Days of Protest

For most of each day and into the early evening, I hear cars honking their support as they drive by the long-term care home next door.

The healthcare staff standing out front have been hooting back and clapping in response. The support for the HEU job action and related protests seem to be gaining sympathy and support.

My initial reaction was one of fear for the safety and health of the residents of the care home. I didn't know anything about how this would affect them. Walking by one day, I saw an elderly woman sitting out on the sidewalk with a sign in her lap. I realized that some, perhaps most, of the residents might support the perspective and actions of the staff. For elders who depend on professional healthcare every day, the staff are not just a resource, but I'm sure they are also regarded as friends, trusted co-inhabitants of the hospital.

This might sound a bit idealistic, but it's too easy to take the reactionary, anti-union standpoint used too often by the Government's PR which says "this action jeopardizes the people who rely on the service". That may indeed be true, but it is certainly not the full story - only one point of view on the whole spectrum of causes and effects.

The Liberal Government of BC under Gordon Campbell seems, to me, to have consistently emphasized primarily the non-union, employer or user-as-victim approach to rationalizing it's actions against unionized worker's rights to bargain. I saw this during the Teacher's protests, early on in the Campbell Liberals, and I am seeing the same approach now, from his Health Minister, Colin Hansen. The difference I see this time around though, is that by Mr. Hansen's body language and the tension in his delivery, it looks as though the Liberals are surprised by the mounting scale of the worker protests and public outcry of support. Maybe it's just wishful thinking on my part that this government might begin to see the error of it's ways.

I have read stories about Gordon Campbell's management style, back when he was Mayor of Vancouver. I have read that there were many more closed room meetings, and less consultation than during, say, Mike Harcourt's era. I have heard about "Gordo's" moments of arrogance and I think that this plays a huge role in how the current Liberal Gov't runs things today too.

At the end of the day, I think this current situation might have been handled better without such an early and controversial action like Bill 37, the back to work legislation. I have seen lots of strikes come and go here over the years, but was this one of the fastest, most knee-jerk responses by a provincial government yet? I think it's irresponsible of either side to act to reactively, if not enough discussion and negotiation has taken place. I have no idea if this is the case or not. I'm not that aware of the details, of who said what to whom, etc. I only know what I can see in the media.

I do know that the BC Liberals are died-in-the-wool Social Credit capitalists in my book. And thousands of union members and many more in the general populace have been pissed off at them for a long time now, so I suppose this kind of confrontation was inevitable. After the confrontations with the Teachers and other unions, the labour movement has been looking for a window of opportunity to strike a blow at Cambell's capitalists.

Carol James, Leader of the provincial NDP, issued this statement: I really agree with her opinions, but honestly, I have heard practically nothing in the media from or about the opposition party. Maybe I'm not paying attention closely enough. Perhaps the low-key approach is smart though, so as to not appear to be acting like political opportunists. Meanwhile, the Labour movement has been active and vocal as hell.

The healthcare staff next door are still out there, waving, hooting and getting honked at. I think the Liberals have finally shot themselves in the foot big-time. It strikes me that this could be the straw that broke Campbell's back.

Update, May 2, 2004 (CBC web site):