Cover Art C/O Razan Samara

100 years after the Winnipeg general strike, the Workers Arts and Heritage Center is encouraging us to critically reflect on what we do and do not know about one of the most influential strikes in Canadian history.

In May of 1919, 35 000 workers walked off the job to protest unfair working conditions and mass inequality. The strike culminated in Bloody Saturday, when state representatives killed two protestors and arrested 84. The strike lead to a massive wave of strikes across Canada and paved the way for future reforms.

WAHC’s Massive Disruption exhibition commemorates the Winnipeg General Strike through a series of events running from May 1 to Aug. 16. At the core of WAHC’s programming is Michael DiRisio’s Archiving Unrest exhibition, which encourages audiences to engage with archival documentation of the general strike.

DiRisio was interested in working with displaying the WAHC archives because of the organic structure that, according to DiRisio, is more indicative of the nature of collective action than hierarchically structured, well-ordered government archives. DiRisio notes that WAHC’s collection mandate changes over time, and the archive responds to the community as items are sourced for projects and pieces are donated.

“It’s people and groups that have intersected with this building in this organization at different times and what they’ve left and what’s been absorbed through that,” said DiRisio.

Archives on display at the Archiving Unrest exhibit

The Archiving Unrest exhibition brings the archives to the forefront, allowing viewers to engage in snippets of the collection displayed in works of photography and video.

In displaying the archives, the exhibition also asks us to consider what they leave out. Often times, retellings of history highlight the contributions and accomplishments of individual leaders. In reality, says DiRisio, it is the work of collectives that drive social and political movements.

“We have a very hero oriented culture where we tend to latch on to or focus on these heroes,” said DiRisio. “It can give you some glimpse of a fraction of what was happening, but it leaves most people out; it leaves so much of the conversation out.”

The Massive Disruption exhibition casts the spotlight away from individual leaders, instead highlighting the collective power of the 35 000 workers who walked off the job in the Winnipeg general strike.

A large part of this, says DiRisio, means understanding the motivations and desires of the strikers. The exhibition shows microfilm displaying labour news leading up to and following the strike, chronicling the underlying inequality and indignity of work that prompted mass unrest.

Part of the modular library featured in the Archiving Unrest exhibition

WAHC’s programming works to examine the underlying motivations and causes for unrest and connect them to conditions that persist today. Continuing on the focus on collective action, the exhibition creates space for audiences to engage in critical discussion about what it means to gather and organize.

The exhibition hosts weekly reading groups based on texts that focus on themes of collective organizing and group dynamics. People are invited to make use of the modular library, which holds a collection of texts focused on labour history and collective organizing.

“There aren’t a lot of chances outside of school to talk about these kinds of theoretical, philosophical questions about gathering or crowds or publics,” noted DiRisio. “And so I’m looking forward to different discussions, but also super open to what different people bring to it.”

Each reading group is hosted by a different community organizer who use the strike commemoration as a jumping off point to discuss collective action, injustice and group dynamics more broadly.

The strong focus on public dialogue is part of WAHC’s larger strategy to encourage community engagement. According to WAHC executive director Florencia Berinstein, one of WAHC’s central goals is to appeal to the public that is not typically made to feel welcome in cultural institutions.

“Our school of thought at WAHC is in order to engage with the ideas that we’re putting out there, or with any subject matter, we need to program around it to animate those ideas so that people will find the hooks,” said Berinstein.

By encouraging public dialogue and critically examining history, WAHC aims to commemorate the past while looking forward at the same time.

“What is the legacy of the Winnipeg general strike today in our contemporary culture?” asks Berinstein? “What are the lessons that we can take from the Winnipeg general strike but actually apply them to what’s happening today?”

Photo C/O Repair Café Toronto

By: Anastasia Richards

Our lifestyles tend to be disposable. Many of us are prone to throwing things away and replacing them without thinking twice about it. We reach for simplicity and convenience, regardless of the consequences.

The Repair Café, a grassroots organization based in Toronto, will be hosting their first event in Hamilton at the Worker’s Arts and Heritage Centre as part of the ongoing Division of Labour exhibit. Set to take place on March 30 from 1 to 4 p.m., the workshop will gather community members to learn how to fix things together and address sustainability.

