In a conversation on the weekend we came up with a new style of strike action that I think bears some further consideration.
It has become painfully obvious over the past decade that workers are no longer allowed to engage in collective bargaining or take strike action. A quick moment of reflection brings to mind teachers, paramedics, and others across the country.
When I think about teachers, I recall them being told when and where and for how long they were allowed to picket. In addition, there are large fines associated with refusing to work – up to $500/day. While I agree education is important, arguably “essential”, no particular day is all that essential. Striking teachers should have the support of students and parents.
When I think back to the paramedic strike, I recall BC ambulance workers being told that they would face fines or arrest if they declined overtime shifts. Being on strike meant holding a sign outside an administrative or government service building went you weren’t on shift – which wasn’t often. I have spoken with paramedics who would routinely be obligated to work up to 72 hours straight. One of the only ways to legally and easily refuse to go out and drive for another shift was to crack open a beer as soon as you are “off shift” in the hopes of spending time with family or sleeping. By that stage all the paramedics were asking for was binding arbitration using a neutral third party. No paramedics wanted to stop helping people who have called 911 – that was never even a threat. Striking paramedics should have the support of everyone who has ever been a patient.
Air Canada employees recently became another example when their strike was magically made illegal. W T Fuck? There are plenty of ways to fly in Canada! How can this be essential enough to warrant governmental involvement? A strike is supposed to be disruptive. Super bizarre.
In nearly all cases I can think of, essential service or not, striking employees in our lovely democracy have been legislated back to work. It makes me want to barf on our charter.
Basically, striking is illegal in Canada. Obviously we should give our leaders an award for their commitment to democracy and its principles.
But picketing is still relatively legal. That right is rather protected by the charter I barfed on earlier. Section two says that if I am pissed off about something, I can tell people that I am pissed off, and we can go take up public space. It takes something odd like fire code regulations to shut that sort of thing down.
So here is the divergent idea. What if we (those of us who are not teachers or paramedics) took action instead. We could act in that time window during negotiations between when a strike vote is successful but strike notice has not yet been given.
Imagine if next time the teachers are proposing a strike, students do it for them. Imagine a picket line of students and parents blocking teachers from going to work until their employer agrees to a meaningful negotiation done in good faith.
Imagine if next time the paramedics are proposing a strike, former patients do it for them. Imagine a picket line of health care service users blocking access to administrative buildings and other government services (such as liquor stores!) until BC Ambulance Service agrees to binding arbitration with a neutral third party.
I suspect that teachers and government workers can’t be “forced” to cross a picket line. At a minimum it would confuse the shit out of a lot of policy makers. I think that would be good. Our democracy is overdue for some positive disruption.