How to be a Working Class Kill Joy at your Friend's Oscar Party

The Academy Awards started as a union-busting sham

Did you know that the creation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in the 1920s was part of a deliberate ploy to undermine unionization in American show business?

Photo by AlexanderLipko/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by AlexanderLipko/iStock / Getty Images

It starts with Louis B. Mayer, a California-based studio boss, and the 'Mayer' in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. His fear that workers in the studio industry would dare to organize and demand fair working conditions culminated in the establishment of the Academy that gives out the Oscars tomorrow.


Louis B. Mayer (right) with Jimmy Durante during an award dinner at Mt. Sinai Men's Club in Los Angeles, California in 1948. [Wikimedia Commons]

Louis B. Mayer (right) with Jimmy Durante during an award dinner at Mt. Sinai Men's Club in Los Angeles, California in 1948. [Wikimedia Commons]

The facinating story has  been detailed elsewhere, but our favourite take is the 2014 Vanity Fair piece by David Thompson.  According to Thompson, the MGM studio boss was trying to build a palatial beach house so his family could have somewhere appropriate to spend their summer leisure time. Mayer also wanted to exploit his own in-house studio labour to save time and cut costs for his family project.

In 1926, Mayer’s staff design lead drafted plans for a glamourous beach pad. But there was an inconvenience they would have to contend with:

The studios were about to sign an agreement with the union that looked after studio laborers (soon to be known as the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees). Those guys had secure rates of pay, with overtime. That house was going to cost if studio labor built it…

Until this very practical example, he had never quite appreciated the deal made with these carpenters, painters, electricians, et cetera.
— DAVID THOMSON, Vanity Fair 2014

Thompson goes on to explain that Mayer was soon set on a course of employer-side creativity to manage the potential of more workers demanding union protection.

Mr. Mayer and his pals decided they needed an organization to handle labor problems at the studio without having to get into the union thing, and it would be a public relations operation that pumped out the message that Hollywood was a wonderful place where delightful and thrilling stories were made to give the folks a good time. They liked the scheme and wondered what to call this organization.

It needed a word with class, history, distinction... ? In a few more days they had fleshed it out: the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
— DAVID THOMSON, Vanity Fair 2014

So the next time you’re at an Oscar viewing party with friends, dare to be the unionist kill joy: The ‘Oscars’ -- and possibly other industry associations that give out awards -- are attempts by rich people to disorganize workers.


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That time they introduced "The World's First Blogging Hospital" to talk about healthcare infrastructure funding

Long-term, envelope-pushing digital media success comes from trying stuff, failing, then learning a lot. We do our work in the trenches of social media and have inevitably flopped with a creative experiment or two over the years. But we learn from valiant efforts gone astray.

With that in mind, if you care about changing policy conversations with great digital content, ponder this for a moment:

1. Is the best way to capitalize on the massive popularity of DIY personal vlogging to cast a very non-human scripted talking puppet to present your request for funding?

2. Is it interesting?

3. Are actual people watching this voluntarily?


(select your preferred tone)

Super gentle yet ultimately passive-aggressive email version:

Hey! Totally see what you were going for here. Certainly lots of economic issues to cover when advocating for greater funding for hospitals. Lots of potentially boring numbers and things. I mean, this is a pretty creative alternative! People like puppets. And you didn’t do one of those white board animations of a bunch of facts. So there’s that.  

Looks like you were really trying to humanize the issue by making Alberta’s Royal Alexandra Hospital into a sassy blogger named Alex. Nice! 

But, you know, they say that if you want to humanize the issue, try humans and their human stories. While I know this is a lot to think about, consider that there may really be merit to that.

Good effort! xox

Curt series of crushing texts:

Um, maybe don’t cast an anthropomorphized building.

Not relatable.

Also: zero per cent quirky. And only 1% more delightful than a pre-roll ad that's forced on me when trying to watch something on YouTube.

Wait. There's an instagram account for the puppet?

Seriously. No.



Crummy hospitals resulting from chronic, decades-long provincial underfunding mean real patients, workers and families get hurt. That’s incredibly human. Way to bury the lead with a fake vlogger with felt eyes.


Expensive, slick productions often fail at actually connecting to the reason people watch YouTube vlogs: FOR THE REAL HUMANS.

5 types of people who used social media to talk about labour, solidarity and the Women’s March on Washington

Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington was livestreamed on Facebook by citizen journalists and CNN alike.

Photo by Giii/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Giii/iStock / Getty Images

If you logged into your social media platform of choice over the weekend you were likely to find photos, video and reflective posts -- ranging from reinvigorated enthusiasm to cautious critique -- all over your newsfeed.

