With this publication, we would like workers to see the commonality in our struggles across workplaces, across the city, across industries and across countries. We want to find our common interests so we can come together to organize autonomously against capital, our common enemy.
We organized two events for May Day this year. In the afternoon we showed Memory and Muscle, a film about the 1965 wildcat postal strike. What is noteworthy about this strike from our perspective is that these workers organized autonomously outside the structures provided for them. With this in mind, we also shared a report from Phil Marsh about the current struggle at Canada Post. Unfortunately this event was poorly timed and poorly attended, but as always, Dale, Cate and Clarissa came out! David Starbuck came out too. We discussed with Phil the possibility of showing this film again one evening, to see if more people would come out and to see if we could generate some interest in struggling around the job-slashing Community Mail Box (CMB) tactic that Canada Post has initiated.
In the evening, we had a little May Day show at the Townehouse. Thank you to Paul Loewenberg for the opportunity to host! We started a little late because of a problem with the sound – thank you to Ryan Levesque for getting things up and running! John Newlands hosted the show and Kevin Closs, Anita Ansamaa and Jennifer Huss joined John to help make the show a success. We thank each of you so very much for your participation and help with the show! Coming up with a set list exclusively of songs about workers was a collective effort. Many people made suggestions for songs and we thank each one of you for your contributions too. Because of the late start and how packed the Townehouse was, I got nervous and abandoned the introduction I had prepared, but John improvised a great introduction and the show began.
John opened with Allentown and a lot of people sang along. Anita dedicated She Works Hard For The Money to all the waitresses working so hard that night to take care of us, and it was a hit! Kevin Closs ran over on his break at Lounge 390 to play his song, Build Me A Bridge and also a Max Webster song about roadies called, On The Road. Standards like Sixteen Tons and Bread And Roses were also popular, but by far, the favourite song of the evening was Take This Job And Shove It. People love that song!
John also performed his new song, May Day (The Workers’ Day) and we passed out lyric sheets so people could sing along too. Overall, people seemed very receptive to the idea of celebrating workers and working class culture. A woman named Gisele exclaimed to me, “I’ve been working my whole life and I never heard of May Day!” A woman named Laura, who also had never heard of May Day before this show, took it upon herself to spread the word to others in attendance, including a table of international students, none of whom had ever heard of May Day either. So many new people were introduced to the significance of May Day.
Phil Marsh was at the show and he declared to me that May Day is the new Christmas. Dale McDonough enjoyed the show, especially the sing-along songs, and suggested we do this kind of thing more often. We like that idea too! A dear friend of mine, who had attended the event with her son, noted that he asked a lot of questions on the way home, about people’s wages and where the products we use are made. I was surprised he was able to reflect on that level from this one event. We were very pleasantly surprised by the responses and we had a great time!
The next step to take after gathering to celebrate our work and culture is to organize! We emphasized this in our discussions with many people, but, consistent with our experience so far, we found that this is often where people freeze: struggling with the idea that we have to organize autonomously to become a social force. And so there remains much more work to be done!
Otto Nommy is a truck driver for a large local transportation company, which he did not want to name. He’s been working for this company for two years. He hauls cement powder to a mine in Timmins, with a stop in Birch Island, and back, every working day. That trip is 600 miles and takes him 12 hours to complete. His workplace is not organized. Otto’s work is solitary and he struggles with exhaustion, isolation and domination by corporate media.
The main areas of struggle in Otto’s workplace
• Work schedule
• Wage theft
• Safety issues
• Traffic issues
• Domination by corporate media
Otto struggles with his work schedule a great deal. He feels confused about the rules around how much he should drive and how much he is allowed to rest. He feels it is almost impossible to maintain his work schedule. He’s tired all the time. “You have no life other than work, if you wanna pay your bills….I’m beat after my shifts. I come home and if it’s snowing, I got a four wheel drive now, I don’t even care. I used to shovel, I got a snow blower, but I don’t care now, I just drive in over the snow. I’m too pooped out. I’m gonna be sixty in a couple years and I don’t have that kind of – I’m pooped out. I come home and sleep my days off.”
Otto’s boss told him he’s only allowed ten hours per day to himself. “He goes, ‘Well, you know you only have eight hours to yourself; like ten hours you have to yourself. Eight hours you sleep, and then an hour to get up and an hour to go to bed; you’re basically allowed ten hours to yourself every day, the rest you’re supposed to be working.’”
Otto particularly struggles with the short-change part of his work schedule, when he switches from nights to days. “When you switch shifts, working day shifts, two days off, working night shifts, two days off, day shifts – it throws you off. You get kind of dingy after a while because your body is not knowing when to get up or when go to bed anymore. You’re just like a robot.”
