It’s been a week, hasn’t it? Team Advantage gets together to discuss a week of rapid-fire bad news. What is one to do when all the “checks and balances” our political system is supposed to have seem to get stripped away? Might there be some sort of power that could be organized to intervene? Listen in wonder as Team Advantage explains the difference between a legal strike position (which is very difficult to attain) and an illegal strike (including wildcat and sympathy strikes, which tend be highly effective, but are obviously illegal so you should never do them).
Joel: Hey, everyone.
Tyler: Hi, Joel.
Kate: Hello, Joel.
Joel: How’s it going?
Tyler: I’ve had better days.
Kate: I’ve had better weeks.
Joel: It’s been kind of a long week. Has anybody else had a long week?
Tyler: Is it Saturday? It feels like Tuesday.
Kate: This is my first day off of work in, like, 13 days, so yeah.
Joel: That’s a long week.
Tyler: Has anyone been reading the news lately?
Kate: Has anyone heard of a television program that comes on in the evenings called “the news”?
Tyler: Ugh, yes. Unfortunately, I’ve been watching it.
Joel: I find the latest season of that show sucks.
Joel: Very depressing.
Kate: So my name is Kate Jacobson, and I’m joined today by Team Advantage members Tyler-
Kate: – and Joel-
Joel: Hello, hello.
Kate: – and we have had a bit of a long week, so I thought that we should convene the podcast and talk a little bit about what is going on in Alberta and what kind of strategy we should have for thinking through it and resisting it.
Joel: Yeah, so there’s been a lot of stuff happening, and let’s maybe just go through a fun list of events that have occurred over the last few days. Class-size reporting, no longer happening in Alberta.
Tyler: Wonder why.
Joel: The war room – still a thing. The witch-hunt inquiry into un-Albertan activities is still going on. Steve Allan, who heads it up, handed a $905,000 sole-sourced contract to the legal firm Dentons. It so happens that his son works for Dentons, and it’s also where Doug Schweitzer, the current justice minister, was a partner.
Tyler: Hmm. Interesting.
Joel: So that’s great. He gave an almost-million-dollar contract to his son’s firm that the justice minister used to work for.
Tyler: Cool. Sole sourcing a government contract – also normal, and presumably cool, as well.
Joel: Yeah, that’s the best way to get your money for taxpayers, or whatever. Um …
Kate: There’s also new farm trespassing laws that kind of feel like a pilot project for penalties at environmentalists who try to disrupt oil infrastructure. The independent election commissioner was sacked mid-investigation.
Tyler: Which was partnered with the giveaway of a multimillion-dollar [EDITOR: MULTI-BILLION!] pension fund.
Kate: Some short-notice elimination of some really big grants – think the Calgary Green Line, the Edmonton superlab. Also, a report condemning the carbon tax. Kenney is just taking these random out-of-province business trips, but when he’s not doing that, he’s finding time to condemn the Teamsters, who are on strike at CN Rail, along with ministers Savage, Dreeshen – the whole awful crew has come together.
Joel: Yeah. There also have been some layoffs. There’s 300 teachers whose, basically, temporary positions are gone; 275 staff at the University of Calgary are going to get cut; and 125 layoffs at Alberta Innovates.
Tyler: Daylight savings time – uh, we can talk about that again, at least. Maybe that’ll cheer us up.
Joel: Yeah, so for some reason the UCP really wanted to talk about daylight savings when all this bad news was coming out. I can’t imagine why.
Joel: Uh, yeah, so a lot of stuff has been happening. Um …
Kate: Also, all the other bad news hasn’t gone away. Like, the budget is still extremely fucked, still trying to cut loads and loads in public spending. The Kenney government is still pursuing wage rollbacks in arbitration for tons of public-sector employees.
Tyler: The big tax cut, companies just took the money and gave it back to shareholders and laid off – and continue to lay off – staff, or relocate their entire businesses.
Kate: So none of that has stopped, so it’s just adding onto the pile.
Tyler: It’s a bad pile.
Joel: Bad pile. And creating a bad pile of stuff is actually a strategy, I would argue. The UCP is basically flooding the news with all this stuff so that nobody has the time to concentrate on any one particular issue and be properly outraged about that specific issue, because another outrageous thing will come out that afternoon or the next day.
Tyler: Yeah, I mean, it helps to numb the population and just make everyone not even be able to absorb the horribleness of what’s happening to them on a day-to-day basis, and that’s all part of the strategy. It’s not an accident.
Kate: Yeah, so if you’re feeling depressed and tired by everything that is happening, it is totally normal, and we are feeling the exact same way.
Joel: It is also pretty alarming and antidemocratic and indicates that our society is heading in a not-good direction.
