Fighting Words, where area residents offer their opinions on the issues of the day, from the serious to the whimsical. The opinions expressed on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the Stanley Bridge Centre.
A HOMAGE TO JIMMY HOFFA – FILM REVIEW
By Richard Deaton, Stanley Bridge
When I was growing up labour leaders John L. Lewis and Jimmy Hoffa were my heroes. They still are. Jimmy Hoffa, the former head of the Teamsters Union, died under mysterious circumstances in 1975.
The Irishman, a blockbuster Hollywood film starring Joe Pesci, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, produced and directed by Martin Scorsese, has received considerable publicity. Contrary to the heady reviews in the mainstream media which have made the film into an Academy Award contender, let me simply say that the film generates a lot of hype bordering on garbage.
The only award the film deserves is The Golden Shovel Award for Hollywood bullshit and anti-union sentiment.
The film is really two films rolled up into one. The first film purports to tell the story of Frank Sheeran, a Mafia hitman, who had close ties to Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters Union. How much is based on fact, and how much is fiction, remains to be seen. Many commentators, journalists, and family members have already stated that the film has taken considerable liberties with the truth.
The second or parallel story is that of Jimmy Hoffa’s rise and fall as a union leader in a notoriously violent anti-union environment. The film could have been titled, Homage to Jimmy.
The film weighs in at a cool 3.5 hours, enough time for any film aficionado to develop a callous on their backside. The film should have been cut by at least 1 – 1.5 hours and left on the cutting room floor. The fact it wasn’t says more about the luminaries acting in the film. The acting was generally first rate, but my own personal preference is for the more nuanced acting of Robert De Niro as the quiet, introspective family man who was also a hitman, rather than the blustery, gravelly performance by Al Pacino playing Jimmy Hoffa.
The film decontextualizes the subject matter. Historically, the U.S., Canada, and France have been the most violent anti-union countries in the Western world. Europe has always had a much higher rate of unionization. The current low unionization rate in the U.S. (13 per cent) and Canada (38 per cent) attests to that reality. When I was studying Industrial Relations and Economics at the University of Wisconsin in the mid- 1960s it was axiomatic that a “dirty” or corrupt union operated in a highly competitive labour market where an employer had to stabilize labour costs to stay in business. Employer-sponsored violence and bribes were merely tools towards that end. Unions learned from and reflected their employer’s practices. There was a symbiotic relationship.
The Teamsters in the U.S. have been stronger than their counterparts in Canada because they are deemed employees, whereas long haul truck drivers in Canada are, in law, deemed to be “co-adventurers”, that is, co-owners, because many own their own rig (this rule also applies to lobster fishermen’s boats).
And, yes, the Teamsters played hard ball. They had to. But they also got results. The Teamsters were among the first unions to negotiate a pension plan, health care benefits, and occupational health and safety provisions. Were the Teamsters dirty? Was Hoffa dirty? Certainly the mid-West Teamsters pension fund was like chumming the waters for sharks and the Mafia took its cut. But many defenders of Hoffa have argued that in reality he was a restraining influence on the mob’s greed.
Remember though, at this time in the U.S. there was no regulatory framework or standards for pension plan solvency, and many corporations used their pensions funds as a source of internal financing for their own business operations. So who was raiding and asset stripping the corporate pension fund?
Corporate pension fund assets were relegated to being a footnote on the last page of a large company’s audited annual report (literally). And with limited transparency there was no way of preventing the bloated pensions and salaries that corporate CEOs gave themselves. So who was “dirty”?
Was Hoffa himself dirty, and did he take a cut? Significantly, not even Bobby Kennedy in his vendetta with Hoffa could ever prove that Hoffa personally took so much as a dime! If Kennedy could have proven that allegation he undoubtedly would have beaten the drums. From all accounts, Hoffa lived in the same small bungalow, with a white picket fence (literally), with his wife for decades. No offshore accounts were ever found, nor was any money found stashed away in bank accounts. So if he was dirty, what did he do with the money?
After I became a CUPE union staff member in June 1970 a Windsor trade union contact told me this story. Hoffa would go over to Windsor from Detroit occasionally to do his heavy drinking, despite his image as a tea-totaller. According to this story Hoffa hated employer foremen who had daily shape ups to hire casual labour since they expected to be bribed by the men for a job. So Hoffa took money from the pension fund (usually $10K) to pay off the crew boss with the following ultimatum: take the money offered and quit his job as foreman, or face the consequences. Most took the money. Take this story at its face value.
