Vanity.

I thought I was free from it. Or, at the very least, I thought I fought hard against succumbing to it. But I’m not so sure about that anymore. It’s like acid burning through armor. It’s like horse blinders that keep me infatuated with one thing: my own fortune.

And what a miserable fortune it is!

It stares back at me with a sly grin, knowing its effects on me. It feeds on itself every single time I look down at the phone to check for the signal — for that validation in zeros and ones. It taunts me, knowing I revile it, yet beg it to stay close by.

It destroys what it loves most, just so that I can call on it some more. It loves pain. But it doesn’t feel it; it just lives it. Completely unbeknownst to its host. But it’s there: Feeding on the last few memories that come across the cables of information and life.

And it’s there because it knows we tried to escape. Because we grew our wings before they were given to us. So now it attacks us at every moment it gets, and it tries to drown us whenever we try to forget.

What’s left to do….but fight The Beast.

Though I know while I do, I’ll feed it, too.

Labour Movement Asks Youth for Help

Originally Published March 18, 2014.

Santiago Escobar is driving back from St. Catharines to Toronto. Riding shotgun is his friend and union colleague, Pablo Godoy, the national representative for the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW).

They’re returning home from Brock University, where they spent the last 10 hours talking with 300 students about the plight of migrant workers. On this particular day, they began at 8 a.m., and it’s just after six in the evening when Godoy answers the phone. He explains they’ve just finished their third presentation of the day and that they have nearly a month left to go of this.

Pablo Godoy attends Women Works and Union class at Brock University

Pablo Godoy attends Women Works and Union class at Brock University
Photo courtesy of S.A.M.E.

Godoy and Escobar are co-ordinators at Students Against Migrant Exploitation, a program begun by UFCW in 2010 to raise awareness about migrant workers’ rights. Their visit to Brock was part of a 30-day tour across campuses in Ontario just for that purpose, which began on Feb. 27.

“We talk to students about the…living and working conditions (of migrant workers),” says Godoy. “We try to get young people interested so they start their own chapters, build awareness, fundraisers, etc.”

It’s also one of the many strategies unions are using to reel in younger members, hoping they’ll join the labour movement and give it new life.

Put simply, Godoy says, the problem is that our population is aging. That means the labour force is, and will be, driven by new generations of workers that either bring new perspectives into the movement or allow it to die.

“Young people have energy and drive,” says Godoy, who is 28. “So even if we didn’t engage them, they’d eventually find a way to organize themselves. But unions…need to find ways to integrate them because of the energy and creativity they can imbue the labour movement with.”

The UFCW is campaigning to capitalize on the armies of unemployed and frustrated young people desperate to make a quick buck. But it’s also aiming for those already working in places with no unions and seeking help.

For instance, at an H&M store, a retail clothing shop, UFCW members helped a group of employees organize. The employees had reached out to them, says Godoy, because of problems they were having with their boss.

“We only provided them the know-how. They exposed themselves and put their feet out there and risked reprimands from the employers all by themselves,” he said.

About 40 per cent of UFCW members are under 30 years old. Many work in retail, and many also occupy posts at the union’s national office, Godoy says. All of this is an advantage, but also one of the main reasons why they have the resources – namely time and energy – to run around campuses and high schools recruiting potential members.

It’s also why Godoy and Escobar are travelling tirelessly across the province.

Yet, they’re not alone.

While the UFCW hits the road, Unifor, the recently merged mega-union between the CAW and CEP, has set its sights closer to home.

Internal outreach

Currently, Statistics Canada estimates about 14 per cent of 15-to-24-year-olds in Ontario are unemployed – twice the national average.

That’s apart from all those people bouncing from place to place in precarious work – temporary agency work, contracts and short- or part-time leave positions. Unifor is trying to target these sectors through Community Chapters.

“It’s associate membership,” said Angelo DiCaro, Unifor national young worker’s liaison.

People working in these types of temporary jobs, or even in between jobs, can band together and apply to become a community chapter.

“We’ve provided a platform for these people to come together,” said DiCaro. “They pay a nominal dues fee, but they get the full benefits of being in the union” – everything from information and education on union politics to benefits and collective bargaining power.