Tyler: [laughs] Yeah, to say the least.
Kate: It’s one of the things I’ve been noticing lately, yeah – the problems with our society, and the fact that they seem to be getting worse. Another thing that I’ve really noticed is that a lot of these changes that we detailed there have been almost buried in technocratic language or in, like, late-Friday-afternoon press releases, in a lot of fine details or dog-whistle terms.
And definitely, like, some trade unions and advocacy groups have been really good at clarifying these messages, but the issues are still becoming siloed, and they’re also becoming a bit muddled, because a lot of people are not, like, a hundred percent confident in what exactly is going on, and that is absolutely a strategy, too. You are right when you are feeling upset and angry at the things that are happening, and don’t let the technocratic language or the obfuscation make you feel any different.
Tyler: And I think it’s important, too, to keep in mind that all of these things happening are happening on purpose. This is going just according to plan with how the UCP wants things to go, so do not underestimate them. Assume they are very competent. Assume Jason Kenney is smart and he is your adversary and he’s doing exactly what he’s planning to do.
Joel: There tends to be a bit of a reaction to this kind of stuff amongst some, to say, “Oh, there’s got to be a way to reverse it. Let’s do a hail-Mary. Let’s get the lieutenant governor to reverse this. Let’s get the ethics commissioner to – and write a letter, and they’ll somehow reverse what’s happening.”
Kate: A coup d’état, but make it woke.
Joel: Yeah, a woke coup d’état. Um, that’s not going to work. That’s not going to happen. The state is designed to do [laughing] some very specific things, and it’s going to do them. Just because it’s awful and kind of arguably evil doesn’t mean there’s, like, a magic wand that somebody possesses somewhere in some tower in the government that’s going to, like, undo all this damage.
Kate: Yeah. The system or the government or the state, you know, it’s built to do this, and don’t delude yourself into thinking that there are these actual failsafes or mechanisms that are contained within this system that are going to stop these things. It is working exactly as it is intended.
Tyler: One example that we can pull from recent news coverage which I’m sure everyone has heard about is the Mueller Report and all the hullabaloo around that down south. No one likes Trump, certainly, so we understand the sympathies in wanting to kind of raise that up as, maybe this is – maybe this is a silver bullet to take someone down that we don’t like. But as you can see, no one talks about that anymore. It got a lot of attention – a lot of energy was spent covering it, thinking about it, talking about it – and it all fizzled out, and nothing has changed.
Kate: A lot of the time when cuts like these happen, people will focus on the idea that they aren’t going to work in a technical sense. So they’ll focus on the idea that, “Oh, this $4.7 billion tax cut isn’t actually going to create any jobs, even according to the government’s own numbers.” And that’s absolutely true, and I do think that’s something that we should point out, but we also shouldn’t delude ourselves into thinking that the government just, like, made a mistake, or doesn’t understand what’s going on.
Absolutely, there might be some ideologues in the Kenney government who are really, truly committed and believe that, like, cutting away the public sector and giving these corporate tax cuts might be stimulating the economy and creating jobs, but I think the more likely explanation is that these people have a class position and are the foot soldiers in a political project of that class, and that what is happening because of these policies and because of these cuts, that’s the point; that is what is supposed to happen.
So if you’re looking around at our society and being like, “Oh, it seems like it sucks that teachers are getting laid off and workers in hospitals are being told that their wages should be rolled back and a bunch of rich corporations are getting all this money from the government while major infrastructure projects are canceled,” yeah, it does suck, and they’re doing it on purpose. It’s supposed to suck. It’s supposed to take away our power, and it’s supposed to erode the public services and the public spaces that exist in our society.
Tyler: And it’s also no coincidence the groups that you’re seeing receive the harshest cuts happen to be public-sector employees, unionized workplaces. There’s a very deliberate strategy to try and weaken what, rightfully, they see as their strongest opposition.
Joel: Jason Kenney and the United Conservative Party want people who work for a living to be on more vulnerable footing. They are going after the public sector because that is where resistance will likely come from first.
Kate: Also, the public sector kind of sets the standard in a lot of industries. So for example, in healthcare, there is private care that exists in Alberta, but what people who are employed by Alberta Health Services make and their working conditions are pretty much the standard across the board in Alberta, so you better believe that if those workers are forced to take a wage rollback and if their working conditions are eroded, it will absolutely roll downhill to workers in the private sector.
Tyler: If the biggest place that employs the most people sets the reserve wage quite high, that’s what private firms have to compete with. Every percentage point that that gets dropped, it just means private companies have an easier time offering people lower wages.
Kate: Yeah, it erodes the entire workforce.
