide sidewalk and aiming the cherry pits, as though they were spitballs, into each other's faces, must have been outrageous. And I realized that such childishness was fantastic at my age and the happiness out of which it sprang yet more so; for that moment I really loved Giovanni, who had never seemed more beautiful than he was that afternoon. And, watching his face, I realized that it meant much to me that I could make his face so bright. I saw that I might be willing to give a great deal not to lose that power. And I felt myself flow toward him, as a river rushes when the ice breaks up. Yet, at that very moment, there passed between us on the pavement another boy, a stranger, and I invested him at once with Giovanni's beauty and what I felt for Giovanni I also felt for him. Giovanni saw this and saw my face and it made him laugh the more. I blushed and he kept laughing and then the boulevard, the light, the sound of his laughter turned into a scene from a nightmare. I kept looking at the trees, the light falling through the leaves. I felt sorrow and shame and panic and great bitterness. At the same time — it was part of my turmoil and also outside it — I felt the muscles in my neck tighten with the effort I was making not to turn my head and watch that boy diminish down the bright avenue. The beast which Giovanni had awakened in me would never go to sleep again; but one day I would not be with Giovanni anymore. And would I then, like all the others, find myself turning and following all kinds of boys down God knows what dark avenues, into what dark places?

With this fearful intimation there opened in me a hatred for Giovanni which was as powerful as my love and which was nourished by the same roots.
Interestingly, this is Baldwin's only novel where all the characters are white. In the 1950s, writing about men loving men was already wildly controversial and taboo. Adding colour to the equation was impossible. In those days, any novel featuring African-Americans was by definition "about" being black in America -- "the Negro question," as it was then known. The only way to make this book "about" being gay or bisexual, was to keep all the characters white, so colour could not be read as a factor.

Baldwin's writing is elegant and beautiful. The action of the story is very simple, which helps frame David's tumultuous inner life. The book is short, and it reads quickly -- but it is memorable and haunting.

4.18.2017

things i heard at the library: an occasional series: #23

Girl: Do you have this book, something like, "keeping a secret about you"?

Me: Let's take a look in the catalogue. [Stalling for time while scrolling through titles in my mind.] Hmm, do you mean Keeping You a Secret?

Girl: Yes! I took a bus all the way from the South Common branch to here to get this book so I hope you have it.

I recognize it as a good title by Julie Peters, excellent writer of LGBT-themed girl books.

Me: Let's go over to the youth section to look for it.

Girl: Do you know any other good books? Anything LGBT! I want to read lots of LGBT stuff.

Me: You've come to the right place, we have a lot of it. I'm making a list now for our upcoming Pride display. [Technically speaking this is not true -- but I will be updating our list in about a month or so.]

Girl, pumping fist: Yes!

We get to the shelf... and it's there! Yay! We're both happy.

Girl: Is there any place I can charge my phone?

I point out some places she can hang out, she thanks me and leaves -- and I'm immediately sorry I didn't find another title for her.

I remember another good LGBT book, but my mind goes blank when I try to remember the title or the author's name. But I know around where it is on the shelf, so I walk quickly through the youth collection and spot it: The Vast Fields of Ordinary.

I grab it off the shelf and quickly walk around looking for the girl, hoping she is charging her phone. I spot her from across the floor and double-time it over to her.

Me: So glad you're still here! I have another book for you.

She takes it from me.

Girl: Great, I'll take this one, too. Thanks!

I'm totally casual on the outside, but inside I am almost crying from joy. This happens now. Easily, daily, in a perfectly no-big-deal way. Perhaps it should be unremarkable to me -- after all, I do live in Canada in the 21st Century. But this is a sea change I have seen in my lifetime and it fills me with such pride and joy.

I know it isn't like this everywhere, but because it is like this somewhere, it means it can be like this, one day, everywhere.

4.16.2017

we movie to canada: wmtc annual movie awards, 2016-17 edition

I'm actually getting to the annual wmtc movie awards while the baseball season is still young -- a sign that I have a bit more time to myself, as our new local ticks along under the guidance of an awesome team.

First, the annual recap:
- Canadian musicians and comedians (2006-07 and 2007-08)
- my beverage of choice (2008-09)
- famous people who died during the past year (2009-10)
- where I'd like to be (2010-11)
- vegetables (2011-12) (I was out of ideas!)
- Big Life Events in a year full of Big Life Changes (2012-13)
- cheese (I'm getting desperate!) (2013-14)
- types of travels (2014-15)
and last year I reprised famous people who died, plus there is famous people who died, part 2.

