Thursday, January 26, 2023
Cathy and I were deeply saddened to learn of Elia’s passing. I have many great memories of working with Elia during my time at Queen’s. He was a great man and a great scholar. Condolences to you and your family.
And now for a long P.S.
In 2022, David Lyon asked me to share an anecdote about Elia and here is what I sent:
In 1985. Elia and I received a substantial grant to study telephone workers across Canada, focusing on the impact of new IT on their jobs, how they felt about it, and what they would do to change things. Funding came from the federal Ministry of Labour (no longer in existence) to the Communication Workers of Canada who essentially partnered with Elia and me to do the research. It was part of a wider project that provided government research funding to unions across Canada (hard to imagine that today!). Elia and I hired a team of Queen's students to conduct interviews with workers in several provinces in both official languages. Frankly I doubted we would ever complete the task. But that was only because I had known Elia for less than a year. Over the course of our project, I learned that Elia was one of the most hardworking, determined, and responsible scholars I have ever met. As the senior scholar in our group, he led the project with great skill, whether this involved motivating graduate students or applying his considerable ability to carry out both quantitative and qualitative research at the highest level. As a result of his tenacity, we completed the project, producing a voluminous report and several published articles.
One of our most important findings was that workers, especially the largely female cohort of telephone operators, were very unhappy with soul-destroying use of new technologies to measure and monitor their every move. It was rank Taylorism and Elia made certain it occupied a major place in our report. Moreover, operators were particularly upset with the failure of the union's leadership to do much about their complaints. The union leadership was, like so many labour organizations, biased in favour of more highly skilled male technicians. When the leadership of the union received a draft of our report, it asked us to delete portions that would cast it in a negative light. Elia was determined to oppose any such suggestion and, as a result, we produced one of the first studies that documented the negative effects of new surveillance technologies and the toll it took on the mental health of workers. Perhaps the most important lesson I learned about Elia from this research project was that behind his well-known bluster was not only a skilled scholar and project leader but a man deeply committed to progressive values that, above all, helped us to give voice to the voiceless.