The fight for Co-op Refinery workers is everyone’s fight

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Last week I witnessed something I have not seen in my 40 years walking picket lines across Canada. Never before have I seen a police force conduct itself with such disrespect for working peoples’ rights and disregard for their basic role as peace officers. 

Regina’s Chief of Police ordered more than 70 police officers to intimidate, harass, and dismantle by force a lawful picket line and a peaceful assembly of hundreds of Unifor picketers and their supporters. 

At the height of the police escalation, multiple city vehicles and heavy machinery were deployed to break up our picket line and undermine our union. Showing solidarity, the drivers refused to support Regina Police Services’ tactics, and left.

I warned Staff Sergeant Guy Criddle not to escalate this dispute, and reminded him that most police forces remain neutral in these disputes. Criddle responded by arresting me and thirteen more picketers.

They manhandled members and pushed and threatened women. They even hit a Unifor picketer after officers commandeered a 26 foot U-haul truck, injuring a member from Ontario. Instead of apologizing and investigating the incident, they arrested him, and dragged him as he limped to the paddy wagon.

These repeated acts of police harassment and provocation, only served to motivate supporters to drop everything and come to Regina to help refinery workers hold the line. 

The heavy-handed tactics of the police were reminiscent of the strikebreaking and intimidation tactics of a bygone era. The conduct of the police was a complete over reaction.

My father has a saying about people like Criddle. Give someone a fur coat and they think they’re King Kong. Abuse of police power is a serious affront to the refinery workers that have been locked out in the cold for 47 days, trying to protect their basic rights. 

The role of police officers during labour disputes should be to remain neutral and ensure the safety of all civilians. That includes locked out workers. What we witness on January 20 was an unprovoked and unjustified attack on workers. 

What’s at stake in the labour dispute at Co-op Refinery is the livelihoods and retirement security of our members there. The lockout is also about the rights of all workers in Canada. Every lockout and every strike is a courageous act by working people to defend their basic rights. In this case, the Co-op Refinery, the employer makes a profit of $3 million a day. If a corporation so rich and so powerful can get away with gutting skilled workers’ pensions, then other workers don’t stand a chance. 

The audacity of a massively profitable refinery and the overreach of the Regina Police force have combined to make this a defining moment for the modern Canadian labour movement. We know this because workers from coast-to-coast to coast are now making their way to Regina and lending support on social media. 

May I be so bold as to suggest that the Regina Police Service and their Police Chief’s attempt to break our solidarity, has instead succeeded in turning a local struggle in to one of nation’s al importance and urgency.