This year's theme was a no-brainer for me. In late 2015 and through 2016, I piloted my union through contract negotiations and a strike. It was the first strike for the Mississauga Library Workers, and the first strike against the City of Mississauga!

We were out for three weeks -- and we won. Along with what the strike did for our members, it was a year of enormous personal growth for me. Leading bargaining and the strike used all my experience, all my skills, all my strengths, and all my weaknesses, seemingly putting them all to the test, every single day.

And so, this year's "we movie to canada" theme: the picket line.



The General Strike

Workers from all fields and industries, union and nonunion, waged and unwaged, students and teachers, factory workers and miners, writers and artists, joining together to demonstrate our strength by withholding our collective labour. In February 1919, workers shut down the city of Seattle; a few months later, workers in Winnipeg did the same in their city. Did you know that workers in India staged the largest general strikes in history, first in 2013, then in 2016? (Why was this the most under-reported story of the decade?)

The General Strike is what I most want to see, and these films were the best I saw over the past year.

Diary of a Teenage Girl
-- Brave, honest, and risk-taking, this film reveals an authentic teenage life that may shock some, but rings unerringly true. Drugs, sex, negligent parents, opportunistic adults -- it's all there, as Minnie begins to author her own life. Moving and brilliant.

Mustang
-- In Turkey, five sisters are being raised by their repressive, over-protective uncle. Each girl in turn finds accommodation or escape, in ways that are increasingly sad and tragic. But one girl will not be tamed. Gripping, tragic, triumphant.

Bojack Horseman S3
-- Loneliness, self-doubt, and existential dread, plus endless animal puns and laugh-out-loud comedy. I'm starting to think it's the animal version of The Larry Sanders Show, which means it's one of the best things ever on television.

The Revenant
-- A gripping story of survival, and an authentic-seeming portrayal of the harsh, violent world of the frontier. Sometimes hard to watch, but I was riveted.

Where to Invade Next
-- Michael Moore's latest starts out as comedy, then slowly descends into darkness, perhaps the darkest Moore has ever attempted. I quibble with Moore on a couple of political points, but no matter. This film is great.

13th
-- On my nonfiction reading list is The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. Alexander is featured in this documentary version, as powerful and disturbing a film as you are likely to see. Don't miss it.




The "Mill Girls"

The "Mill Girl" strikes -- first in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1834 and 1836, then the more famous "Bread and Roses" strike in nearby Lawrence in 1912 -- are some of my most beloved moments in labour history and women's history. The fighting spirit of the mill girls lives on in every woman who organizes and fights back.

These were considerably smaller in scope than the general strikes, but they were important, and they have always captured my imagination. These films weren't quite the pinnacle, but they were excellent.

Janis: Little Girl Blue
-- Finally, a movie about Janis Joplin that digs deep and doesn't exploit. Her life was both triumphant and very sad. The image of the rich and famous woman still seeking the approval of her hometown bullies will stay with me a long time. Saddest of all, Janis was expanding her range and her repertoire when she died. An excellent biopic.

I Smile Back
-- Sarah Silverman's performance as a self-destructive, borderline personality is absolutely gripping. The film offers no "overcoming obstacles" balm and no easy answers -- indeed, no answers at all. Disturbing in all the right ways.

The Wire, S5
-- This was a bit of a come-down after the pinnacle of S4. Compared to other seasons, S5 was a tad didactic and obvious. But in the end, it was The Wire -- unmatched.

Jimmy's Hall
-- Just another understated, brilliant film from the Ken Loach / Paul Laverty team. The joy of solidarity, the bitterness of the institutional crushing of dissent, plus the beauty and music of Ireland.

Carol
-- Todd Haynes has made a wonderful adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's semi-autobiographical novel The Price of Salt. Nonconformity, discovery, love, stifling choices, and a gorgeous period piece. Simply beautiful.

Brooklyn
-- 1950s small-town Ireland and immigrant Brooklyn. A lyrical love story, a beautiful period piece, an understated melodrama -- entirely wonderful.

Longmire S5
-- This show just keeps getting better. Now it's detective mystery meets western meets women's liberation.

Suits S1-6
-- Great writing, great acting, and characters that grow in credible and interesting ways. Takes a bit of time to kick in, but rewards you many times over. (I have only one quibble: women in law firms -- whether partners, associates, or assistants -- do not dress like models. A little less cleavage would have increased realism.)

