Getting together in big groups, as we would normally at marches and picnics in the usual celebration of workers’ collective power, is just not possible or even a good idea during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What makes this Labour Day so different is that workers in Saskatchewan are quickly headed toward a reckoning with the Sask Party government that is at odds, if not overtly hostile, to working people’s interests.
The Sask Party government began undermining working peoples’ basic rights from the moment they took office. Then-premier Brad Wall made it harder to join a union and relaxed health and safety regulations, making workplaces across the province more dangerous. They ensured Saskatchewan’s minimum wage workers were among the lowest-paid workers in Canada.
The Sask Party inadvertently made labour history when their essential service legislation was so soundly rejected by the Supreme Court of Canada that it now lays the foundation for Canadian workers’ right to strike.
What’s new about this Labour Day is the increasing rate at which workers are standing up for themselves, especially at the bargaining table. Add to this turbulent mix a dithering, nearly invisible premier, and we just might have the recipe for an electorate ready for change.
Last fall, when more than 5,000 Sask Crown workers went on strike to ask for the same wage increase as MLAs awarded themselves, Scott Moe was literally as far away from the crisis as humanly possible—on a trade junket in Asia.
Even when he returned, the premier refused to take any responsibility for the Crowns, firmly sticking to the preposterous position that his government had no role in bargaining with publicly owned entities. His stance was an insult to voters’ intelligence and a slap in the face to the thousands of men and women serving the province at Saskatchewan’s cherished Crowns.
A month later in December 2019, 730 workers at Regina’s Co-op Refinery were locked out by the employer for having the audacity to resist massive cuts to their pension plan. The locked-out workers languished on picket lines for months as the employer rejected offer after offer to end the dispute.
After public safety concerns were repeatedly raised about the quality of work performed by out-of-province replacement workers and the flaring tensions on the picket line, Scott Moe came out of hiding to appoint two nationally renowned mediators—only to create further chaos and confusion when he refused to follow through on the mediators’ proposals to resolve the lockout.
Thankfully, our skilled union negotiators ended the lockout in the seventh month of the dispute, no thanks to Scott Moe’s awkward “leadership” and general invisibility when he was most needed.
As the fall approaches, Scott Moe might get a C+ for not entirely making a disaster of the provincial COVID-19 response. But rest assured that the Sask Party will eventually trot out free-market, bail-out-the-private-sector, trickle-down solutions for the COVID-19 economic recovery that will ignore working families and, as a result, go over like a lead balloon.
The government’s ruthless and unnecessary austerity budget in 2017 ended intra-rural bus service and slashed small-town libraries, generating backlash from many circles in the complacent Sask Party base.
Combine that unrest with the anger felt by Crown workers in every corner of the province, Regina’s oil and gas workers, and the families struggling as a result of other Scott Moe blunders in health care and education, you may see a real willingness from many to take a closer look at Moe’s opposition.