Labour Day marks worker wins, but summer of strikes frustrating for Manitoba union leaders

The Labour Day weekend marks the end of holidays for many, but amid a summer of strikes and job lockouts, the spotlight is on workers in Manitoba who are calling for better wages on the statutory holiday this year. 

About 1,700 Manitoba Public Insurance employees walked off the job last Monday, one day after unionized workers at Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries ended a weeks-long strike action by voting to accept a new four-year contract from the Crown corporation.

Unionized provincial land titles office workers also began job action in July and thousands of civil servants could be the next group of government employees to walk off the job, creating another labour battle for the province.

“For seven years, we’ve got a government that hasn’t been interested in working with labour, that has delayed and deferred bargaining, that has legislated wage freezes,” said Kevin Rebeck, president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour in an interview on CBC Information Radio Monday morning. 

Manitobans head to the polls Oct. 3 and Rebeck said there’s a lot at stake in the upcoming provincial election. He said he thinks people are “fed up with a government that just doesn’t want to treat workers fairly,” adding he hopes people think about that when they vote. 

Rebeck said workers he speaks to, and who MFL represents, feel they want to be respected in their workplace and to have a fair collective bargaining process. 

“We don’t need handouts for businesses,” he said. “What we need is workers keeping pace and being able to buy products and services to keep our economy going.” 

“And that’s not what’s been happening here in Manitoba.”

Past and present efforts

While Monday is a day of celebration, it’s been a frustrating summer, said Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union president Kyle Ross. 

Ross said he thinks it’s unfortunate that it’s been a summer of strikes in the province and sees this year’s Labour Day as a balance between appreciating the efforts that have been previously made, but to also keep up the ongoing push.

“Labour created the weekends and created the 40-hour workweek,” said Ross. “There’s a lot of things to celebrate with organized labour and today’s the day we get to celebrate them.” 

Ross added MGEU continues to plan out when a possible strike vote for all 11,000 civil servants could come. He said it took two weeks to organize a strike vote for the near 2,000 MPI employees that walked off the job last week. 

Workers on strike weren’t at the picket lines on Monday, but will return Tuesday. 

“We just continue to push forward and try to get a fair deal and try to get this over sooner rather than later,” he said. 

A rally and march is planned to begin at 3 p.m. Monday afternoon, which will include the Winnipeg Labour Council and unions from across the city. It’s planned to begin at Memorial Park and will be followed by a march to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the Labour Council’s website says.

“Workers don’t want to be on strike, it’s the last thing we want to do,” said Rebeck. “But we need to take a stand to be able keep pace and to participate in the economy.”