Workers at the Shaw Conference Centre in Edmonton have been on strike for six months and counting.  The Shaw Conference Centre is a publicly owned facility, run by Economic Development Edmonton on behalf of the City of Edmonton.  It is a facility used to host meetings, concerts, conferences, etc… and is a major source of revenue for Edmonton. 


Usually strikes do not take this long, even in Alberta, but most strikes do not have the high stakes that this strike does. The irreconcilable differences between the United Food and Commercial Workers local 401 and Economic Development Edmonton have taken six months and still running to resolve, and many are predicting the union may be running out of steam.


And what of the high stakes? On the picket line, the workers are well aware of what is going on. “They are trying to set a precedent that makes it harder for unions to get into workplaces,” says one picketer, “if they stop us here it makes things a lot harder for workers all over Alberta”.

 Numerous rulings against EDE have come out of Alberta’s notoriously anti worker Labour Relations Board. In fact Economic Development Edmonton was found guilty of bargaining in bad faith on numerous occasions; withholding membership information from the union; unfair disciplining of union activists; forcing a collective agreement without informing the union; and has failed twice at trying to have the union decertified. The EDE wants to crush the union and by-pass this “incident” by forcing a collective agreement without even consulting the union.    Just last week, the Labour Relations Board passed another ruling, stating that the EDE was still not bargaining in good faith. 

The EDE ignoring the union is not as stupid or as ignorant as it seems at first light, this is not simply stubborn denial of a “fait accompli”- it is in fact quite clever. The board realizes what kind of a threat the workers demands of an organization of their own to defend against arbitrary discipline, discrimination, and unfair labour practices, pose to them. If EDE can force a collective agreement without a union then a precedent would be set for rapid decertification of unions. This is very similar to the intentions of the Calgary Herald when dealing with unions in its workplace. 

What’s the point of a union, let alone a strike, if the bosses and the government don’t have to recognize it and can bypass its authority? Is it a coincidence that an extremely anti-union law firm sits on the board on the EDE? 

Everyone involved in EDE from the anti union law firm, to the CEO of Finning has something to gain by the Shaw workers organization being crushed.  It seems the onslaught of anti worker legislation may continue if we cannot stop it here in Edmonton.  This could have ramifications far beyond even Edmonton and Alberta though, if this ignoring tactic catches on it could have dangerous consequences.  What a great deal for the bosses – no more unions or pesky workers’ demands to deal with!  This will prove to be a grave error on their part – just because one ignores something doesn’t mean its not there! 


This is a publicly owned facility – owned by the City of Edmonton  – this is a disgrace!  Our own municipal government doesn’t support the idea of a workplace free of racism and sexism?

How can the city of Edmonton plan to make a good impression with anyone if it can’t even guarantee a workplace free of racism and sexism that is directly under its own control. By refusing to intervene under the excuse of not seeing any genuine collective bargaining they reveal who the city really represents! Clearly its not the interests of the average, hard-working citizen like the Shaw workers or the rest of us – it’s the interests of the business elite. On Mon. Nov 4 both sides are to return to the table to begin re-negotiating with a new mediator.  As the strike dragged on well into fall, Edmonton City Council, the sole shareholders of Economic Development Edmonton, voted not to send the union and the management to binding arbitration; we have little reason to see why they  would now if they haven’t yet..


Perhaps the most infuriating thing about the strike is the reasons for the workers strike- racial and sexual discrimination. Rather than address the concerns of the workers the management ignored their complaints, so a union was formed and a strike was decided as a last resort (to obtain their first contract).   From then on in the union and its demands were treated with disdain and a complete lack of respect.  Over the six months of the strike some workers have gone back to work – and hundreds of events have still taken place at the Conference Centre.  In fact the EDE  reports that operations and events at the city are setting revenue records.


There is now growing concern on the part of the City and EDE about the upcoming Grey Cup to Edmonton.  Many events have been scheduled at the Shaw Conference Centre. There is a flurry of activity looming for the weekend of 22 November. While the bosses plan a 2500$/table banquet and other festivities around the Grey Cup, the United Food and Commercial Workers are planning a demonstration. Numerous other unions, as well as student and civil society organizations are planning to attend. .  The stakes are high.  This is about the right to union organization and the right to strike.  The struggle of the Shaw workers is our struggle – a loss for them is a loss for all workers and would have far reaching consequences for all of us.  The City is much more interested in schmoozing with the rich guests than providing Shaw workers with a decent work environment.  These people want to work!  They have mouths to feed and bills to pay.  They have a right to a decent work environment free from all forms of racial and sexual discrimination. 


 Edmonton is looking to make a good impression with potential business people from across Canada, but it seems they will have to do so without a full complement of workers. As well, the city’s concern that the Grey Cup festivities might be disrupted seems ironic in light of the six-month disruption of the Shaw workers lives. Perhaps disruptions are the price one pays for employing bigots in ones management.  ALL OUT FOR THE GREY CUP – Shaw Conference Centre – Nov 22!  In solidarity with UFCW local 401- for workers rights and the right to strike!


The Shaw Conference strike is not happening in a vacuum.  Capitalism has entered a period of intense crisis.  The world economy is falling apart at the seams.  Our livelihoods and our most basic rights are under attack as the bosses move to take back everything that has been won by the labour movement in the past- from health benefits to the right to strike and union representation. This will be a stormy period of class conflict.  The same issue of right to organization and the right to strike of the workers is at stake here as it is in the ILWU strike at West Coast ports in America.  The class struggle and the desire for change will begin to express itself in the labour movement and the mass workers parties.  The desire for change is evident –  400, 000 marching in London against the war in Iraq, the general strikes in Italy, Spain and Greece, the recent elections of the Worker’s Party in Brazil and the revolutionary actions of the workers and poor in Argentina are all a part of the same struggle – for an end to capitalism and the establishment of a genuinely democratic and socialist society.



Rob Lyon and Nick Driedger