Martin Seymour Lipset, a well-known American sociologist in the 1950-60s, wrote a classic article titled, “The Mafia as an American Way of Life.” He argued that the only thing that mattered in the U.S. was money and status, and how people acquired that money and power was irrelevant. A mafia chieftain using illegal means to make money, in this formulation, is every bit as legitimate as a corporate CEO making profits. Money, power, and social mobility are the end goals, the means are irrelevant.
The Teamsters Union weren’t choir boys or small “d” democrats. In the summer of 1967 the Teamsters Union attempted to unionize the Pepsi Cola bottling plant in Madison, Wisconsin, where I was attending university. Many student radicals became involved in doing a lot of the grunt work involved in organizing the plant, over the objections of the Teamsters. But the student radicals refused to go away. Subsequently, the leader of the student radicals was pulled aside by a cop who told him he was being arrested for having a concealed weapon. And a revolver was found in his car’s glove compartment. Surprise.
If the Irishman is to be faulted for anything it is its excessive and unnecessary length and its failure to provide historical context. As Emile Zola, the French social critic and author, wrote in his classic proletarian novel, Germinal, we are all the victims of the capitalist system.
No cure for Post Harper Syndrome
By Jim Brown
There’s a new and disturbing clinical condition and hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions of Canadians, have it. It’s called “Post Harper Syndrome” or PHS for short.
Symptoms of PHS include a state of euphoria that can last up to 12 hours a day, interrupted by ever lengthening periods of restlessness and unease. Other symptoms can include a sudden loss of desire to post political-themed news items or observations on Facebook and other social media sites. Or conversely, an inexplicable urge to post “cute kitty or cute puppy” videos. Also, photos of restaurant meals.
Extreme sufferers say life has lost all meaning since the Harper government was taken to the curb with the recyclables on Oct 19.
What do you do with the rest of your life when everything you had hoped and dreamed would happen on Election Day actually did? Why, many millions of Canadians thought the best they could hope for was a minority Liberal or NDP government. They were over the moon when the Harper Conservatives were soundly threshed and the Justin Trudeau Liberals captured an improbable majority mandate. Four more years of rational, compassionate, responsible, incorruptable government. What ever will us PHS sufferers do with ourselves if we can’t bitch about Ottawa and the Harper government’s disturbing authoritarian twitches? All that greed, corruption, incompetence and overweening arrogance swept away with a clean broom.
Of course PHS sufferers could always hope the newly elected Liberal government would experience an ethical lapse or two. Maybe some cabinet ministers might be caught with their hands in the cookie jar? Maybe some influence peddling? Perhaps the Red Chamber might once again turn into a cesspool of immorality and kited expense claims.
But we all knew when the white knights were voted into office by millions of Canadians the odds of that happening were miniscule at best. The Trudeau Liberals have been paying close attention to what has happened under Harper’s watch since 2006 and it would take a special kind of stupid to let it happen to them. Oh My God, what happens if we get good governance for eight years, or 12 or even 20?
How will we, including TV and print pundits and the messiahs of the Internet with their uncounted legions of followers, survive the coming decades? It will be like winter on the Game of Thrones.
I find myself increasingly anxious about the future. Will there be any more malfeasance in high office to rail about, to expose to the light of public scrutiny and outrage? I fear not. I fear I will live a shallow, barren existence for my remaining years.
Only a couple of things would have made Election Day and its aftermath more satisfying. Maybe a half dozen public floggings on Parliament Hill (isn’t that sort of what they do when military dictatorships are toppled?). Or maybe seeing Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre lose his seat and be forced to accept work as a Wal-Mart greeter.
Sure would be nice to think it will all go sideways in a year or so once the Liberals get accustomed to the perks of power. But, sadly, I fear it won’t. There is no cure for this malady unless I crank up my interest in the American election cycle. Of course, the Democrats will likely win, so it will be short-lived relief.
Racism topping my list of reasons for wanting to leave PEI
By Michelle M Arsenault
When I moved back to PEI a few years ago I never had any intentions of staying. It was my ‘in-between places place’ and essentially where I would stay while putting more focus on my writing.
