Is it time to take our pots and pans into Alberta’s freezing streets?

More than 1,000 union members and their supporters gathered at the Alberta Legislature last night to continue protests against the Redford Government’s Bill 45, which as well as attacking unions assaults Albertans’ Charter-guaranteed right to free speech. Below: Unexpected speaker Joe Anglin; a red square from Quebec. Make it black, pin it on, leave it there till Redford’s gone!

Is it time to take our pots and pans into Alberta’s freezing streets?

Don’t laugh! This may be Alberta, but there’s a growing consensus across all parts of the political spectrum that the lying liars of the Redford Government have to go.

Alberta’s 42-year-old Progressive Conservative dynasty’s insiders have been arrogant and in possession of a healthy sense of entitlement for a long, long time, but it’s only recently many citizens have really begun to realize just how high-handed, dictatorial, paranoid and out of touch with normal Canadian values this government has become.

Never mind that they have littered the frozen ground of Alberta with their broken promises, large and small. The real problem is their thuggish reaction now that more and more ordinary voters are figuring just how bad this government is.

Consider the assault on free speech squirrelled away in Bill 45, the so-called Public Sector Services Continuation Act, one of two pieces of heavy handed and unconstitutional anti-labour legislation introduced by Premier Alison Redford’s government on Wednesday.

If you’re a typical Albertan who doesn’t really have a deep love for public service unions and their members, this should nevertheless concern you.

Bill 45 sets out a series of vicious penalties for unions that hold, or even talk about in undefined and possibly imagined ways, “illegal strikes” in the public sector.

The penalties are designed to immediately crush any union in which even a small number of members dares to strike, even for a few hours, even over an issue of worker health and safety or to draw attention to cuts in service caused by government policy. The goal, obviously, is to terrify and paralyze union leadership and stifle dissent.

But to do that you must, to be blunt about it, suppress free expression.

So, while the bill is mostly careful to restrict penalties to union members and officers, on the always dangerous question of free speech, it extends its attack to “any person” who says the wrong thing to a civil servant – you know, like a blogger, newspaper editorialist or family member saying “the right to strike is fundamental” or “you ought to strike” to a public employee.

Presumably it would also snare members of the public who showed up on an “illegal” picket line, or members of other unions not subject to this thuggish legislation who joined a picket out of solidarity.

The penalty? Oh, only $500 a day or partial day for every time you exercise your constitutional right to free speech.

“The key issue here is that if someone uninvolved with a union (say a newspaper editor or an academic) says, ‘the workers’ only recourse is an illegal strike,’ that could well be construed as counselling workers or trade unionists to violate ss.4(1-2), which is a violation of s.4(4),” wrote Athabasca University Professor Bob Barnetson in his excellent labour issues blog yesterday.

“So,” asked Barnetson, “what happens to the editor or academic? Well, s.18(1) says that if you violate s.4(4) you are guilty of an offence. Under s.18(1)(d), the editor or academic would be liable for a fine of $500 a day per day of the contravention. Section 20(a) says that prosecution may occur within 1 year of the last day the offense occurred.

“So riddle me this,” he went on. “If Bill 45 had been the law before the jail-guard strike went down this spring and I made a blog post (primarily aimed at students) that suggested the guards had no choice but to strike since the employer would not address the health and safety issues at the (then) new remand centre (which is a reasonable conclusion to draw) and the employees illegally struck and I left the post up, I would remain open to prosecution for an offense indefinitely for a fine of $500 a day?”

They can’t be serious, you wonder – or more likely, that can’t be right. Well, read the act yourself and see what you think.

“What is this,” I heard an ordinary citizen wonder today, “Russia?” Actually, nowadays I think Russians have more rights than ordinary Albertans!

Remember, these are the same clowns who proposed just weeks ago to jail elected municipal councillors who had the temerity to hand over information desired by one of the government’s planned new regional governments without sufficient alacrity. That one got nipped in the bud, largely because the government party’s own municipal farm team raised merry hell about it.

