French’s- Loblaws controversy reinvigorates labour activism

By now you’re probably familiar with the French’s-Loblaws controversy, but what you may not know is that this fight isn’t about ketchup (as some ridiculous GTA radio station tried to assert this morning); it’s about saving jobs and ultimately, protecting an entire town.

Last Friday a colleague of mine showed me a video he had posted regarding his outrage at Heinz for closing down its long-running Leamington plant. This obnoxious move by Heinz, cost 740 jobs; essentially, an entire town was put out of business. An entire town!

And so my colleague John proceeded to create two videos: (a) the first demanding Canadians stand in solidarity with French’s (who rehired many of the workers), and (b) the second which challenged Loblaws’ decision to pull French’s ketchup from its shelves. This second video not only drew the most media attention over the past 48 hours, but also most definitely contributed to Loblaws reversing its poor, initial decision.  

Now many people are quick to judge what the lesson learnt is, be it extolling the marvels of social media, or a renewed sense of buying local.

For me, this incident highlights the true meaning of labour activism and John is a great example of this dying breed of activists. As a Union Representative, John understands firsthand the challenges and threats that face Ontario workers, and he also understands the necessity to protect workers’ rights. However, and perhaps more importantly, John’s example demonstrates to us that activism isn’t just about protecting “my job” or “my co-workers” or “my department”- it’s about standing up for all workers’ rights.

John doesn’t live in Leamington and doesn’t have roots there, but when he heard that an entire town was going to lose its job, he knew that he had to act fast. As he states in the National Post, “The funny thing is, I don’t even like ketchup that much… But what I do love is Canadian workers.”

Make of it what you may, John Romanelli just hit the refresh button on the labour movement, and for that we should be grateful: game on!

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