Here are five types of broad perspectives on marching that we noticed on social media over the weekend. Each had something valuable to add to the ongoing public discourse on the nature of solidarity, Trump, inequality and organizing resistance.

1. People Who Didn't March, Because.

As inspiring as the frantic knitting circles and airplane cabins full of protesters were, some of the sharpest analysis and most productive critique came from people who visibly and unapologetically chose not to march on Saturday. Reasons varied, but there was a powerful pattern of Black and racialized feminists resisting the expectation that they show up.

Jamilah Lemieux wrote a piece in Colorlines about her deliberate decision skip the march and how the move was connected to the “lack of sisterhood” that had already haunted her during the 2016 U.S. election season.

I’m not saying that I will never stand in solidarity with masses of White women under the umbrella of our gender, but it won’t be this weekend. Managing my depression is a complicated daily task, one that will certainly be exacerbated by the presidential inauguration festivities. It won’t serve my own mental health needs to put my body on the line (a body that I believe will invite more violence from Trump supporters than paler attendees) to feign solidarity with women who by and large didn’t have my back prior to November. Not yet. Eventually? Perhaps. But not now.
— Jamilah Lemieux

Those sentiments were shared by others like poet, multimedium artist, activist and educator Lynx Sainte-Marie who brought attention to the range of reasons people may not (want to) take part in the protests.

And while many worked to make sure protesting could also happen online and from home through an organized virtual march, ableist views of what constitutes legitimate protest still impacted the value placed on physically taking to the streets.

Adding to the critique were those who spoke openly on social media about the health and safety factors involved in participating and the challenges faced by loved ones who chose join local solidarity actions.


2. People Who Marched, Because Organizing.

Community-based organizers, including union organizer and co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Alicia Garza used social media to put a deliberate focus on growing the base of people involved and active in change movements.

This perspective emphasized a vision of whole worker organizing that met people where they were at, analytical knowledge gaps and all.

3. People Who Marched, Because Unions.

Many of the marchers across Canada and the U.S. chose to engage policy issues through their unions. Labour leaders, including those at the Canadian Labour Congress, took part in the marches with an emphasis on labour solidarity.

Marie Clarke Walker (@mcwalker64), Executive Vice President of Canadian Labour Congress

Marie Clarke Walker (@mcwalker64), Executive Vice President of Canadian Labour Congress

4. People Who Didn't March, Because Work.

There was also a strong contingent of folks who used social media on the job to show that worklife, paying the bills and activism are messy and interconnected.


5. People Who Didn't March, Because Energy.

Valuable insights were also added by people who protested the tokenizing and exceptionalism at play. They drew our attention to the elevation of one single day, over the many hundreds ahead of us. 

Whether you marched or not, what matters is what we do next.

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Kevin hates unions, surprises no one

Kevin O'Leary is charming. 

Kevin O'Leary is charming. 

In an interview with Heather Hiscox on CBC News Morning the Conservative Party of Canada leadership hopeful lamented that "we didn’t take advantage of the financial meltdown to actually crush the unions when we could have" and went on to add that he thinks that his unapolagetic union bashing is something he loves to do and "frankly, a good thing".

It should surprise no one that Kevin O'Leary is a shock doctrine espousing rich guy who thinks strategically about crushing workers during a financial disaster.  As David Doorey pointed out over at the Law of Work, O'Leary is a typical greedy boss: 

Of course, O’Leary wants to get rid of unions. His favorite slogan is “greed is good”. If you are a greedy entrepreneur, you won’t like unions, because they take money from CEOs and give it to workers.
— David Doorey, York University

In response to being asked about O'Leary's past comments about jailing Canadians in unions, Arlene Dickinson (fellow rich person and Dragon's Den co-star) replied calmly, "That isn't just bluster for television, that is who this man is". 

While all this alarm about Kevin O'Leary is reasonable, let's not forget that he isn't a unique Trump-like leadership hopeful. Lisa Raitt, for example, also hates unions and doesn't like being mocked. We're also quite sure that Kellie Leitch is furious that O'Leary is monopolizing the media comparisons to the Donald.

The truth is O'Leary is by no means a special Trump-like snowflake.

Let's hope we don't spend more time over individualizing the anti-unionism to one man, there's plenty more where that came from.

Why Kylie Jenner Should Employ Paid Social Media Content Managers

Jenner’s recent App content fail tells us a LOT ABOUT CONTRACTING OUT FULL TIME WORK

The deeply problematic empire built by Kylie Jenner includes ownership of Kylie Cosmetics. The company sells lip kits and eyeshadow paletts and profited Jenner 20 million*. 