One of these chapters – Unifaith – is in London. It’s the country’s first union for clergy. So far, this is only the second of two chapters formed, “but dozens more are coming,” assured DiCaro.

There’s also a national Young Workers program that has set up youth committees across the country. Jim Reid, president of Local 27, in London, said one will be formed here over the next couple of months.

“You’ll see more focus doing outreach…to young workers but…also calling for regulation for (temporary) agency work, where a lot of young workers are starting out,” said Reid.

DiCaro said Unifor is also looking internally to educate existing members about the history of the movement and about ways to get active within the union.

“It’s reaching out to young members, so they can play an active role in building the union themselves…by impressing upon them the importance of… (coming) to meetings,” he said.

Pablo Godoy (top right) with three of the six team members who presented at McMaster University.

Pablo Godoy (top right) with three of the six team members who presented at McMaster University.
Photo courtesy of S.A.M.E.

Part of this effort involves a week-long, biannual young worker’s conference in Port Elgin, Ont., as well as a labour studies course offered at McMaster University, exclusively for Unifor members.

DiCaro is confident the results of this outreach are clear and evident.

“The role we play is transformative,” he said. “Members run campaigns, connect with the community…Some have gone on to become community activists… (Others) run for city council positions…and in federal ridings.”

Of course, the road to full integration is still long.

Overlooking associations

During the Founder’s Day celebrations at Western University, in London, Ont., one Saturday, a couple of adjunct professors took to Twitter to vent their frustrations over issues of low pay and job insecurity.

In an article in the Western Gazette, the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association confirmed these are important issues to be debated in upcoming negotiations with the university.

Unifor’s community chapters are trying to reach people like these professors, who are in unstable jobs, but some people argue that unions have failed to connect with the associations already representing them.

D.W. Livingstone, Canada research chair in lifelong learning and work at the University of Toronto, said one reason for this oversight is the huge change in the class composition of the labour force. The number of professional employees is growing while the base of industrial workers is shrinking. This means that more people consider themselves middle class and therefore decrease their support for the rights of the working class, he said.

Livingstone said although unions are “doing the best they can under the circumstances,” he would like to see them doing more to tap into these largely ignored organizations.

“Many professional employees, technologists and technicians, have not traditionally seen themselves as eligible for labour unions,” he said. “The reality now is that about 20 per cent of the Canadian labour force is in associations… (that) are becoming economic collective bargaining organizations… But the trade union movement has largely ignored (them).”

Yet, the fact remains that unions are aware of their apparent middle-age crisis, and they are doing everything they can to reinvent themselves.

The point is, young is in.

The importance of youth

As a teenager, Pablo Godoy became interested in joining the union at Loblaws because of a problem he was having with his boss. When he found out the place was unionized, he joined.

By 17, he played an active role in UFCW’s talking union program, which took young union reps into stores and schools to talk about unions and working rights. At 23, he became one of the youngest national representatives at UFCW.

Godoy’s enthusiasm for youth activism is unmistakable.

“It’s important to understand how important, enthusiastic, creative and capable the student mass and young people as a whole are,” he says, as he makes his way back to Toronto to finally get some rest for the day. “That’s not just unions but any type of social movement.”

Like many other labour leaders, he makes sure to point out that the issue with young people today is not that they are apathetic to the labour movement, but simply lack understanding of it. “A lot of young people don’t have the information for their organization,” he says, “or know that you actually have rights.”

That’s why he is so enthusiastic about Students Against Migrant Exploitation, because he’s seen what providing this information to students can do. Last year, more than 100 students from an alternative high school in Toronto set up the first-ever high-school chapter to talk to students about migrant worker’s rights.

“So you see pockets of students and young people really interested and informed, that really want to make a difference….But there are (many) that just don’t get this information….As a student in high school, I never learned about my rights at a workplace.”

Message of an elementary student from a workshop held last year.

Message of an elementary student from a workshop held last year.
Photo courtesy of S.A.M.E.

 

That’s why Godoy says for the labour movement to survive, it’s important to get them young. To educate them before they enter the labour force. And, more importantly, to teach them where they came from.

“A lot of workers today take for granted the things they have, including their breaks, vacations, Canada Pension Plan, employment insurance,” he says.

