I think what pushed me over the edge is the UN’s International Day of Happiness. When I saw it I hoped I’d been pranked and that it wasn’t real. Alas it is.
A colleague of mine coined the term “Designated Day Creep” to describe this phenomenon. I’m sure you’ve seen it. A serious issue that has a day of the calendar attached to it. The United Nations is famous for doing this. But any organization can declare a day to be some form of commemorative event. And they do.
And not just unions. Social change organizations. Marketing companies. Everyone. I’m not going to take on International Pet Your Budgie Day, or World Buy a Latté Day (does that exist? Oh geez I hope I haven’t just given someone an idea). I’m only going to deal with these special days, commemorative days, designated days – whatever you want to call them – in the context of the labour movement.
And I’m going to tell you why I am beseeching my union sistren and brethren to declare a one year moratorium on all declarations for said same commemoration days.
In brief: it’s getting out of hand. But if we don’t all say ‘stop’ at once, it won’t work.
Where I work, we recently archived a page of our website, dated 2008, that listed eight “special days” which the union said it was mandated to observe. Such days as International Women’s Day, International Day of Mourning for Workers Killed or Injured etc etc.
Last fall I attended a meeting wherein I was presented with a new list of “special days” numbering 19.
Sisters and brothers the number of special days has increased 237 per cent in five years. At this rate every day of the calendar will have its own ‘special day’ within a decade. It has to stop.
“Chris, you insensitive, privileged ass,” you say, “These are days about important struggles, which incidentally don’t affect you one iota: sexism, racism, homophobia, workplace safety and health (okay one out of four does), how dare you question the practice of honouring these days.”
Before you call me out (which is fine, indeed expected – comments are open) hear me out.
Unions observe these days, by and large, by issuing a “statement” which is generally speaking a 300 to 500 word content item consisting almost entirely of rhetoric about said same issue. There might be hyperlinks to web pages where actual things are happening, but in general, the production of these statements is – almost without exception – the sum total of the union’s efforts around these special days.
This is not to say that unions don’t fight against racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia or for healthy and safe workplaces etc. They do. They just don’t produce a whole lot of public content about it. A lot of it happens in the context of grievances, human rights complaints, educationals, etc etc. It’s done by people who aren’t communicators and who for various reasons (time constraints, privacy issues, legal requirements) aren’t going to be communicating any time soon.
So here’s what your average member sees when they go to their union’s landing page devoted to fighting the issue. They see a parade of statements, spaced a year apart, forswearing the union to struggling ever harder and with ever more devotion and craft in the pursuit of justice and equality in issue X.
And nothing (or precious little) in between.
We produce these statements because we fear being seen to be doing nothing. But in producing a list-of-statement pages we actually produce the perfect evidence to our critics that we are, in fact, only paying lip service to these issues.
But who are these critics? Who would call us out if we did not each year produce a 300 word web page with text from last year, slightly modified, for International Day of X?
Not the staff (equality officers, human rights officers) tasked with advocating for these issues within the union. Most see composing these things as a major nuisance that lies outside their area of expertise and detracts from the real work they have on their plate.
Not the union’s uninvolved membership. If they want their union’s help with a discrimination issue they have a few more things they need from their union before the dose of Good Words™: a shop steward, an advocate and a solution.
Not the union’s activists – the people who’ve been pushing the union for years to overcome its blind spot on their (usually identity-based) issue. They are not fooled by these statements, oh no. They form their opinions on the legitimacy of the union’s claims to fight on their behalf elsewhere.
Not the union’s leadership. They don’t think these statements mean anything either. They only direct that they be written because they fear if they don’t have a statement – and someone else does — their union will look bad.
No one knows how these statements started. Beyond fear of looking-bad-if-we-don’t, we don’t know why we do them. Nor do we know in whose eyes we will look bad.
But by god you know that if CUPE has a statement on day X PSAC is going to need one too.
So we all have to stop doing them. And all of them. Because we cannot say ‘no’ to International Day of Human Rights and say ‘yes’ to International Women’s Day because we’ll crack. Because one is no more important than the other.
I say: a one year moratorium on all these less and less special every year days. See who notices. See how much more real work we can get done instead. Who’s with me?
As a writer of most our statements, i agree 100%. And will be saying so to my people very soon! Thanks for the push.
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