Progress Alberta Report #239 October 26, 2020

Your weekly update on Alberta politics

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This morning strikes erupted across the province as nursing-care and support workers set up pickets at hospitals throughout Alberta.

Devon, Whitecourt, Calgary, Wetaskiwin, Edmonton, High Level, Claresholm, Evansburg and Okotoks are just a few of the dozens of communities with active strikes. My colleague Duncan is maintaining a strike tracker on our website with the full list.

The strikes come after months of threatened cuts from the UCP government–the latest being a plan to lay off over 11,000 laundry, housekeeping, and support workers and to privatize their jobs.

Grinding a heel into health care workers in the middle of a terrible pandemic is so callous and careless that I’m having trouble describing it without profanity. Right when we need our health care system the most, the UCP have thrown it into total chaos, for the sake of satisfying their conservative obsession with demolishing unions and privatizing everything they can get their hands on.

AHS immediately turned to the Alberta Labour Relations Board for an injunction, and I’m sure they’ll get it. But it doesn’t matter much–it’s rare that a successful strike isn’t illegal.

Nor does it matter much that UCP have something to shake their fists at, or that their supporters are not sympathetic to the workers–a strike isn’t an election or a popularity contest. Regardless of whether or not the public sides with the striking workers, merely by walking out they have the power to force AHS to the bargaining table. They don’t need to win a public relations battle to win this fight; they have power of their own.

A question I’ve received repeatedly from readers, with strikes having been clearly on the horizon for weeks, is: how can we support workers if strikes happen? And even in the face of the draconian anti-protest laws the UCP brought in this year it’s very easy to stand in solidarity with a picket line. All you need to do is show up! Having folks from other walks of life come to walk the picket line is a big morale boost in itself. Bring some hot drinks and snacks if you’d really like to make some friends. And don’t forget your mask, the virus is still out there.

It’s set to be a dramatic week–or month, or even season. This won’t be the first time support staff at Alberta’s hospitals put themselves on the line to fight for workers’ rights. Famously in 1995, over 2500 workers in the same sorts of positions went on strike to fight back against brutal cuts planned by Ralph Klein.

They won in 1995, and they’re going to win again.


The Alberta Advantage podcast has an excellent primer on strikes in general and today’s strike specifically. If you don’t know much about how this sort of thing plays out, have a listen.

Banff-Kananaskis MLA Miranda Rosin was caught propping up a “pretty hardcore” conspiracy theory last week–an absolutely wild allegation that the federal government is setting up COVID ‘concentration camps.’ Kenney, meanwhile, continues to abdicate all responsibility for dealing with the pandemic. It’s up to individual citizens and personal responsibility, he says: not his problem.

The Calgary Police Service continues to serve up one disgusting incident after another. One officer was before a judge today to explain a brutal assault he perpetrated on a woman in his custody. Another took to the pages of a police association magazine to deny that policing is systemically racist and to call Black Lives Matter a hate group.

Alberta’s COVID infection rate is skyrocketing, and we’re setting back-to-back daily records for positive cases as the virus is on the verge of uncontrolled and exponential spread. Finally, after months of telling us to handle things ourselves, chief medical officer of health Dr. Hinshaw announced some limited restrictions on social gatherings today. But the key word there is limited–these restrictions don’t apply to schools, or to bars or restaurants, and the government certainly won’t consider substantive policy measures like legislated paid sick leave that might keep this pandemic in check.

That’s all for this week. Please share our newsletter with any friends or family who you think would like political news and commentary from a progressive point of view. If someone forwarded this newsletter to you, you can sign up for it here. If you would like to support our ongoing work, please consider donating to help us keep going.

Jim Storrie