Academic journal article Labour/Le Travail

Solidarity on the TransCanada: The Role of Immigrant Activism and Innovative Union Tactics in the 2005 Lakeside Packers Strike

Academic journal article Labour/Le Travail

Solidarity on the TransCanada: The Role of Immigrant Activism and Innovative Union Tactics in the 2005 Lakeside Packers Strike

Article excerpt

THE 2005 FIRST-CONTRACT STRIKE at Lakeside Packers in Brooks, Alberta was one of the largest private sector labour victories in that province in over twenty years. At the time, the strike made national headlines for violence and animosity on the picket line. The strike is also noteworthy because African and Asian immigrant and refugee workers played a central role in the dispute. The union involved, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, adopted a series of innovative tactics which also contributed to the outcome. This article examines the events of the 2005 strike and explores the role played by immigrant activism in catalyzing and anchoring the struggle. It also analyzes which strategies employed by the union were most effective in organizing this group of workers. The article concludes by contemplating possible lessons for the labour movement today for organizing immigrant workers.

LA GREVE 2005 DU PREMIER CONTRAT a Lakeside Packers a Brooks, en Alberta, a ete l'une des plus grandes victoires de la main-d'oeuvre du secteur prive dans cette province depuis plus de vingt ans. A l'epoque, la greve a fait les manchettes nationales pour la violence et l'animosite a la ligne de piquetage. La greve est egalement remarquable parce que les immigrants et refugies africains et asiatiques ont joue un role central dans le conflit. Le syndicat concerne, United Food and Commercial Workers, section locale 401, a adopte une serie de tactiques novatrices qui a egalement contribue a ce resultat. Cet article examine les evenements de la greve de 2005 et explore le role joue par l'activisme des immigrants en catalysant et ancrer la lutte. Il analyse egalement les strategies employees par le syndicat qui etaient les plus efficaces dans l'organisation de ce groupe de travailleurs. L'article conclut en contemplant les lecons a tirer du mouvement de la main-d'oeuvre dans l'organisation de travailleurs immigres.

Introduction

Brooks, Alberta may be one of the most unlikely sites for a major union organizing victory. This small city of 13,000 people in the heart of southern Alberta is in many ways a standard prairie town, reliant on agriculture and oil and gas. It is also home to one of the largest beef processing plants in Canada, Lakeside Packers, (1) which sits along the TransCanada Highway just west of town. In the mid-2000s Lakeside was a lynch pin of the local Brooks economy, employing over 2,000 workers.

In 2005 Brooks and Lakeside were the location of one of western Canada's largest and most significant first-contract strikes in the past 20 years. The strike made national headlines at the time for its ugly tone and violence, including a dramatic car chase that left the local union president permanently disabled. The union victory was heralded at the time as an unexpected breakthrough for labour in Canada's most anti-union province. (2)

In the years since the strike, there have been a few accounts examining the dispute. As part of a labour history collection, I summarize the key events of the dispute, its political context, and link it to the changing demographics of the labour movement in Alberta. (3) The National Film Board film 24 Days in Brooks offers a dramatic picture of the strike, highlighting the central role played by immigrant workers and the racially divided nature of the workforce. (4) Michael Broadway uses Brooks and Lakeside as a backdrop for some of his examinations into the meatpacking industry and the changing face of rural communities. (5) However, none of these accounts examine the internal dynamics inside the union before and during the dispute or probe the key factors that led to both the certification and the successful outcome of the strike. The factors that led to the strike and the strategies that resulted in its success have remained largely unexplored to date.

This article retraces the events leading up to and during the 2005 Lakeside strike and examines the factors that led to its occurrence and ultimate success. …

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