Fast forward and I’m still here but lately it’s been much more difficult. Of my top three reasons why I don’t want to stay, the concern of local racism is steadily pushing its way to the top of my list.
Not to say everyone on PEI is a racist. However, I certainly feel that certain areas of the island are much more racist than others. Unfortunately, I live in one of those specific places. And you know what? It makes me sick.
From those who hate the Muslims, complain about the Filipinos, the Mexicans or basically anyone who isn’t white and Christian, I’m repulsed. In fact, I’m embarrassed for them because their limited attitude really speaks to their lack of education and often exposure to other cultures. Living in 2019, in the Age of the Internet and with unbridled access to information, this ignorance is pathetic.
I recently had someone comment on how there was a fire in a building where some Filipinos lived. Not only did she assume it was their fault (because apparently they are not as worldly and sophisticated as her) she also implied if they had died in the fire it ‘wouldn’t have been a loss’. I couldn’t believe how hateful and vicious she was toward people she didn’t even know.
Not to mention another woman who informed me she couldn’t find an apartment because ‘all the foreigners are taking them’. This, by the way, falls under the same category as ‘the immigrants are taking all our jobs’.
Interesting, this reminds me of a Chinese lady I used to talk to when I lived in Vancouver who once commented people from her former country come to Canada and take the jobs most Canadians won’t do. I’ll never forget her saying, “How many people want to do a pedicure and have deal with someone’s dirty feet?” Exactly.
Regarding the housing issue, this is something that is bigger than immigrants. We’ve always had immigrants. We didn’t always have a housing crisis. Airbnb, anyone?
These are, of course, just a couple of examples of what I hear on a regular basis in West Prince. Comments like the ones I mentioned here make me embarrassed to be from this area. However, I’m not as embarrassed as the ignorant people saying them should be.
As Reality Bites – Your Vote Counts
By Zane Affa
I’m afraid to turn on the TV anymore. With wildfires, tsunamis, blizzards, floods and hurricanes every day, I don’t understand why climate change is not the No 1 priority for Canadians and human beings in general. Once everything is gone what else matters?
The Green Party is the only party that has an actual plan to reduce climate change – right now! https://www.greenparty.ca/en/platform
The Green Party is supported by individual taxpayers and only beholden to us.
The Liberals just keep making promises they don’t keep. They are supported by big business and the oil and gas industry and seem beholden to them. They only care about climate change as long as it doesn’t interfere with the money they make.
The Conservatives have no plan at all, except to cut services and take away individual rights. They are also supported by big business and the oil and gas industry – whom they believe in and owe favors to. They don’t believe in climate change at all, despite what they say.
The NDP is just copying the Green Party platform and have shown, in the past, to be financially irresponsible. They are supported by unions – whom they are beholden to.
We are on a path to destruction and no one seems to care unless it affects them directly. It is bad and will continue to get worse for all of us, while the politicians play games and we remain in denial.
Taxes aren’t evil
By Jim Brown
I got a pleasant surprise when I checked my bank account recently – a GST rebate of $144.12, which millions of Canadians below a certain income threshold qualify for.
It’s hard to believe when the GST was introduced in 1990 it was greeted with howls of outrage across the land. Remember when Liberal senators protested in the Red Chamber by blowing loudly on kazoos? Remember how the Progressive Conservatives were reduced to a rump of two seats just three years later, defeated by the GST and the stink of corruption (and would eventually became extinct)? Remember Liberal Leader Jean Chretien vowing to axe the tax during that election, only to break his promise?
The Liberals saw the value of a seven per cent GST, which was a perfectly designed consumption tax since it wasn’t applied to basic foodstuffs and returned rebates to Canadians of modest incomes. Imagine how difficult it would have been to bring Canada back from the brink of disaster after years of massive deficits under the Mulroney government without tens of billions in revenues from the hated GST. What essential services and programs would have had to be slashed or eliminated without it?
And then of course, decades later, Stephen Harper slashed the GST by two points, from seven to five per cent, in a blatant grab for votes. It worked and the Conservatives eventually came to power with a majority government, also bringing deficits back into the national conversation by forgoing tens of billions in potential revenues with the GST cut. And, it’s not a two per cent cut, as many journalists’ mistakenly claimed, it’s closer to a 28.5 per cent cut.
