Image: “We Hit Them Like A Wave” — Diane Davies
After CUPE 1989 ratified our new contract, I said I would write about the intangible gains we made through our strike, the kind that aren’t written in the collective agreement.
I’ve heard labour activists say that strikes are a “transformative experience” — a life-changing event — and now I know why. Standing up for ourselves, asserting our own rights, is a crucial part of every person’s development. But learning how to stand up collectively is a different level of power.
For many of our members, the strike was their first time seeing themselves as part of something larger than themselves — seeing our union not just as 400 library workers who happen to work for the same employer, but as part of CUPE, and part of the labour movement itself.
Striking together brought so much unity and solidarity among our members, so much goodwill and love and caring. Of course there were some complaints and some finger-pointing. Nothing is ever 100% — even our ratification vote was only 99%! But the huge majority of our members were supportive and caring — and determined.
At work, we are full-time and part-time, we are pages, librarians, library assistants, couriers, cataloguers. But on the line, we were one: we were 1989.
I could go on and on about this — I often do! — but I’d rather let our members speak in their own words. These are quotes from emails and from our closed discussion group on Facebook. Although I am quoting each anonymously, these all are actual quotes from our members. And from most of these, I’ve removed effusive thanks to the leaders and the bargaining team!
Reflections after we returned to work
It was sad we had to go out, but I’m glad I was part of it before I left. That was the first time in my entire 39 years working for MLS that I felt we were truly united! We should all be proud of that. (from a recently retired member)
The journey we all were on for three weeks was enlightening, because now we all know that striking is not easy, but we made friends along the way. We had a unity, a togetherness, instead of the divisions between part-timers and full-timers that some of us thought might happen.
It wasn’t all about the money but also the principle of the matter — fairness, equality, respect, being valued.
What I learned after I went back to work was how much our customers really cared and loved us. I heard “Thank God you are all back!” “I really miss you guys!”, “You’re a sight for sore eyes!”
It was a lot of sweating, walking, with moments of happiness and despair, but for a good cause and I would do it again.
We got lots of “welcome back” greetings and warm feelings when we reopened yesterday, as well as some unexpected ire from patrons angry about the raw deal the City had offered us. Seems like some regulars were letter writing (in our favour) during the strike!
Later we received two lovely pictures from little kids welcoming us back as only little kids can. Proof that we make a difference. We matter to people!
There comes a time in your life when you have to take a stand. Fight for what is right. Fight for “the greater good” and not just think about yourself. For me, this strike was my time. I will never pass by another strike and think that a quick honk is enough support. I will always stop to ask if there is anything I can do to help. Water, snacks, words of encouragement. Make calls. Walk the line with them. Whatever I can do to make a difference no matter how small.
As much as it’s not fun to be forced to strike by the employer, I have grown through this experience and wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Celebration Square will look empty and sad without all the pink-wearing ladies and gents. It wasn’t easy, and I am happy that strike is over, and we will go back to do what we love with all our passion. But still, I will miss our togetherness and unity and friendship and feeling that we are doing something very important, that we are changing Mississauga Library System forever, that we have a very strong voice and determination to do what is right. This is even a historic moment because this was the first time that our library went on strike! Solidarity and love to all of you.
I will probably retire next year, but I feel so good about what we all just did, leaving our union in such better condition, proud of ourselves, no longer afraid to strike. I am so glad I had a small part in this. I am so glad that I got to experience a “kinder gentler strike” and to witness solidarity in action.
I still can’t believe the unity the strike created. I admit feeling a little let down once the picketing ended, knowing that I wouldn’t be seeing so many of my colleagues daily. It was way better than any staff appreciation or team-building exercise our employer could come up with. The caring about people, checking up on one another, lifting morale when one of us was having a tough day, making sure colleagues were staying hydrated and being safe on hot, hot days.
We have all changed as co-workers. People I used to pass in the building with a smile and hello now take time to stop for a quick chat.