The Repair Café launched in Amsterdam in May 2009. The philosophies of the event are all linked to promoting sustainability, helping out your neighbours and getting to know others in the community. In 2013, there was a small group of citizens in Toronto that heard of the event in Amsterdam and wanted to bring it to the greater Toronto area.

“Whether it be… electronics, sewing and mending, small motor repair, carpentry. Individuals that have the skill set come to the café, usually held in public spaces such as libraries or community centres and they teach people how to repair on their own,” explained Suzanne Carte, curator of the Division of Labour Exhibit at the Worker’s Arts and Heritage Centre.

Not only does the Repair Café provide you with the opportunity to learn to be handy, it provides an opportunity to meet people in your community. While you wait on your repair or even if you just want to stop by and see what it’s all about, you can get to know your fellow neighbours.

“With that, there may be some intergenerational conversation…talking about an object will lead to one’s life, uses for said object, storytelling and all of that. It's about building community and skill sharing too,” said Carte.

We live in an age where disposal and replacement are all too easy. Many of us are far too keen on replacing things once they’re slightly damaged. The Repair Café workshops aim to challenge this notion by facilitating an opportunity for people to learn how to be handy, as part of a community and on their own.

The workshops also aim to challenge gender roles that are present within the context of the work associated with repairs. The Repair Café creates an environment where preconceived notions about gender, such as who can sew and knit or do small-motor repairs, can be addressed and broken down.

The Repair Café wishes to create a comfortable and inviting atmosphere so that even those who do not want to come and get something fixed can still feel compelled to attend and be a part of the community. As an example, Carte will be bringing her iron.

“I could probably go and find out how to do it via a digital platform, but I really want to be able to sit down with a person who can take me through the steps, answer any questions that I have in how to better care and serve this object that then services me,” said Carte.

Attending the Repair Café will provide her with an opportunity to collaborate with others in her community, share stories with them, exchange knowledge and extend the lifetime of her appliance.

The Repair Café hopes to change people’s mindset. Every contribution helps to improve our sustainability practices and it can all begin by learning how to fix the little things.

 

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Photos by Kyle West

By: Drew Simpson

The Division of Labour exhibit portrays sustainable ways of creating art while also looking at the difficulties of creating a sustainable art career. Housed in the Workers Arts and Heritage Centre’s main gallery space until April 20 and accompanied by a panel discussion, Division of Labour warns of the scarcity of resources, labour rights and living wages of artists.

Division of Labour also serves as an educational tool to communicate and start discourse around the issues regarding sustainability. The Socio-Economic Status of Artists in the greater Toronto and Hamilton area discussion, which was facilitated by Divisions of Labour curator, Suzanne Carte, and included panelists Sally Lee, Michael Maranda and Angela Orasch, encouraged artists to be vocal and seek action.

“People want to be around artists, but they really don’t. If they were living in the reality that a lot of artists are living in, it would not be favourable. What they want is the pseudo creative lifestyle. They want to be around beautiful things and smart people, but they don’t really want to be assisting with making sure artists are making a living wage and that artists are being supported financially,” explained Carte.

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For emerging artists, this exhibits presents a valuable learning experience as it informs them of community issues. This topic is particularly important since emerging artists are often asked to work for free, often under a pretense that the work will add to their portfolios or lead to exposure. However, Carte argues that asking artists to work for free devalues the work they do.  

“Because you are emerging, and because you’re new to the practice does not mean that any institution, organization or individual business, whatever it might be, can take advantage of you and use it as exposure… it’s not about gaining experience — I can gain experience on the job. I can gain experience while being compensated for what I do,” explained Carte.

While Carte encourages individuals to stand up for themselves, she understands that many artists may not be in a position to be able to reject sparse opportunities. She, alongside the panelists at the discussions, further discussed ways emerging and established artists can fight for their rights.

Lee gave an overview of organizations and advocacy groups that focus on bettering labour and housing situations and are making communities aware of gentrification and the living experiences of artists in Hamilton and Toronto.

