It’s that time of year again, and even though Thanksgiving will look a little different in 2020, family visits and socially-distanced get-togethers are still in store this long weekend, which means many of you will be spending time with people who don’t always agree with each other.
No one likes the family-meal-turned-heated-debate, but the reality is, politics affect all of us, especially when the politicians are our bosses. And even if they’re not, their decisions touch us – just ask the continuing-care workers, agency staff and private-sector employees who had to face the pandemic head-on over the last seven months, with little to no government support!
This year could easily dish up some of the most intense political dinner conversations you’ve ever faced as an AUPE member, so be prepared to do some myth-busting while you break bread.
Staunch anti-unionists will tell you it’s Albertans versus the union, members versus the “real-taxpayers.” We know these are just weak attempts at dividing working people, but it can be hard to bridge the gap when those staunch anti-unionists aren’t strangers online, but our friends and family.
Your first instinct might be to lash out and fight back or to shut down, but the key to solidarity is building bridges, not burning them. So when the tough topics come up, what do we do?
Dialogue! Don’t Debate
The best way to prepare for any uncomfortable conversation is to anticipate the scenarios you could find yourself in. Here are a few to help get you started.
Imagine this. You’re on Zoom call with your parents and a few relatives. You’re about to tell them how work is going when somebody says:
“I don’t get government workers. They’re always crying. Crying over their wages, crying over return-to-work orders. I haven’t had a raise in ten years. I saw no hazard pay during the pandemic, even though I worked through it, and at the end of it all, I’m not even going to get a pension – you don’t see me complaining!”
How do you respond?
Don’t bite back with a long list of facts and numbers – for example, how long it’s been since GOA members secured a raise or how they only make X dollars a year.
Do validate your relative. They’re a worker too, so you have that much in common. Use this shared experience and follow these steps:
- Put the focus back on your relative. Reinforce what they were saying: “Wow! ten years is a long time with no raise. And no pension plan – that must be so hard. Aren’t you nearing retirement? And you don’t even know if you’ll have a stable income….after all those years of dedication. Unbelievable.”
- At this point, your relative will probably elaborate on their hardships. This is a good time to ask them something like: “Let’s say you could change anything about your work situation – what would it be?”
- Validate that they deserve better – they deserve a raise and a pension plan. Top it all off by saying: “I like to hear when workers are pushing for better compensation. It’s a reminder that we should all be treated better by our bosses, and our elected leaders should be using their power to help us make ends meet, especially when we were the ones keeping the province together through the pandemic!
Here’s another myth you might hear over the holidays:
“What’s wrong with corporate tax cuts? If businesses are making money, then we’re all making money. Companies hire more people and inject money into the local economy, which is exactly what we need right now. Especially after so many people were laid off during the pandemic."
How do you respond?
Don’t make sweeping generalizations: “the rich don’t care about workers” or “our interests and their interests will never be the same.” Using us-and-them language too early in the conversation will just turn people off.
Do be specific. There's no point busting trickle-down theory with more theory. Point to real-life examples that prove “job-creating tax-cuts” are just a myth:
- “Yeah, you know I was excited when I found out that the Premier was wooing big banks and tech giants to come out West. I kept thinking, 'Awesome! Jobs! Real Development! Right? Plus with super-low tax rates they didn't really have any reason not to. But then the corporations that are already set up here, they just up and put the millions of dollars of tax handouts into some bank on some island somewhere, and cut our jobs anyway, so will another monopoly man really be any different?"
- “I hear you, but all I see in the news these days are big layoffs in both the public and private sectors. Even before the pandemic, over 19,000 private-sector jobs disappeared, and that was after the Premier introduced his tax cuts! I guess the big bosses just saw it as another bonus for them to pocket."
Set the record straight without relying on ideology. In a situation like this it might even be worth it to use your friend’s or relative’s logic to prove your point – repeat what they said in a different context:
“Actually, I was reading an article the other day that listed all of the billionaires who got even richer during the pandemic. There were some heavy hitters on there: Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon, a bunch of big pharma CEOs. I wonder where they invested all their profits because, like you said, the money definitely didn’t make it into our pockets.”
Here’s another one. You’re at a socially-distanced holiday party with a small group of friends. The conversation is light, people are having fun, but someone makes an off-hand comment:
“Yikes, the public-sector in Alberta is ballooning. When are we gonna stamp out the bureaucracy in this province?”
How do you respond? There’s a quick and dirty response and a follow-up that we’d recommend in this situation.
The quick-and-dirty: Simply say, “I wish the UCP looked at management, but so far it’s been frontline workers taking the brunt of it.”
The follow-up: If the conversation continues, focus on your friend’s experiences with the public-sector, so they can use their firsthand knowledge (rather than anti-public-sector rhetoric) to judge it. You might say:
- “I totally agree that a top-heavy public sector is not the way to go. Have you ever waited at the doctors for hours or been late for work because of uncleared roads? It’s the worst. That's a sign we need more resources on the front-lines.”
There’s also a chance you’re going to get an ear-full about strikes. Something like:
“I keep reading that AUPE is considering strike action. Isn’t your union mostly healthcare workers? If they strike who’s going to look after patients and seniors? How could they put us in danger like that – I thought they got into the job because they care about people?”
How do you respond?
Don’t feed the fire. There’s probably no point trying to explain that strikes are supposed to disrupt the status quo to a person who has already decided direct actions are dangerous.
Do put out the fake fire:
- Explain the life-and-limb principle. Essential services agreements are negotiated ahead of time between the employer and the union workers, so staff know the minimum amount of workers (and the specific positions) that need to remain in a hospital or care centre so no life or limb is lost when the picket lines go up.
- Remind your loved one that the pandemic is proof of just how dedicated AUPE’s healthcare workers are to the wellbeing of their neighbours. Many risked their own health to protect the public’s and didn’t get any bonus for their hard work.
- Also remind them that the layoffs Kenney still has in store for AHS workers are in the thousands and will be far more detrimental to our healthcare system than a short strike.
- If your listener is defensive, they might pivot and start asking you where you were when all the oil and gas workers were laid off. Sometimes less is more. If this topic comes up, you can simply say “firing a nurse isn’t going to win a welder their job back."