I know for myself, I will never look at striking workers the same. I always used to honk when driving past a strike and even dropped off coffee and Timbits when the teachers were ou,t but now I will go out of my way to drop things off to the picket lines and find time to walk with picketers. I will tell them to stay strong and they will look back on this time fondly. I know I will!
My first day on the strike, I was a little uncertain as many probably were. Within 15 minutes, up went the flag, someone handed me a sheet of chants. “Be a rebel,” she said. And so I was. My favourite part was blocking the executive garage, and chanting at the corner of Burnhamthorpe. Apparently the city received many complaints about the noise.
I met the most wonderful people and the kindness of strangers. Bringing water and freezies and honking. We really had a lot of public support. I learned so much and wouldn’t change those three weeks for anything.
Returning to work we realized the public was totally with us. So happy to see us back. I find it funny they were more appreciative of our return from the strike than when we were closed for 18 months [for renovations]. Many of our customers read between the lines of City’s press.
I will never pass a picket line again without honking or stopping to see if they need anything. Another thought I had mid point of the strike was: it wasn’t us vs. them, it was US FOR US.
Let me tell you about returning to work at the Lorne Park branch. Every person that came through our doors said, “Welcome back, we missed you.” Of course we told them we missed them also. Lots of hugs from regulars. Then patrons started bringing in treats. A large fruit tray from one, and homemade, still-warm banana muffins. We were missed as much as we missed them.
I did miss them, but I wouldn’t have traded our three weeks together for anything. Connecting with old friends and making new friends. Together, fighting for fairness.
All reports about our return were positive. Customers brought staff cookies, someone brought a potted plant! Everyone was saying, “Welcome back! We missed you.” Customers asked, “Are you happy, did it work out for you?” I have not heard one report of a negative comment from our customers.
During the strike…
Today was a really interesting time. Standing up for worker’s rights at the library was a unifying experience. It was really encouraging to hear so many commuters honk their horn in support!
I can’t believe how many caring and talented people work for the library. There are too many to name individually, but I see at least one of them being brilliant every single day. It stuns me that our Employer can be so willfully disrespectful to those who give so much of themselves seemingly as naturally as they breathe air.
It’s ridiculous how our Employer has turned so many of its best and brightest against itself. There are incredibly dynamic library workers, and often it’s these very folks who are channeling their boundless energies and exceptional levels of commitment into keeping our Union strong while standing up to the very organization they give their proverbial blood, sweat and tears to every day.
I love how united we are. We have 20+ year veterans picketing with fresh-faced newcomers. Librarians and senior librarians with couriers and technical services processors. Full-timers, part-time part-timers and pages. Everybody sounds passionate, committed, and fed up with always being treated as an afterthought.
Also, in my role, I get to more branches and departments than most, and every day I see the great things that we do! It really is impressive how we’ve come together across all job classifications. That alone shows how badly our Employer has screwed things up: EVERYBODY has had enough!
I didn’t realize how big an impact a strike can make until I heard comments from our supporters. Kinda like being a part of something bigger than oneself.
I have never felt such a deep sense of belonging. I am so proud!!!!
I’m falling in love with my Union!! I am seeing so much of the best that people can be these last few days (ha ha…with some exceptions, of course, but I tend to ignore those parts).
Really, I am in awe! Thank you and the rest of the team for your strength and perseverance!
Woohoo! Onward march!!
During some tough times…
I support our union! Goodbye 0.5% and minimum wage! We will not blame our union whether we achieve our aims or not. Because: no fight, no hope at all!!!
I’ve been a library employee (and union member) for almost 30 years. In that time, we’ve come close to striking on two occasions (one of them within a hair’s breadth) but we’ve always backed off. Why? First, fear; second, a naïve belief that if we were “reasonable” our employer would recognize this and reward us “the next time”. This “next time” never came, so we drew a line in the sand—and our employer hasn’t just crossed it, they’ve obliterated it with their mean-spirited and insulting offer. I’m sure they did this because they assumed, as in past years, that we would back off. Well, the chickens have come home to roost — only we’re not chickens. We’re taking a long-overdue stand against the erosion of our standard of living.
