Editorial page

Wednesday, August 18, 1999

It's up to the workers

The past decade has not been a glorious one for the union movement. Membership has been declining across the continent as the major industries, whose workers have been the backbone of organized labour, have waned in the global economy.

The loss of manufacturing jobs to offshore operations, combined with a general rightward swing of the political climate in North America has made for tough times for unions.

Here in the North, however, there have been stirrings on the labour front. The United Steelworkers of America have been taking an aggressive stance on organizing the workers at BHP's Ekati diamond mine.

The drive at BHP follows the Steelworkers' successful organization of the workers at the zinc mine in Nanisivik.

While Ekati workers are pondering the benefits of collective bargaining, they might want to think about what is happening over at Royal Oak's troubled Giant Mine.

Since Giant's financial position became perilous, the union has gone to bat to preserve wages and benefits for the workers that survived rounds of layoffs.

Currently the union is representing Giant Mine workers to ensure that their pension fund, a contractual obligation, is paid up.

Unions have taken a lot of criticism in the last few years, some of it justified. Unions representing "white collar" workers such as teachers and government employees are often seen as holding the public to ransom.

Big unions have been portrayed occasionally as being intransigent, and with good reason.

Non-union operations are often represented as models of co-operation and harmony in the workplace. But it must be remembered that gains workers enjoy were made largely through collective bargaining.

Ekati employees can decide for themselves whether they should be represented by a union. Either way there will be some residual resentment. Either way, it's the workers' decision.

Helping hands

Folks with the Yellowknife Senior's Society sure have their work cut out for them with the project to produce a new history book on the city.

Inspired by the International Year of the Older Persons, seniors plan to carry on where former Yellowknifer and historian Susan Jackson left off. Jackson was editor of Yellowknife, an Illustrated History, a book that has proven to be an enormous resource to its readers.

Seniors have now put the call out to fellow Yellowknifers in search of any stories or pictures that could be included in their project.

Nov. 1 is the cut-off date, so what are you waiting for? It's our city, let's celebrate its past and its future.

Time has come

The time has come, the walrus said, to speak of many things: of Yellowknife and Folk on the Rocks, and what one to the other brings.

Folk on the Rocks has grown so far beyond its humble beginnings that it is time to really take a close look at what it is and what it can become and the city's role in it's growth and form.

Is it going to stay an independent, volunteer-driven event with the limitations inherent with that situation?

Or is it going to be adopted as an official function of the City of Yellowknife and evolve beyond what it is now under the auspices of the city and the control of a committee?

The phenomenal growth and popularity of the event has made it clear that the potential is there to be even more than what it is -- the question is how much more and in what form?

No teeth to regional tiger
Editorial Comment
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News

It will be more than a little interesting during the coming months to see just how efforts to revive the regional Kivalliq Chamber of Commerce, as well as getting chambers up and running in Rankin Inlet and Baker Lake, pan out.

While there can be no denying the fact the establishment of these chambers could reap huge benefits to the Kivalliq Region, it remains to be seen whether business leaders in the region have the wherewithal to actually make it happen.

The most interesting of all the points to unravel as this scenario plays itself out, may very well be if, indeed, as acting Kivalliq chamber president Tom Kudloo says, "Kivalliq business people are very united in wanting to promote the entire region for the benefit of local people," is anything more than so much ballyhoo.

Small to middle business personalities in the region seem genuinely sincere in their expressed desire to promote the Kivalliq as a whole.

However, as anyone who does business in the Kivalliq Region can readily attest, it's not the small or middle business people who yield the power in this neck of the tundra.

Until some of the bigger players in the Kivalliq business community, most of whom head up the multi-armed conglomerates of which we're all aware, lend their voices in support of a regional chamber, any such organization would be a paper tiger at best.

In fact, the harsh reality of the situation is that most of the region's "big players" would have relatively little, if anything, to gain by the formation of a regional chamber of commerce.

They already have the information gathering resources at their disposal to gain the edge, or inside track, on any pending major business developments, as well as the financial ability to push themselves to the forefront of any open tendering process or competitive contract negotiations.

One need really look no further than to the company currently providing fueling services to the NTPC stations across the Kivalliq to see just how far the long arm of influence of our region's power brokers actually reaches.

It's no great secret business leaders across the Kivalliq Region play hardball with competitors, local or otherwise.

And, unless these same people start to have a revelation on the virtues of unanimity, a united chamber focused on benefitting local people through mutual promotion and co-operation will remain the idyllic musings of those who long for a better world.