5 reasons why Alberta needs a general strike
Outside of the United Conservative Party’s annual general meeting, a large crowd of protesters were gathered. What were they shouting? “General strike. General strike.” Across the province, different groups affected by the Kenney government’s far-reaching cuts are mulling the possibility of a general strike.
So, what is a general strike? This type of strike action usually involves mobilizing a large proportion of the entire labour force. They are not restricted to one sector or one union. Workers from across different industries and workplaces join together to send a more decisive message and force political change
Western Canadians are no stranger to the idea. In fact, the largest strike in Canadian history was the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919. With a province-wide Alberta general strike becoming more of a possibility, here are 5 reasons why the strike action is warranted.
1. Conservatives are waging a war on the working-class
General strikes have always been about protecting the working-class. When the ruling elites and governments move to erode the rights of workers, there is pushback. This is precisely what Jason Kenney and his corporate backers are experiencing.
Before becoming the Premier, Kenney promised big business that he would work fast to lower wages and gut labour laws. Once in office, his plans to reverse rights, which took decades for workers to gain, became clear.
So far, his government has lowered the minimum wage for young workers, changed rules around holiday and overtime pay, and attacked unions. Kenney has also introduced a hidden income tax increase for workers. Last but not least, there are the massive cuts to social services. The burden of his radical agenda falls square on the shoulders of the working-class.
2) Kenney is enriching corporations and executives at the expense of Albertans
The UCP government wants to balance the province’s finances, and they’re doing it at the expense of workers. Corporations, the extremely-well off, and executives seem to be exempt from Kenney’s austerity. While workers must pay higher taxes, corporations are getting a huge tax break. Large corporations have made billions already.
Kenney justified these handouts by claiming that they would result in new jobs. This has not panned out. Encana got millions in tax breaks, they relocated to the U.S. Husky Energy got hundreds of millions in tax breaks and they laid off more workers.
While workers get the boot, the super-rich and corporations receive handouts without putting anything back into the economy. A general strike can push back against the influence of Kenney’s government and big corporate power. Without a real outcry, they get a free pass to continue business as usual.
3. Kenney is gutting healthcare and education
As Canadians, we pride ourselves on strong public services that are there for us when we need them. Most important of these are healthcare and education. Jason Kenney’s reckless cuts to healthcare and education are nothing less than a money grab from working-class families.
Not only that, the cuts will mean thousands of lost jobs. Just recently, it became clear that 750 nurses would be laid off as a result of these cuts. School boards, left with less funding, are also letting teachers go.
The Alberta government is also moving forward with healthcare privatization. On December 10, they announced plans to increase the usage of private, for-profit health facilities. Critics say this will open the door for American-style health care where only rich people can afford adequate care.
Kenney is cutting healthcare and education funding to cover his handouts to corporations. All of which is costing people their jobs and diminishing the quality of the vital public services that average Albertans rely on.
4. Scary plans for people’s pensions
People work their entire lives paying into pensions, so they can have, at least, a decent life when they retire. Jason Kenney and the UCP are playing with Albertan’s pensions in an unprecedented way. In October, the UCP made waves for transferring teachers’ pensions away from their control. Now, Kenney is mulling the possibility of pulling Alberta out of the Canada Pension Plan.
Pension contributions would be transferred to the Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo). While AIMCo is supposed to be an independent body, some in the UCP camp have suggested that AIMCo could be directed to fund development in oil and gas, instead of looking out for the best interest of their pensioners.
While Kenney and the UCP haven’t made clear what they’re plans are when it comes to pensions and AIMCo, it’s clear that they have something up their sleeve. Albertans need to voice their concerns, in a loud and decisive way, before Kenney risks throwing their pensions away.
5) It’s the best way to fight against an austerity agenda
Many of the protections and rights that Canadian workers have now were once gained through strike action. In the late 19th century, workers walked off the job to fight for a shorter workweek. During the Great Depression, it was striking masses that forced the government to create unemployment insurance. Collective bargaining rights, worker’s safety rights, and maternity benefits have all been won through workers coming together for massive strike action.
Governments rarely do anything to upset corporate power unless their hands are forced by the people. A general strike is a powerful tool for workers to have a voice against the power of corporate interests.
Kenney has made it clear that he intends to work to strengthen large corporations’ stranglehold over politics. His government has even hinted that they might throw out election laws that limit the influence of big money in politics.
It’s time to show him that his austerity agenda does not have the support of working people. It’s time for a general strike.