Joel: I think we also have to be realistic about what kind of oppositional tactics will also do something or be effective with regards to what this government is doing. For example, about 10,000 people at the Legislature in Edmonton came out for the climate strike, which was awesome to see and was fantastic, but it doesn’t seem to have stalled or fazed or slowed down what the UCP is doing.
Sure, it might make members of the government uncomfortable to have 10,000 people that are concerned about climate change outside their workplace, but it doesn’t necessarily disrupt the work that they do, so I think we have to think a little more strategically about what it is we’re doing. Of course, getting 10,000 people out to the Ledge is awesome, but just getting out together for rallies is not necessarily the endpoint of what we need to do.
Kate: And if something as big as that doesn’t work, then letters and petitions probably also aren’t going to work. And one thing I want to say here is that it’s not that any of these things are bad to do – and in fact, I would argue that as part of a plan of political engagement and a ladder of escalation towards more confrontational action, these things are great, and they’re actually fundamental and necessary steps that are going to be part of any plan to build power – but they can’t be the end goal in and of themselves, and I think that speaks to kind of a power analysis of society, which is: where do we have power in our society, and how can we exercise it? Because the government has a lot of power, and they have the ability to do a lot of things, so we have to build our own power.
And here, I think the words that exist in other languages or in other forms of English for rallies are actually, like, very, very helpful. So in Britain, we call rallies “demonstrations,” or “demos.” In French, like, manifestation, and it’s like, both of those words kind of indicate something more true than I think the word “rally” does, which is that it’s not a form of power. It is a …
Joel: It’s a show of force.
Kate: It’s a show of force. It’s saying: Look, all of these people have been able to come together for this rally. Imagine what we could do next.
Kate: Right? Like, you’re demonstrating that you have the ability to bring this many people to one place at a certain time in an organized and coherent fashion around a certain idea, but it is not power in and of itself. It is a representation of power, and if you’re not building any kind of real power beneath that, it’s not going to scare anyone, or it’s not going to give you the ability to actually make demands.
Joel: Right. So I’d like to take a minute just to critique the kind of liberal model of power that I think is quite common and that needs to be kind of dismantled a little bit, or critiqued, because if that’s all you’re using, it’s going to lead you to some not-so-useful conclusions. So if your working theory of society and of power in society is based entirely on the trappings of liberal democracy – which really means, you know, the separation of powers in branches of government, inalienable rights, the strengths of the parliamentary system to check abuses of power – seeing these same things get eroded or obviously compromised might be really alarming.
If you’re the leader of the official opposition and also a lawyer, you might be inclined to say something like, “Jason Kenney is the most corrupt and antidemocratic premier in the history of the country. There is no example of a prime minister or premier reaching into a quasijudicial investigation about matters that impact their interests” – end quote – this might be completely true, but it leaves people with a kind of dead-end: those in power are changing and bending and ignoring the rules, and there’s nothing we can do, using those same rules, to stop them. And really, like, how is “just remember to vote NDP next time when all this stuff is going on,” like, an adequate response to the situation?
Kate: Exactly, because, like, if your theory of power and how things can change is entirely based within this system of liberal rules and regulations and separation of power, it leads to both, A, like, really overblown rhetoric, like Joel read out from Notley there, but also this kind of, like, sense of helplessness, and even if everything went great and Rachel Notley’s dreams come true and Kenney gets turfed and the NDP gets into power again, how much of this awful stuff is really going to be reversed?
Like, the NDP were not particularly aggressive in reversing 44 years of Progressive Conservative government and dismantling the political projects that they worked on, so why would they suddenly grow a backbone, and honestly, how dare you ask people to live under, like, three and a half more years of this government when it’s already caused so much suffering, and think that that is a political vision?
Tyler: And I think, too, it’s important to keep in mind that there’s been this general kind of “West Wing”-ification of politics, where everyone puts all their stock, their hopes and dreams, into a few political figures, and I think that’s had a corrosive effect over time on people actually understanding that they themselves have power, and by collectively acting, that they can actually make things change, and it’s not just about who’s in office or who’s in opposition – that we have a lot of energy that we can be expending ourselves on the ground, enforcing those things to happen. So this kind of hero worship of any political leaders or judges or lieutenant governors, whatever, only can get you so far, and we have to exercise the power we have and show that we’re invested in the fight.
Kate: I think what’s happening is people are starting from a position that is true: I as an individual have no power to stop the government.
Kate: But they’re moving in the wrong direction. They’re moving towards, “Oh, there’s a way we can, like, trick the government into reneging on these things,” or, “Oh, there’s these systems that if we engage in them in a detailed enough way, will work,” or, “There’s these political figures that will save us,” instead of realizing, “There’s nothing I can do about it by myself, so I have to get together with other people, and I have to meet people where they are, and I have to work together with others in order to build power.”
