The early years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War produced a new consensus among western elites that it was now a good thing to do business with China and develop cultural relations.
A fascinating film from 1990 illustrates this moment of history, Bethune: The Making of A Hero, starring Donald Sutherland as Norman Bethune, the real life Canadian communist doctor who died in China in 1939 providing medical aid to Mao’s 8th Army as it battled the invading Japanese. Bethune was a swash-buckling humanitarian who became a revered figure of the Chinese Revolution, and later a sanctified Canadian national hero, too.
This 18-million dollar movie was a co-production of Canadian and Chinese state partners, and was at the time the most expensive Canadian film ever produced. An ambitious but flawed film, the production was marred by a power struggle between the Canadians involved in the project, the film’s star, actor Donald Sutherland and its screenwriter, Ted Allan. I’ve recently written about Bethune: The Making of a Hero in a piece for Passage magazine titled “After the Cold War, China and Canada United to Honour Norman Bethune." https://readpassage.com/after-the-cold-war-china-and-canada-united-to-honour-norman-bethune/
Joining Sweater Weather to talk about Bethune: The Making of a Hero is Paul Jay, journalist, filmmaker, founder and host of theAnalysis.news, a video and audio current affairs show. He is past chair of the Documentary Organization of Canada, as well as a founding chair of the Hot Docs! Canadian International Documentary Festival. Paul is also the nephew of Ted Allan, the screenwriter of Bethune, and he offers a unique perspective on the film, as well as its political, economic and historical background.
This is part two of my discussion with Dr. Stephanie Ross, associate professor and director of the School of Labour Studies at McMaster University. She is author, co-author and co-editor of several works on Canadian labour and unions, including Building a Better World: An Introduction to the Labour Movement in Canada (Fernwood, 2015) and Labour Under Attack: Anti-Unionism in Canada (Fernwood, 2018).
In this second part of the interview, we talk about life within unions in more detail, especially about the inequalities that unions sometimes reproduce within themselves while protecting workers’ interests. Seniority is an example of this, a principle many unions have established to guide layoffs, pay, promotion, etc. Seniority is key in disrupting the bosses’ power to arbitrarily dismiss employees, but it also disproportionately impacts younger workers who are the least able to shoulder the cost of layoffs when they are downloaded onto them.
And as a couple of professors we can’t help but gab about the crazily unequal workplace that is the contemporary university, where faculty unions have tolerated or accepted differential tiers of employment—the distinction between tenured faculty and sessional/adjunct faculty. It’s a corrosive situation that undermines worker solidarity.
This week I talk to Dr. Stephanie Ross, associate professor and director of the School of Labour Studies at McMaster University. She is author, co-author and co-editor of several works on Canadian labour and unions, including Building a Better World: An Introduction to the Labour Movement in Canada (Fernwood, 2015) and the book we primarily discuss today, Labour Under Attack: Anti-Unionism in Canada (Fernwood, 2018).
Do Canadians and workers support unions? What are the sources of influential anti-union ideas? What do labour organizations themselves do that sometimes fosters anti-union sentiment? We address these thorny but important topics today.
This is part 1 of a 2-part interview with Dr. Ross. The second part will be released as a premium episode, available to patrons of the show at the 5 dollar a month level or higher. Sign up at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=7353597
Sweater Weather is a podcast about Canadian arts & culture hosted by Aaron Giovannone, an English professor and writer based in Calgary, Alberta. The show is currently on hiatus.