Globe & Mail: Library workers picket with pizzazz
– Todd Wong interviewed with accordion!
It seemed like an interesting angle to story about the Vancouver civic strike. Why are Vancouver Library workers so cheerful with high morale on their first picket line in their CUPE 391 Union's first strike in 77 years?
“We are creative, literate, entrepreneurial, child-friendly and community oriented people,” I told G&M reporter Laura Drake. She had heard about my accordion playing on the picket line and had found my blog reports and pictures on www.gunghaggisfatchoy.com.
“Writer Tom Sandborn spoke to us yesterday, Terry Glavin last week, and today the World Poetry Society is coming to address our library workers.”
They wanted a picture of me playing accordion, and I immediately suggested that videographer/library worker James Gemmill should be in the picture too. James videoed me playing some songs… just like he did when he has created some of his videos of library workers on the picket line – which can be seen on www.cupe391.ca/blog2
Today we have author/historia Chuck Davis coming, and Stan Persky on Friday. Chuck Davis's “The Vancouver Book” was the second most stolen book in Vancouver Public Library history. Persky was the original editor of Solidarity Times during the BC Solidarity movement. He also wrote books on the Polish Solidarity movement. Daniel Gawthrop, author of the Rice King Diaries, will be reading/speaking on Monday.
James Gemmill, Globe & Mail reporter Laura Drake, G&M photographer Laura Leyshon and Todd Wong – pose after Leyshon took pictures of James videoing Todd. – photo T.Wong collection.
Ross Bliss and Todd Wong – gypsy jazz guitar + classical concert accordion = fun
Check out the G&M story below:
WALKING THE LINE WITH FLAIR
One worker keeps up spirits by playing the accordion;
others knit, practise tai chi and answer community reference queries on
VANCOUVER — The song Happy Together
was not meant to be played on the accordion, nor is it traditionally
considered a union protest song, but as striking Vancouver library
worker Todd Wong pumped out the tune yesterday for fellow picketers
yesterday in Library Square, it was a little bit of both.
“People thank me because they enjoy the music and it creates a
wonderful ambience,” said the library assistant, who had his picture
snapped by fellow strikers and tourists alike.
A 30-year veteran of both the accordion and the Vancouver Public
Library, Mr. Wong is just one example of the artistic temperament that
has decidedly flavoured the library workers' strike.
Today marks the start of the fifth week of the first strike ever in
Vancouver's library union history. The smallest of the Vancouver unions
currently on strike, CUPE 391's 800 members have taken a unique
approach to walking the picket lines – one that involves very little
walking and more knitting, reading, singing, barbecuing, listening to
lectures and practising tai chi.
Mr. Wong admits he's been slack with his performance schedule –
mostly because he's been busy organizing for poets, choirs and authors
to come entertain the striking workers.
“People are more than willing to come and perform for our picketers.
They have an appreciative audience that's cultural and literate,” Mr.
And just like the weekly Friday barbecues and daily tai chi in the
mornings led by librarian Tim Firth, the presentations are open to all.
“We do this because we want to continually engage with the community,” said Peter DeGroot, CUPE 391's job action co-ordinator.
“We feel compassionate and proud about the work that we do and we
can't just stop reaching out and being involved with the community.”
Many of the striking library workers have been answering questions
on the line that they would usually answer at reference desks, using
wireless laptops and cellphones to help confused passersby.
“It's very difficult to take the library out of the library worker,” laughed CUPE 391 president Alex Youngberg.
Ms. Youngberg pointed out that librarians and those who work with
them are generally of an artistic temperament, something that has
become evident during the strike. For example, she said, striking
workers have knit more than 80 hats, which are being sold for charity
or will be donated to Downtown Eastside residents.
“People who work for the library are a very creative, eclectic
bunch,” said Mount Pleasant children's librarian D'Arcy Stainton. “We
have all these creative people coming up with all of these things.
Every day on the picket line is different.”
Mr. Stainton and James Gemmill, another library worker, have created
a series of black-and-white videos posted on the union's website. While
Mr. Gemmill's videos serve as artistic depictions of life on the picket
line, Mr. Stainton's videos are humorous send-ups of the city's
position on key union issues, set to Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries and narrated in an old-time newscaster voice.
While the videos serve as a creative outlet and a morale booster for
other library workers, they also allow Mr. Stainton to show his support
for the issues that are keeping the library workers on strike, such as
“I spent five years as a single dad working in a female dominated
profession and it's hard when you look around and see other city
employees with master's degrees making $20,000 more than you,” he said.
Most of Mr. Stainton's cohorts are equally as devoted to achieving
pay-equity language in their collective agreement, something Mr. Wong
said they've been seeking for 30 years. At a recent union rally, the
library workers were by far the rowdiest bunch in the crowd, giving Ms.
Youngberg louder support than any other speaker.
“That spirit is still there,” Ms. Youngberg said yesterday. “This is
their first strike, and I wasn't sure how they would feel about it four
weeks in, but if anything, they seem to be more passionate.”