On Wednesday, Oct. 28 the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) held a press conference announcing their next step in the fight against Jason Kenney and his attacks on the public sector. Representatives from the AFL and other unions, representing an estimated 175,000 workers, launched the “Stand up to Kenney” Campaign, with an accompanying website urging Albertans to pledge to support future protests, strike action, and even a general strike against the government. The website also features a list of demands put forward to reverse attacks on workers’ rights, improve public health and safety, and stop privatization. This move comes in the wake of the wildcat strikes of health-care workers that exploded across the province two days prior on Oct. 26, and has potential to build momentum for the working class in the fight against Kenney.
In Alberta, labour unrest has been boiling under the surface for months due to the attacks by the United Conservative Party (UCP). Upon coming to power the Conservatives enacted vicious austerity measures, and even continued their attacks through the pandemic. While COVID-19 is peaking in Alberta, the UCP plans to cut up to 16,000 health-care jobs. Knowing their pink slips can come any day, many of these workers have nothing left to lose. If the UCP gets their way, these jobs will be cut entirely, or moved to the private sector with lower pay, fewer benefits, worse conditions, and no union. Meanwhile the capitalists in the private sector will line their pockets while patients, sick people, the disabled, and the elderly suffer.
One of the most sickening cuts to health care is the plan to sell off and privatize long-term care facilities. The Canadian Armed Forces report released this year, after the military’s intervention in long-term care facilities, shows the deadly consequences of allowing the private sector to exploit the health-care industry for profit. The report exposed that there existed a “general culture of fear to use supplies because they cost money”. Key supplies were often locked up and inaccessible to staff who needed them regularly and much of the stock of medication was discovered to be out of date. With capitalists trying to extract as much profit as they can, the quality of work provided by workers undoubtedly suffers. This will be the result if privatization is allowed to happen here in Alberta.
The UCP needs to be stopped by the working class. And the recent move to start the “Stand up to Kenney” campaign by the AFL is a positive and welcome development. Albertans are growing more outraged by the day under the successive cuts of jobs and worsening conditions. Jason Kenney is Canada’s second least popular premier. People are looking for a way forward, to bring the fight to Kenney. The Alberta working class is ready to mobilize: there has been a massive outpouring of support for the strikers.
What is required now is that the labour leaders give the workers direction, and build towards a one-day general strike to bring down Kenney. While the “Stand up to Kenney campaign” is a good first step, the labour leadership must prepare the movement to defy undemocratic anti-union laws, injunctions, and fines.
The UCP have made it clear that they are not afraid to pick a fight with labour as evidenced by Bill 1: the anti-protest law, and Bill 32: the anti-union law. For these reasons the labour leadership need to make it clear that the UCP have no intention to compromise or collaborate with the working class and their unions. The only way to keep our livelihoods is to fight back, even if it requires breaking the law. Any weakness on the part of labour leadership only invites further aggression. The UCP would love to completely crush organized labour in this province. Thankfully, the UCP has actually shown the way forward. The most effective ways to fight the UCP have been spelled out in the wake of Bill 1 and Bill 32: large protests, strike action, defying back-to-work legislation, solidarity strikes, and if necessary, general strikes.
In the past two years, unions have attempted to fight the UCP through the court system, suing the government for anti-union legislation. Ultimately this has not won anything. Although they may win a symbolic victory in the Supreme Court, this can take years to accomplish. By the time a ruling is reached the movement has lost all momentum and the bosses have cut across the struggle.
At a time when public outrage is reaching critical levels it’s imperative that a real stand is made or else the public energy will fade and further harm will be wrought by the UCP government. If the right to strike has become illegal, then so be it: it would be better for the unions to break the law than for the law to break the unions, and public health care. We need a movement led by the AFL ready to defy unjust laws and wage a campaign of escalating towards a general strike. This is the best tool at the disposal of the workers to bring down Kenney and enact positive change.
The pandemic doesn’t appear to be coming to an end any time soon and countless lives will be lost if Kenney’s government is allowed to further plunder public infrastructure. Kenney’s callousness in dealing with the pandemic has already resulted in a spike in cases. Unions have to begin discussing and preparing for solidarity strikes should health-care workers walk out again. Kenney has no intention of coming to the bargaining table. He wants only to cut, privatize, and legislate without any interference from the Albertan working class. The AFL and all their fellow unions must organize their own strike actions, walkouts and even build towards a general strike if necessary. Workers, trade unionists, students and youth, and activists should begin signing up to the “Stand up to Kenney” campaign today and join the fight!
Solidarity with striking workers!
Stand up to Kenney!
Down with the UCP government!