Joel: Which brings us to a very important point. There’s a very important factor that gets ignored in this kind of analysis, or liberal analysis, of power in society: the power of the working people of Alberta. The only thing that can change the way things are going is by exercising some sort of countervailing power, and the working people of Alberta absolutely have the capacity to be that countervailing force.
Tyler: Yeah, and if you want to get a clue of how this can be easily demonstrated, look at what the Teamsters strike is doing right now and how the UCP are freaking out in the press, demanding they go back to work – how they’re, you know, having an impact on the economy. That shows you that the actions they’re having actually have power.
Kate: For the most part, being a countervailing force of power means organizing, and it means withdrawing our labor and organizing strikes, because if people withdraw their labor and they stop working, money does not get made, and when that starts to happen, like Tyler said, capitalists sweat profusely. Or when people don’t work in the public sector, it creates crises for the government. But strikes don’t just happen spontaneously. They take a lot of work, they take a lot of courage, and they really are not guaranteed to succeed, but it is the best tool we have, and it is the best tool we have because it is a place in society where we have power.
I feel like a lot of the time when you put forward this form of analysis to people who are maybe left liberals or kind of left of center in some way, they will point to the very real failures of trade unions in Alberta and Canada, and honestly, like, around the world. And I’m not here to defend everything a trade union has ever done – they’ve done some pretty awful things – but the reason we organize among working-class people, and the reason we organize in trade unions, is not because everyone who’s a member of a trade union magically has great politics and is a socialist, but because they have power at the position where they are in society, and they are organized into a constituent group.
What is the greatest feature of trade unions is kind of also its greatest flaw, which is that it’s not a self-selecting group of people. So if I was to, say, be like, “I’m organizing an antipoverty group in Calgary,” people who would join that group would be people who had the same political beliefs that I had and decided to join the group. If you’re part of the union at a worksite, you’re just part of the union on a worksite because you’re at the worksite.
Kate: Like, you could have literally any form of political beliefs, and while that makes it much more difficult to organize, because you have to do a lot of political education. You’re-
Tyler: Get people on the same page.
Kate: Getting people on the same page – people from so many different walks of life, because it’s not self-selecting. That’s also where we develop a phenomenal amount of power.
But before we go any further talking about strikes, we here at the Alberta Advantage have some important legal advice that we would like to get through. There is a difference between legal and illegal strikes. In Canada and in Alberta, you have the right to legally strike when you are in collective bargaining when you have gone through a variety of steps of mediation, enhanced mediation, in collective bargaining, and you have taken a strike vote and the strike vote is 50 percent plus one. Then you are permitted to strike, and you are permitted to strike only in certain ways.
If you are in the public sector, there is also going to be what is called an essential services agreement, and this basically outlines the minimum level of staffing that has to be in place during an industrial dispute – kind of like life, limb, that sort of thing – and those take a very, very long time to negotiate.
And what I would suggest is that both this government and governments before it are making it more and more difficult for workers to be in a legal position to strike, making it just almost impossible to get to a legal position to strike, and honestly impossible to get to a legal position to strike with the energy and momentum that you are going to need to win any kind of strike. That means that really, in many ways, the only option available for workers to exercise this collective power is an illegal strike, or a “wildcat” strike, and that is when a strike happens without any of these formal conditions that are outlined in the Labour Code.
Now we here at the Alberta Advantage – and me, Kate Jacobson – would never endorse any kind of illegal or wildcat strike, and that is because the Public Service Employee Relations Act has a detailed list of penalties with regards to prohibited strikes, and they include that if you strike, cause, or consent to a strike contrary to this act, you will be guilty of an offense and liable to a fine not exceeding $10,000. So personally, I would never endorse a wildcat strike, even though it has clearly worked many times in the past and is obviously one of the best tools we have and the best ways to exercise countervailing power against Jason Kenney’s government.
Joel: I just really want to echo your point, Kate, that as a law-respecting and law-abiding citizen, I would never suggest that going on wildcat strikes is the most effective way for workers to exercise their collective power, and I would never say that, because a person who is not a trade union or an officer or representative of a trade union who strikes or causes a strike contrary to this act is guilty of an offense and liable to a fine not exceeding $10,000. I would never want to get in trouble with the law, so again, I would never recommend doing that.
Tyler: I think that is the official podcast line here at the Alberta Advantage.
Kate: Absolutely. We would also never recommend going on sympathy strikes, or secondary strikes, which are illegal in Canada even though they clearly work incredibly well.
Joel: Yes, very effective. Highly illegal. You should never, ever, ever do them, because they are so effective and against the law.
