Since the workers at the Journal were locked out (or began striking in sympathy for locked-out workers) in April, what might seem like a simple labour disruption has truly taken on a life of its own. The workers, who wanted anything but picketing outside the offices of the paper where no one would see them, started their own paper, giving it away free.
In the months since, the Journal has been trying to use the courts to shut MédiaMatinQuébec down, claiming that it’s disloyal of striking employees to start their own paper. Quebecor lost that battle last week.
To keep the Journal running, management has been running wire copy, unedited press releases and stories from the Journal de Montréal (despite objections from the journalists writing them), and producing the paper with the help of 14 extra managers they suddenly decided to hire just before the contract expired last year. (The employees won a case last month getting four employees declared “scabs”) To show how seriously they take this matter, they also cancelled employees’ subscriptions to the Journal and banned MédiaMatinQuébec from what few stores they control.
The workers, meanwhile, have been busy. Producing a free paper every day hasn’t been easy or cheap, but they’ve been getting a lot of financial and moral support from labour unions, politicians (PQ, NDP) local businesses, fellow journalists, and of course the Quebec City reading public. They’ve handed out millions of copies, and launched a website at mediamatinquebec.com. They’ve even started stealing away advertisers.
But when it comes down to it, the only real winner in all this is Le Soleil, which is taking advantage of the strike to position itself as the Quebec City paper, and starting to recoup some of the readership it lost to the Journal after Le Soleil’s workers went on strike 10 years ago.
I don’t necessarily blindly support the workers in this case, and I certainly don’t support the Journal. But it’s hard not to be impressed with what’s been done and how they’re still going five months later. Stoppages at transit authorities and cemeteries stopped only after threats from the government. Since the populace doesn’t care much about a paper not producing original journalism, this stalemate looks like it could go on forever.
So long as organized labour keeps funding MédiaMatinQuébec and puts food on its employees’ tables.
For more details, consult this timeline of events.