Alberta on strike

This morning strikes erupted across the province as nursing-care and support workers set up pickets at hospitals throughout Alberta.

Devon, Whitecourt, Calgary, Wetaskiwin, Edmonton, High Level, Claresholm, Evansburg and Okotoks are just a few of the dozens of communities with active strikes. My colleague Duncan is maintaining a strike tracker on our website with the full list.

The strikes come after months of threatened cuts from the UCP government--the latest being a plan to lay off over 11,000 laundry, housekeeping, and support workers and to privatize their jobs.

Grinding a heel into health care workers in the middle of a terrible pandemic is so callous and careless that I’m having trouble describing it without profanity. Right when we need our health care system the most, the UCP have thrown it into total chaos, for the sake of satisfying their conservative obsession with demolishing unions and privatizing everything they can get their hands on.

AHS immediately turned to the Alberta Labour Relations Board for an injunction, and I’m sure they’ll get it. But it doesn’t matter much--it’s rare that a successful strike isn’t illegal.

Nor does it matter much that UCP have something to shake their fists at, or that their supporters are not sympathetic to the workers--a strike isn’t an election or a popularity contest. Regardless of whether or not the public sides with the striking workers, merely by walking out they have the power to force AHS to the bargaining table. They don’t need to win a public relations battle to win this fight; they have power of their own.

A question I’ve received repeatedly from readers, with strikes having been clearly on the horizon for weeks, is: how can we support workers if strikes happen? And even in the face of the draconian anti-protest laws the UCP brought in this year it’s very easy to stand in solidarity with a picket line. All you need to do is show up! Having folks from other walks of life come to walk the picket line is a big morale boost in itself. Bring some hot drinks and snacks if you’d really like to make some friends. And don’t forget your mask, the virus is still out there.

It’s set to be a dramatic week--or month, or even season. This won’t be the first time support staff at Alberta’s hospitals put themselves on the line to fight for workers’ rights. Famously in 1995, over 2500 workers in the same sorts of positions went on strike to fight back against brutal cuts planned by Ralph Klein.

They won in 1995, and they’re going to win again.


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