By Alexander Delorme,
AUPE members at worksites across Alberta are reacting with anger and determination to attacks on their jobs, wages, benefits, and the public services they provide.
Not willing to stand by and meekly accept what’s been done to them and to Albertans, they’ve begun to engage in direct action to confront the UCP government and fight back.
Nearly 70 rallies and information pickets have been held across the province. Members have been spreading the word at work, at home, and in their communities about the devastating effects government policies will bring.
They’ve been engaging more of their fellow union members, more members of other unions, and all Albertans to prepare for the bigger fight that lies ahead.
Why? Because direct action gets the goods!
Chances are you’ve heard members of the labour movement use this phrase. But what is direct action? What are ‘the goods’? How does one lead to the other?
It’s all in the name. Direct actions are real actions you can take alongside other people, especially at the worksite, to address issues with the employer.
They can be small solidarity actions, such as everyone wearing the same colour to show management the workers are united, or they can be arranging a meeting of staff with the manager to discuss serious issues.
However, the type of direct actions can be escalated as needed, including having the kind of information pickets members have already been staging, and can go all the way up to strikes as a last resort.
Direct action can swing the balance of power at the workplace. When done right, it can make employers take negotiations with the union seriously. It can win concessions from bosses, resulting in better working conditions and a more democratic, healthy workplace.
This focus on direct action has been set by the AUPE membership.
“More than 1,000 AUPE activists gathered at our centennial convention in Edmonton,” says AUPE vice-president Kevin Barry.
“There, they unanimously endorsed a resolution to fully support any group of members who take direct action against their employer. This serious decision was made in recognition that Alberta’s UCP government will stop at nothing to attack front-line workers. It serves as a declaration that AUPE members are determined to fight back.”
AUPE members have always advocated for themselves in traditional ways. They’ve contacted their MLAs, they’ve lobbied them face to face, they’ve shared facts and information in an attempt to get governments and employers to understand their issues. That’s business as usual in the labour movement.
But the UCP government is not conducting business as usual.
In only its first year in power, the government:
- Broke AUPE members’ contracts with Bill 9, The Public Sector Wage Arbitration Deferral Act;
- Called for wage rollbacks;
- Announced plans to lay off thousands of public-sector and health-care workers;
- Revealed plans to mess with our pensions; and
- Said it will use the power of the state against us if we decide to resist.
AUPE members and other unionized Albertans have seen that we cannot rely on legal structures and collective agreements to protect us from these attacks or to uphold our rights and our dignity, especially when staring down a government like this one.
Fighting back this time requires a more direct approach. AUPE members have been building their capacity for all kinds of direct action, including asking for and taking direct action courses being organized by the union’s education department.
These courses are open to members who have completed the Into to Your Union course. They are for members who aren’t afraid to get public, confrontational and disruptive and who are willing to create change in their workplace and communities.
Workshops are also being set up for union stewards to prepare them for direct action at their work sites. Stay tuned to the AUPE website for details.
“This is a dangerously ideological government,” says Barry. “It doesn’t matter what you tell them or what bears out in reality, they are hell-bent on doing whatever they want with no regard for working Albertans. Well, AUPE members will do whatever it takes to fight back.”
In addition to laying off workers and making huge cuts to services, the government is giving away $4.7 billion in tax cuts to wealthy corporations, privatizing health care, and spending millions of public dollars promoting already profitable private industries.
These policies are designed to keep power in the hands of a few people at the top, while making life worse for the rest of Albertans. An agenda like this proves the government is not interested in listening to the facts or delivering on what working Albertans actually need.
AUPE vice-president Karen Weiers says: “Treatment like this from the government – or any employer – can make you feel like you’ve lost control over everything at work. But we live in a democracy. Direct action is one way we can take back our power.”
This is why AUPE members are blazing this path of direct action. By adopting these tactics, members are hitting the government and bad bosses where it hurts and giving the power back to the many, not the few.
One of the first rules of successful direct action is not do it alone. One on one, workers don’t have as much power as their boss, but a united workplace can wield enough power to fight back.
“It is all about solidarity,” says Weiers. “The first step in building up a solid, fighting union is the recognition that we’re all in this together, that what’s good for you is good for me and that your struggle is my struggle.
“This fight is not just about one workplace, one bargaining unit, or even one union. We’re in this fight with workers from all the bargaining units in AUPE, with members of other public and private-sector workers, with non-unionized workers and, perhaps most importantly, with all Albertans who rely on the services we provide. That’s solidarity.”
AUPE members have already shown this solidarity at the dozens of information pickets organized since this government took power. They are now building on that work.
The government’s attack on working Albertans shows no sign of slowing. AUPE members are working harder than ever to fight back and win through direct action.