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A Message to Members

from AUPE President Guy Smith

Jul 28, 2020

Greetings fellow AUPE members,

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Oh, how the world has changed since the last issue of “Direct Impact”! That was back in late January, when we were in full gear, preparing to take on the regressive UCP government and other employers who were, and still are, bound and determined to throw AUPE members out of work, cut services, privatize, and generally wreak havoc on the front lines where members are supporting and protecting Albertans every single day.

Alberta Cares

Then the pandemic hit. Our focus switched from defending ourselves against a noxious government to defending ourselves against a deadly and aggressive virus. Together we focused our energies on keeping each other as safe and protected as possible. 

You, as members, displayed your commitment, compassion and utter strength to your neighbours, doing all you could to get Albertans through this health crisis. 

It has taken its toll on all of you, in many different ways. In the pandemic war, you’ve been the foot soldiers, and everyone from government ministers to the most hurt and desperate among us saw this.
Despite employers failing to give clear safety direction and protocols; despite PPE shortages in many worksites; despite the Alberta Government holding back financial recognition and support for workers (unlike many of their provincial and federal counterparts), you continued to show up for all Albertans. 

And Albertans thank you, from the bottom of their appreciative hearts.

Employers, including the government, have not been so appreciative. They heartlessly used the pandemic crisis as cover for some of the most vicious attacks on workers, and our right to collectively stand up and defend ourselves.

While we were forced to shift focus from preparing for labour war to a war against COVID, the Alberta government introduced pieces of legislation that are a full frontal attack on your rights to organize, to protest and to fight back. 

Bill 1

The so-called “Critical Infrastructure Defense Act” (Bill 1) would criminalize the actions of legitimate and peaceful protestors, wherever they decide to gather and wherever the government doesn’t want them to gather. 

Bill 1 could very well make a rally, protest, picket or strike outside any of your workplaces illegal. It could result in you being arrested without warrant, fined tens of thousands of dollars and sent to jail for months.

Let that sink in for a minute.

We’re talking about our beloved democratic Alberta here, not some dictatorship you read about in the news. Our democracy and our rights are being severely undermined, and Alberta is swiftly drifting towards authoritarianism. 

Bill 32

Likewise, Bill 32 (the satirically titled “Restoring Balance in Alberta’s Workplaces Act”) further erodes rights of all workers, whether unionized or not. 

It also interferes with internal union democratic decisions on how to effectively use its members’ funds to oppose government actions and decisions.

Both Bills 1 and 32 will undoubtedly be struck down (in whole or in part) in the courts as being unconstitutional. AUPE has already filed a court challenge against Bill 1 and will do the same with Bill 32 once it becomes law. 

But let’s be clear, it will take years before these odious pieces of legislation (and others) reach the Supreme Court of Canada. 

By then, here in Alberta, the damage will be done, and the UCP’s goal to re-create Alberta in their own corporate, anti-union, privatized image will be entrenched – if we don’t rise together.

Fight Back

We must be prepared to take the struggle not only through the courts, but also into the workplace and onto the streets. 

Let us not be weighed down by fear – let us be filled with anger. Jason Kenney and the UCP know the only real and effective opposition to their corporate agenda of cuts and privatization is workers exercising true and legitimate power. The power of the state must not be allowed to criminalize and crush the power of workers.

Major battles are brewing. Whether to stop job losses in areas such as post-secondary education; to stop the contracting-out of services for the developmentally disabled; to stop the privatization of health care, or the massive rollbacks and concessions we’re seeing at bargaining tables: we have to be prepared to fight like never before.

The preparations for this, which were in place before the pandemic, are even more urgent now. Although we are unable to organize in our traditional ways in the worksites and through protests in the streets, we are continuing to reach out to members through phone banks, telephone town halls and online. 

We must constantly keep pushing forward to build the necessary capacity to take on the many serious challenges that confront us all.

The world is in upheaval, and everywhere people are using their voices and their power to make changes for the better. Whether it be the Black Lives Matter movements, the ongoing struggle for justice for First Nations peoples, or workers taking action to confront oppressive and authoritarian governments and bosses.

The stakes are just as high in this little corner of the world we call Alberta. We have no choice but to organize, stand up and fight. And fight we will!

In Solidarity,

Guy Smith

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