“So, basically what I’m working is twelve hours a day, four days on, and then I have two days off, and then the third day that I come back to work is still the same pay period. Fifty-four hours in one week. The day I come back to work and work that day, half of that day is for last week, and half of this day is for next week. That’s really screwy. That is really screwy, man….You don’t even have a choice in it, that’s what I think bothers me. I feel that after 48 hours, they should be asking me, ‘Do you wanna work another day? Would you like to get in another shift or not?’ I’d like to have that opportunity….I don’t think anybody should have to work after 48 hours. I don’t want it. I might need that rest.”
Otto reports that he is constantly missing wages in his pay. “See, this is the jobs that I do. So, when I fill out this paper, I get paid for this job, right? And then if it takes more; normally like; the last one I did, I put four hours, it should have only taken two, two and a half; it took four hours. So I wrote down four hours, I wrote down that I arrived at this time, and I left at this time is four hours. I was looking for one hours pay, one hour, to make up for the four. So I’m asking one hour out of the two hours there I lost. I wanna get paid for one. Because if I lose four hours, let’s say I come to this job here [indicates job in log book]. Normally at night I can do this job, I can do two of these. So I do this job and then I do this job on a night shift, that’s two jobs. But if this job takes me four hours, I can’t finish my rest of my shift because I can’t get back to Spragge in time to reload to get back to give the truck to the other guy. So now I’ve lost two hours, so I asked for one hour, but I’ve lost half a shift right there, not just two hours. Now I can’t go back to Spragge, so I go home at 3 in the morning because I can’t finish the shift. And they didn’t even pay me the one hour, never mind the four hours I lost because I can’t go back and get another load!"
We discussed the implications of offering to share that loss with his employer. “That’s what they’re supposed to pay. I told them; give me the benefit of the doubt. Don’t play games with that. Ten hours a week, at least ten hours a week I lose because of ‘sharing’ the hours….They tell me, ‘Well, you’re lucky, you got all new equipment to work with, it could take you longer.’”
When it was suggested his employer is not allotting the proper amount of time for each job, Otto replied, “No, because they could say well, it took you too long, took me too long. I could go there and pump off, and they told me, ‘It’s your fault because you’re not pumping off properly. You’re doing something wrong.’ Well, not that I know of. And then when I see the other guy went there and it took him four hours too, then he couldn’t do it in two hours, I know that. So, what’s the problem? Well, I found out the problem was at the mine, the bag house isn’t working properly and it’s pushing the pressure back so it’s taking longer to fill the silo. The bag house ain’t workin’ properly. But I wasn’t sure, but I didn’t write that down, I just said it took two hours extra, I said because of the bag house, but I didn’t know, but they didn’t even give it to me.” When we discussed whose problem it is that the mine’s equipment isn’t working properly, Otto described their attitude as, “Well you suck it up. I sucked up ten hours a week, I betcha….They went to unemployment and they say you get $20.49 an hour and I say that’s bullshit too because that’s where I got the job from, and it isn’t 20; it is $20.49 an hour but as soon as you break down, you have problems or something, they’re not compensating you and they’re playing games and then yeah, you lose. I’d like to know how much money they really make for a load.”
“I wanted to bring it in there and ask them why
they didn’t give it to me. These are my log books.
I had all of these since the day I started, in here. It was full, couldn’t even close it. So finally, about two weeks ago I thought, I’m never gonna be able to go back and get this money out of them. I can’t even remember what I did last week never mind a year ago, that they didn’t pay me for. And I don’t wanna know because if I go and I catch them like I just did, I’m liable to tell them to go f themselves….And I am like that; real fast. I told ‘em, “Don’t play games with me. Give me the benefit of the doubt because if you don’t and I catch you I will be gone. And they freakin’ – they play the game anyway. They’ll play games and if you don’t catch it, then too bad eh. I don’t like that. I work hard for the money and I’m not here to play a game for you.”
When informed that wage theft is an extraordinarily common problem that workers experience with their employers, Otto paused thoughtfully for a long moment to absorb this information, and asserted, “It’s gotten to a point where we have no say in nothing; we’re just work, work, work.”