The act also proposes to fine individual workers – say, employees resisting orders to work in unsafe conditions in violation of their right to refuse unsafe work – a day’s pay for every day they refuse to work.

Unintentional consequences of these tactics will include resistance through worker sabotage and vicious compliance. As Professor Barnetson points out elsewhere, “one of the knock-on effects of alienated workers is that quality of the work performed by government workers is likely to decline. … There may even be individual or small-group efforts at resistance – because employees have no other way to express their frustration and no confidence that their collective bargaining process is meaningful.”

Of course, like Professor Barnetson, if I say this in this space after the Redford PCs have rammed Bill 45 through the Legislature next week, I’ll probably be in violation of the law.

And once it’s been rushed through, without a sober second thought from the Borg Hive on the government benches, the province can piss away our money unsuccessfully defending the obvious Charter violations all the way to the Supreme Court, if the Supreme Court even deigns to hear them.

Wednesday afternoon about 400 trade unionists gathered in the cold to protest at the Alberta Legislature. Yesterday after work, about 1,300 people were there.

In addition to the NDP caucus, a couple of Alberta Liberal MLAs and a representative of the seatless Alberta Party, for the first time there was a speaker from the Wildrose caucus – Opposition front-bencher Joe Anglin.

So while the government certainly hopes temperatures will fall and the protest will peter out, something tells me this law is outrageous enough that continued protest has legs – even with people who normally don’t support unions.

Indeed, I’ve been hearing the suggestion we should start wearing little squares of cloth like they did in Quebec last year.

As happened in response to the student tuition protesters in Quebec in 2012, this Alberta government has attacked everyone’s rights in an effort to crush an effective opposition movement.

It’s something you could do whether you’re a New Democrat, a Liberal, a Wildroser, a union member, a student, or just a citizen who’d like your fundamental Charter rights to be left alone by these goons. Just wear a little black square of cloth – since, obviously, red is out of the question under the circumstances.

And keep wearing it until these people have been run out of office! What are they going to do? Say that you’re advocating an illegal strike?

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

25 Comments on "Is it time to take our pots and pans into Alberta’s freezing streets?"

  1. ABobserver says:

    I’m about as anti union as they come, but I have to fully agree with you. Regardless of my sentiments, unions have a right to exist and participate in negotiated settlements.

    I find it outrageous that this government would even contemplate punishing people who effectively are only talking about those rights?

  2. Tom in Ontario says:

    Wow, this proposed bill makes Ontario’s Tea Party Timmy Hudak’s talk about our province becoming a Mississippi “right to work” state look like a fun afternoon at the West Edmonton Mall. You Albertans have wealth and power most of the rest of Canada can only envy. Why are your government leaders running around like scared little puppies?

  3. Fubar says:

    How about showing up at the Leg every day during the noon hour and singing a few songs? Sedition?

  4. Just look at how disproportionate the penalties are.

    An employer kills a worker and they get a maximum fine of $500k. But likely they won’t get prosecuted. And if they do, the fine will be less than the maximum. And they can pay it to a community group so they look like good citizens. And the community group will likely be an employer safety association (so the taxpayer subsidized fine is paid to other employers).

    But if union member even speaks about a work slow down, the union is going to get dinged with a $1 million fine and three months of dues suspension. All for just having a charter-protected discussion about how to respond to some outrage by an employer. Wow, talk about heavy handed and anti-worker. In related news, I hear several million of the surplus has been set aside for the purchase of jackboots.

  5. Brian Runge says:

    Agreed. It’s time to stand up as taxpayers to these bully unions who demand more than the private sector offers. It’s time to take charge – they are holding us all hostage.

    • M Nokleby says:

      What are you talking about and who are you agreeing with? THe unions are not the ones bullying in this case, its the governments bill 45. Might you care to clarify your sense that its the Unions (under attack from the bill) that are holding Us (whoever you define that loose group) hostage????

