The Alberta Federation of Labour is a voluntary association of unions and employee organizations that have banded together to achieve common goals.
Since 1912, when unionized miners and tradespeople from southern Alberta first agreed to work together under the umbrella of a labour central, the Federation has fought hard to improve conditions for working people, their families and their communities.
Among the Federation’s earliest priorities were ending child labour and establishing occupational health and safety regulations — especially in Alberta’s coal fields which, at the time, had the highest workplace mortality rates in the world.
In its early years, the AFL was also active in the struggle for a minimum wage and the reduction of work time to a standard 40-hour week.
Today, the Federation continues its tradition of speaking out on the issues that matter most to working people. Often these issues relate directly to the workplace. But the AFL is also active on a wide range of broader social issues — like the need for public education and public health care.
The AFL is currently made up of more than 25 unions from both the public and private sectors. Taken together, these unions represent nearly 175,000 workers from across the province.
The AFL’s priorities are set at membership conventions held every two years. Every union affiliated to the Federation is entitled to send delegates to conventions in numbers proportionate to their membership.
Between conventions, the AFL is run by its two elected officers — the president and the secretary-treasurer — along with the Executive Council.
The Executive Council, which meets between five and eight times a year, is made up of representatives from each affiliated union. Unions with between 1,000 and 2,500 members are entitled to one seat at the council table and unions with more than 2,500 members have two seats.
Despite differences in history and culture, the unions affiliated to the AFL have always been able to identify common priorities and goals — and they have accomplished more as a team than they would have if they had acted separately.
The logic behind the AFL is the same logic that underlies all unions: Working people are stronger when they stand together than when they stand alone.
The importance of unions working together through the AFL has been demonstrated numerous times over the past few years.
- The Federation has spearheaded the fight against the Temporary Foreign Worker program that allows unscrupulous employers to replace Canadians with lower-paid, precarious workers who have fewer workplace rights. Because of the Federation’s efforts, the government has been forced to impose new safeguards and to try and rein in the abuses of the program.
- The AFL has also played a major role in the on-going battle to protect public health care. Together with community groups like Friends of Medicare, the AFL helped establish the influential coalition that has fought against under-funding and creeping privatization in Alberta’s health care system.
- When the Alberta government considered enacting a so-called “right-to-work” law, it was the AFL that organized a successful campaign to protect the rights of union members. The Federation recognized that “right-to-work” would rob unions of the resources they need to effectively represent their members. Because of the AFL’s lobbying campaign the government was forced to admit that right-to-work doesn’t make economic sense and abandoned plans to proceed with changes to the Labour Code.
In a province like Alberta where the business community is particularly hostile to unions, it’s not always easy for groups like the AFL to get things done. But the challenges faced by unions in Alberta underline the importance of unity. It’s the oldest lesson of the labour movement: Working people are stronger when they work together.