…and then we sharpen the guillotines while waiting for the great leap forward….

Send in the builders of the bridge / It’s time to tear their trestles down
Did you pay them all handsomely? Yes, we paid them what they’re worth
Now I’m not one to socialize / With those among the working class
Could you tell them what I’ve said to you? I can’t show my face around here

(Unbunny, Let It All Burn)

I took her to a supermarket, I don’t know why but I had to start it somewhere. So it started there. I said pretend you’ve got no money, she just laughed and said, “Oh you’re so funny.” I said “Yeah? Well I can’t see anyone else smiling in here.”

(Blur, Common People)

American artist Barbara Kruer, A Corpse Is Not A Customer, from the May 2nd, 2020, issue of the NY Times.

There was an entertaining meme that was making its way around social media, during these COVID times. It took a very succinct and accurate shot at Ayn Rand, that pretender to intellectual discourse who has hoodwinked so many. In one of her tripey novels, she postulates a ‘utopia’ where the CEOs and other such corporate parasites, whom she blithely worshipped, ‘shuck off the chains of socialism’ and prosper, so that everyone might wear a golden dollar bill around their neck, as Ayn did. In this aforementioned meme, the anonymous creator pointed out that isn’t that what’s supposed to happen now, as workers are disposable and to be treated life serfs? With so many corporate oligarchs alternately fear mongering or whining for socialism – as in bailouts, subsidies and taxpayer cash, even above and beyond what they normally are gifted – it seems that Rand was at best dishonest and at worst had abandoned facts for ideology.

But what has motivated this latest article, in my ongoing writer’s residency that, due to COVID, has made it impossible for me to visit galleries or other such cultural spaces, is an article by Jon Ivison. He’s often a contributor to the National Post (part of the Postmedia chain that is owned by an American Hedge Fund, repeatedly publishes Fraser Institute ideology as fact, and gives platforms to homophobes and those whom are part of a religious cult that aids and abets serial child rapists). I refuse to link to the article, but offer the following image from the cesspool that is Twitter.

Ignorance requires refuting, and I’m of that ilk that doesn’t suffer fools gladly, let alone at all. But let me elaborate.

Bas de Groot, Welland Canal Workers Monument.
Bas de Groot, Welland Canal Workers Monument.

I’m spending my time, during this COVID self isolation / quarantine in Welland, a city that, to quote artist / activist James Takeo, has always been a working city, and when the work left, is unsure just what it is, anymore. This is a consideration in how, with a recent exhibition I curated about images of Welland, the research I did indicated a disdain from many of the ‘right’ for workers (the dismissal of and refusing to even acknowledge the closure of the John Deere plant here by Ivison’s idol Stephen Harper, is a clear indicator of this bias). One of Sandy Fairbairn’s works in that show specifically references the Crowland Relief Workers’ Strike, and it’s frustrating – or enraging, as I prefer that position – how little has changed regarding the treatement of workers in almost a century. ‘The solidarity of all the unemployed in this strike, irrespective of their different nationalities, religions, political viewpoints, completely discredits statements that the strike is caused by a few agitators and that they are leading the strike of unemployed merely for the sake of striking. Men, women and children do not parade the streets every day because they like it. Nor do they face tear gas, clubs and midnight arrests merely to cause trouble.’ (from the Welland Tribune, 13 April 1935, as cited in Union Power: Solidarity and Struggle in Niagara, by Carmela Patrias and Larry Savage). Sandy Fairbairn‘s two works offer an access point to the reality of that oppressive rhetoric and action by business owners and their political lackeys, even evident in their titles (Crowland Relief Workers’ Strike 1935, Frank Meets the Police on Beatrice Street, Mitch Legislates And We Forget and The Replacement for Jack Bickell as the Object of Mitch Hepburn’s Affection). Hepburn favoured ‘anti communist’ rhetoric that was moreso focused on maximizing profit and dehumanizing workers, and we do ‘forget’, as Fairbairn alludes to, how labour rights and respect for workers were never just given, but had to be fought for, and require diligence to prevent their loss (there is a reason, you might say, why it’s call ‘class war’ or ‘class struggle’….) You can read more about it in Patrias and Savage’s book, as it was one of the defining moments of Welland, and Niagara, if not national, history. I also offer some thoughts about it in my curatorial musings about Sandy’s exhibition, here. Not all of Hepburn’s cabinet was so corporately complicit: David Croll [who held the positions of Minister of Labour, Municipal Affairs and Welfare, in Hepburn’s cabinet] and Attorney-General Arthur Roebuck broke with Hepburn over the Premier’s opposition to the United Auto Workers strike against General Motors in Oshawa in 1937, and resigned from cabinet saying “I would rather walk with the workers than ride with General Motors.”

