On June 19, the Picket Lines Mean Do Not Cross campaign launched its opening event in Edmonton at Cessco Boilermakers’ picket headquarters, mere meters from the site where the unionized workers of Cessco have been locked-out for nearly two years.
Being at the heart of an ongoing job action went a long way towards heightening the fighting spirits of attendees, including members of the Alberta Teachers Association, AUPE, CUPW, Bricklayers Union local number 1, and of course, the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Lodge no. 146.
Fightback activist Kate Bredeson chaired the panel discussion, introducing panelists and highlighting the necessity of bold, militant tactics that have won and maintained rights workers of Canada hold.
First on the panel was Tatiana McCallum, chapter 001 chair of Alberta Union of Public Employees local 54. Tatiana spoke about her experience as a picket captain at the 2020 wildcat strike of Alberta Health Services workers in response to the proposed layoff of 11,000 support workers in the provincial health sector. While thousands of workers across the province walked off the job, many hard lessons were learned. Many workers were ill-informed of the strike and its immediate aims. While there was mass mobilization of the workers under threat of layoffs, more could have been done to target nurses, doctors, and other workers who work alongside them to explain the purpose of the picket, and promote solidarity in the struggle against austerity that has decimated every facet of public healthcare and those who work within it.
Next to speak was AUPE vice president Sandra Azocar. Sandra spoke about the historic victories of the labour movement, but also about how this fighting tradition has been degraded in recent decades by compromise and apathy. It is no coincidence that the decline in union militancy has coincided with stagnant pay, worsening working conditions, layoffs, and frequent abuse by employers. She also spoke of her family’s history, being forced to flee Chile following the military coup led by Augusto Pinochet. Her father was a trade unionist and member of the Socialist Party, and was threatened with arrest, torture, or worse for this. Sandra made clear that socialists were targeted because the greatest threat to tyrannical governments such as the Pinochet junta is an organized and bold labour movement, capable of resistance on the shop floor and in the streets. An assault on organized workers, as Alberta has experienced under the UCP government, is not just an attack on working people, but an attack on the basis for a democratic society.
Finally, Casey Worden, picket captain for the Cessco Boilermakers, spoke on their experience in the ongoing lockout. It was at this shop that the union was first established in Alberta. After decades of delivering profits to Cessco, the workers were presented with a contract containing significant wage rollbacks, which the workers resisted. Five workers crossed the picket line for promises of promotions, for which they were rewarded with themselves being laid off in the time since. This is a small shop, one unable to enforce a hard picket on their own. Casey highlighted that in order for such tactics to be successful, they require not just solidarity in one workplace, but from as many workers as possible joining the picket alongside them. To support this, virtually all in attendance signed up for the flying picket squad to mobilize with pickets when they arise locally.
An enthusiastic back-and-forth discussion with attendees and panelists followed. Workers related their similar struggles in their workplaces, and strategized on hard pickets, fighting anti-union governments, and defying back-to-work legislation. By the conclusion of the event, the mood was one of defiance against bosses and governments that seek to divide and crush the unity of the working class.
Working people are living through cascading crises of capitalism. We are looking for solutions. We are looking for ways to fight back. Our best weapons are what they always have been: education, organization, and solidarity.
Picket lines mean do not cross!