Kate: And really, really, we cannot emphasize enough how effective they are and how likely you are to win your demands if you have the ability to go on wildcat strike or to engage in a program of sympathy strikes.
Tyler: But unfortunately, they’re illegal, so what can we do?
Kate: Nothing we can do about it.
Joel: Would never recommend doing it.
Kate: Now clearly we here at the Alberta Advantage are pretty firm believers in the fact that a strike is the best way to exercise working-class power.
Joel: A legal strike.
Tyler: A legal one. Very important.
Kate: A legal strike is the best way to exercise working-class power. But there are a lot of critiques, or people who have critiques, over using this strategy, both in general and at this particular time against this government. And one of the critiques that I actually hear a lot is that it’s a trap – that Jason Kenney is doing these things because he wants unions, particularly public-sector unions, to go on strike.
Joel: I’m imagining Jason Kenney growing a mustache and then curling it and saying, like, “Muah, ha, ha, ha, ha. These workers are falling into my trap. They are all going on strike.”
Tyler: Clearly he’s not doing that, because like we mentioned before, he’s incredibly mad – and frankly, PO’d – at the CN strike that’s happening right now.
Kate: When people say this, a lot of the alternative tactics that they suggest are things like ad campaigns or marketing campaigns. Unions in Alberta have done this in the past. They spent a lot of money trying to get Ed Stelmach out of office, and it just flat-out did not work. Like, it absolutely did not work, and that is because those things are not a way of building up power.
And ultimately, at the end of the day, I actually think it doesn’t matter what Jason Kenney wants or doesn’t want, because at the end of the day what’s going to happen is Jason Kenney has the power that he has, we’re going to build up the power that we have, and we’re going to do duke it out, and we’re going to see who’s stronger. That’s what it is. It’s class struggle.
Joel: Yeah. The idea that you can circumvent class struggle by having a fancy ad campaign is very disingenuous. All that does is, like, hand over money to whatever advertising company you contract out to. [laughs]
Tyler: And I’ve had – I think also, it actually has kind of a chilling effect on some people who may feel like they’re getting involved, but by seeing big ad campaigns, it’s like, “Okay, well, I guess things are happening.”
Joel: It’s just taken care of.
Tyler: Yeah. “We’re good.”
Kate: When you’re organizing – like, you and the people you are organizing with, that is where the power is – not in, like, the third party that exists and the umbrella framework that you organize under. And I think this is especially true with trade unions. Trade unions don’t have any power outside of their members. Like, they just flat-out do not have any power in society outside of the fact that they have, usually, tens of thousands of members.
Tyler: Of people employed in jobs, doing things that would be meaningful if they withheld their labor.
Kate: Exactly. Like, it’s not like there’s another way for them to meaningfully exercise power.
Kate: I also just think it’s flat-out untrue that if there was a big button I could push that made every single public-sector worker walk off the job, that if this somehow magically happened overnight that Jason Kenney would be sitting in his office like, “Ha, ha, you’ve all fallen into my trap by creating a massive public crisis that I cannot solve without conceding to your demands. How dare they?”
Tyler: “Muah, ha, ha, ha.”
Kate: So in conclusion, it’s not a trap, and even if it was a trap, there’s no way to get around it.
Kate: Class struggle is the locomotive of history. Like, there’s no other way for things to happen or change or get done than by building power and weighing it against the power of your enemies. And yes, that is not a guarantee of victory, but there’s not other options.
Tyler: Yeah. Yeah. And we’ve seen, like, you know, electoral politics can be helpful, but it can only go so far, and inevitably, good governments can give way to bad, and things can happen in that sphere that you have no control over, so one of the only ways outside of that sphere to actually get anything done is by organizing with your fellow workers, and there’s just no other way of getting around that fact.
Kate: Another thing that people might think when we are talking about strikes, particularly in the public sector, is that it’s bad to go on strike because these public services are good and necessary.
Kate: So it would be bad for the teachers to go on strike because it’s good when kids go to school. Or it would be bad for the nurses to go on strike, because they’re really important to the functioning of hospitals.
Joel: However, it’s easy to think about it the other way, where perhaps it is bad for teachers to continue working in where – in, like, low-wage conditions, with enormous class sizes and that are under-resourced. Perhaps it is bad for nurses to be working enormous shifts and be stretched to the limit and still be expected to deliver, like, high-quality medical care to folks.
Kate: When public-sector workers go on strike, they are defending our public services. It is a way of saying that, like, “We do not consent to the continued erosion of our public services.” Right? And I think that’s really, really important to think about, because honestly, when public-sector workers don’t go on strike; when they continue to be burned out, undercompensated, treated badly at work, working short, and they don’t do anything about it, that is a way of consenting to the erosion of public services and to poor working conditions. By not fighting back, you are saying, “We are allowing this to continue happening to us, and we consent to it.”
