Class Work (1987-1988). was undertaken with the Communications Workers of Canada (later to merge into the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP) that represented workers at Bell Canada and several electrical manufacturers. Condé and Beveridge were invited to join an educational team that was designing courses for the electrical sector of the union. The team was made up of two rank and file members, Jim Counahan and Linda MacKenzie-Nicholas, a graduate student, Matt Sanger, and the two artists. The team visited and talked to workers across Southern Ontario over a three-month period. While the team developed the course outline, Condé and Beveridge drew up the storyboards for the series Class Work.
The project looks at the re-structuring of Canadian industries and the larger global context within which it was taking place. Many plants that they visited had half the workforce they had 10 years previous. Management was pushing international competitiveness, new technology and teamwork. A term frequently used in reference to the future ‘post-industrial’ era was ‘lights out’. It meant that lights would not be needed as plants became fully automated.
Class Work is based on the closure and re-opening of a television tube plant in central Ontario and the re-organization of work that took place as a result. It also draws on the experience and stories from other workplaces represented by the union.
The project incorporates seven black and white images (two are included here and are described below) that accompany the six colour images that carry the narrative. The black and white’s are commentaries, using corporate slogans, on the rationalization of work processes.
The Bottom Line. While companies close down and re consolidate their wealth, workers pay the price of unemployment. A union jacket has been tossed into the pail. It represents the frustration people feel when a plant can’t be saved and the union can do little for them when they’re out of work.
Time is Money. While management may appear friendly, they are constantly timing production. The TVs show a muffler ad which features a worker as a clock. Time is a major battleground. Not only are real wages being cut, but companies are demanding more ‘quality’ time. This means that workers are encouraged to devote their free time to problem solving, upgrading and other company-initiated activities. If not, the worker is considered to be lacking motivation and loyalty.