Maranda added that lobbying for bigger grants or funding is not enough. The community also needs to be advocating for the improvement of artists’ economic status through establishing a basic or minimum hourly wage, affordable rent and transportation.

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Recently, Maranda was a quantitative researcher for the Waging Culture survey. The survey investigated home ownership in Hamilton compared to Toronto. Maranda concluded that Hamilton artists are less reliant on the private market and contribute more to the public art community.  

The survey also suggested an artist migration from Toronto to Hamilton due to Hamilton’s lower rent and higher artist home ownership. This leads to a domino effect as real estate agents and developers follow the migration and aid gentrification.

Orasch stated that real estate agents and developers have secretly attended similar panel discussions. The panelists speculated they do so to learn how to market housing to artists. However, the overall sentiment was that they crossed into an artist-designated space to further exploit artists.

“Developers are taking advantage of the language that we have been able to construct for ourselves, to be able to be attractive to other artists or other individuals who feel as though they want an “artsy” experience out of life,” explained Carte.

Lee emphasized how all these surveys and discussions need to reach key decision makers. The Division of Labour exhibit and the panelists at the discussion have repeatedly stressed that talk is merely educational, the true goal is action and change.  

 

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By: Takhliq Amir

On Jan. 1 of this year, Ontario’s general minimum wage, in accordance with Bill 148, Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, saw what is considered a somewhat drastic rise from $11.60 an hour to $14 an hour.

As a student who has held various work positions over the past few years, I was nervous due to the predictions that such a minimum wage hike would shrink the economy or cost vulnerable populations, including youth like post-secondary students or recent graduates, our ability to find good jobs.   

When the bill went into effect at the start of the year, news of a Tim Hortons in Cobourg cutting its workers’ benefits and other branches asking their employees to pay for uniforms or turn in their tips began to emerge. Such stories, as well as concerns raised by small businesses even before the change occurred, seemed to only propagate the fear that now seemed to be coming true. Although McMaster made changes to its part-time wage grid to reflect the new minimum wage and continued its policy of paying part-time staff 15 cents higher at minimum, my first thought was to question whether McMaster would be hiring fewer students as a result moving forward.

Tied to the Ontario government’s current theme of fairness for all, the ideal vision for the new labour law is to stimulate economic activity by increasing consumer spending — after all, what will individuals do other than spend the extra money they earn? This, in turn, is expected to lead to job creation and offset some of the expected loss in employment, a logic that some are still finding hard to grasp.

It remains a question whether academic institutions moving forward will cut positions, especially independent researchers whose capacity to hire students depends on the funding they have received for their projects.

The tight timeline has led to understandable anger and agitation, even pushing some employers to either implement or consider drastic changes. Some have suggested replacing temporary workers with “higher paid, more productive” employees or, alternatively, introducing automation to reduce the need for human capital where possible. Others have expressed concern in their ability to keep on workers, stating that they don’t want to fire their employees but are unable to keep all of them at a higher minimum wage when their budgets are often limited and their profits modest.

I can see that these fears aren’t irrational. However, this issue remains one largely created by the way that it has been painted in the media even more so than any large-scale impact it has had in such a short time. For instance, variable projections were made about how many jobs would be lost due to this law.

The impact of the new minimum wage is supposed to be negligible at a macroeconomic level, with these numbers equalling the number of fewer jobs that might be created as opposed to the number of jobs lost. A slight technicality, but it does mean a difference.

While the bill seems to have its merits and faults, perhaps a valid argument is made by individuals who believe that it creates greater barriers for those who don’t. This includes the vulnerable populations this bill aims to help, including youth or new immigrants who may already be having a tough time finding work.

While McMaster hasn’t necessarily made any cuts to the number of positions open to students, it remains a question whether academic institutions moving forward will cut positions, especially independent researchers whose capacity to hire students depends on the funding they have received for their projects.

However, it’s too early to label this as a failure. Doesn’t it seem sensible to assume that those who do have work positions may just help grow the economy simply because $14 (and $15 soon) sounds a lot better than $11.60? The main voice of opposition has been the small businesses, but the individual perspectives have largely been silent, most of whom stand to benefit from an increased wage.

