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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

Labour actions in Alberta and Newfoundland met with legal and police threats

This week saw two examples of rising labour militancy, one in Alberta and one in Newfoundland. Both were met with very rapid intervention by the forces of the capitalist state, though Loblaw has now returned to the bargaining table.

Photo via Unifor on twitter

This week saw two examples of rising labour militancy with a wildcat strike in Alberta and further expanded picket action by Dominion workers in Newfoundland. Both were met with very rapid intervention by the forces of the capitalist state.

On October 26, as reported in Rank and File, " hundreds of members of the Alberta Union of Public Employees (AUPE) walked off the job to protest ongoing attacks on health care by Jason Kenney’s government." This included wildcat strikes at "over two dozen workplaces across the province, including major hospitals in Edmonton and Calgary, as well as smaller regional and rural hospitals and medical centres."

Workers went on strike at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, the University of Alberta Hospital, Glenrose Hospital and Alberta Hospital in Edmonton, Foothills Hospital, South Health Campus and Peter Lougheed Centre in Calgary, Red Deer Regional Hospital, and in Athabasca, Westlock, Lethbridge, Whitecourt, Cold Lake, Peace River, Leduc, Westview and Fort Saskatchewan.
By Monday afternoon, the crowd outside the Royal Alexandra had swelled to a few hundred, including representatives of other health-care and non-health-care unions.
The Health Sciences Association of Alberta, which represents 27,000 health-care professionals, and the United Nurses of Alberta had said in separate statements that their members wouldn’t do the work of other union members. The Alberta Federation of Labour and its affiliated unions said they would join picket lines to show support.

As one would expect the legal machinery of the capitalist state moved immediately to shut down this action. Within hours the Alberta Labour Relations Board ruled the strike illegal and further the "orders from the board will be filed with the Court of Queen’s Bench, meaning anyone who breaks them could face civil or criminal penalties."

Meanwhile, in Newfoundland striking Dominion workers were confronted by police as they picketed secondary facilities associated with parent company Loblaw in an effort to disrupt distribution and force the company back to the negotiating table. 1,400 workers have been on strike for over 8 weeks fighting around issues of basic decency and fairness from a corporation that is recording huge profits and whose first family has seen their net worth increase by $1.6 billion since the pandemic began.

On October 15, Dominion workers "began action at 9 a.m. this morning at the Distribution Centre at 35 Clyde Ave. Donovan Industrial Park, which supplies Loblaw-owned properties across Newfoundland including No Frills, Bidgood Fresh Mart, Cash and Carry St. John’s, Independent grocers and Shoppers Drug Mart". Previously they had formed a "human solidarity chain" around a St. John's No Frills.

On October 26, these secondary picket actions were shifted "from the Loblaw Distribution Centre to Weston's Bakery, located at 17 Bruce St., Mount Pearl. The bakery is owned by George Weston Ltd., which also operates Dominion’s parent company Loblaw Companies Limited." Several trucks were prevented from exiting the facility with their shipments.

Loblaw had been seeking a court injunction against the original secondary pickets, but even though none had been issued for the bakery pickets the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary decided to act as if one already had been and threatened the peaceful picketers at the bakery with arrest on the night of October 27.

As Unifor 597 (which represents the workers) President Carolyn Wrice said: “The police have no business intervening here. This is a matter between the workers and Loblaw Companies Limited. One can only wonder if this police action was prompted at the behest of the company.”

The police acting as agents of major corporations and billionaire families is nothing new in Canadian labour history, whether they have any real legal authority to do so or not.

It seems that, regardless of the police action, the secondary pickets and ongoing public relations scandal of a billionaire family and highly profitable company refusing to negotiate with what are largely minimum wage and part-time workers has had its effect. On October 28 the company finally agreed to return to the bargaining table.


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