Ban on just talking about job action

by Julius Arscottalisonredford2
The assault on labour in Canada intensified recently with new legislation rushed through the Alberta legislature. It targets the actions of public sector unions prior to collective bargaining. The ruling Progressive Conservatives, under Premier Alison Redford, passed Bills 45 and 46, the Public Sector Services Continuation Act and the Public Service Salary Restraint Act. They came into effect on December 11. Both bills were introduced only a week earlier, and without warning.
The law applies to the province’s negotiations with the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, which represents 22,000 public sector employees. Many are furious at the Redford Government for its plans to gut their pensions in a scheme announced in mid-September. The union has been without a collective agreement since late March 2013. The law eliminates AUPE’s option of going to binding arbitration. Instead, there is a negotiation deadline of January 31. After that, a legislated four-year deal with no increases over the first two years and one-per-cent increases in each of the next two would come into effect. This law significantly increases fines for illegal strikes or strike threats. Specifically, discussion of labour actions, such as an ‘illegal strike’, by the union or by union activists will be deemed illegal. There are heavy fines to be imposed on the union if rank and file members even raise job action in public or at union meetings. Punishment ranges from fines of $500 to $1 million per day.
Bill 45 includes a prohibition on “strike threats,” vaguely defined in the bill as “an act or threat to act that could reasonably be perceived as preparation for an employees’ strike.”
Also: “(1) No employee and no trade union or officer or representative of a trade union shall cause or consent to a strike.
(2) No employee and no officer or representative of a trade union shall engage in or continue to engage in any conduct that constitutes a strike threat or a strike.
(3) No trade union shall engage in or continue to engage in any conduct that constitutes a strike threat.
(4) No person shall counsel a person to contravene subsection (1) or (2) or impede or prevent.”
Point No. 2 makes it illegal to canvass the opinion of “employees to determine whether they wish to strike”, or to freely express a view which calls for or supports strike action. The fourth point appears to extend beyond public sector employees and union leaders to the general public, prohibiting counselling union members to strike or threaten a strike. Activists not directly involved with an Alberta union, like yours truly, could be prosecuted for suggesting that a strike is the only recourse to protect public services, pensions, benefits or to draw attention to unsafe working conditions that put the health of workers and the general public at risk.
The legislation has been called draconian and undemocratic in its sledgehammer approach to denying freedom of expression to20131128-LegRallyBills45-46_jpg_800x800_q85 the public. Even the
Calgary Herald, an ally of the ruling P.C. party wrote, “the passing of Bills 45 and 46 on Wednesday night marks a dark chapter in Alberta History.” Even the more right wing Wild Rose Party voted against this legislation.
Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason called the bills “legislation that would make Margaret Thatcher blush.” He added, “I am prepared to resist this bill in order to defend the rights of all Albertans to freedom of speech and freedom of association.” How far he’d go to resist it is not clear.
The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees vows to fight the bills in court. Guy Smith, President of the union, says AUPE is filing another complaint with the Alberta Labour Relations Board, as well as a complaint with the United Nations International Labour Organization. He told the Canadian Press the conditions placed on negotiations is akin to the government bringing “a gun on the table” and he won’t negotiate on that basis. The response by organized labour to this brazen attack has been tepid. Litigation can take up to a decade to complete. Meanwhile, the impact on the working class in Alberta and beyond will be staggering.
The Alberta Federation of Labour launched a tepid campaign calling Premier Redford a bully. “Alison Redford has poisoned labour relations in Alberta’s public sector, perhaps for years,” Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan said at the press conference. “If she thinks that threats, bullying and intimidation will stop workers from standing up for themselves and against her senseless agenda of cuts and rollbacks in the midst of prosperity, she has another thing coming.”
The President of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), James Clancy, said “Bill 45, the Public Sector Services Continuation Act, places further restrictions on over 100,000 unionized workers in Alberta who already are denied their right to strike. It broadens the definition of a strike to include ‘any slowdown or any activity that has the effect of restricting or disrupting production or services.'” No plan of action to defeat these bills has been announced.
wildroseaupeThe AUPE has been playing footsie with the parties of big business. Recently, observers have noted that the union leadership support has tilted towards the more right wing Wild Rose Party. Its opposition to Bills 45 and 46 indicates that this may be the case. The union leadership may think that a Wild Rose government led by Opposition Leader Danielle Smith could hardly be worse than the one now led by Progressive Conservative Premier Alison Redford, but that is foolish. The notion that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ may put pressure on the P.C’s in the short term, but it will spell disaster for the labour movement in Alberta.
The AUPE should urge a vote for the provincial New Democrats, and fight for a Workers’ Agenda within the labour-based party.
The Alberta Federation of Labour should organize mass strike action, and seek support from organized labour across the country.
The left should organize a cross-union movement of labour militants to challenge the bureaucratic union leadership and press for actions needed to defeat anti-union laws.