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(For more information on this story please visit the original Spectator story here by Susan Clairmont. )

Last Friday Jan. 28, McMaster flew its flags at half-mast in honour of the death of Ljubica Savic. Ljubica Savic was a McMaster cleaner, a mother of two, and a Croatian immigrant. On Jan. 20, she died of cancer at Juravinski Hospital. I was saddened to hear of her passing, but angry to see such a short post in the university’s Daily News sharing this news. And I want to tell you why.   

Last year, Ljubica Savic complained to the university that her supervisor, Godson Okwulehie, had physically assaulted her during a late-night shift. She claimed that he had yelled at her and then proceeded to physically harass her. The university dismissed her allegation against Okwulehie, and he continued to work for the custodian services at McMaster. Human resources and the security department did not report the incident to the police.

With the help of the Building Union of Canada that currently represents some workers at Mac, she laid a private charge against him in court. Unfortunately, because of her death, she was not able to testify and all the charges against him will be dropped.

Since Savic was brave enough to come forward, an internal security report conducted by McMaster found that since 2000 there have been ten individual complaints against the same supervisor by women who worked for him, creating a pattern of sexual and physical harassment.

The university released a report last year that stated that the female cleaners thought that these allegations had not been addressed properly. The supervisor is only now on leave, and a McMaster spokesperson says there are no plans for his return. These allegations are not proven in court. And because of Savic’s death, Okwulehie will not face his day in court, and maintains that all allegations are false.

But the gravity of the situation lies in the number of allegations against Okwulehie, ten to date, and the university’s inactions when faced with them. All of these allegations were made by the most vulnerable members of the McMaster community, who have to support themselves and often other members of their family on a job that only recently started paying a living wage.

I’m not writing this to speak on behalf of Savic’s relatives, her children or her family. But as a member of the McMaster community, I am nothing short of disgusted. When we talk about gender issues, violence against women, we’re not just addressing sexual assault or harassment against female students. All women should be safe and respected at McMaster, and sexual harassment or assault allegations should never be ignored. It shouldn’t take 14 years and ten allegations to start treating the people who clean up after you like they mean something.

This case shows not only a complete disregard for the wellbeing of workers, but also a despicable level of disrespect towards staff members. The Ministry of Labour conducted an investigation which concluded the university has the programs in place to deal with these issues. Yet Susan Clairmont, a reporter for the Hamilton Spectator, reported that the investigation “failed to determine whether the program is being implemented.”

In my opinion, the university did not act to protect these workers, and in doing so, failed to show its commitment to creating a safe and equitable campus.

Savic died without getting her day in court. She also died without the university acting to protect her. To lower the flags in “honour” of Savic and fail to address the issue at hand is utterly hypocritical. To have honoured Savic would have meant to have treated her with the respect and due diligence she deserved when she came forward. It would have meant to not let ten instances of sexual and physical harassment go unaddressed by failing to react to each individual case. Andrea Farquhar, a McMaster spokesperson, said that the President and Vice-President of the university were not aware of the internal report and “this has to change in the future.” There is no excuse for this lack of responsibility and the university needs to be held accountable.

So I’m asking the university to address this issue publicly. I’m asking them to release a statement explaining how something of this degree could take place and why it’s taken 14 years for the university departments to finally see “the big picture” as Farquhar said. Why should we believe that we attend a university where this will not happen again? And what will it do in the near future to show its commitment to the fight against gender-based violence and to address issues of sexual harassment and assault on campus?

Of course, the issue does not lay solely in gender-based violence. This is, above all, a labour issue. It is utterly despicable to pay Labour Studies professors hundreds of thousands of dollars to research inequity in the workplace, and to run a university that appears to perpetuate these very same problems. As a student, this event tells me that our academy doesn’t believe in its own theories, and more importantly, that it doesn’t value the lives of our workers.

Ryan Sparrow / The Silhouette

While students are wrapping up their courses and gearing up for exams, negotiations are underway for contract renewal for sessional faculty members.

