2005 January Speech Calgary and District Labour Council AGM

Kerry Barrett, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour, January 2005

Good evening and thank you for this opportunity to talk to you about the work of the AFL.

As many of you know, this past year has been a difficult one for the Federation.

As usual, there has been no shortage of issues for us to deal with.

The provincial government has continued to pursue its anti-worker agenda.

And employers have continued to throw roadblocks in the way of our efforts for progressive change in the workplace.

On top of these on-going challenges, we've had not one, not two, but three elections to deal with.

In the best of times, all these things would have stretched the Federation pretty thin. But unfortunately, these have not been the best of times.

Part of the problem had to do with personnel. As most of you know, last April our former president, Les Steel stepped down to accept a position with the CLC. And, at about the same time, one of our senior staffers went off on a ten-month parental leave.

By themselves, neither of these changes would have been debilitating. But when you have a small staff like we do at the Federation, losing two key people at the same time obviously makes it more difficult to get things done.

To make matters worse, 2004 turned out to be one of the most difficult years ever for the AFL financially.

There were many factors that contributed to the problem - but the end result was that mid-way through the year we faced a serious cash crunch.

In response to this crisis, our executive council met and hammered out a plan to get the Federation back on an even keel.

Part of that plan included arranging emergency loans from affiliates. But we also made the tough decision to lay-off staff. Lay-off notices were given based on seniority to one of executive staff member and one support staff member.

The good news is that we are now in the process of turning things around. Thanks to the support of affiliates, we've been able to postpone our support-staff lay-off. And Tom Fuller, one of our executive staff members, has accepted a position with UNA - so we won't have to proceed with an Executive Staff lay-off either.

The other item of good news is that, despite all of the difficult times we've faced, the Federation has still managed to keep working on your behalf.

I've distributed a report which outlines all the things that the AFL has been working on. I won't read it all - but I'd like to touch on some of the highlights.

Over the last year:

The Federation has continued to advocate for workers issues in the media. Most recently we attempted to show Ralph Klein's so-called "third way" health plan for what it really is - yet another thinly veiled blueprint for privatization. We've also continued to lobby all levels of government on worker issues. We are currently making plans to meet and lobby the new provincial Human Resources minister. And we're preparing a presentation for Edmonton City Council aimed at convincing them to adopt a Living Wage policy. This will be the first installment in what we plan to turn into a province-wide campaign. We're also continuing to improve our communications. As many of you know, the Federation launched a new website last year. Over the summer, a literacy website was added, as was a new on-line version of Labour News. The Federation has also continued to organize one of the most popular and comprehensive annual labour schools in the country. This years' school was held in December in Jasper and attracted more that 250 participants from both public and private sector unions. In addition to the school, AFL staff organized stand-alone seminars on a variety of topics including, parliamentary procedure, pensions and health and safety. This year, the AFL also continued its involvement with progressive coalitions and community groups. We played a prominent role in establishing a new activist network, called Public Interest Alberta (PIA). And we're also working with Friends of Medicare and other community groups to plan a response to the Klein government's latest push for private health care. The Federation has also been active in many other areas. Our Kids' Camp was bigger than ever this year. Our Membership forum dealing with the breakdown of Canada's post-war labour-relation system was well-attended and positively received. And we played an important role in supporting progressive candidates in all three elections. So, as you can see, despite all the hurdles and challenges that the Federation has faced this year, we've still managed to move forward. And, now that we've started a new year, we have even more in store.

The most important upcoming event that I want to draw attention to is the Federation's biennial Convention. This is the forum where people like you get to set the direction for the AFL. And, to make things even more interesting, this time around we'll also be electing a new president.

The Convention will be held in Edmonton May 12-15. For those affiliates interesting in sending delegates, the deadline for submitting your credentials is Friday, March 28. The deadline for resolutions is earlier: Monday, March 14.

In conclusion: I'd just like to say two things.

First, thank you for this opportunity to address your meeting tonight. It's always good to come together with other activists.

Second, on behalf of myself and the entire AFL Executive Council, I'd like to wish you good luck with you deliberations this evening.

The CDLC continues to lead the way for labour councils in this country - and that's thanks in large part to the dedication and commitment of everyone in this room.

I look forward to working with you throughout the upcoming year - and I also look forward to seeing as many of you as possible at our Convention in May.

Thank you, good luck and solidarity!


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