rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Yesterday marked a century of public sector trade unionism in Alberta

Alberta Union of Provincial Employees President Guy Smith last night in the basement of Edmonton’s First Presbyterian Church, where public sector trade unionism got its start in Alberta 100 years earlier. Photo: David J. Climenhaga.

There will be no update on the Alberta election campaign today; your blogger was at church last night.

Let me explain: 100 years ago last night, a small gathering of people met in the basement of Edmonton's First Presbyterian Church to do something pretty brave.

To wit, they founded a staff association to represent them at their work as civil servants a few blocks away at the six-year-old Alberta Legislature Building.

The Great War was just over and doing work for the government wasn't yet routinely vilified by politicians and the press. Just the same, though, they'd been warned -- if they asked for a raise, they'd be fired.

Instead, they formed the Civil Service Association of Alberta and asked for a raise anyway. They elected a public works employee named W. T. Aiken as their president to do the asking. They chose as their motto: Unity, Strength, Protection.

In the fullness of time, those raises would come, along with some other important things, such as a pension (in 1923), group life insurance (1934), a 40-hour week (1955), four weeks vacation after 24 years of service (1956), and medical premiums partly covered by the employer (1968). At every step of the way, other workers in society benefitted too, as the things won by the CSAA for its members became normal in the workplace.

"Despite the threat of being fired, a small group of government employees pulled together and in this very building a hundred years ago today took a stand for themselves and their colleagues," Alberta Union of Provincial Employees President Guy Smith said last night.

AUPE is the successor organization to the CSAA. The name change happened in 1977, when Peter Lougheed was premier of Alberta and the CSAA achieved the status of a legal union. Today, AUPE represents public and private sector workers in many fields, and with close to 100,000 members it is one of Canada's 10 largest unions.

"It's no secret to anyone here tonight," Smith observed in the same room the CSAA founders had met a century earlier, "that workers can only achieve gains through collective action."

This is profoundly true. That's why since the boom years after the Second World War, when union membership was high in the democracies of the West and prosperity flowed to working people and their families, the forces of organized capital have waged a bitter fight to weaken unions and the rights of all working people.

Despite this half-century barrage of propaganda, polling in the United States last year showed 62 per cent of Americans still approve of unions and nearly half of non-unionized U.S. workers would join one if they could.

Because the benefits of union membership to working people are obvious, weakening unions can only be achieved in a free society by making society less free.

So the struggle to protect the fundamental rights of working people to bargain collectively for their own good and the good of society continues today, in Alberta, and around the world.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.  

Photo: David J. Climenhaga

Help make rabble sustainable. Please consider supporting our work with a monthly donation. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.