In his address to the online Summer Summit on August 19, Unifor’s Western Regional Director said that members’ mobilization over the last 12 months proves that the union is up to the task ahead. He highlighted how COVID-19 has further exacerbated systemic inequality, but a better world is possible.
“The pandemic has also exposed flaws that were already there and disproportionately affected women, workers of colour, Indigenous people, and precarious workers,” said McGarrigle. “Our equity work is more important than ever and we must use this moment to push for dramatic changes.”
McGarrigle also used his live address to review the struggles that Unifor members in the west have engaged in over the past year. Across four provinces, the bargaining and political action work of member activists was trail-blazing, some job actions representing new territory for Unifor.
Unifor’s largest strike to-date happened in Saskatchewan in the fall when 5,000 Crown corporation workers walked off the job for fairness after years of austerity offers from the provincial government. The successful job action by Metro Vancouver transit operators and maintenance staff just weeks later was a close second.
The Western Region is also the site of novel legislation that attempts to import the worst of U.S. labour law to Canada. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s Bill 1 and Bill 32 seek to silence the voice of workers and their unions. Kenney repeatedly referenced Unifor by name as an excuse for the law.
“We prevented Andrew Scheer from becoming Prime Minister and in Carseland we gave Co-op Refinery a black eye. The anti-worker legislation in Alberta is a direct and explicit attack on Unifor’s mobilizing.”
He said the backlash from employers and conservative politicians was predictable, but it represents the single greatest threat to the future of the labour movement and must be resisted vigorously.
Looking ahead, McGarrigle said that provincial elections are key moments to shape the direction of policies that impact workers and their families on a daily basis. He said that workers simply have no choice but to be politically active when so much is at stake.
“The mobilizing success by activists in Manitoba in September 2019 can help lead the way for our members in Saskatchewan this fall,” said McGarrigle.