Short skirts and shrinking computers
March 8, 2013 – International Women’s Day
By now many readers have seen the cheesecake cartoon of a woman straddling a fence in an advertisement created by the Harper Government’s secretive grain broker firm disingenuously known as “CWB.”
There is no need to point out this throw-back advertisement says volumes about the Harper Conservative mentality. Nor is it necessary to point out that this view of women was obsolete in the western grain farming community over 120 years ago in the 1890s! You can read about women’s rights and western grain farmers in last year’s tribute to International Women’s Day.
History shows that western farmers have always known that respecting half of the human race demands real actions not just words. Many readers, however, may not know the story of the incredible shrinking computer and its relationship to women and the farmer controlled Canadian Wheat Board.
The CWB was always a heavy computer user. Starting with punch card based IBM Hollerith machines evolving through the 1950s into the massive 1960s mainframe computers. Ultimately these mainframes connected to similar machines at the three farmer owned prairie Wheat Pool cooperatives and their network of some 5,000 elevators across the prairies and the port terminals on three oceans. When a farmer delivered a load of grain, the elevator agent entered the data and farmer’s permit book number. Later that night the data-pack lines hummed as the information was shared with head office and the Wheat Board. Some of the private trade also had their own similar systems.
The farmer-owned CWB turned the extra space to good use. It set up a day care facility with an in-house caregiver for the children of staff. By all accounts this sophisticated and humane innovation was immensely popular with the talented female staff who occupied positions at the CWB from the more traditional, like receptionist, to highly demanding like supervising currency trading and risk management.
This writer actually shook hands with the young woman who supervised the small group of staff that made farmers over 63 million dollars in profits on customer financing and currency hedging in one year – enough to run the whole CWB for the year with money left over.
When the Alberta government and the Astroturf organizations it was funding got wind of the daycare facility, they mounted a vociferous campaign claiming the farmer-owned CWB was wasting farmers’ money on luxuries for staff. It was a disgraceful and vile display of the same Conservative mentality that now thinks it is okay to use their own Conservative-controlled CWB to demean women by depicting them as mindless objects in its print advertisements.
Post Script: the Harper Conservatives have destroyed the farmer controlled Canadian Wheat Board and replaced it with an organization disingenuously known with the internationally respected initials “CWB.” Harper’s board is run by three appointees who follow the directions of the Minister of Agriculture. 80% of the CWB’s loyal employees have been fired and the Information Technology department is hardly there. One of the upshots is that in the second week of February Ritz’s appointed CWB could not get their high priced market newsletter out on time because of computer problems.