“It goes unnoticed and unappreciated that those things came from somewhere, and that if we don’t fight to keep them, they will be very easily rescinded and taken back.”

 

Terry Glavin to the Canadian Left: ‘Put ‘Em Up! These Are Fightin’ Words!’ – A Lesson in What Journalism Isn’t

The first paragraph of Terry Glavin’s op-ed piece in the Ottawa Citizen titled ‘Venezuela and the Canadian Left,’ reads something like the opening scene in the 1998 film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which takes off like a rocket, as a drug-addled journalist and his attorney zoom through the desert in a convertible towards Vegas. Glavin’s opening paragraph reads just like that scene, minus the drugs but with 68 words chock-full of paranoia, panic, an alarming tone and inflammatory language about high inflation rates, food shortages and chaos: Fear and Loathing, indeed.

He concludes that first paragraph with what sounds like a caped villain in a bad opera who thinks he sees his enemy get his comeuppance: “Maybe,” he says, as he twirls the tips of his moustache between his finger tips, “the glorious Bolivarian revolution we’ve been hearing about all these years isn’t quite proceeding so splendidly after all.” BUAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

But how wrong is Terry Glavin!

Venezuela isn’t “convulsing in riots” over food shortages and high inflation rates, as dear Glavin would like us to believe. In fact, Mark Weisbrot, who has been there (or perhaps more likely still is), dispels those myths popularly peddled in the Canadian media, in a piece he wrote for the The Guardian.

Weisbrot writes:

Major media outlets have already reported that Venezuela’s poor have not joined the right-wing opposition protests, but that is an understatement: it’s not just the poor who are abstaining – in Caracas, it’s almost everyone outside of a few rich areas like Altamira, where small groups of protesters engage in nightly battles with security forces, throwing rocks and firebombs and running from tear gas. (emphasis added.)

Weisbrot’s article explains in a bit more detail the issue of inflation, pointing out the monthly inflation actually began to fall on February, and that the return on government bonds were actually “the highest returns in the Bloomberg dollar emerging market bond index” that same month. It also explains that shortages are mainly affecting the poor, because the residents of the areas where the real protests are happening, he says, “have servants to stand in line for what they need, and they have the income and storage space to accumulate some inventory.”

Whether you believe him or not, Weisbrot’s reporting –his assessment of what is going on from the ground — substantiates facts with some context and analysis. With Balance. Journalism 101.

But not Glavin, it seems. He’s on a different kind of trip, perhaps confident because he’s on the op-ed section and can therefore let loose.
Glavin goes on for the next few paragraphs in the same manner as before — totally unhinged, like a tweaker on a speed binge determined to infect everybody at the party with his derangement. In one sentence 46-words-long he manages to insult the dead memory of Chavez, calling him an “unhinged caudillo,” and then brings into the mix Sean Penn, Oliver Stone, Moammar Ghadafi, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Naomi Campbell and Susan Sarandon. The man is clearly on a mission, and everything he says gives him that kind of distinct you’d-better-join-or-get-the-fuck-out-of-the-way feel about him.

Finally, five paragraphs into the beast, Glavin gets to the point…or rather, gets if off his chest:

In Canada, El Commandante’s fan base carries on, goose-steeping in and out of the mouldering crypts of Israel Apartheid Week, Hands Off Iran and Canada-Cuba friendship clubs, moaning obediently into megaphones about CIA plots, Yanqui imperialism and whatever other cribbings they can manage to remember from that column the Toronto Star’s Linda McQuaig wrote after Chavez died last year, the one where Chavez shows up as “a feisty mix of Robin Hood, Che Guevara and Michael Bublé.”

I don’t think it’s necessary to explain why this is not what any sort of journalism — conventional or not — sounds like. A supposedly and presumably impartial journalist does not attack legitimate movements, groups of solidarity and support, as a “fan base” that’s “goose-steeping” around other clubs; it does not associate legitimate calls for international solidarity and personal convictions with “moaning obediently into megaphones” and yelling out “cribbings” half-remembered from a year ago. In short, it does not insult the people or the events it is covering.

