Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Now Here's An Interesting Idea

At a time when workers' rights are under constant attack, dangerous, Draconian, Orwellian and unconstitutional measures have been passed in Alberta that not only strip away the arbitration rights of public servants, but also limit their freedom of speech.

First, to the 'less contentious' of the two bills recently passed by Alison Redford's Conservative government. In Alberta, strikes by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, who have been without a contract since last March, are forbidden. However, recently passed Bill 46 removes the underpinnings enjoyed by most unions where strikes are prohibited: binding arbitration. With the removal of that right, Redford's government will now be able to impose the following after the negotiation deadline of January 31:

... 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.

However, there are even more grievous measures contained in companion Bill 45, ostensibly legislation to introduce a more comprehensive range of measures that can be applied when there is an illegal strike or threat of an illegal strike that goes much further.

As noted at, the bill

... denies individuals the fundamental right to freedom of expression. Bill 45 introduces for the first time in Canada, a vague legal concept of "strike threat" which 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.

So Bill 45 essentially attempts to strip away our constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of speech; it likely will not withstand a Charter challenge, but the bill's intent nonetheless provides a rather frightening look into the minds of legislators today, minds that seem to endorse the attack on essential rights and freedoms as somehow good and just. Even the Calgary Herald and Wild Rose leader Danielle Smith condemn such a worldview. The former describes the bills as marking a dark chapter in Alberta history.

How does one fight such a mentality? Writing in the Edmonton Journal, Lloyd Maybaum, an Alberta physician, draws upon his experience in 2012 during a period of protracted negotiations. He suggests an innovative strategy to combat this assault on basic rights: a virtual strike.

During a virtual strike, unlike an actual strike, there is no cessation or slowdown of work, and everyone earns their regular pay.

The power of the virtual strike lies in the strategic donation of earned income. In the case of a hostile, bullying government, one could follow the adage that the enemy of your enemy becomes your friend and donate income from virtual strike days to opposition parties in the legislature.

Every Wednesday, for instance, union leaders could encourage nurses from across the province to go online and donate $100 to the political party of their choice.

By so doing, the union would be taking its fight directly to the governing party, not allowing patients to become caught in the crossfire of negotiations.

And as Maybaum points out, every $100 donation would only cost $25 after the political donation deduction, and could prove a potent weapon in a jurisdiction that is apparently trying to cripple people's rights.

Should those of us not living in Alberta be concerned? Without question. Both federally and provincially, workers are increasingly seen as impediments to the unfettered profits of business. There is, for example, Tim Hudak in Ontario who wants to make the province a 'right to work' jurisdiction; the Harper cabal seeks to cripple unions through disclosure of expenditures via Bill C-377, legislation that has been weakened, fortunately, by a amendment in the Senate put forward by Hugh Segal.

Constant vigilance is required. Truly, the battle taking place in Alberta is everyone's fight.

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