'This is a dark day in Alberta history'

'Bill 32 represents a fundamental attack on worker rights and democracy,' says AFL

These are the remarks that Alberta Federation of Labour president, Gil McGowan, made in response to the UCP’s new anti-worker law, Bill 32.

"Well, it’s official: Jason Kenney and the UCP have launched their long-anticipated attack on Alberta workers and Alberta unions.

They say this is about choice and freedom and efficiency. They say this is about removing red tape and creating jobs.

But that’s just more spin and gaslighting from a government that has taken spin and gaslighting to new heights.

What this bill is REALLY about is tipping the scales of power in favour of the UCP, their corporate friends and their wealthy donors – at the expense of everyone else.

It’s about shutting down the ability of ordinary working Albertans to pool their money and advocate on issues that matter to them.

And it’s about weakening the bargaining power of workers, both in the workplace and on the political stage.

Albertans should care about what Premier Kenney is doing with this anti-worker bill because it has the potential to hurt everyone.

What we have here is not just a profound break from Canadian laws, Canadian norms and Canadian traditions. It’s a fundamental attack on worker rights. And it’s an attack on democracy.

We know what this kind of attack will mean for ordinary working people.

The record from around the world – especially from south of the border in the U.S. – clearly shows that when governments pass laws that weaken the bargaining power of workers – in the workplace and on the political stage – everyone suffers.

The UCP’s new labour law will weaken the bargaining power of Alberta workers, by dropping the floor of rights for non-union workers and by tying the hands of unionized workers. And, in the process, it will set off a race-to-the-bottom, in terms of wages and workplace rights.

The UCP clearly hopes Alberta workers will be so weakened, in fact, that they’ll have no choice but to take whatever employers and governments give them – no matter how unfair or inadequate that might be.

Why is Premier Kenney so intent on attacking workers and unions? It’s because he knows we will fight him and his destructive, ideological agenda.

Alberta unions have been leading the fight against the UCP’s cuts to education and health care.

We’ve been advocating for safer workplaces and more secure pensions.

We’ve been calling for public Pharmacare, affordable child care and a plan to deal with the global move away from fossil fuels.

We’ve also been arguing that going back to 'normal' after COVID-19 is not good enough. We know that, as a province, we can and should do better.

Jason Kenney doesn’t want to talk about any of these things. That’s why he’s changing the law: to weaken workers and shut us up.

At the heart of this bill is a dangerous double standard. Corporations also lobby governments and run campaigns – but they won’t face the same cumbersome restrictions on their freedom of expression as unions.

Of course, that’s the point. Corporations and the wealthy already have far more power than workers, but Kenney wants to tip the scales even further in their favour.

He wants to shrink the megaphone that working people have when they act together – while boosting the volume of the megaphones deployed by his corporate friends and supporters.

This bill puts Jason Kenney’s authoritarian tendencies on full display.

He’s a political bully – but like most bullies, he’s also scared. He fears the power that working people can wield when they act together. He knows that worker power, exercised through unions, is one of the only real, effective counterbalances to the power of corporations – and the conservative governments that serve them.

That’s why he wants to shut workers up and shut them down.

But this bill isn’t only bad for the balance needed to ensure a healthy democracy. It’s also bad for the Alberta economy.

This is a bill that will dramatically reduce the bargaining power and legal protections currently enjoyed by working Albertans and, in the process, set off a race-to-the-bottom, in terms of wages and workplace rights.

Last week, despite all the evidence to the contrary, the UCP doubled-down on their argument that corporate tax cuts are a silver bullet that will resuscitate our provincial economy.

Today, they have paired their absurd argument about trickle-down economics with the equally absurd argument that weakening worker bargaining power and suppressing wages is also good for the economy.

If the COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated anything, it’s that ordinary working people are the real engines of our economy. It’s their work that drives production and their spending that drives consumption.

Any plan that ignores this basic fact, and instead focuses on coddling corporations while crushing workers, will weaken our provincial economy, not strengthen it.

That’s why we need to push back against this ill-conceived and dangerous attacks on workers' rights.

For the sake of our standard of living; our economy; and even our democracy, we simply can’t allow these bad policy seeds to take root here in Alberta.

My question for my fellow Albertans is this: is this what you voted for?

Did Albertans vote to have their wages reduced or to have their workplace rights and protections curtailed?

Did they vote to import US-style anti-worker laws to Canada – the kind of laws that have tipped the scales of power grossly in favour of big corporations, while putting the American middle class on life support?

Of course, they didn’t. But that’s exactly what they’re getting with this bill.

With the introduction of Bill 32, Jason Kenney is following in the footsteps of right-wing Republican governors who he idolizes. Over the past 40 years, these anti-worker politicians have passed so-called 'Right-to-Work' laws that starve unions of funds.

When worker bargaining power is weakened in this way, things get bad for working people very quickly.

American states with 'Right-to-Work' laws have lower wages, higher levels of inequality, poorer safety standards, crappier public services and weaker economies (because people have less money to spend).

Given this dismal track record, the obvious question is: why would we want to do this to ourselves? The Americanization of our labour laws that is embodied in this bill may suit Kenney’s purposes, but it’s clearly not in the best interests of most Albertans.

The UCP is clearly determined to use its majority to ram its noxious anti-worker labour law through the Legislature.

We may not be able to stop them for the time being – but we will not meekly accept this fundamental attack on worker rights and workplace protection.

We will fight on the political stage; we will fight in the courts; and if necessary, we will fight in the street.

We will not allow this gang of radical ideological warriors to transform our province in the image of a Republican American state."

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MEDIA CONTACT:
Ramona Franson
Director of Communications, AFL
rfranson@afl.org