Most twenty something millionaire CEOs are invested in the profitability of their public personality (some call this a personal social media brand). For Jenner this commodified brandscape includes a Kylie Jenner App which was valued at 3 million in 2016.

Jenner, like the rest of her millionaire family, has contracted-out content production for her personal app to a third party. And just like municipal snow removal services, when you privatize jobs that should be full-time and pension-involving the quality stinks. 

For example: 

Source - ONTD: 

Source - ONTD: 

Jenner has tweeted that she did not personally authorize the final post. This kind of saccharine TMI content would be awful for many, but Kylie Jenner has built her particular empire on the illusion of authenticity and direct ownership of content.  For instance, her cosmetics corporation is branded as closely managed by Kylie Jenner herself:

After two long years of dreaming about this, I am so excited to finally share my cosmetic secrets with you guys.
— Kylie Cosmetics About Section (

The lesson in all this is that social media work is real work, and should be done by qualified, well paid and well trained staff. Enough with the awful permalance gigs.


*Though snarky celebrity financial reporting -- and yes, that`s a genre of blogging  -- says 20 million is an an inflated guess

Canada Post Corporation tries out ‘Mom Squad’ YouTube Series

Photo by DigitalVision / Getty Images

Photo by DigitalVision / Getty Images

The corporate leadership at Canada Post has launched a YouTube introduction to their new travelling chat show last week. Canada Post’s ‘Mom Squad’ campaign will tour the country and consists of conversation with six real postal workers (coated generously with a public relations glaze of mom-based integrity).

According to the corporate press release, content discussed will include gift ideas, holiday traditions and a behind the scenes look at the “convenient services” offered by Canada Post. 

The first video, filed under the ‘News and Politics’ YouTube category features conversations that are friendly and mundane. The production quality is average. In an era of competitive social media content, this attempt leaves us scratching our heads about why anyone would watch. One day after posting, the introductory 4 minute video has less than 200 views. Nothing to write home about. 

That Canada Post has decided to go full mom is a clear indication of how much they feel CUPW STTP’s pay equity campaign has hurt them.
— Erika Shaker

Perhaps the best explanation for this focus on family-centric conversations and deliberate appeal to motherhood was offered by the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternative’s Erika Shaker. Shaker has been closely monitoring corporate public relations tactics, with an acute focus on marketing to kids. She attributed the move to the recent success of CUPW-STTP’s mobilization around pay equity and bargaining. The corporation is clearly feeling the heat she says.

“That Canada Post has decided to go full mom is a clear indication of how much they feel CUPW STTP's pay equity campaign has hurt them.” She adds, “Not to mention how fundamentally off-side the corporation has been when it comes to public opinion.”


Watch the first video for yourself, here.

Read Erika Shaker’s take on CUPW STTP’s narrative-changing work, here.

Clinton wins battle of debate re-tweets, not so much that whole election thing

Photo by bombuscreative/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by bombuscreative/iStock / Getty Images

While it certainly won't predict election outcomes, Hillary Clinton won the re-tweet battle this evening.

The Clinton campaign’s use of Twitter’s re-tweet function, to disprove Trump’s debate claim that he’s never suggested China was responsible for deploying climate change mythology, got over 4.8k shares. 


That’s more than double the number of shares Trump’s most popular debate tweet received. Said tweet was also simply an announcement that his "team of deplorables" would be managing his account during the debate.

Also worth noting, as MacLeans was quick to point out, Clinton's social media team walked away the winner of the post-debate gif battle.

Making unions heard: From phoning a typist to tweeting a picket line

Here's the conversation that took place recently between Solidarity Media's own Ishani Weera and self-proclaimed "old newspaper guy" Terry Inigo-Jones. Terry's article was originally published in Our Times Magazine.

By Terry Inigo-Jones



As an old newspaper guy, you’re more likely to find ink running through my veins than bytes in my bloodstream.

I started my career as a reporter in England on papers with hot-metal presses. I used to pound out news stories on a creaky but robust 1937 Imperial typewriter and used shorthand to take notes rather than a digital recorder.

To file late-breaking news stories on deadline, I had to run to find a working public telephone and phone my copy in to a typist. You may think the best thing about a smart phone is the video camera, the games or the ability to watch your favourite TV show anywhere. For me, the best thing is that it means no more standing in urine-soaked and vandalized phone booths.

 Even an old print guy can see to the opportunities of the digital age in which we now work.

“According to Facebook statistics from 2013, more than 19 million Canadians use the social-media platform once a month and 14 million check it every day,” says Ishani Weera, an expert in helping unions, non-profit and advocacy groups maximize their social-media outreach.

