Walking the CUPE 391 Vancouver Library Workers strike line.
It's Day 8 and Day 9 of the CUPE 391 Vancouver Library Workers Union strike. We are at Vancouver Public Library, Central Branch, at Library Square downtown. People are in generally good spirits – but still in disbelief that they are on strike for the first time in the union's 77 year history.
Yesterday and today were my first days on the strike line, as I had returned from dragon boat vacation in Vernon BC. One Day 1, I had dropped in to register for strike duty, and say hello to my friends on the line. On Day 1, it was definitely a surreal atmosphere. Usually, the only time you see everybody on the outside of the library is for the Word on the Street Book and Magazine Festival. But instead of standing behind information booths, presenting authors and readings in tents, or selling books… people are walking around with strike placards.
CUPE 391 on Friday morning, Day 9 of the strike – morning meeting – photo Todd Wong
There is a tremendous feeling of community and good will. I am surprised by all the familiar faces I haven't seen in years, as I bump into co-workers that I have known over my 30 years of library work at every division, and every branch throughout the VPL system.
Rosanne is a librarian who compliments me on the recent article “True Patriot Love in the North Shore News about the CBC Newsworld documentary Generations: The Chan Legacy about my family history and my community activism. We talk about both of our family histories. The Vancouver Public Library History department and Special Collections is a tremendous resource for family genealogy and historical photos.
Ironically it was at a History Division's “BC Genealogy” event when I first developed my friendly acquaintance with Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan, then still a city councillor. I had set up a display on the Rev. Chan Yu Tan family, and Sam came by to chat. We quickly discovered that we both went to Vancouver Technical Secondary School. Sam has attended the last 4 or 5 Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner events that I have put on.
And now each year, with the Ariadne Sawyer's World Poetry series, we put on Gung Haggis Fat Choy World Poetry Night as a free event. We are thankful for the library's support in making events possible for many small but vitally and culturally potent community groups like ourselves. But now, groups like the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra will have to cancel their plans for the August 7th presentation of Classical Western and Classical Chinese Music as part of a Music of the Whole World series. I remember how during the CBC lock-out, that access and information about many smaller community events were negatively impacted.
Cupe 391: Claudia and Wendy sitting in the rain on Day 9 of Strike Action – photo Todd Wong
I have known Claudia and Wendy for many years at the library. Wendy works in the Special Collection division where I would sometimes go to check on historical photos of Vancouver Chinatown. The history division also has the micro fiche where Chinese head tax descendants can look up the immigration records of their ancestors. The library resources became very popular after Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the apology for Chinese Head Tax and that ex-gratia payments would be made to surviving head tax spouses and payers – but not descendants 🙁
CUPE 391 learning Tai Chi on Day 9 of Strike Action – photo Todd Wong
Cupe 391 – Group morning Tai Chi exercise on Day 9 of Strike Action – photo Todd Wong
On Friday morning, the library Wellness Committee organized an introductory Tai Chi lesson. This was a great way to draw on the many resources of our fellow co-workers and strike-walkers. Every year we have a staff conference with many interesting topics. I have presented workshops in visualization for health and achievement, as well as performing my accordion. The Wellness Committee leads workshops and talk to help improve the lives and health of our employees. The morning Tai Chi lesson was a great way to get everybody moving, make new friends and find a creative way to use our time on the picket line.
Over my years in VPL, I have also done lots of community volunteer work to help the Asian-Canadian arts community to access library resources. I had helped to lead joint organization and programming between explorASIAN and VPL to further enhance Asian Heritage Month in May. And in 2002, I served on the inaugural One Book One Vancouver committee that celebrated the novel Jade Peony by Wayson Choy. It was an award winning program that made the book come alive and introduced many readers and library patrons to Chinese Canadian culture and history. Check out the great website on Chinese Canadian genealogy that the History Division set up: http://www.vpl.ca/ccg/
CUPE 391: Trivial Pursuit accesses our wide range of knowledge and skills
Walking the line on Thursday and Friday, I was struck by the amazing amount of intellectual resources at a standstill. Normally the library is a very busy place. I have worked on the Quick Information Services desk, directing patrons to the many subject divisions and resources they require. I have helped organize and attended many of the community programs and reading series that are offered free of charge. I know that many of our library workers are very involved in their communities as I am, and are “experts” and “fountains of knowledge.” I brought out a Trival Pursuit game to test “how knowledgable” my co-workers really are!
I like Mike… we always have friendly conversations when I was working at the Information desk, and he was working nearby. When former library director Madge D'Alto first came to VPL, she said what a wonderful institution it was, and if she were an invading country, the first thing she would do would be to shut down the libraries in order to cut off people's access to information. Too bad the library cannot actively exercise it's motto “Access to all.”
More of my pictures posted on flickr
Here are great pictures of the CUPE 391 strike in action – taken by a co-worker.