So earlier in this podcast, we talked about how some of the tactics that we think are not useful endpoints are actually really useful in terms of organizing. These are things like letter-writing campaigns, rallies, things like that, and I would encourage people to think of these things in terms of a ladder of engagement. So you want the first action that people take in any form of organizing to be something that has a really low barrier to entry – something that is really easy to do; maybe it takes place somewhere where they don’t have to travel a lot; it is not particularly risky – all those sorts of things. And then you get people to kind of gradually escalate from wherever that entry point is.
What’s really important about any of the things that might be an entry point – this is things like letter writing or signing petitions or calling your MLA – I think what’s really important about those is you have to make sure they are being undertaken collectively. For example, I think if I go home and I call my MLA because I’m mad about one of these things, yeah, that is useful – like, it’ll tie up their phone lines a little bit – but it’s not as useful as if me and six of my coworkers all get together at lunch and we spend the first 10 minutes – we just all call our MLA. That is much better, because, A, it’s going to be more noticeable to the MLA, and, B, it’s also collective: we are doing something together, and there is a lot of energy and momentum that is generated by doing things together.
I think the same thing about petitions. Like, an online petition honestly is pretty much useless, in my opinion, but an in-person petition that is happening on your worksite is actually an amazing organizing tool, because it gives you an excuse to have one-on-one conversations with your coworkers about an issue that is impacting you on the workplace, it is a really great way to collect contact information, and it is also a really great structure test: it is a really great way to actually see how many people are on board with you – like, what percentage of your worksite, for example, is willing to sign this petition. So definitely, those are some kind of, like, entry points, but I think it’s really important that entry points are, as much as possible, carried out collectively and with the aim of escalating a little bit to that next step on the ladder of engagement.
Some also just, like, basic and hopefully helpful organizing tips is that 90 percent of organizing is following up with people. When you ask people to do things, make sure that you have a plan to follow up with them and that you do, so people are accountable to you.
The other part of this, actually, is ask people to do things. One of the hardest things about organizing is you’re going to have to ask people to do things that you can do better yourself, that you can do faster yourself, and that would actually just be easier for everyone involved if you did it yourself. But you have to build capacity among a bigger group of people, and that means asking people to do things, teaching them how to do it, and following up with them until they have the capacity to be kind of a core organizer and member of what you are doing, and that is how you’re going to expand any group of people that you are organizing with.
Earlier in the podcast too, we said that rallies aren’t a way of actually forcing governments to do anything unless they’re backed up by a real, credible threat of more confrontational action, but by no means does this mean rallies are bad.
Kate: They can be a really great way of bringing people all together in one place. They can be a great way of generating, building, and continuing on with momentum – just kind of like a nice thing for people to experience that can get them fired up to return to smaller groups that they are involved with, with kind of more energy. But absolutely, they are most effective when they are backed up with a credible threat of confrontational action or of some way creating a crisis for this government.
And we’ve talked a lot about strikes, but strikes are absolutely not the only way to create problems for this government. This government is run by a political party – the United Conservative Party – and the United Conservative Party is funded by people, and we can figure out who is funding these people, and we can maybe make their lives a little bit more difficult. Frankly, I think that the car dealerships that gave a bunch of money to the Tories so they could be elected and then cut the wages of public-sector workers shouldn’t be allowed to continue business as usual.
Kate: I think they can go get fucked.
Joel: Yeah. I mean, a lot of the donors, and particularly the folks and organizations associated with the third-party sort of, like, astroturf groups for the conservatives, a lot of that is public, and a lot of those actors should be publicly shamed, and pressure should be put on them, because it – like, to support such an antisocial and antiworker party and its policies – particularly now that it’s, like, really – the gloves are coming off and it’s quite ugly – make them own it. Like, you know, you can easily dig up the records and point it out, and you should organize boycott campaigns, you should organize pressure campaigns, to make these people ashamed of what they’re doing.
Tyler: Yeah, at the very least, make their lives a little bit worse, right? Make them bummed out to see a big group of people all saying they don’t like what you’re doing, or they don’t like you. That stuff is actually impactful.
Kate: Yeah, boycotts, phone zaps of corporate offices or offices of some kind, pickets on days where they’re supposed to be having a lot of business – these are all things that are incredibly useful and that hits them where it hurts. This government cannot be reasoned with. It cannot be negotiated with. We cannot sit down at the table and come to a nice, happy negotiated conclusion with them. The only things they understand are money and power, which means we have to hit them in those places.