A 2015 Forum poll found Facebook is used by close to 6-in-10 Canadian adults, and most visit more than once a day. When it comes to millennials (people between 18 and 33), a recent U.S. study revealed that 61 per cent get their political news from Facebook compared to only 37 per cent looking to traditional television news.

Weera’s work is unusual in Canadian labour social media. Instead of using platforms, including Facebook, strictly as communications tools, she used social media as a tool for organizing action in her role as executive director of outreach for the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) and the person responsible for managing the AFL’s Facebook presence.

With an emphasis on daily engagement, Weera grew the AFL’s Facebook following from 500 in 2012 to more than 8,000 today, the highest figure for provincial federations of labour in English-speaking Canada. In 2015, the AFL won the Canadian Association of Labour Media (CALM) award for best use of social media.

Weera has been able to merge her expertise in organizing and her passion for social media in new ways. In 2014 she used the power of the hashtag to encourage Canadians on Twitter to offer tongue-in-cheek thanks to Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party of Canada in the voice of the 1%.

This was coordinated to work with a “Welcoming Committee of the 1%” event staged by the AFL for the Conservatives’ 2013 policy convention in Calgary. The cheeky stunt involved hiring local unionized actors to depict members of the very wealthy. Weera did everything from writing the scripts and drafting the handbills, to costuming the actors in elaborate gowns and vintage top hats. And she ensured the event was captured on YouTube. The stunt received CALM’s Dennis McGann Stroke-of-Genius Award for most innovative communications project.

After more than 30 years as a journalist, I’ve spent the last six years as a communications professional in the labour movement, first as communications director with the AFL and now as communications officer with the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA), the union of health care professionals.

I often hear that one reason right-wing governments have been successful in attacking unions is because those of us on the left have failed to do a good job of telling our stories, explaining why unions matter — and of getting those stories out to our members and to the public.
— Terry Inigo-Jones

I often hear that one reason right-wing governments have been successful in attacking unions is because those of us on the left have failed to do a good job of telling our stories, explaining why unions matter — and of getting those stories out to our members and to the public.

“The tragic thing is unions do so much good work that the public never really sees,” says Weera. “I’ve learned that if you’re going to do an action, or support a movement like Occupy or Idle No More, then shareable content is key. It’s one of the best organizing tools we have. Non-profit and advocacy groups can also get their message out effectively this way.”

However, it’s not enough to just create your own Facebook or Twitter accounts (or YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, and so on). You’ve also got to know how to build your audience.

“The Internet is a huge place. People won’t stumble across you — you have to work to find them,” says Weera. “Even when you have lots of followers on Facebook or Twitter, you have to work to keep them consistently engaged. That requires rapid content creation and daily posts — ones that grab the attention of readers and make them want to like, share and retweet your message.”

The total likes, shares and comments generated for the various AFL Facebook campaigns in the last three years was more than 11 million. In her first four months as the Facebook lead at the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees Weera's taken the page from modest popularity to the most-followed union page in the Province with over 17,000 followers.

Now that’s a lot better way to reach people than standing in a stinky phone booth.

Q&A with Ishani

Did you grow up in an activist family?

I think marginalized people, racialized workers in particular, are perpetual activists. They don’t have a choice but to advocate for their rights, because their rights are constantly denied or challenged. My family and I immigrated to Canada from Sri Lanka in the 1980s when I was a kid. There were countless instances while I was growing up where my parents had to fight for their rights as workers. I have a parent who is a survivor of an occupational injury. For years he had to battle not only an employer who denied responsibility, but a team of corporate lawyers and well-paid consultants in “risk management.” These are the things you’re up against.


Do you see the role of social media shifting in unions?

It’s definitely shifting, especially at the international level. At the AFL-CIO, in the U.S., there is now a department dedicated to digital strategies — separate from their organizing department, and separate from their communications department. This kind of organization-wide prioritizing of social media has earned them attention. It’s not just that more than 150,000 people have liked the AFL-CIO’s Facebook page; it’s that they consistently have more than 20,000 people engaging with content. I see a really strong link between investing in social media and being able to maintain high levels of engagement. Unions are learning to prioritize this work and it’s an interesting time for digital organizing.


What does social media mean for traditional communication and organizing?

Social media is an essential part of grassroots organizing and union communication, not a substitute for what already works. I really see the attention-grabbing visual content we create for social media as an extension of the visual tradition of union posters. Labour movements have a long history of using strong imagery to generate campaign engagement.

Read the rest of the Q&A here.