Enquiring Minds: The Untold Story of the Man Behind the National Enquirer
-- A fascinating biopic of two men you've probably never heard of: Genoroso Pope and Gene Pope, Jr., plus Ric Burns and New York City. Did I say fascinating?

How I Met Your Mother, S9
-- I ended up absolutely loving this show. Barney is the comedy version of Suits character Harvey Specter. I might just watch the whole thing again.

The Fall, S3
-- When Season 2 ended with our hero holding the bloody body of her nemesis, I had no idea how the producers would squeeze out another season. That just shows my total lack of imagination. Season 3 was twisty, shocking -- and great.

Get Smart
-- My current comedy-before-bed is this classic from my childhood. A send-up of James Bond meets Inspector Clouseau. Corny but hilarious. Great for future-famous and uncredited guest stars, too.





CUPE 1989 Mississauga Library Workers Strike

Just your everyday, ordinary library workers, kicking ass for the working class. The strike was worthwhile, and these films are worth seeing.

Look Who's Back
-- What would happen if Hitler never died, and was reanimated in our current world? This film teases out all the implications. Very clever and very thought-provoking.

The Way, Way Back
-- A solid, sweet, unsentimental coming of age story.

Tab Hunter Confidential
-- What was it like to be marketed as a leading man but gay and deeply closeted, in 1950s Hollywood? A solid social history embedded in a biopic.

Trumbo
-- The Hollywood blacklist and a writer determined to defy it. Excellent performances and a good period piece.

The Big Short
-- At first this movie seems to be glorifying the villains of the subprime banking crisis, but that's just a ploy to reel you in.

Irrational Man
-- This dark Woody Allen film has some problems, but it's thought-provoking and a great conversation piece.

Anomalisa
-- Charlie Kaufman, existential crisis, and stop-motion animation. While it often seems (to me) that Kaufman is strange for strange's sake, this ends up being very interesting, even more thought-provoking than the Woody Allen movie above.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Runnin' Down a Dream
-- I have no idea why Peter Bogdanovich thought a movie about Tom Petty needed four hours. We watched in one-hour installments, and I made it through two. I really like old Heartbreakers music, and Tom Petty was a maverick in many ways. A decent film, and two hours is plenty.

A Grand Night In: The Story of Aardman
-- A fun romp through the history of Wallace and Grommet and various sheep.

Burnistoun
-- In our continuing search for good sketch comedy, we found this crazy Scottish show. Uneven but often really funny. We need subtitles!

Still Game
-- A raunchy, male, Scottish old-person show. Funny and poignant, and good for a few seasons.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
-- Scientology revealed. It is weirder and more horrifying than I ever imagined.

Finders Keepers
-- A man finds an old grill at an auction. Inside the grill: a human leg. This starts out as weird but comedic, but becomes an examination of class, drugs, lawsuits, and the illusion of celebrity. Really interesting.

Manson Family Vacation
-- A familiar movie trope -- the uptight, responsible adult and the immature, fuck-up sibling -- plus a road trip, with a Manson Family theme. A decent little film, and less predictable than one might expect.

Brooklyn 9-9, S3
-- Still really funny!

Morse
-- While recuperating after the strike, I watched the entire Morse series. It's slow-moving, but brilliant.

The Murdoch Mysteries, S10
-- Still watching! Still enjoying it.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
-- Completely crass, tasteless, and ridiculous, and usually very funny. The comparisons to Seinfeld are obvious, but this would be Jerry's crack-addicted, sex-offender distant cousin. I watched a few seasons before my US Netflix disappeared (again).

Bones, S1-5
-- After The Good Wife and Suits, this is my latest binge-watch. Good detective work, great characters, and has really deepened emotionally. Featuring great recurring roles for both Stephen Fry and Ryan O'Neal.

Marcella
-- A dark, twisty, sometimes confusing murder mystery, which owes a lot to Prime Suspect. Worth seeing if you're into that. Good for fans of The Fall, although nowhere near as good.

The Killing, S1
-- Parts of this were excellent, comparable to S1 of Broadchurch. But the plot holes, fercrissakes! Enjoyed one season but definitely not continuing.



Dear Valued Employee

So began a letter -- mid-strike -- from the library director to our members. Tone-deaf and clueless, it was a low point in labour relations!

