When a union isn’t a union

UPDATE: There are important discussions going on here and here concerning the union name change

UPDATE 2: As of May 2nd the TCU will indeed be known as Cycle Toronto. Members voted at their AGM  71% to 29% in favour of the name change.




The Toronto Cyclists Union — a five-year-old organization that lobbies for a healthier cycling environment in Canada’s largest city — proclaims in its most recent newsletter that, while it has doubled its membership in a year, from 1,018 to 2,100, the city in the same period has reduced the number of bike lanes. Thus, says the newsletter, “Toronto has not shown the will to respect us as taxpayers, as road users, and as valuable citizens.”


Analyzing what roadbocks may be in the path of the Toronto Cyclists Union becoming more muscular, strident and effective, its board of directors has identified the organization’s name as a significant obstacle. We quote the directors in full:


“Over the past years, we have run into unexpected pockets of resistance when applying for grants as well as in recruiting business members and individual donors. There is a large group of cyclists in Toronto that don’t feel connected to our organization, and they have often expressed that our current name is largely responsible for that disconnect. Considering all of the positive impacts that we want to have as an organization, the Board of Directors does not want our name to prevent a single cyclist from joining our organization. Our strategy and trajectory demands that we be accessible and essential for everyone who rides in Toronto, and we feel that now – as we are poised for record growth – is the time to address this issue.”


They propose to change the name to Cycle Toronto. Perhaps they can do even better and sell off corporate naming rights. Scotiabank Cycle Toronto.


This is so interesting.

Here in live-streaming action is the cleavage of culture war and the ripe fruit of the efforts of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his allies to shift the default position of Canadian political values to some pervasive neo-liberal ideology. Now hear this: The cyclist cause in 2012 Toronto will not find funding or sign up “business members” if it uses the word “union” in its organization name. Therefore it must not say that word.


The most fascinating question of contemporary Canadian politics is why do people act against their own interests.


Why did working people vote for Rob Ford as Mayor of Toronto, a rich man committed to stripping government of the ability to provide services that they need and that make their lives and their children’s lives better?


Why do they vote for a Conservative Party committed to reducing taxes on the rich and reducing the state’s ability to be the common terrain where Canadians meet to defend each other’s class interests?


Why is there so much rage against the union movement as there was in the 2010 Toronto garbage strike, simply because they earned decent and dignified incomes and their union got them health benefits and pensions and job security, things that unions get for their members and which employers do not hand out without threat of a strike?


Why did so many American state legislatures, faced with denuded treasuries created by tax reductions for the rich, vote to eviscerate the contracts of their public sector unions — why did they vote to hurt working people with the support of working people?


Why do the directors of the Toronto Cyclists Union not seem to be the sort of people interested in socio-economic models that most benefit the majority of citizens? For example, outperforming Canada and all other countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, with the highest quality of life indices and the greatest social cohesion, are Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway which have high taxation rates (between 42 per cent and 52 per cent of gross domestic product compared to Canada’s rate of 34 per cent), high social program spending, the most successful policies for alleviating the effects of market forces on the poor and worker unionization rates of more than 80 per cent (Canada’s is 35 per cent).


Renown British sociologist Michael Mann has an explanation for this. The education systems in liberal (i.e. capitalist) democracies brainwash schoolchildren into false consciousness and what is ignored in childhood is unlikely to be grasped in adulthood. Quod erat demonstratum, board of directors of the Toronto Cyclists Union.


Dominant values are generally promulgated by ruling groups to legitimate their rule; deviant values by groups contesting that legitimacy. Dominant/deviant issues are not presented to children in school and we know from studies of the media that the media relentlessly support dominant values..


The most common form of manipulative socialization by the liberal democratic state, Mann says, does not seek to change values but rather to perpetuate values that do not aid the working class to interpret the reality it actually experiences. These values merely deny the existence of group and class conflict within the nation-state society and therefore are demonstrably false.


Okay? So bad things were done to the board of directors of the Toronto Cyclists Union in childhood but it’s not too late for them to sort out their thinking. Nor is it too late for potential “business members” who cycle to work. They can join the Toronto Cyclists Union and help campaign for bike lanes or get whacked some morning by a Lexus on Bay Street.




One thought on “When a union isn’t a union

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>