Labour hopes to "wake sleeping giant"

EDMONTON - The Alberta Federation of Labour has adopted an aggressive new action plan aimed at helping working Albertans re-discover their collective political power - and convincing them to use that power to put the brakes on changes that threaten our families, communities and overall prosperity.

"Sometimes, the challenges we face as a community are the result of bad luck or circumstance," says AFL president Les Steel. "But many of the problems we're facing as a province today don't fall into that category. Instead, they're the result of bad decisions and bad leadership. That's what our new action plan is all about - convincing citizens to work together to put the train back on the tracks."

Steel says that the issues effecting working people in Alberta go well beyond traditional union concerns over wages and benefits.

"Under-funding of schools. Privatization of health care. Sky-rocketing prices for electricity and car insurance. These things are all hitting working people hard, says Steel. "People are starting to ask how things could be so bad in a province as wealthy as ours."

The AFL's new action plan is aimed at addressing many of these issues by educating and mobilizing union members and their families. The plan was developed in broad strokes by delegates attending the Federation's convention in Calgary last month. It was then fleshed out last week during a special three-day meeting of the AFL's new Executive Council in Red Deer.

The action plan, which will be acted upon within the next two years, has several major components including (but not limited to) the following:

Living Wage Campaign - The AFL will work with district labour councils and local activists to lobby municipal governments to pass living-wage bylaws. These bylaws would commit municipalities to pay all their workers - and all people working for companies with municipal government contracts - a minimum "living wage." "People who work full time should earn enough to keep themselves and their families out of poverty," says Steel.

Issues Campaign -The AFL will launch a province-wide media and education campaign aimed at informing union members and their families about the issues and encouraging them to get involved in the political process. "Our goal is to give people information and convince them that they can make a difference by voting," says Steel. "We're going to help people connect the dots - between the policies of the current government and things like over-crowded classrooms and sky-high power rates."

Local Elections Strategy - The AFL will target new resources for municipal and school board elections. The goal will be twofold: first to encourage local governments to fight more aggressively for the interests of their constituents; and second, to find, train and support candidates who can act as catalysts for change.

Workers Resource Centres - The AFL will work with district labour councils to establish workers resources centres in communities around the province. These centres will help workers deal with a wide range of concerns including: health and safety, employment standards complaints, tenants' rights, WCB and unemployment insurance. The goal will be to better promote and protect the rights of both organized and unorganized workers.

Steel says that he has no illusions about the AFL's ability to turn the situation in Alberta around overnight. But he says the AFL's action plan will feed into initiatives being made by other organizations and the "simmering discontent" developing in other sectors.
"The wide range of assaults on working people, families and communities is too serious for us to ignore," says Steel.

"The good news is that we won't be alone in pushing for change. The teachers recently decided to get more actively involved in the political arena. And there is more and more pressure building at the level of municipal governments and school boards. Hopefully, our efforts will help create a mood and atmosphere that will open the door for real change in this province."

For more information call:

Les Steel, AFL President  at (780)483-3021 (wk)  or   (780)499-4135 (cell)

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