Tyler: Yeah. Yeah. Like I said, it is not a “West Wing” thing, where if we simply explain a better policy to them that they will realize the error of their ways and change course and institute a nicer, more friendly government to working people. That’s not the point of this.
Kate: Mm-hmm. There-
Tyler: They’re going to continue doing what they’re doing and making things worse for most people in this province as long as they are in power.
Kate: There is also no magic set of words that is going to make this government stop, or galvanize people on your side. Like, absolutely we should think about our messaging, and absolutely we should think about the words we’re using to talk about these things, but sometimes I feel like we get so trapped in the weeds of making sure we have, like, the most perfect articulation of our point, that we forget that you mostly just have to build power through, like, one-on-one conversations with other people. Like, that is the number one most useful organizing tool. And I’m not suggesting that we never do communications work, but it’s not a magic bullet.
Tyler: Well, and, you know, think about the recent exchange between Notley and the UCP. That moment in itself is not going to lead to anything, but maybe there’s a way to use that moment as a jumping-off point for other action that inspires people to get involved and actually do some of the direct action that we’re talking about.
Kate: Yeah, you can use moments like that as an organizing tool, but unless they are utilized in some way in and of themselves-
Tyler: They just fizzle out.
Joel: Kate, I’ve got a suggestion, or an idea, I want to run by you. What if I’m just sick and tired of all these terrible conservative policies and I just want to pack my bags and threaten on Twitter to leave the province? Is that an effective tactic?
Kate: [sighs] It’s just really … My first reaction to that, honestly, is just that it must be nice to just be able to pack up your entire life and leave the province when things get bad. I’m not someone who is poor or who is in a financially difficult situation, and I have zero ability to just pack up and leave the province, because I have a job and a lease I can’t break and a life here. Most people flat-out do not have the financial liquidity to just up and move and go to another province.
And here’s the other thing: there’s problems in other places. Yes, Alberta is uniquely bad; yes, we live in a very specific kind of hell; but if we don’t build power here, and you don’t want to build power in other places, you are just going to continue to get fucked.
Kate: A lot of the time, people in other places in Canada like to say that Alberta is behind the times, you know, Alberta is backwards. That’s not true. Alberta is what your shitty conservative government is going to do to you in five years.
Joel: We are the cutting edge. We are the neoliberal laboratory where all the new shit gets invented and implemented first and then gets exported elsewhere to Canada and the United States.
Kate: Yeah, this is a neoliberal laboratory, and frankly, if I was other places in Canada, I would pay a lot of attention to what is being done in Alberta, because I guarantee they are going to try it on you at some point.
This is also indicative of another complaint I have, and I’m about to sound like a really, like, old-school, postwar Communist Party person, but honestly, I think people who consider themselves to be activists or socialists or trade unionists in some way should maybe be a little bit more disciplined about how they publicly present themselves, both online and in person. I’m not perfect at this, but I do make great pains to publicly present in a way that is, like, disciplined, and that hopefully, like, leads people to conclusions that I want them to have, to push politics that are the way I want people to think about the world, and to not just be in public, like, saying things that are going to make people feel demoralized, upset, like there’s no way out, like they should just throw in the towel and leave. And I do think that’s a reasonable expectation that we can have of each other. I’m not saying never be upset, but in public, we have an obligation to one another to be disciplined in the way we present ourselves and conduct politics.
Joel: Yeah, I think there’s a very important difference between maybe having a moment of hopelessness or sadness and confiding in friends, and that’s very different than going online and just, like, venting your hopelessness into the ether, and that doesn’t really help.
Tyler: And saying, like, “Give up. What are we doing? Like, this is” – you know.
Tyler: That’s just so deflating and demoralizing, because when people say things, especially into the void of social media, other people see them, and it makes it much easier for other people to have that same attitude. And frankly, that’s just not what any good left-leaning person wants to do in the world, hopefully, is just give up and roll over.
Kate: I think when you’re involved in political work, you have to be honest with yourself that you’re in a relationship politically with a large amount of other people, and that they are going to be looking at you and the way you behave in the same way that you are doing that with other people in your trade union or in movement work or in any kind of organizing space. When you are in those spaces, you are trying to model, like, a type of person and a way of seeing and engaging in the world for others and vice versa, and I think being, like, incredibly just, like, vaguely demoralized and saying that we should give up and move all of the time is really, really unhelpful, especially because when other people are feeling weak and vulnerable the same way you are, they’re going to be looking to others to build them up and to make them feel like there is hope and a plan and a group of people working with them and something to be done.
And in the same way that I know when I’m feeling very upset and very demoralized that I look to others – that I look to my brothers, my sisters, and my comrades for that support – I know that other people are looking to me for that at times, and I feel an obligation to them to provide them with that support.