I have to admit I never gave Mulroney the credit he deserved for implementing the GST, knowing it would cost his government at the polls. It was a political act of courage rarely seen in Ottawa.
Now in this election Canadians are debating the merits of a carbon tax, which most economists consider one of the best tools for fighting climate change, and a new Conservative Party, railing against all forms of taxation, is again making a cynical play for votes. What a shame they couldn’t do the same thing they did decades ago with the GST. I personally don’t care if the revenues from the carbon tax go towards make work projects or any other program or service as long as they aren’t used to subsidize the fossil fuel industry or polluting corporations.
The whole point of the tax is to discourage consumption of GHG emitting fossil fuels. And, like the GST, millions of Canadians will be getting money back from Ottawa. There are bad taxes and good taxes and this is a good one. We should embrace it, for our children’s future.
I live on Cancer Island
By Michelle M Arsenault
I’m going to be blunt. Since returning to PEI a few years ago, after living in a couple of other provinces, I was shocked by how often I heard the word ‘cancer’. It was literally every day. Literally. Every. Day.
People tried to justify this by suggesting it was because PEI is a small province, so I know more people and therefore it only makes sense that I would know more people with cancer. This logic is ridiculous to me. In fact it doesn’t even make sense. I lived off island for many years so really, I don’t know many people here anymore. And it doesn’t matter because regardless of where I live, I’ve met, worked with and was friends with a lot of people over the years. And yet, before moving back to PEI, I didn’t hear the word cancer every day.
I’ve been told it’s the way of life here. People live a sedentary lifestyle. I guess that’s unlike other places? I’ve known lots of people who lived a sedentary lifestyle and they don’t necessarily have cancer.
I’ve been told it’s the large, aging population here. If that’s true, then why are so many people dying young?
Let’s get honest, it’s the pesticides. Many people in rural PEI (especially West Prince) have a potato field on one or both sides of them. Fields are sprayed a lot. I’ve been told the sprays used here are banned in other places. I’ve also been told that it’s been documented that our cancer rates are extremely high. I’ve been told farmers are pressured by companies (in a contract) to use large amounts of specific kinds of pesticides. I’ve been told many alarming things and although it may not all be true, I think logic suggests that spraying a poison around a human being, especially over time, has the potential of causing health effects. Maybe they are killing more than just weeds.
So, what’s the solution? Considering our government is unlikely to do anything to shake up the farming industry (or to offend the fat cats that farmers are selling their potatoes to) I think the best solution for those suffering from cancer believed to be related to pesticides is to start a class action lawsuit. If you don’t think this will work, you might want to Google the words ‘Monsanto’ followed by ‘class action lawsuit’ and see what comes up.
The only way that anything will be done is if companies start losing money and start getting negative national and international headlines. This also forces our politicians to open their eyes and maybe even squirm a bit in the hot seat.
It’s time that we started to take a stand. After all, lives are at stake.
Startling discoveries from decades-old women’s magazines
By Michelle M Arsenault
I recently stumbled upon a couple of women’s magazines from 1986. Although I was originally fascinated by the vintage fashions, makeup and overall sense of nostalgia, I quickly noted that a few things have changed since the 80s.
Diversity. Good luck finding someone who isn’t white in old issues of this popular women’s magazine. I flipped through numerous times. So far, I’ve only found two. Both are celebrity interviews. One is Oprah. Need I say more?
Sex appeal. The odds of you getting lost in anyone’s cleavage (boobs or butt) in these old school magazines is pretty unlikely. There’s also no danger of finding many muscular, 6-pack men either. Not that you’d notice if you did because this was apparently before male body hair became a no no. I’m assuming this was pre-Photoshop too. Everyone looks relatively normal especially compared to what we now see in magazines.
Weight loss. This was a hot topic. From diet pill ads to tips on how to avoid gaining weight during the holidays, it was clear that women were strongly encouraged to stay slim. One article actually recommended a specific concoction to fill you up before going to family meals. There was tomato juice and other things involved. It sounded pretty disgusting. The same article also suggested avoiding ‘plump’ hosts since they are ‘known to push more food on their guests’ and speaking of which…
Political Correctness. If you hadn’t noticed from my last category, people weren’t as careful about what they said in 1986. I’m not sure the ‘plump’ remark would fly these days but then again, we also live in a time where curves are considered sexy not something to necessarily shame women over.
