17 June 2007

First Strike

The negotiations now underway between forestry companies and my Steelworker union have got me to thinking about the first of many strikes my fellow workers and I have supported, endured and usually won.

That hot summer was my first chance as a young man to spend some time listening to the older guys outside of the pub or our usual work setting. One thing I noticed stood out right from my first day on the picket line: working guys are one fuck of a lot more relaxed when work day stresses are lifted from their shoulders. Guys who were wound tighter than a tone deaf teenager's guitar strings because of production pressure and not enough sleep were transformed into pussycat grandpas showing off pictures of their young relatives and talking about how they won big on a trip to Vegas once.

On the picket line I would alternately listen to the old guys (they were not real interested in skinheads, rockers and punkrockers cracking heads at the Bad Allah Cabaret) and stroll down by the river to light up a rocket which would enhance the humour of the stories they shared.

Forest workers in those days were barely educated for the most part. Grade 9 was about the average time they had checked out of school so their stories often were not so different from the stories I would have told them about evenings at the Bad Allah.

"We were so fucking pissed all I fucking remember is laughing and swinging and getting fucking clobbered and the next thing I knew I woke up in ..." They all either woke up in the fucking gutter, the fucking hospital, the fucking drunk tank, the fucking paddy wagon or face fucking first in the motherfucking foreman's wife's big tasty pussy.

The lesson I learned from my fellow workers' sudden change in demeanor when they were on strike is that workplaces are generally unhealthy as eating shit with a dirty shovel. Sawmills have always been like that. For every step forward we take as a class (in human rights for instance) there has been a shifty reaction from the bosses to somehow maintain their boot on our throats.

The latest shifty reaction has been to ramp up log exports at a time when we can least afford to divert logs from the British Columbia coast's last remaining mills. They may as well start exporting the oxygen we breathe.

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