There are other incursions into Otto’s pay too. The company installed governors on all the trucks making it impossible to do double runs, which seriously impacts the pay for truckers. “Since they’ve governed the trucks down to 90 kilometres, which is 50 miles an hour, well now the guys can’t make that trip twice in a shift, so they lost half a shift because they can’t get back in time to go to the mine to pump off that load so they lost that right off the bat. The company never gave them anything, never offered them anything, just governed the trucks. So now you can’t make the money you were making before. It sounds fine, but I mean, they’ve just taken a big chunk out of your income by doin’ that, eh? Instead of givin’ you a little more money to compensate for that they didn’t do anything. They keep workin’ you back and back. If you ask a trucker, you know like who’s done the same job I’m doing right now, if you were to ask him how much money he made four years ago doin’ it, well he’d tell you, ‘Well, I made double.’ He would have made three trips a day. In a way, it’s a good thing; it keeps the guys at 90 km.” When we discussed whose problem it should be when a new variable has to be factored in to the organization of work, Otto asserted, “Everything is always the employees’ loss.”
The darkness on Highway 144 is a serious safety issue on his route. Fog is a particular challenge. Sometimes Otto can’t see the hood ornament on his truck, the fog is so thick. He has complained to his boss about the poor quality headlights on his truck many times. “I see these logging trucks, man, they got lights on the roof, they got lights – it’s almost like daytime is in front of that truck. When you get behind them, that’s all daytime and this is nighttime, that’s the difference: day and night. So, I said to my boss, spend $400 bucks, put some good lights on these trucks and then I won’t mind so much.” Other truck drivers would like this improvement to their working conditions too. But Otto’s boss consistently refuses this demand.
To add insult to injury, the boss gave the workers an item of his own choosing. “You know what they did? They bought us – one day the boss come in and he said, ‘Hey guys’ – big – it’s like a hockey bag, a duffle bag. He puts it on the table, ‘Ooh holy shit, he gave everybody one.’ I said – I took it to the truck and I get in the truck, ‘Well this is stupid. What is this, a body bag? You could put a whole body in here and it wouldn’t even fall apart, the blood wouldn’t even leak out. It’s really well made, you know, but why would you give me a big bag like that? I’ve got tools, I’ve got clamps and steel brushes and clamps and all kinds of tools I need, I’ve got paperwork I need and I’ve got clothes that I need to wear that gotta be kept clean, case I get these ones dirty, I got gloves, I got winter stuff, toques. I told my boss, ‘What are you giving us body bags for?’ He got really insulted. I said, ‘Well, that’s a body bag.’ I said, ‘Where are they now?’ He go, ‘Well who cares, I gave ‘em to you, they’re free.’ I says, ‘Yeah, but. Why didn’t you see if they could put some compartments, three compartments in the bag, it would be awesome.’ What I was trying to say is that if you give it a minute of your thought, if we’re so important that you gave us these bags, why don’t you take a minute and think about what you’re – [laughing]. We’re asking for lights, not bags.”
Otto reports the company frequently introduces new employee policy, and he finds the disconnect between these policies and worker practice very frustrating. “Every time I turn around, they got a new policy. Ok, you gotta come clean shaven, you can’t have this [points to the stubble on his face] cause you have to go to the mines, in case you gotta put a respirator on. You have to wear goggles, your glasses in the truck, you have to have the visor on your helmet and you have to wear that in your truck in Timmins. When you go on site in Timmins, you have to be fully dressed in all your mine clothes, your stripe suits and everything, with your helmet on and your glasses and a visor that pulls down. You ever try to work in 30 below? And then you got a respirator. You go to the Strathcona, you have to bring the respirator has to be on your neck, in case the cement powder leaks out, then you can put it on right away. But then if you’re not shaven, clean shaven then you can’t put that on – do its proper job.”
“Basically what I’m saying is nobody gives a fucking shit for you and anything about you. This is what we want done and this is the way, and oh, if you do everything correctly, we won’t take points away from you, which would be a little bit of a bonus you could earn if you’re a good worker.” “You have a point system?” I asked. Otto chuckled, “A little one, just starting up. So, if you don’t get sent home because you didn’t shave there at the mine; if you get sent home, we’re going to deduct a dollar an hour after that. But where’s our fog lights so we can drive safely?”
There are many traffic issues that strain Otto’s working conditions, including the lack of nighttime programming for traffic lights. He feels very strongly that there should be nighttime programming that prioritizes through traffic. In addition to making it more difficult to manage his work schedule, Otto feels the lack of programming for traffic lights contributes to pollution.