I’ve spoken with a number of people on the picket line and haven’t heard one word of dissent. I wonder if the City realizes that everything they’ve said and done thus far has only galvanized support for the strike? They will not break us. We all stand together.
This letter [from the library director] is an insidious attempt to divide us; its aim is to plant doubt in the minds of the Union members, weaken our trust and ultimately sap the vigour, commitment and passion that Union members feel right now ( and which [the director] and the other senior managers can witness so vividly from their library offices when they observe us out on Celebration Square).
It must be rankling some of them immensely to see us all together so strong and committed. A cliché but true: divide and conquer. This is what she is trying to do to us.
It is shameful that she is resorting to this tactic and indeed an insult to our intelligence; it is once again treating us as if we are children.
Please know that I stand by you and the rest of the Union leaders. I have not yet received this letter in the mail from Rose. When I do, I will follow up as you suggest (send her a simple, polite response that I stand with my union).
I trust that the rest of our Union membership will do the same.
Tsk tsk tsk, don’t the employers know their attempts to divide us backfires? It’s amazing how loud librarians can get. Today I’ll test my hearing. But so far so good. I think it survived yesterday.
Sending positive thoughts/vibes/prayers to the bargaining team this week. Go get them!!!
Before we went on strike, I already had a bit of activism experience . . . . Now I’m involved in a different type of activism (our Union strike) and it’s fascinating to see where the two types of activism share common ground: ultimately both are profoundly powerful agents for positive change and deeply life-changing for the activists.
I’m sure all of our CUPE Union members who`re working so hard together in this current struggle with the City feel this.
Yes! We need to persevere and support each other and stand up for the fairness of this strike. I envision our strike also helping other struggling workers in the process.
I, for one, am willing to be out on strike for however long it takes; you can count on me.
I believe (as you do) that if we keep it up, we WILL prevail.
I’ve worked for the Mississauga Library System for over two decades and never at any time had any illusion about the employer-employee relationship.
It feels very good to finally have a strong, truly committed Union leadership to inspire library union members to stand up to the City, make it accountable for its actions and demand a fair contract for library staff, a contract that respects good working conditions and a just, equitable remuneration for all levels of staff.
Alongside this it’s wonderful to see the strength and friendship among library staff as we unite together in this strike.
Also wonderful to see the community support we’re receiving from so many of our customers; truly heartwarming!
Not to mention the support and encouragement our Union is receiving from so many other unions and labour organizations.
I am not at all surprised at the behaviour for the City, having worked the library/City for 42 years, this is what I have seen and known for a long time. They have taken advantage of the library staff because we were seen as weak and as we continued to back down at the last minute when a strike was so close it seemed to confirm that. Going on strike is a very difficult thing to do especially for a group who make such low wages, therefore making it very hard to have money in the bank to get you through a strike — and management knows that and uses that. I feel the City would not and do not treat or feel the same why about the other City Unions that are mostly dominated by men.
Your words say it so clearly and I do hope all of library union members are able to hang in there. This is a very hard fight against an unfeeling or caring employer.
When we returned to the table…
We are with you and the bargaining team.
Good luck to you and the bargaining team. I wish the city would realize what a dedicated crew we (the library workers) are. To strike in summer heat and not falter. It must say something about us as a group.
One thing about this strike. You can meet staff you don’t usually work with and catch up with staff that you do. Whether they be your branch or another.
I appreciate seeing the extra support we are getting. The Fight for 15 Fairness, Maureen O’Reilly, Fred Hahn, so many others. Yup, this is bigger then just us. I would love to see minimum raised to 15 across the province.
When we reached a settlement…
I can’t believe it! This is so wonderful! I am so proud to work with such amazing, strong, dedicated and compassionate people. Congratulations to everyone for a fight well fought!