Joel: So I’ve got a question for you two. What if you are not a member of a union or if you don’t attend a progressive church or community organization or if you’re a white-collar worker in a cubicle farm downtown and there’s not really much opportunity there? What would you recommend to folks that are in those positions?
Tyler: Yeah, well, I think – there’s lots of really straightforward and simple ways, and I think, honestly, probably the most simple and effective thing you can do at this point in time – find out where local worker actions are happening in your city, in your neighborhood, wherever, and go attend them in person. Find out who’s leading those actions and ask what you can do to help. Maybe they would love some groceries. Maybe they’re a bunch of families that could use diapers or supplies. Like, all these things could be needed, and you could help provide them.
Not only that, but just on a personal level, those moments of depression and feeling like you want to give up, there is no better salve than going to a place exhibiting extreme amounts of solidarity and joining in and feeling like you’re actually part of something, so I think those are – that’s a super-easy, really straightforward way to get involved.
Kate: Save money for a strike. This is especially if you are a union member, and if you are not a union member, I’m going to say the same thing. Save money for a strike.
Joel: For a completely legal strike.
Kate: Yes, for a completely legal strike, which you should still save money for. And the reason for that is that strike pay for the vast majority of unions is not particularly great, and some people do not have the ability, because their wages are already so low, to really effectively save money for industrial disputes, and it is very important that we are able to support ourselves and to support our comrades through these periods of industrial disputes. And so, yes, I think that absolutely goes for even people who are not in unions, because at some point, people are going to need money in strike funds.
Joel: Another tactic that might be useful to folks – you know, when the government does something terrible – it’s nice to get on Twitter and just, like, let ‘er rip, and give whatever minister a new one.
Joel: But what I would recommend is, rather than going on Twitter – or in addition to going on Twitter … [laughs]
Kate: Let’s be realistic here.
Tyler: Please keep going on Twitter, people.
Joel: Yeah. In addition to posting, rather than email, give them a call. Call their constituency office; call their ministry. They love to hear from you, and make your conversation as long as possible and make sure you state your point at least three, four, five, or a dozen times so that they’re very certain of what it is you’re saying.
Kate: And like I said earlier in the podcast, if you can do this with a group of people, the better.
Tyler: And one last point that I’ll add, just from personal experience, is if you are in some kind of an online community and it’s giving you some kind of engagement on political issues that you care about, try and find a way to meet those people in person. Trust me, I would not be sitting in this room talking to this microphone if I did not do that, and it is one of the best ways to all of a sudden find yourself moving from being completely isolated to in a group of people that know what they’re talking about, that are passionate, that can connect you to all the resources and organizations and movements that you could ever want to get involved in, so … It’s a really difficult thing to do, and, you know, I’m a relatively introverted person – it wasn’t an easy thing for me to do – but just making that reach out and say, “Hey, would you like to grab a beer, grab a coffee?” Try and do that and connect with real people.
Kate: Cancel your subscription to Postmedia papers. If for some reason you have a Postmedia subscription but you’re still listening to this podcast, what the fuck, dude?
Joel: Yeah. I mean, they’re just giving endless column inches to the UCP government just to, like, print their talking points, and it’s depressing. So obviously, I mean, support the good work that actual journalists and reporters are doing, but cancel your subscription to the Herald.
One of several organizations you could reach out to and get involved with is Support Our Students Alberta. Their website is supportourstudents.ca. They are basically going after the government for their cuts to education and for the increased class sizes. And as an easy first step, you can write a letter to your MLA and express your very heartfelt feelings about the state of public education in Alberta.
Kate: The Teamsters at CN Rail, the conductors are still on strike, and they would love your solidarity and your support on the picket line. We’re actually headed there after we finished recording this podcast.
In Edmonton, as far as I’m aware, the main location is the intermodal yard, 12311 184th Street. That picket is operating 24/7.
And in Calgary, they’re at Barlow Trail and 54th Avenue Southeast. That picket is only operating from about seven in the morning till about eight in the evening. It’s a really, really small group in Calgary, so it’s extra important that we get out there and we show them some solidarity and some support on the picket line.
The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees has been holding lots of info pickets in Calgary. Team Advantage has been to a bunch of them, and you can go to aupe.org/fightback and they keep a calendar there of the info pickets that you can attend in Alberta.
So in conclusion, kids, you might want to check out or move away from Alberta because things are so bad, but I would suggest that you check in, or move in, to doing political action with others.
All: [snapping fingers]
Joel: Damn. Damn, you love to hear it.
Kate: My name is Kate Jacobson. I’ve been joined by Team Advantage members Tyler and Joel. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of the Alberta Advantage. Take care, and we’ll see you out there.
Kate: Bye. [end]