Civic strike harms the poor

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      Courtney Chatham told the Georgia Straight she still has library books that were checked out before the onset of the civic workers strike.

      But that is likely the least of the 21-year-old Hastings-Sunrise single mother's worries. She is also seven months pregnant, unemployed, and takes care of her three-year-old son, Walker, with some help from his father and other residents in her subsidized apartment complex.

      "If you live in Vancouver, you need to have access to pools," Chatham said while supervising Walker alongside neighbour Wilma Barker at the playground of Templeton Park. (Two striking CUPE Local 15 workers sat quietly in front of the closed public-pool main entrance.)

      "Cheap entertainment is very important, and the parks are very important," she added. "When I moved to this area in April, they kept the park clean where I live [near Pandora Park], and there were no needles and condoms. Now I am scared to take my son there."

      Chatham said that the $733 in total monthly welfare payments, plus a monthly prenatal and basic phone allowance of $45 and $32, respectively, offer little slack to pursue other options for her young family during the strike.

      "I rely heavily on public, city-run free things and activities."

      These include city-run swimming pools, summer programs, daycare spaces, and libraries. According to Indira Prahst, sociology instructor at Langara College–and Kerrisdale resident–the strike is not playing out the same way in her local parks.

      "I use the parks and I ask people, 'Have you been affected by the strike?', and they say 'No,'" Prahst told the Straight by phone. "Many of these people are members of the private clubs and have their own swimming pools or else have the resources to drive to the beach or take the bus if they are in that marginal bracket. But in the poorer areas, the park is the backyard. The kids have been waiting all summer to participate in swimming, so in the summertime the low-income families are affected."

      However, NPA park board chair and Dunbar resident Ian Robertson disputed the notion the strike widens the gulf between the rich and poor in Vancouver. He told the Straight he has had "numerous calls from parents" regarding the potential disruption of park access for soccer and hockey in all areas of the city.

      Former COPE councillor Tim Louis said the strike "most definitely is exacerbating the gap between the haves and have-nots in Vancouver".

      "The parties, in my view, have the ability and the wish and the desire to come to a settlement, but at the very highest levels of government at City Hall, there is a wish to unnecessarily prolong the dispute," Louis said by phone. "And the people that are being hurt are the most vulnerable and the least economically independent in the city."

      At Straight press time, the city was in negotiations with CUPE Local 15, with further talks scheduled Thursday and Friday (September 13 and 14) with Local 1004.

      The strike is also having an impact on the arts community, according to Lan Tung, leader of the Orchid Ensemble musical troupe. The ensemble's production of Triaspora opens at Nanaimo's Malaspina University-College Theatre on Saturday (September 15) before coming to Vancouver for September 21 and 22.

      "It is [about the] Chinese-Canadian experience, with music, dance, and multimedia," Tung said by phone. "It features interviews with Chinese-Canadians in different generations, introduced as a contemporary performance. For the multimedia part, we visited the library before it went on strike. We all selected photos and chose the ones we liked.”¦Then they went on strike and suddenly we had no photos representing Vancouver's Chinatown."

      Triaspora comes hot on the heels of the 100-year anniversary of the 1907 anti-Asian riots in Vancouver, yet the production may not be benefiting from some telling local images locked in the vault at the Vancouver Public Library or City of Vancouver Archives–while overwhelmed mothers like Courtney Chatham wait to check overdue books back in.