Terry Inigo-Jones is a journalist living in Calgary, Alberta. He works for the Health Sciences Association of Alberta and is a member of the International Union of Operating Engineers. You can read some of his work in the latest issue of HSAA's Challenger.


Fighting to exist: Why Alberta unions (of the labour and student variety) should work in solidarity

CAPSE Rally for Post-Secondary Education, UofA campus (March 2013) 

CAPSE Rally for Post-Secondary Education, UofA campus (March 2013) 

Ishani Weera
Yesterday’s online issue of the University of Alberta's student-run campus newspaper contained an editorial that captured two of my interests: campus activism and public-sector unions.

Gateway editor Kieran Chrysler defended Students’ Unions (SUs) and was critical of  Alberta's right-wing Wildrose Party and it's proposed anti-SU policy that sought to amend the province's Post-Secondary Learning Act and defund student unions.

The Wildrose's proposed policy leaned on frames it frequently used to demonize workers and their unions to attack student governments and their advocacy for public education. The proposed policy stated that SU fees are like "mandatory mebership dues to any public sector union”. It went one step further by also suggesting that much like those ghastly unions, SUs used their financial resources "to advance certain, often progressive, political agendas."

Here’s an excerpt outlining Chrysler’s opposition to the comparison:

It's also interesting that the letter that the Council of Alberta University Students issued ahead of the Wildrose AGM focused on differentiating student governments from the party's (mis)charachterization of union transparency.  

This is yet another bit of proof union organizers and student activists have more work to do in collaboratively defining common ground.

Common Enemies

Recently, the right-wing Fraser Institute heralded the passing of Canada’s federal anti-union bill as a move in the right direction.  “The next step” they declared in their press release was to “ensure that workers have a choice about whether or not to becoming union members at all.” The Fraser Institute also insisted that workers should have the “choice” not to pay union dues in exchange for collective benefits like union-negotiated dispute resolution processes, wage increases, health benefits and pension contributions.

Calling the dismantling of labour unions an issue of “worker choice” is clever, though intentionally misleading. We can’t help but notice that it’s the same cleverness embedded in the Wildrose policy proposal to dismantle SUs in the province.

Same strategy, different targets

The approach of the partisan right is the same when it comes to both SUs and worker unions: Undermine the economic viability of institutions that act as counterbalances to power.

When members of the Wildrose Party unanimously approved a policy proposal for student “choice” at their Calgary AGM it was all about an attack on the financial resources of student government. The policy would allow every post-secondary student to “choose whether or not he/she wishes to become a dues-paying member of a student association.” Keean Bextem, a former student’s union representative himself, put forward the anti-SU proposal at the Wildrose AGM and lamented to CBC that students are "being forced to pay money, pay thousands of dollars throughout their degree, to fund organizations that don't necessarily represent them."

What happens when we frame all collective action as oppressive

Calling dues oppressive burdens forced on people -- rather than collective investment in people’s collective good – is not dissimilar from the right’s preoccupation with insisting all taxes are “burdens” rather than revenue for public services we count on. Cognitive linguist George Lakoff talks about this at length when discussing metaphorical language like “tax relief”.  Combine the word tax with the word relief says Lakoff and “you get a metaphor that taxation is an affliction, and anybody against relieving this affliction is a villain.”

The same rhetoric informed John Mortimer of the right-leaning Canadian Labour Watch Association when he declared in his National Post editorial that workers are unfairly “forced to pay union dues”.  It’s worth noting that the Canadian Labour Watch Association is part of the right-leaning employer lobby group known as the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Mortimer’s attack on union dues shouldn’t be a surprise. Employers groups are afraid of the voice unions provide to workers. They also don’t really care for our advocacy around things like worker safety, fair hiring practices and well-funded public services for all. 

Similarly, SUs ensure students have a voice on campus. Universities (who are also employers) don’t really care for the way Students unions advocate for things like investments in advanced education and tuition freezes.

Defending ourselves against the partisan right through solidarity

The response of workers and their unions to these attacks has been to explain the democratic, transparent and fair processes unions provide workers. It echoes the sentiments of collective action that underlay Chrysler’s attempt to defend Student Unions in her editorial. Chrysler points out that SUs are valuable organizations where “each incoming year elected representatives can work on issues that, based on their successful campaigns, are ones that students care about.”

So if we’re all targets of the partisan right, then why aren’t unions and students unions making more public statements of solidarity? The political forces that apply austerity economics to the public university are doing the same to public-sector services like health care, infrastructure and road maintenance, and social services.

It’s scary stuff, and cause for greater solidarity, not division.


Ishani Weera is the Senior Social Media Strategist at Solidarity Media.