The letter did contain a redeeming quality: it strengthened our solidarity. These movies are pretty awful, but they each contain some scrap of value.

American Hustle
-- This has all the markers of a film I should love, and I really wanted to love it. Instead, I found it stiff, bloated, and way too long, plus suffering from an intrusive soundtrack. It's better than a 2, but not quite a 3.

Everybody Wants Some!!
-- The long-awaited sequel to 1993's "Dazed and Confused" is really just a showcase of 1980 college "types".  There are some nice moments, but after all the hype, what a disappointment.

Breaking Bad
-- Everyone says this is a great series. I liked it at first, but quickly found it too non-believable, almost silly.

Ricki and the Flash
-- This was a perfectly serviceable redemption movie with some rock and roll thrown in. It has a great cast and avoids the worst of the many cliches inherent in the material. And then -- it falls off a cliff. The ending is so bad, so completely, cringingly awful, that it pulls the whole movie down the stupid hole with it. Absolutely, amazingly bad.

Born to be Blue
-- String together a bunch of jazz cliches, add Ethan Hawke. Hawke's presence saves this from the scrap heap.

Danny Collins
-- Not unlike Meryl Streep and Ethan Hawke in the two movies above, Al Pacino turns in a performance worth seeing. But yawn. Yet another movie where the main character is a self-centered boor, has been that way all his life and through 90% of the movie, then makes a miraculous transformation and is redeemed -- for no discernible reason.

The Tribe
-- Set in a home for deaf children, filmed with no dialogue or subtitles, this movie is dark, gripping, and very interesting -- for a while. Then it becomes impossible to figure out characters' motivations or what is going on. Cool idea, but it didn't work.

Green Room
-- We loved "Blue Ruin", this director's earlier film, so had high hopes for a taut, suspenseful thriller. Alas, this turned out to be a contrived locked-in-a-room-together horror flick.

The Martian
-- Shipwrecked sailor, forced to survive on ingenuity, guts, and humour -- a familiar tale translated into space. There were some nice moments, like when the whole world cheers together. But honestly, I was bored.

Twenty Feet from Stardom
-- This documentary about backup singers could have been great. There were a few fascinating glimpses into a world that is usually invisible. But so much of it is unfocused, meaningless, filler. There were some interesting tidbits, plus you get to hear an isolated track of Merry Clayton on "Gimme Shelter".

Star Trek: Voyager
-- This is the second time I've tried this series. The first time, I watched three episodes. This time I made it through eight. It's heavy on the nuts-and-bolts sci-fi, which I don't really like, and light on the emotional content, which I do. Well, I tried.




Precarious Work

There's nothing good about precarious work. These movies are a must to avoid.

Misconduct
-- Blackmail, corruption, bad writing, and bad acting.

This Must Be the Place
-- I really like Sean Penn, so I was completely surprised by his terrible performance in this movie. And yay, a character finds redemption and completely changes! For no reason! Yet again!

Entertainment
-- Only after seeing this movie did I learn that actor/comedian (?) Gregg Turkington has a stage persona called Neil Hamburger, and that this film was a vehicle for that unlikeable character. Maybe if you already know and understand the backstory, this film works? Assuming you are not interested in Turkington/Hamburger, it is just absolutely dreadful.

The Mindy Project, S3
-- I really liked S1 and S2, despite some clunkers. This was just unwatchable. Wow.

best of wmtc, 2016 edition

Even though I don't blog very much anymore, my editor still manages to find some highlights.

Best of wmtc, 2016 edition.

4.08.2017

disrupt and transform: 2017 cupe ontario library workers conference

The 2017 CUPE Ontario Library Workers Conference was a very special event for the Mississauga Library Workers Union. Over the course of two days, our 2016 strike and the great gains we made for our members were celebrated from the podium again and again. In the same way, the tremendous perseverance and solidarity shown by the Essex County Library Workers -- on strike for a stunning eight months -- were noted, applauded, cheered, and celebrated, again and again. For the 1989 executive board, it was a joyous event.

The theme of this year's conference was Disrupt and Transform -- which is exactly what our strikes did. They transformed our union, our relationship with our employer, and ourselves.



Library Warriors!

We were welcomed by CUPE Ontario Library Chair Maureen O'Reilly, who is president of Local 4948, Toronto Public Library Workers, and by Chad Goebel, Vice President of Windsor District CUPE Council. Amanda Meloche, President of the Windsor Public Library Workers Union, noted: “It's not just Essex and Mississauga that have Library Warriors. We're all Library Warriors!” Very true!