Otto is also concerned about the trend to conflate surveillance and safety. He feels there are some situations where cameras are being prioritized over safety precautions. “It has nothing to do with saving lives or nothing to do with saving animals from getting killed – thousands and thousands on the highways every year. All they have to do is put a freakin’ – put some lights out there so you can see the damn thing before you hit it and kill yourself, or kill it….I go all the way to Timmins, I drive 400 hundred miles to Timmins, all you see is a camera here, camera in Gogama, camera at the corner where you turn to go to Timmins or go to Chapleau – dead end sign. If you miss the sign, you’re dead because the road goes that way; it’s a T – no light there! It’s in the bush, it’s 400 hundred miles in the bush, there’s no light there! I mean if you don’t see that in a snowstorm and there’s nothing blinking or anything, you know you go off the road or you hit an animal….How much does a video camera cost? Out in the middle of nowhere, instead of a light where those people died on that intersection….Yeah, I wonder why they didn’t put a light there, eh? Oh, there’s a camera. Oh, it’s ok; we’ll get it all on video. We’ll send you a video of your dead family.”
In his travels, Otto also sees a lot of ads and appeals by Crime Stoppers. He discussed one appeal he saw where the police were asking for help in finding someone who was believed to have poached a moose. We discussed whether it should be a crime to try to secure food. Otto expressed dislike of Crime Stoppers culture. “Man, thousands and thousands of moose die every year and people get killed but they won’t put a light bulb there. It’s insane, that they’re so firm on getting the criminals. They’re trying to get the criminal – it’s not – everybody. So, what they’re doing is they’re turning people on each other: “Crime Stoppers, phone Crime Stoppers! Soon as that guy – oh, he spun his tires! I’m phoning 911. Yeah, he spun his tires! Wow! I’m a working man too you know, everybody works for a living, we might do a little, but that’s not what this is about.”
Domination by corporate media
Otto expressed a lot of frustration with the quality of radio programming too. He listens to the radio a lot at work and he feels the programming is despicable.
“I phoned Q92 the other day and I told them right off. I said, ‘You know when you play a song, let’s see, two million times, over and over again, you start warping people’s brains, when you repeat the song that many times.’ ‘What do you mean, what do you mean?’ I said, “Well why would you play fifteen different songs, you know, seven days a week, every day at the same time. Since 1970, you’re playing the same stupid songs over and over and over. Now you’ve warped my brain, I should sue you. Literally, because I can’t afford to get a; plug in a; I don’t have time to worry about the radio on my work truck. I can’t afford to get a freakin’ cassette deck to put in there, or whatever. So I have to listen to this crap. And I said, ‘Don’t you guys have a job? You don’t even bother with a DJ or nothing after all these years’….If you’re spending time trying to DJ, we don’t want you here to DJ, we want you here to do this paperwork, get all this filled out, make sure you get those into the office and never mind changing records. Here’s a tape, you’re good for a week.”
In a discussion about what kinds of things would help his experience as a trucker, Otto said, “Talk shows would really help. The Moose, believe it or not – what’s the Moose, 93.1 or something? The Moose. That’s a good show. That’s way better than Q92 and those guys – Elliot Lake or something; almost all the way to Timmins. The Moose. Yeah, it’s great, cause they have talk shows about real things that are – and that’s another thing. Why aren’t they having talk shows about – there’s a meeting coming up on March 4th for the City of Sudbury to decide what they want to spend their money on. They’re talking about all the spending; yeah, a budget meeting. It’s on March 4th, and I don’t know where it is or anything, I just heard it on the radio, but I thought this is the kind of stuff I like to hear, what’s out there, what they plan on doing, ask the people, get the people involved. Because I think the people can give a lot smarter answers than our government too. I think we should be answering a lot more questions and they should be transparent. You can’t lose. Everybody’s – can put in….A million heads is better than one, right? If two is better than one, than a million of them should be a hell of a lot better than that. That’s – why don’t they do that, eh?” After a discussion of the reasons why this is not the case, Otto added, “No, cause then they won’t get that hundred thousand dollars in their pocket that they swiped out of the government – our money.”
Otto expressed sensitivity, fear and frustration about driving safely on our roads. He feels powerless regarding road conditions and he would like to participate in making roads safer for everyone. He feels the input of workers driving these roads should be carefully considered. Otto wants to be involved in the direction of society and he understands that workers are kept distracted and disorganized in order to preserve capitalist rule. He demonstrated this understanding when he described the bureaucracy of corporate media outlets such as Q92 and their function within the system.
During the course of our interview, our discussions
about working conditions naturally led to a need to address the political
realm. We came to some agreement on issues like Islamophobia and xenophobia
by discussing how these divisions of workers serve the interests of those
who profit from exploitation. However, like Milly, who we interviewed in
May, Otto’s instinct is to challenge power from within the existing framework,
which was conceived to limit our struggle. It is our position that we will
have to organize outside of these structures if we want to become a social
Workers Struggle-Sudbury is edited by Rachael Charbonneau and John Newlands and is published monthly.