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.
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?