I will cherish my wonderful memories of picketing, rallies, friendship, unity.
I will definitely miss walking and talking to everyone as well! I will miss our togetherness and preserverance, I will always remember this bonding experience! Love you guys!
18 days ago, my sisters and brothers of CUPE 1989 set out on a journey to show our employer that we were fed up with our working conditions. That we would no longer stand for these unfair working condition.
This strike has taught me many things (some not so good, but let’s focus on the positive); there are so many amazing people that work in our library system, the support, the SOLIDARITY. The support of the public and other unions in this fight was unbelievable.
I hope that we never have to experience this again, but it is now a memory I will cherish, better than any staff appreciation our employer will ever put on for us. I was definitely feeling the stress this past week, but everyone was so supportive and I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished together.
I hope that our fight will help others fight for what’s fair and help end precarious work. I say all this still not knowing what the deal will be, but I trust that our bargaining team would not settle for anything less than we deserve. I don’t know about you, but I’m celebrating this weekend!
What a wonderful experience this was for all of us. This strike gave me confidence!! I got to know so many wonderful members from the library system and from other wonderful CUPE members. It’s an unforgettable experience for me. I will cherish this wonderful memories
Let’s carry this hope, loyalty and friendship forward into our workplace and stay respectful and kind to all of our friends who fought this battle and carried the flags and talked the talk… let this be our future mission!
I was starting to feel the stress, my morale was down and then a few conversations with colleagues and a couple negative comments made by people made me take a step back and say ‘hey wait a minute’ and that just motivated me more. Thank you so much for your tireless efforts for us and thank you to everyone who was out there on the picket lines every day in the heat, no matter what, fighting the good fight. I have had the chance to talk to and meet so many people I didn’t know before so thank you for those connections as well. I am on vacation next week but I will be excited to get back and see all the excited kids for the summer programs.
Every time I wear a pink shirt from now on it will mean something more than just wearing a pink shirt.
I am so excited to go back to work but I will miss every moment of my picketing!! Wow! We had so much fun. See you all [at the ratification vote] with our similing faces. We did it! We won!!!
I feel like we won the lottery! Only we didn’t win it, we FOUGHT for it!
After a member expressed concern about part-time getting “more” than full-time…
I knew in time opinions like this would surface. This is EXACTLY what the employer wants. They want staff to have the “this doesn’t effect me, so I don’t support the movement” attitude.
This is the response that I myself have received from friends and family: “But you’re full-time permanent now, why do you care about other levels that you probably won’t go back to?” But once they hear the issues they understand.
I care because I was part-time for 15 years, and I received nothing. I care because when I became full-time I suddenly had all these things I never had before, I was suddenly so much more important, when nothing had changed. My work ethic stayed the same, my intelligence level was the same, who I was still the same. But because I was now full-time, suddenly I mattered.
I care because suddenly my 15 years of part-time service meant nothing (they didn’t want to give me my service pin because I was now full-time, though I completed more then fifteen years at part-time — my manager had to fight for it). I care because I’ve known many people in this system for many years and we’ve all at some point felt that part-time staff meant nothing and that has finally changed.
The bargaining team has made me believe that change is possible, that we CAN make a difference but we MUST stick together. It’s never too late to help your teammates receive things they should have had a long time ago. Full-time or part-time, Pages or supervisors we are all human beings and deserve to make wages we can live on. Solidarity, today, tomorrow and always!!!!
I understand the stress, we’re all feeling it. I know as this goes into a second week people are coming to the realization that this could possibly go on for a while. Know what’s lost now will be regained in the future. The City now knows we’re not afraid, they know that we are willing to do what needs to be done, and I hope that because of this they will deal with future agreements with more class and dignity than this round, because they know we won’t back down. I put all my trust in our leadership and the bargaining team. There will always be bumps, it’s part of life. This will all be worth it in the end. Solidarity always.
— Laura Kaminker, President, CUPE 1989