      Maybe Read the article. Its opposed to suppressing Unions rights. So maybe you need to begin with “I disagree”? ANd then tell us why

    • anon says:

      Dude, the private sector is all about making a profit for shareholders. Pretty much all sectors of the economy are controlled by fewer than half a dozen giant companies.

      The one-tenth of the one percent who own 99% of the shares will drive everyone into poverty and then wonder where their customers went.

      What part of the ‘family wage’ don’t you understand?

    • John says:

      We need a balance of union and non union…Either extreme is no good.

      • Bhudda says:

        At the same time don’t dismantle the Union for sticking up, for every bodies rights here, because don’t kid yourself, this will trickle out into the private sector. Case in point, a taxi driver was fired, because he questioned, the availability of fresh water, and an onsite clean washroom, and the taxi drivers, followed by standing up for his firing, and lodged a Wild Cat Strike till he was rehired.

        • Brian Runge says:

          It’s time to stand up for taxpayers and that’s what this government is FINALLY doing. They might just win my vote back from the Wildrose who are siding with the socialists.

  6. anonymous APS employee says:

    I know the government is in a predicament. Discussion about why doesn’t need to be rehashed. I support accountability. I also support excellence. As we as workers are asked to provide when assessing Albertans for the support available to them from the Government of Alberta, I would only ask to have a solid and clear rationale. How do these actions and how they have unfolded meet the core value of integrity? Address (or even just not flat out contribute to) the highlighted Reaching Our Full Potential issue of bullying? Support working Better Together and collaboration? Exemplify transparency? Value APS staff as citizens of Alberta worthy of treatment under the Social Policy Framework outcomes? Or show basic respect to the people these words get tossed at every day. They seem now to be only just words. Is there any way to have the Core Values and practice excellence rhetoric (that I feel I’ve been nothing more than brainwashed with) discussed in the context of Bills 45 and 46?

  7. Bhudda says:

    The right to assemble, and to protest rights, against an individual, and to supress the opinion of an Editor or an Academic is bordering on tyranny.

  8. M Nokleby says:

    WHhle we’re waxing indignant about the latest brainchild of corporate fascism……….because that’s what it essentially is……..let’s pause to ask ourselves: What are they trying to protect? What are they paving the way for? Why suddenly in the richest province in the richest (arguably) country in the world, must we suppress worker’s rights and muzzle the people who might protest such an act?

    Does it have anything to do with the muzzling of scientists, that our federal bunch of corporate bully boys achieved recently in Ottawa?

    What is happening, or about to happen, in our fair province, that might blow up in the faces of our conservative elites? I wouldn’t want to suggest anything, that might incite anyone to get off the couch or abandon their apathy, but a thorough read of October’s Alberta Review, might hold a clue or three.

    Full speed ahead my hearties….and damn the tornadoes, floods, typhoons, meltdowns, and other forms of natural outrage…..we must get our products to market and its an emergency that can brook no opposition.

  9. K. Larsen says:

    Any student of recent Canadian history will not be surprised by this. It is exactly how Ottawa enabled by Edmonton, destroyed the largest collective bargaining unit in Canada – the farmer elected Canadian Wheat Board.

    First they banned free speech by the organization before they seized around a quarter of a billion dollars of farmers’ collective assets without any compensation and decertified the CWB.

    Now big business is busy collecting the spoils.

  10. Bhudda says:

    The issue in Alberta, is we have a spending problem, and a problem with hot knowing when to stop spending,( when we spend, we lose track, of our roots), and because the unions are so complacent, the idea of a strong union presents in Alberta is foreign, and most Albertans believe that Government knows best, so they get to walk all over the people here, and before you know it, all the money is gone, and their in the midst of Damage Control, by invoking Gag Orders, on the Unions, by eliminating Arbitration, this is a peoples fundamental right to be able to express your opinion, and this is being taken away, with these Bills, and past Bills. Who would of thought in a Democratic Society, your right to assemble is being taken away from you, this is shades of Tiananmen Square.

