HTU member Mary MacIntyre looks back on her time on strike.
This story was funded by the J-Source Patreon campaign.
By Mary Ellen MacIntyre
There is no music in snow-laden boots stomping on the tiled floors at picket headquarters.
Out on the line, winter is about nothing but staying warm. Long johns, scarves—mittens some hadn’t worn since grade school—and those wonderful packets of hand and foot warmers shoved into the cold spots.
Gumboots and plastic capes come out to fend off the pounding spring rains. Pickets come in, mopping brows, wiping glasses and laughing at the concept of rain bringing flowers.
But the flowers do finally come and eventually summer heat slows their steps.
A picket headquarters on the third floor without air conditioning means visits are fewer these days. The odd washroom break, water refill and they go back out to seek a shady spot on the line.
Still they come, picket signs akimbo, looking for a drink, a piece of fresh fruit, the inevitable doughnut and a washroom break.
Long strikes are all about the weather. And this has been a long one.
Reporters, editors, photographers and a handful of newsroom admin staff numbered 61 when members of Communications Workers of America local 30130—the Halifax Typographical Union—first hefted their picket signs on Jan. 23. Workers rejected a proposed new collective agreement that the Halifax Typographical Union said will cut wages, increase work hours and cut a third of newsroom positions. CBC News published a copy of the proposed collective agreement, which the union said contains over 1,200 changes, including one that removes their jurisdiction over editorial roles.
Long regarded as the newspaper of record in the Atlantic region, the Chronicle Herald was once the pinnacle for newspaper reporters in Nova Scotia. Oh, there were the usual gripes with management you’ll find in any company, and there were some dandies over the years.
But generally, we were proud to work at the Atlantic region’s paper of record. Over the years, it was the place for a newspaper reporter to work in our neck of the woods.
Things have changed. A lot.
Replacement workers are trying to do our jobs, and negotiations with management go nowhere.
Five reporters and editors have moved on to full-time jobs with other organizations, vowing to never return to the newsroom where they had worked for years, in some cases for decades. We wished them well and sent them off with a hug.
A strike is so all encompassing. Your career, financial stability—sometimes your very identification and self-worth—are linked to the building you walk in front of every day.
Soon, however, a strike is exactly what it is—a strike. It is time consuming; it is heartbreaking; and it is infuriating.
A strike goes on as everyday life continues. People die or are born. Kids make you laugh and teenagers continue to frustrate as always. Anniversaries and weddings happen, bills have to get paid, cars break down, neighbours’ dogs still bark and grass still grows.
One striker—a reporter—walked through the last few months of her pregnancy on the picket line. She would come in to picket HQ and eat a ridiculously healthy lunch. Then, even though it was the dead of winter, she would bundle back up and finish her shift.
A wee fellow named Linden was the result. We don’t refer to him as our picket line baby because, after all, he was born in a proper hospital. He looks like his mama and shows signs of walking early.
A videographer with an especially gentle nature and a stalwart on the picket line had to be taken from the line to hospital one beautiful April day. The screeching headache he complained of was actually a symptom of stroke.
He has since returned to the picket line for brief stints and is recovering.
As picket line “mama,” watching one of our most talented feature writers hobble up the stairs of picket HQ during the early months of our strike was especially worrying. She was obviously in true pain.
Still, she walked until she couldn’t anymore. A rare and vicious autoimmune disease put her in hospital for a couple of weeks. She is at home, recuperating and writing for the union’s online newspaper.
It might sound strange to the uninitiated, but the creation of our union-sponsored site Local Xpress probably saved the whole thing from turning into a donnybrook on occasion.
Consider the people behind those picket signs.
You have the antsy photographers. I like to call them the gunslingers. Don’t try to keep a photog restricted to a picket line—they have far too much energy and they can get up to mischief.
Better to have them out working their magic behind a lens.
Editors? If not properly occupied, the question of dangling participles or the use of alliteration in a headline could bring them to fisticuffs.
As for reporters, missed scoops and sources turning elsewhere for coverage just might send them completely around the bend.
No. An online newspaper is just the thing. Localxpress.ca is the virtual salvation of more than a few strikers.
Aside from the picket line music (I prefer the Cape Breton fiddle tunes—call me biased), the jokes, the on-going games, like naming animals alphabetically as per continent (days are sometimes long) or occasional hijinks designed to pull a laugh from the most contrary, there is one common thread.
Under it all is an unspoken hurt. The realization that you have written, designed, photographed or edited at a top level for many years, but you can be replaced by someone who very likely has less experience but who may be willing to work longer hours for less.
The hurt stems from a deep-seated fear that the grey stuff between the ads really doesn’t matter anymore. Like most who work in this business, we worry about truth, balance, fairness and integrity.
So, as we walk through the rest of the summer, we wonder what autumn will bring, aside from the colourful leaves and dread the thought of another long winter on the picket line. We’ve got clothes for every season though and enough resilience to see us through.