Keynote speaker Desmond Cole began by talking about his love for libraries, and how, when he was growing up, the local library was his second home. He remembers carrying a book bag, and his mother's rule that he could borrow as many books as fit in the bag; every week the bag would be overflowing. For many conference participants, this was the first time they had heard Desmond speak, and most were entranced. He's a truly engaging speaker with a powerful message.

Desmond has been instrumental in shining a light on racism in Canada, especially racist policing practices. He said he was touched and very proud that his article in Toronto Life magazine -- The Skin I'm In -- was featured in our conference book.

Desmond talked about how collective action can have a direct impact -- how it changes our lives and our society. Recently Desmond called a ministry office to urge them to stop a deportation. A family was being broken up, and a woman, eight months pregnant, was being forced to risk her health by flying. The ministry representative said to Desmond, "What makes you think you speak for Canadians?" Within minutes, Desmond was on Twitter, reaching out to the community, asking supporters -- for whom he does speak -- to call the ministry. Result: the woman was not deported. The family remained intact. When we are organized and mobilized, we can disrupt the status quo, and transform the world.

Lori Wightman, head of the Essex County Library Workers, and I, as president of CUPE 1989, each made presentations about our locals' strikes.
Members of Locals 1989 and 2974 were
honoured onstage.

Lori talked about the huge community support their union built, how they faced down the Essex Council, and how the devious, union-busting tactics of the Council will be remembered at election time. It was no surprise, later in the conference, when Lori was elected to the CUPE Ontario Library Workers Committee. I look forward to working with her!

I talked about how we built member engagement, strengthened our labour-management meetings, and took a new approach at the bargaining table. These factors, working together synergistically, paved the way for our successful strike.

I also listed the great gains we made. There are the tangible gains, like bringing our pages from slightly more than minimum wage to $15/hour in one leap and preventing our part-timers from being forced to work every Saturday. And there are many intangible gains, such as the strength and solidarity we built, and the confidence and courage our members gained when they found their voices, stood up, and fought back.

We also screened our awesome strike video! If you've never seen it -- or if you haven't seen it in a while -- why not watch it now?


Chris Taylor, President of Unifor Local 200, talked about the historic Windsor Ford Strike of 1945, which led directly to the Rand Formula. Chris emphasized -- he warned us -- about the so-called "Right to Work" legislation that has spread through the United States, leaving depressed wages and increased poverty in its wake.

If Tim Hudak's Progressive Conservative Party had won the last provincial election, our ability to run our unions could have been destroyed. Hudak was defeated through the mobilization of the Canadian labour movement. Chris' talk was an excellent reminder that we must always be vigilant. Our rights don't protect themselves.

A little library humour -- and a great honour.
Local reports are always a highlight of the conference. Hearing about the struggles and successes of other library unions renews our commitment and bolsters our strength. We are all dealing with the same issues, but our contracts vary widely. By sharing information, we all grow stronger at the bargaining table.

It was my great honour to introduce Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario. I recalled Fred's tireless support during our strike, and how he helped bring the City of Mississauga back to the bargaining table, while still respecting our local's autonomy and supporting our demands. Fred, I said, is the embodiment of why we call each other brother and sister.


Fred's talk was typically moving. He talked about libraries as collectives -- people working together to bring our shared, public resources to people who need them. He reminded us of the silver linings of a strike -- the bonds it creates, and yes, the fun we had! And he noted that the record number of strikes throughout Ontario in the past year made him proud. That's how you know Fred is a true unionist.

Fred reminded us that there’s nothing wrong with being aggressive when defending the rights of our members: when you're on the right side of the question, you are right to keep fighting!

Both Fred and Candace Rennick, Secretary-Treasurer of CUPE Ontario, emphasized the need for solidarity with other striking locals. Right now, workers from a Children's Aid Society are locked out by their employer, and the members of the Canadian Hearing Society workers' union are fighting harsh concessions, after being without a contract for four long years. I join Fred and Candace in urging you to support these locals however you can: there's information here.

At one point during the Conference, members from the Mississauga and Essex County libraries were called on stage to be honoured. In a bit of library humour, Lori Wightman and I were given some gifts, including a Wonder Woman action figure and a play crown. It was very funny -- and very touching.

The CUPE 1989 Executive Board thanks our members for giving us the opportunity to attend this excellent conference. We know our union will benefit from it in many ways.