03 July 2012

“Cycle Toronto”

I just received an e-mail requesting that I renew my membership to the cyclist advocacy group formerly known as the Toronto Cyclists Union, but I am very ambivalent as to whether I should do so. Changing the name to eschew the word “union” is so regressive and offensive to progressives that I honestly wonder if I want to support and be associated with such a group. On the other hand, of course, maybe the name change is of relatively minor harm considering the benefit of having a widely supported advocacy group for cycling, and maybe abstaining from membership would be an overreaction and puerile. However, the fact that I (and so many people I know) am questioning the validity of the entire organization due to such a small change really makes me wonder (once again) why on earth this change was made. Whose stupid idea was this? Why would such a controversial change to such a fundamental aspect of the group – its name being the primary face of the organization to the public – even be raised in a serious way, let alone put to a vote? It seems so needlessly divisive and obstructive.

Of course, the advocatory function of the organization is important to me and I want to support good bicycle advocacy. However, the reason that I question supporting this specific organization is that I care about the public perception of unions even more than cycling advocacy. It is obviously ridiculous to suggest that advocating for the welfare of cyclists requires disassociation with progressive labour, as this group has unfortunately done, but if I had to choose one cause I’d choose the latter. Improving the welfare of cyclists in this city is not worth the public denouncement of unions, and the surrender to endlessly-destructive right-wing discourse inherent thereto. The name change seems to demonstrate that the organization pursues the welfare of cyclists whatever the cost, no matter who or what is harmed in the process. A century of labour history be damned; we want more members!  

Further, what is most maddening about this decision is that rejecting the word union will probably offend progressives more than attract regressives to the cause. Does anyone really think that people who hate unions so much that they are completely repulsed by the word’s appearance in a group’s name comprise such a large proportion of the group’s potential supporters? It’s like if Obama started appealing to Republican voters by hiring Glenn Beck as his chief advisor, losing countless more Democrats’ support in the process. Moreover, the expression “scraping the bottom of the barrel” comes to mind; do we really want to attract such ardently regressive right-wingers to the group? I, for one, would much rather the group have fewer members than have right-wing extremists marching for the cause.

So far, as you can see, I think I am leaning towards not renewing my membership.


  1. Correct me if I misread you, but why don't you want people who are anti- unions advocating for and supoorting cyclists' interests? It seems ast though you dislike this on principle but I don't understand the reason.
    I'm pretty sure I agree with you that the existence of unions is even more important than cycling advocacy, but it's something that I really need to think about.

  2. Alexander, I'm so glad you wrote this and that you have such good opinions. I've decided I'm definitely not renewing mine. Maybe we should write letters and mail them in with our incomplete renewal forms?

    Caroline, I can't speak for Alexander's reasons but for me, personally, it really is mostly a matter of principle. Although I am admittedly FAR from active in labour politics I would feel super gross aligning myself with the anti-labour crowd even if they otherwise have some good politic. I feel supporting organized labour is a basic prerequisite to being a not-terrible person. It's not something I'm able to have an "agree to disagree" attitude about. If someone expresses anti-organized labour views, I cannot not think that they are either an asshole or a very uncritical, misguided, ignorant person. I'm not keen to align myself politically with people of either persuasion.

    I wouldn't go so far as to say that I think labour politics are more important than cycling politics, but I would say that as important as I think cycling advocacy is, it isn't worth ANY improvement in cycling infrastructure to me if it comes at the expense of any other progressive cause.

    Essentially, for me, it boils down to this: If a purportedly progressive group is willing to cannibalize one of "it's own" to maybe possibly appeal to a few idiots who aren't that progressive, the group isn't progressive enough for me to belong to.

    And not that it's what we were exactly talking about, but I feel like there are, like, 20 people in the GTA who hate unions enough to not join an advocacy group with "union" in its name on principle but care profoundly about cycling infrastructure (and they're probably 20 rich assholes who only care about cycling because it's "good cardio" or some other stupid individualistic reason). It just seems like such a dumb, rash, short-sighted, ill-advised decision, and I'm not exactly eager to be part of an organization that makes that kind of decision, either.

    Final sidenote: I think it's interesting that unions and cyclists seem to be two of the most resented groups among a certain segment of society (say, Ford voters) and that they are resented for a lot of the same reasons ("culture of entitlement," small numbers, "you think you're better than us," "bad attitudes..."). Also, the reasons why I think they are each such important issues are similar (namely, collective social good > individual pleasure good, which I think is the essential basis of progressive politics).

    Sorry this got long! The end!

  3. Hey fellow cyclists-

    While I'm saddened that you're choosing not to continue to support Cycle Toronto over a perception of its being "anti union", I hope that you will be able to continue to support our work. That work recently includes leading protest rides on Jarvis, working with legal counsel to submit challenges on Union Station restructuring and elsewhere, and working with high school students at Central Commerce on their amazing new mechanics and training programs. We're also deputing on cyclist's behalf at City Hall, advocating for a larger BIXI system, teaming up with local partners to lead rides, and running "how-to-bike sessions" with local businesses.

    I point this out because there is a lot of work that needs to be done in the city around cycling right now and there are many, many people that refused to join us, as it seems you will now Pamela and Alexander, over our name. These are folks that love bikes and biking in Toronto and they, like you, are people we want to have in our unified front of cyclists.

    With everything there is to do in Toronto to advocate for better cycling, I still feel $30 a year to ensure that your voice is part of a larger collective is a great deal and one that carries quite a bit of importance for our still young organization. If, for the reasons outlined above, you'd rather not support Cycle Toronto's work in that way, we still really need and would like to have your voice with us at our rides and events. Our goal is to be an organization that helps to transform Toronto into a more bike-friendly place and we'd really appreciate your continued support in whatever way you feel most comfortable giving it.

    Nick Cluley
    President - Board of Directors
    Cycle Toronto

  4. Was the Cyclist's Union a real union before?

    "It's not something I'm able to have an "agree to disagree" attitude about. If someone expresses anti-organized labour views, I cannot not think that they are either an asshole or a very uncritical, misguided, ignorant person. I'm not keen to align myself politically with people of either persuasion."

    Haha, I hope this doesn't apply to people who are anti-taking-at-face-value-pro-labour-graphs!

    Would your feelings apply to making a decision about whether to name something ___ Union in the first place, Pam and Alex? Like say we were starting a little not-for-profit together, and I said, "I don't want to call it __ Union because then we have to win people over to our cause AND the union cause", would that still be "regressive"? It seems to me that's where they made their strategic error- calling it ___ Union in the first place. Maybe these things start out with more radical roots, wanting to be about multiple causes and to support everything they love, but then if they get big they take on larger but less idealistic goals.