Cracked Part 1: How a book came to be

Cracked Part 1: How a book came to be

Posted on June 15 by Joan Roberts
Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on Pinterest

Cracked: How the telephone operators took on Canada's largest corporation and won! This is my third book but my first time writing history. I wrote the book as a result of going to a birthday party for one of the principal organizers mentioned in the book.  A number of the people involved in the campaign and strike were there and after food, cake and a few drinks, we reminisced about the events featured in Cracked.

The general feeling expressed by the party goers involved in both the campaign and strike was that those days were pivotal to their lives and they saw the events as extraordinary.

So I posed the question why did no-one write a book about it?

Those present who had written books or articles replied that they weren't interested in such a daunting project but thought a book should be written. As with many volunteer endeavors, the group agreed since I asked the question I should be the one to write the book.

I was just finishing my second book but promised to think hard about the project. In looking back at my work as a union organizer I realized the learning and confidence I gained from the experience directly led to my success as a community developer and local politician.  It was an informal education in organizing and making social and economic change that I noticed few others had experienced. I realized there were a few questions I needed to reflect on:

  • What purpose would a book serve? 
  •  
  • Would anyone be interested in reading about working class women and their workplace struggle in the 70’s and early 80’s?
  •  
  • Would I be able to access enough sources to establish an accurate chronology of events?
  •  
  • Could I demonstrate how the experience and organizing tactics used in that time period were still applicable to union and social justice campaigns today?
  •  
  • Would the methods and tactics used in a pre-internet organizing campaign and strike be of value to today’s organizers?​
  • I knew the education director for the union at the time-Ed Seymour had established an archive at McMasters University  Labour Studies  department. He assembled a great deal of the paper records and files when the union morphed from the Communications Workers of Canada merged into the Communications Energy and the Paperworkers Union and the Toronto Local telephone operators ceased to exist. Along with files from Janice McClelland, I had a lot of primary sources to work with.  As I kept in touch with some of the people involved in the events I was confident I could track people down for oral interviews.

After some reflection, I felt that the campaigns and strike contained a lot of lessons for today's organizers and would present a record of a key moment in working class and women's history. I decided to try and started interviews and research in 2011. Life and health issues intervened so the book took longer than I originally expected. More than 5 years later Cracked: How telephone operators took on Canada's largest corporation and won! was published by Dundurn Press.

Joan Roberts

Posted by admin on March 10, 2015
Joan Roberts photo

Joan Roberts

Joan Roberts served as a union organizer for the phone operators at Bell Canada. She later worked as a development consultant for the Labour Council Development Foundation. She has also served as a city councillor. Currently, she runs a training and consulting practice. She lives in Toronto.