When I’ve been going for walks, I often pass by the Atlas Steels plant, if I go further east on East Main, but sometimes I head towards the Welland Canal and Bridge 13. If the latter, I always ‘visit’ with Bas de Groot’s Welland Canal Memorial Monument.

Bas de Groot, Welland Canal Workers Monument.

Before I share some of the information you can find online about this necessary work, I have to add the following. While reading several articles about workplace safety, especially as it pertains to some politicians assertions that ‘we’ simply ‘must open for business now’ (another propandist for the National Post, Randal Denley, has some bile online ‘damning’ Doug Ford for sacrificing the ‘economy for public health’ even), an interesting point was made that I’d like to share. Workplace safety regulations have ‘been written in blood’: this means that they are in place because someone, at some time, thougth it acceptable to treat workers as disposable, replaceable collateral. Transport or house them in the same space as toxic chemicals, or avoid ‘expensive’ safety regulations, as if someone is injured or dies, another will take their place. This is also not ‘history.’ When I was with Planet S Magazine, in Saskatoon, we once did a series of stories on the perceived spike in panhandlers in downtown Saskatoon. One of these people had worked in the construction ‘boom’, under Brad Wall’s neo liberal deficit incurring Sask Party, and found himself literally on the street when injured at his workplace. Wall and his corporate donors and paymasters had often pushed the Christian Labour Union, a group that claimed to be ‘non adversarial’ in workplaces, but that translated into being shills for the employer, often neglecting and betraying the workers…..

But to return to Niagara: The Welland Canal Memorial Monument was built to commemorate the hard-working people from Canada and around the world who came to the Niagara Peninsula to build this waterway known as the Welland Canal....The monument in Merritt Park will serve as a lasting legacy for the citizens of the community who supported the vision of the Director and Members of the Board of the Welland Heritage Council. The monument will remind us of the importance of multiculturalism to development in Welland – past, present, and future. Industries, businesses, and citizens have prospered in Welland and the Niagara Peninsula through the efforts of people who built the canal. Some of these workers lost their lives digging with picks and shovels, many left their families and friends when they came to Canada in search of work.

That’s all somewhat softer, through the lens of history: for facts and bluntness – and appropriate righteousness and indignation – you must get your hands on a copy of Welland Workers Make History (1963) by Fern A. Sayles. Combine your reading of that with the aforementioned excellent book Union Power: Solidarity and Struggles in Niagara (2012) by Carmela Patrias and Larry Savage.

One might argue that memes have taken on the role that much art used to occupy, as regard political activism and accessibility. Ths one, like the one below, I’ve shared from social media feeds.
A detail referencing Atlas Steels, in the downtown Welland Mural Parkade. A full shot of the mural can be seen below.

When I responded to Ivison’s ignorance online, I made the following comment in the social media sphere, and I share it again here.

I was watching The Boys series last night (don’t, or read the comic it’s based upon, as it’s more horribly vital and interesting). In it, a CEO is shown clearly to have committed treason to further business interests as well as force acceptance of a juicy military contract. The CEO in question lectures a U.S. Senator or Congressman, whatever, about how ‘only their corporation has the technology they need, now.’ I was amazed that the politician weakly acquiesced, when – even though I’m no fan of heavy handed nation states – his appropriate response would be to charge them all with treason, send them to Guantanamo, and nationalize and seize the assets, research, etc., mooting the question entirely and ‘solving’ the problem. But this is reminiscent of how Žižek has warned that we all can imagine the end of the world sooner than the end of capitalism….perhaps Ivison desires a Canadian version of ‘Citizens United’ travesties, like in ‘merica, where corporations have not only rights without responsibilities, but have a lien on the public purse to the detriment and degradation of true citizens….#artcriticfromhell thanks you for attending his lecture “Why it’s important to guillotine the complicit whom eagerly manufacture propaganda as well as the criminals themselves”….

Images in this article were either shot by the author, or have been taken from online sources. The books I mention in this article, which are necessary sources for labour history within Niagara and beyond, can be found at your library (both the Welland Public Library and the St. Catharines main branch have excellent local history sections). This is another article that I’d have been unable to complete without the support of AIH Studios, during my extended writer’s residency of 2020.