  11. Isabelle says:

    IThe Government has been out of control for years and has no respect for the hard working Albertans. I would to see her supporting her family on my wages.

  12. Chelsea Tay says:

    Excellent, informative, and terrifying blog post.

    As someone who supports the labour movement, but is not unionized, I am particularly troubled at the tactic of potentially criminalizing the act of suggesting of job action.

    A tiny bad feel was just the “Actually, nowadays I think Russians have more rights than ordinary Albertans!” bit, given the ongoing suppression, attacks, and violence against queer folks in Russia at the moment. While Alberta is no safe haven for queers, we do not have laws against being gay (for now).

    But that’s just a tiny blip in an otherwise terrific, and again, terrifying article.

  13. Sam Gunsch says:

    Rather than pots and pans, what if citizens explicitly violated this legislation?

    Perhaps if dozens, hundreds? or thousands? of Albertans chose to speak out in ways that explicitly contravened Redford’s anti-democratic legislation we could create a situation that called for something like a class-action lawsuit in defense against the Redford government’s attack on democracy?

    I’m in.

  14. the za says:

    I don’t know the legislation nor the mechanisms involved to do this, but is it possible at all for the AUPE membership to vote to unilaterally decertify the union? Would that act allow the members then to essentially be able to “re-arm” themselves with tools critical to membership effectiveness such as the ability to go on strike? I understand the practicality of such a move is an obstacle, so call the suggestion a theory. Wouldn’t the wording of the legislation targeting the de-fanging of unions be useless after such an action? just asking.

  15. APS employee says:

    The hypocrisy of the Redford gang defies belief. They blather on about the value of respect while gutting pensions and imposing wage freezes. All this does is antagonize front line staff and send the best and brightest to the private sector where they are treated with dignity. There was a time when it was honorable to work for the public service, but Redford goes out of her way to show her contempt for workers. Peter Lougheed would be ashamed of this blatant hatred that Redford shows.

  16. Jan Rose says:

    Since the recession in 2008 the economy, meant to be a tool to serve us, has been elevated to a god. Consider this draconian bill of the so-called Progressive Conservatives that will stifle free speech, and action by the federal government that stifles strikes. Pope Francis has figured this out. In his exhortation released a few weeks ago he mentioned this elevation of the economy from tool to god, and that in the eyes of business and government you and I are little more than commodities.

  17. Alvin Finkel says:

    Pots and pans make sense to me. For the right-wingers who are babbling about overpaid public servants relative to the private sector and government overspending on wages, what pot have you been smoking? Today’s Edmonton Journal has a feature on the skilled workers in Fort McMurray who are making over 200 grand a year. How many public servants, even those with years and years more education than the Fort McMurray workers, are making that kind of money? Yes, there are many employees in retail, banking, etc. who are being grossly exploited by carnivorous employers. But the solution is to get as many of these workers unionized as possible. First, though, we need to defeat the anti-labour parties whose labour legislation makes it almost impossible for most workers to unionize. In the meantime, though, the defence of the few labour rights that do exist in this province is in every working person’s interest.

  18. the za says:

    this public servant can’t afford pots nor pans.

  19. Jack Vilbrunt says:

    Time for all of us to take pots and pans in the streets and stand up to these bullying, thugish unions! Time to take back the power from these extremists!

  20. ken says:

    Ithink the REDford Government should be recognised more as a dictatorship than a democratic government. When they take the average individuals right to express their opinions as to a union one way or the other we are on our way down the slippery slope to a dictatorship or even a communist regeime. When our so called Premier has no respect or regard for the working people of this province, and does not recognise the fact that without the public and average workers there would be no businesses or industry to pay her and her cronies extravagant wages. I cant stand the fact that she has no regard for the work ido for this province each and every day, and the disrespect that she shows for me and my family. Some how and some way we have to do something to change the way she is performing. The government is far beyond out of control she is bordering on being a dictator.

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