One ad that captured my attention was for men’s cologne. In it, a shirtless man talked about how he ‘wasn’t just a piece of meat’ (He wasn’t. If you don’t believe me, refer back to the ‘sex appeal’ section above) and how he resented being used for his body.
On an interesting side note, I don’t believe this cologne still exists. In fact, many of the products advertised in these editions have long disappeared.
Also, there was a fascinating article from a congresswoman who spoke about how Democrats only seemed interested in finding ‘white men’ for their party. It would only take about 22 years for that to change.
What hasn’t changed? People and our problems. Glancing over the articles back then and you realize that people are people. A young woman in 1986 struggles with many of the same issues and problems as they do now. Society, styles, and products may change but people don’t.
Reflections on Dorian
By Jim Brown
The roar of the chainsaws has eased and my ears are no longer throbbing with the noise of generators running full blast throughout Stanley Bridge.
On this day, Friday, Sept 13, I’m counting my blessings, while watching election coverage on CBC Newsworld, flipping to CNN during commercials, and catching up on Facebook posts.
The house went dark shortly after 7.30 pm on Sept 7, barely into the second set of Bianca Andreescu’s amazing win against the greatest female tennis player of all time.
It was very disorienting, even with flashlights at hand.
I didn’t sleep that first night and hadn’t slept well for the three days I was without power. It felt strange to get up and not flick a switch and have instant running water, illumination, heat, TV shows, Facebook and emails.
I realize many others across the Island, at one time more than 57,000 Maritime Electric customers, had it much worse. How did Islanders cope with aging parents requiring oxygen? Where did they go if they didn’t have reliable generators? Warming centres, also known as emergency centres?
Where exactly were those, since we don’t hear much about them on media sources before a natural disaster strikes, and certainly not much if the electricity is suddenly gone.
Yes, I was fortunate I was only deprived of the amenities of 21st century life for just three days. Many thousands of others were still without power on this day, considered unlucky since the 13th fell on a Friday.
I did have a car to get around and I had the foresight to gas it up before Dorian struck. I would catch snatches of hurricane recovery updates as I drove from devastated community to community – from Kensington, almost totally dark for much of the three days I was without power, to Hunter River, to North Rustico, Cavendish and Charlottetown.
On Sunday morning, Sept 8, I was driving to Charlottetown to meet friends for coffee. I heard in stunned disbelief Timothy’s was open. When I arrived I was shocked to see long lineups to the door and beyond. Much of Charlottetown had power, including gas stations and fast food outlets and the long lineups reminded me of Soviet Russia before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Imagine if Hurricane Dorian had arrived in the depths of winter – with plunging temperatures and heavy snowfall in its wake?
How would Islanders have fared in the cold? It’s hard to imagine there wouldn’t have been deaths.
Power has been restored to most Island homes and businesses, but the scars remain. Just drive down a road, anywhere, and Hurricane Dorian’s presence is still felt.
We were very fortunate this time, but I can’t shake a growing sense of unease.
Really, we shouldn’t have faced a hurricane so late in the season. Our cooler waters should have stopped it in its tracks, turned it to a slashing rainstorm instead. But waters are warmer now, and getting warmer every year and that’s the rocket fuel for future hurricanes.
Islanders were lucky this time with the weather still retaining summer’s heat, but what about the next time and the time after that? Do we have an evacuation plan yet for an entire province?
I sure hope we do, but if we don’t, we better come up with one soon.
We are an island connected to the mainland by the engineering marvel known as the Confederation Bridge, but the bridge is not safe in high winds and certainly not during hurricanes.
The continuing horror story that is the Bahamas, where thousands of bodies buried under rubble and hurricane tossed debris have yet to be found is a template for our future. We, on PEI, have no high ground to flee to.
Climate scientists are predicting by sometime after 2100 PEI will be transformed by rising waters into three fragmented islands.
But timetables, with the rapid melting of polar ice and accelerating global temperatures, will inevitably move up.
I fear the next hurricane will be stronger than Dorian and unleash even greater misery on our fair island.
Will we be prepared?