"Sessional faculty face a myriad of other problems, including the inadequacy of TA support, the rising cost of child care and a lack of decent health benefits," said Alex Diceanu, a sessional faculty member who teaches in Political Science and Labour Studies.

CUPE 3906, the union that represents the approximately 300 sessional faculty at McMaster, is negotiating for its membership. The bargaining team for the sessionals recognizes that things need to change at McMaster.

“The biggest issue this round is job security,” said the union’s president Blake McCall, who did his undergrad and masters degrees at McMaster

“Many members have to apply for their job every four months, with some exceptions. This creates high levels of uncertainty leaving many sessionals without knowing if they are going to have a steady income on a semester-to-semester basis. Changing this to ensure security of our members is a top priority.”

Sessional faculty members, like many contingent faculty, are hired on a course-by-course basis, which makes it difficult to make long-term personal decisions like purchasing a home or starting a family.

As of 2013, Ontario still ranks the last in per-student funding at universities in Canada. The most recent budget announced is expected to include additional cuts to post-secondary education despite record enrollment.

One common cost-cutting measure for universities is to rely on increasing numbers of lower paid part-time faculty.

Continued budget cuts have resulted in a casualization of the academic sector. While some academic workers still have a relatively secure position, such as tenured professors, there has have been efforts to erode even their relative power in institutions.

The growth of precarious work in academia is accelerating. A University Affairs report from January 2013 states that, in the U.S., one-third of faculty at universities are contract workers. Experts suggest that Canadian data may indicate similarly high rates.

The UA report specifically looks at job insecurity, pay and benefits. Out of the nine schools surveyed, McMaster is one out of three that have no teaching load limit. McMaster sessionals also have no access to a pension and only have access to benefits through their union membership.

Temporary and part-time faculty are paid on average 50 per cent less than tenured professors, and they lack the job security and academic freedom that is afforded to tenured professors.

Most of the part-time and temporary positions are solely confined to teaching-only work, which can have an effect on learning outcomes for students, especially as their professor may also have to engage in additional research.

Gord Arbeau, a university spokesperson, described how, “McMaster values the important work that is performed by all employees at the University and believes all employees deserve fair and equitable contracts.”

“Negotiations work best when they happen at the table and not through the media or other avenues of communication,”said Arbeau.

Students are seeing the effect this has on their professors, and they are concerned.

"I think largely decreasing levels of tenure being made available to professors is an unfortunate trend for academia as a whole," said Eric Gillis, incoming SRA Social Science representative.

“As in any round of bargaining we hope to better job security, and better wages and benefits for our members,” said McCall.

McMaster part of Cootes eco-protection

The Hamilton Conservation Authority, in partnership with Mac profs and students have been working towards fundraising for a Dundas EcoPark. The EcoPark is part of a larger movement for Cootes to Escarpment Park System Project, which seeks to bring together the local stakeholders to create awareness of the lands surrounding Cootes Paradise Marsh. The Dundas EcoPark would connect more than 2,500 hectares of land and would be one of Canada’s largest urban parks.

 

Twenty-somethings: the new “underclass”?

A recent article from Maclean’s has suggested that current young workers are working in jobs they are overqualified for. The article goes on to argue that changing labour market demands will continue to adversely effect university graduates. Continued trends predict growth in skilled trades and engineering positions, which post-secondary institutions are not readily addressing.

 

U of T Group Rents Swingers Club

The Sexual Education Centre at U of T has rented the Oasis Aqua Lounge to promote their Sexual Awareness Week with a “sexy social” party night. The event has sparked controversy for explicitly promoting sexual activities in the club, but bars group sex or sex in the hot tub. The club has stated that the event is about learning about safe and healthy sexual relationships.

 

Hamilton influenza activity declines

The Medical Officer of Hamilton has noted cases of flu or flu-like illness are slowly declining from the high rates seen over the holiday season. However, due to continued demand across Canada for flu vaccines, especially in Eastern Canada and British Columbia, local pharmacies are facing shortages. Hospitals in the region have agreed to open access to their supply to meet short-term demands.

 

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