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End of year message from Lise Lareau

It’s with very mixed feelings that I write this — my last note as President of the Canadian Media Guild.

First of all, thank you for putting your trust in me to stay on as Vice-President of the CMG for the next term. The results mean a lot to me after all these years, enough years of heated discussions with many of you and conflict with various employers, good times and bad, that you would have been justified to tell me to move on.

And, believe me, I wrestled with all that as I made the decision to step down as president. I felt a huge responsibility as our union’s first-ever full-time president to set what I think is a healthy precedent: not to try to be “president for life.” And I wanted to clear space so that new promising leaders could make their way.

It’s fair to say we are in a relatively quiet time “between crises,” as I’ve referred to 2010 in talks with so many of you during the campaign. It’s a good time to reflect on how the Guild has evolved since 1991, when a small group of us ran and won on a “reform” ticket of what was then the Canadian Wire Service Guild ? a small industrial-style union of reporters and editors at CBC, Reuters and the Canadian Press.

What was reform all about back then? We wanted to make sure members were truly in charge of their union. That struggle is a constant and valid one, in this union and labour generally, and I urge all of us to keep holding those principles dear. It’s easy to let others — in this case, paid staff — do union work. They’re good at it and work at it full-time. But only you — members — know what’s valuable to you, what life is really like at your workplace and what your union should be about. You need to trust your instincts and be vocal or involve yourself, in big ways and small ones.

We’ve grown a lot since 1991. First, there was a 1993 vote at what was called Unit 1 at the CBC, a vote between the “old” Guild and several producers’ unions as well as ACTRA. We went from 700 people to more than 3,000 by virtue of a single campaign and mail-in vote conducted by the Canada Industrial Relations Board. A few years later, CUPE members at CBC and Radio-Canada outside Qu?bec chose to join the Guild. Another surge of growth happened in 2003 in a vote at CBC between the Guild and CEP, when the CMG inherited nearly 2,000 more members.

Meanwhile we were organizing at new employers: TVOntario, the Aboriginal People’s Television Network, what was Alliance Atlantis (now Shaw Media), what was Vision-TV (now ZoomerMedia).

The spirit of creating our own way of doing things — merging many different union styles — makes us strong, innovative and truly unique in the Canadian labour movement. The way all of us handled the lockout at the CBC in 2005 is one shining example.

Our strength is a good thing because we will be tested. We’ve weathered the first two years of the Great Media Meltdown — the single biggest downsizing ever seen in our industry, which I spoke about at our convention earlier this year. But it seems all our employers are undergoing such enormous change and facing essential questions of economic viability going forward — that it’s crazy to be complacent.

Our union needs to be intelligently watching the industry, identifying the on-the-ground problems that can and should be addressed and thinking ahead to the next ones. We need to keep learning how to work in mature relationships with employers such as CBC and The Canadian Press, and to forge productive relationships with new employers such as ZoomerMedia and Shaw Media. Throughout, we need to maintain our independence and our voice. That’s the tough stuff, because there are immense pressures to be “nice” everywhere — especially during these uncertain times in our industry.

And so now after about 12 years of being president, I no longer have to be nice — or diplomatic — or in charge of an office and staff of 16. I will miss the challenges, but not the responsibilities. I will miss dealing with “the big issues” but not the feeling of being able to do no more that mitigate the impact of them. I will miss the trust you placed in me when you called, but not the difficult subjects we sometimes had to discuss.

However, I will continue to help people — the very essence of union work. As vice-president, I am going to scope out a new smaller role and focus on giving more people a collective voice and keeping the union growing and alive. I am looking forward to a return to work at the CBC — and the next stage. So if you see someone who looks vaguely familiar musing not about our industry but about how to work some *@#$% thing, that could well be me. Please take pity!

Best wishes to incoming president Carmel Smyth and the new executive for a productive term in office.

I wish you all a wonderful holiday period and thank you again for your trust and confidence through all these years.

Lise Lareau
National President

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