Glavin then puts his sight on President Nicolas Maduro, who he blames for a number of charges including “subjecting all dissenters to harassment, bullying and persecution, resorting increasingly to the ministrations of motorcycle-gang paramilitaries and arrest-warrant fabrications involving treason, CIA collaboration and subversion.” He, of course, does not substantiate any of this with any other sources or documents other than his very own words, which he spews with fire and brimstone.

For instance, had he taken his time to calm his nerves, perhaps step away from the screen and clear his head, or have a drink, he would’ve read a report by the Organization of American States — the very organization Washington’s Secretary of State, John Kerry, appealed to asking for intervention to stop Maduro’s terrible crackdown — which instead applauded Maduro’s efforts for peace and expressed solidarity with his government.

The March 7, 2014 Statement reads, in part:

The Permanent Council hereby declares:… Its appreciation, full support, and encouragement for the initiatives and the efforts of the democratically-elected Government of Venezuela and all political, economic, and social sectors to continue to move forward with the process of national dialogue towards political and social reconciliation, in the framework of full respect by all democratic actors for the constitutional guarantees of all. (emphasis added.)

Do your research. That’s another fundamental lesson our university professors cannot get tired of drilling into us. And it’s simple now, what with the Internet and all those search engines.

But Glavin stands his ground. Damn you and your technology! I got intuition! What else could he be thinking, right?

He goes back to belittling the members of the grassroots group Hugo Chavez People’s Defense Front as “undead legionnaires” who only managed to catch this professional journalist’s eye because they were “far outnumbered in Dundas Square by scores of lively young Venezuelan ex-pats who had gathered there to demonstrate their solidarity with the student-led protest movement back home.”

Of course, once again, Glavin fails to mention that this so-called “student-led protest movement back home” is being headed by the minority of students that belong to the middle classes. The majority of students, who belong to the working classes, and who are not protesting, though they are demonstrating and continuing their every-day activities and community project, would be worth mentioning when speaking of students and “lively young Venezuelan ex-pats.”

Glavin also fails to mention what Weisbrot actually noticed about the students protesting when he was there: that “these people are not hurting. Their income has grown at a healthy pace since the Chávez government got control of the oil industry a decade ago.”

Glavin also doesn’t mention that the protestors are the ones who have rigged such ingenious and peaceful protesting tools like barbed wire extended across a street. The peaceful plan unfortunately backfired when an unsuspecting motorcyclist had his head severed from his neck this past February.

But it might not be all Glavin’s fault. Just doing a Google Search does, indeed, prove hard to find any mainstream news articles talking about it.

In any case, once you finally digest all the words on the first page, the second one comes by and seals the deal, so to speak.

***

Here, Glavin finally introduces some voices into the reportage other than his own, though you wouldn’t be faulted for confusing them. Much like Glavin, Montrealer Sylvia Guimarey, “a pro-democracy activist in Venezuela’s Canadian diaspora” is also baffled at the quintessential question: “Just why (does) Bolivarianism still hold such sway over so many Canadians who fancy themselves to be ‘progressive’?”

““Why?” Guimary asked…“Why is it taking so long for Canadians to understand that this is a total autocratic system now?”

Another activist in Montreal, Daniela Becerra, part of SOS Venezuela Montreal, “is similarly stumped.” But his writing doesn’t necessarily make it clear who’s the one thinking “(s)ome of the pro-government activity in Canada is clearly coming from such Caracas-supported initiatives as the Centro Cultural Simón Bolívar, run out of the Venezuelan consulate in Montreal.”

In notoriously Glavin fashion, we are also not told why this is “clearly” the case. Perhaps it’s because we, the readers, should just admit that we are too stupid to realize the obvious, and that’s why he doesn’t attribute that sentence to anyone or any organization in particular. Yeah, what any journalist worth his salt would do.

Glavin then manages to, in one broad stroke, paint all people who sympathize with the political left as ignorant boobs who follow something but “don’t have a clue” why.

And finally, to conclude his maddening trip, Glavin leaves his Canadian readers who have the audacity to sympathize with the left, with one last piece of advice: support the protestors, because they are “fighting for democratic institutional reform,” lest you become what he apparently despises most — “the radical-chic mélange that passes for the “Left” in Canada.”

And there you have it. An honest and raw account into the heart of everything journalism is not, as seen through Glavin’s defiant and honest fightin’ words.