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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 5 of 8: Colonial parallels


West Bank locator As native communities continue to gain economic power and more control of local affairs, their expanding work force is ripe for organizing drives. But both sides know that the struggle is as much about culture as it is about politics, and the danger of racism -- of outside unions telling aboriginal people what to do -- runs high. In close-knit communities such as Westbank, the arrival of a union threatened to pit family against family, and disrupt native organizations just starting to get on their feet.

The colonial parallels are easy to pick out. "They have hundreds of years of history of non-native people telling them what to do," notes Steaves of the Government and Service Employees Union. "And they suspect their employees joining a non-native union is just another form of non-native people trying to shape their destiny."


"We're not your enemy. We just disagree on whether your employees deserve three weeks' vacation or two."
Gary Steaves,
union official

As a believer in aboriginal rights and self-determination, he admits to being in a quandary, as is his union. It does not want to be seen as running roughshod over a native band, but to back off would be to abandon people such as Evelyn Lube who are trying to get a better deal and more respect. It would also send the wrong signal to the growing number of first nations people considering the union option, be they teachers in a reserve school or loggers in a band-owned forestry company.

"We're not your enemy," Steaves likes to tell native leaders, whom big labour once counted as its best political ally on the West Coast. "We just disagree on whether your employees deserve three weeks' vacation or two."

With that in mind, Lube and her co-workers continued to push for a collective agreement, but Derrickson returned to Westbank in search of other options. His council adopted a labour code, borrowed from the Kamloops First Nation, which guaranteed employee rights. It also gave the band council the right to select a union, should staff want one.

When the employees refused to accept the code, the council suggested that they form their own aboriginal union, to be headed by local representatives from the Assembly of First Nations. That, too, was rejected.

The employees knew such "native solutions" would do nothing to right the underlying imbalance of power in their workplace; that they collectively would still be servants to the chief and council, rather than committed employees to an organization.

But Derrickson and many of his supporters were unwilling to negotiate, perhaps knowing that the employees would not want to strike -- their last resort -- against their own community. He warned them that there would be job cuts -- perhaps 15 or 20 positions -- and programs would suffer. "You know who's the loser?" he asked. "The person on welfare, because all the funding is going to paying salaries."
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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Two worlds - photo essay


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