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Canada's Apartheid, by John Stackhouse
Stories
Introduction
  Nov. 3

Welcome to Harlem on the Prairies
  Nov. 3 (Saskatoon, SK)

Crystal's choice: The best of both worlds
  Nov. 5 (Mississauga, ON)

How the Mi'kmaq profit from fear
  Nov. 6 (Cape Breton, NS)

The healing power of hockey
  Nov. 7 (The Pas, MB)

Norma Rae of the Okanagan
  Nov. 8 (Westbank, BC)

Comic genius or 'niggers in red face'?
  Nov. 9 (Regina, SK)

Praying for a miracle
  Nov. 10 (Lac Ste. Anne, AB)

To have and to have not
  Nov. 12 (Moosonee, ON)

Trouble in paradise
  Nov. 19 (Tofino, BC)

A cut of the action
  Nov. 26 (Wabigoon, ON)

The young and the restless
  Dec. 3 (Ashern, MB)

The wireless warrior's digital dream
  Dec. 10 (Ottawa,ON)

'Everyone thought we were stupid'
  Dec. 14 (Salluit, QC)

First step: End the segregation
  Dec. 15 (Last in the series)

 

Norma Rae of the Okanagan

Story by John Stackhouse. Photos by John Lehmann.
The Globe and Mail, November 8, 2001

Part 3 of 8: 'It was a very turbulent time to be an employee'


West Bank locator Three years ago, when the voters brought Derrickson back, some band employees became worried. Rumours swirled that a secret list was being prepared of people to be fired or transferred. One woman said she'd been warned that her mother's house was about to lose its water supply.

The climate of fear was too much for many employees. Lube and a few close friends met privately with the union, and they were told that they would be supported if they could get signatures from half the 63 staffers.


To Derrickson's surprise, the union reps were not only all white -- he had expected a token native -- they were also ready to fight. "One guy said, 'If you don't make a deal, we're going to fuckin' tear you apart,' " he recalls.

Lube's secret campaign was like trying to launch a putsch in a remote mountain kingdom. She had to sneak around to people's homes at night, pleading with them to keep the drive secret. She doubted any laws that protect union organizers would do her much good, not when her opponents controlled just about every aspect of reserve life.

"It was a very turbulent time to be an employee," she says. "Employees knew they would lose their jobs if they signed a union card."

Even Derrickson, who as a welder had belonged to the Machinists and Aerospace Union, says he appreciated the desire for job protection and a standard for wages -- but that did not mean he was not going to fight it.

When Lube finally presented him with the 32 signatures needed for a simple majority, he was unsettled. He sensed a threat to his power as chief, not just from his own employees but from a union bigger and more powerful than all the first nations in the region.

But the tussle that ensued was much more than something out of Norma Rae. For one thing, Derrickson was not alone -- many band members agreed a union would divide their community -- and the opportunity to test that theory soon presented itself when the two sides opened contract talks in a Vancouver hotel.

To Derrickson's surprise, the union reps were not only all white -- he had expected a token native -- they were also ready to fight. "One guy said, 'If you don't make a deal, we're going to fuckin' tear you apart,' " he recalls.

THIS STORY AT A GLANCE (Parts 1 to 8 plus a related film review):


Photo Essay
Westbank and the union


1. Inviting big labour
'Every other Canadian citizen is guaranteed the right to belong to a union'

2. Westbank's emerging class system
Rapid development transforms the secluded reserve to an affluent suburb

3. 'It was a very turbulent time to be an employee'
The struggle for solidarity on the reserve

4. Playing tough
Put your money where your mouth is, chief tells union reps

5. Colonial parallels
'Just another form of non-native people trying to shape their destiny'

6. 'We are the cash cow'
Leaseholders lobby for a greater voice in reserve affairs
7. 'Sometimes they're a vehicle' for change
Union successes in one workplace

8. Election fever and the union
'All of the employees are afraid of losing their jobs at the next election'

Related story: Globe review of the 1979 film Norma Rae - A primer on the original Norma Rae. Contains relaed Web links.


 
 

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photo essays
Two worlds - photo essay


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