Tuesday, May 29, 2012

CPR then and Now

Saskatoon in 1910, Valentine and Son Postcard

I started watching the series Madmen when it first was aired, but stopped, because it hit too close to home. I want to get into it again. I'll just buy the DVD's and watch the whole thing at one shot.

I worked as a radio copywriter many moons  ago, a mixed bag as a job. I like the job, I liked my co-workers, but the atmosphere....it was poisonous.

Montreal English radio was already in free-fall collapse, and our station was at the bottom, so we were over-worked for little pay by people with much better salaries desperate to keep their jobs.

My friend Nora and I helped get the Union in there, and then, burnt out, we left. All the people who were too afraid to help with the union were the ones who eventually benefited, big time as they could then flow into the TV side where pay and working conditions were excellent. So it goes.

Hard work never hurt anyone, and we worked hard. (It was a burn out job.)

But it was the psychological games some managers played that was most demeaning, humiliating.

For instance, two of us won awards one year, called Canadian Soundcraft.

Instead of congratulating us, one VP arrived in our office (no windows, full of cigarette smoke) and showed us a clipping from the Ottawa newspaper.

The CJOH copywriting department apparently won 10 awards or so.

"Why can't you do that?" he asked.

My astute friend pointed to the picture and counted, one, two three.."Ten copywriters for one radio station." Then she counted us, "Three copywriters for 2 radio stations."

The fact was, we each wrote 10 to 20 ads a day, on top of clerical work which copywriters at other stations did not perform. Our station was struggling and most of these ads were last minute, to be aired that night type of thing. I once was asked to write an ad for a strip club, imagine, where the meaty sandwiches were named after the strippers. I refused and was called into the GM's office and he said "Do it or get fired." I did it, (in a joke way) but the announcer refused to voice it, anyway.

The Catch-22, the harder you worked, the less respect you got. Weird!

Anyway, this is really water under a far away bridge, but I write this because yesterday I see a news item saying that our Labour Minister Raitt is intent on dismantling unions. Strikes are bad for business.

Well, of course they are!  That's the point. That's the leverage. Who cares if I go on STRIKE. My husband, maybe, and even then, he'll just cook his own meals. (I've been injured and he's done all the work lately, anyway.)

I've spent the last five years on a personal project about the Edwardian Era and I've been chronicling the life of Laurier Era teachers, mostly. Flora, Marion and Edith Nicholson of Richmond Quebec working in Montreal.  Threshold Girl and Biology and Ambition are two ebooks in a series of three.

Back then most people worked long long hours for low low pay. Their brother Herb in 1910 is working for the CPR in Saskatoon (Yes) 10 am to 10 pm for 50 dollars a month. He had Academy III from Richmond's St Francis Academy, a very high-class  high school diploma and about 5 years experience in banks. (OK, he's a bit of a crook. ) The cost of living is very high out West in 1910, due to the Wheat Boom so the salary is extra paltry. And the hours, he writes in a letter home, make it difficult to  look for another job.

So Herb is making 600 a year, the same salary as Marion Nicholson was making working in the big city with a diploma. Teaching 50 kids, mostly very poor and many newly landed immigrants without English. Edith was making 200 a year working as a teacher without a diploma at a boarding school, so her hours were 24/7. Her boss would have claimed hers was a 'vocation' not a 'job.'

According to historians, in 1910, a Canadian family needed 1,500 a year to live in dignity. Few families in Canada, in Montreal were making close to that.

There was a great disparity, in the Laurier Era, between the Haves and Have Nots. A gaping divide, actually. The 1911 Census is online, you just have to read it.

My Threshold Girl story has a child labour theme. I created a French Canadian character who works at Dominion Textile in Magog.

The Census page for Magog Textile workers shows EVERY employee working 60 hours, even part time ones. Hmm. 60 hours was the legal limit. Someone fudged the numbers. That company was powerful, they could buy off the enumerator, maybe??

Biology and Ambition is about Marion Nicholson's early years. She went on to become a Union Leader and fought for better salaries and pensions for teachers. Threshold Girl contains a great deal about 'the servant problem'.