“I’ve cleaned guest rooms here for 27 years. During the pandemic, the owner took millions of dollars from the government to quarantine travellers at the hotel. Meanwhile, the hotel fired 143 of our coworkers and most of our room cleaning staff. We’re fighting back for ourselves and for our families.”
- Pardeep Thandi, a worker on strike, Room Attendant at Radisson Blu Hotel at Vancouver International Airport (formerly the Pacific Gateway Hotel)
“With the record profits that the BCMEA’s member companies have earned over the last few years, the employers have not addressed the cost of living issues that our workers have faced over the last couple of years as all workers have,”
- Statement from the ILWU Canada Longshore Division, July 18, 2023
“Many workers struggle to live in this expensive city, especially through the high levels of inflation. Molson Coors refuses to provide wages that allow us to live in Vancouver.”
- Farya Abdianni, worker currently on strike at the Granville Island Brewery
Throughout 2023, tens of thousands of workers have been on strike and out on the picket lines across the province, fighting for better working conditions and a better life. These workers are facing the same basic challenges as working and poor people across Canada: skyrocketing food costs, outrageous rent and housing costs and increasing fuel and transportation expenses. As just one example of the severity of the crisis, in March, Statistics Canada released a study showing that 25% of people in Canada cannot afford a sudden $500 expense.
Capitalists' Offensive and Workers on Strike!
These are just some of the increasingly difficult living conditions that have contributed to a spark in dynamic labour action in 2023. Including the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) strike in April, where 155,000 federal employees were on strike across Canada, there have been seven separate strike actions in BC so far this year. This includes the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Vancouver dockworkers, CUPE Local 561 Fraser Valley Transit
bus drivers, UNITE HERE Local 40 hotel workers, Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU) non-faculty teachers and researchers at SFU, SEIU Local 2 Granville Island Brewery workers, and Teamsters Local 213 Coca-Cola bottling plant and distribution centre workers.
Fraser Valley Transit bus drivers represented by CUPE Local 561 begin their 124-day strike on March 20. This brought BC Transit bus services to a halt in Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Harrison, Agassiz, Hope, and several smaller communities in the Fraser Valley. Workers demanded higher wages to match those of transit workers in other BC municipalities, pensions, and better work schedules.
The Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU) at Simon Fraser University held its strike vote in May, with a vote of 94% in support of taking strike action. Throughout the summer, the TSSU has been on pickets across the various SFU campuses or engaged in other forms of strike action, such as overtime bans. TSSU represents over 1,000 Teaching Assistants, Tutor Markers and Sessional Instructors who are not part of the SFU Faculty. These workers, who are often also graduate students, are already in a precarious position as their jobs are often short-term and with limited benefits. In this strike, they are fighting for better working conditions, pay, and benefits, including a cost of living adjustment. In 2019, SFU also signed an agreement recognizing TSSU as the Union for Research Assistants, but SFU has delayed negotiating their contract.
On June 12, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Canada Longshore Division voted 99.24% in favour of supporting strike action against their bosses, the BC Maritime Employers Association. A powerful 13-day-long strike by nearly 7,500 Metro Vancouver dockworkers began on July 1. The Longshore workers were on the picket lines demanding job protections against future port automation, an end to the contracting out of work to nonunion workers, and better compensation to protect workers from inflation and increasing cost of living.
The ILWU strike impacted more than 30 port terminals and is estimated to have disrupted $10.7 billion of trade, according to the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade. The strike only came to an end when the federal Liberal Trudeau government
threatened to intervene.
Over the last few years, there have been multiple strikes of BC hotel workers fighting for their jobs and living wages. These strikes began as hotel chains attempted to take advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to institute massive lay-offs, especially of long-term unionized workers. The hotel workers that have been impacted are majority women and people of colour. The most recent of these strikes has been the UNITE HERE Local 40 workers at the Sheraton Vancouver Airport hotel, where 200 workers began pickets on June 14. These workers joined the UNITE HERE Local 40 workers at the Radisson Blu Vancouver Airport hotel have been on strike for over two years.
The Radisson Blu Hotel, formerly known as the Pacific Gateway Hotel, was one of the hotels contracted by the government of Canada as a Covid-19 quarantine hotel. At that time, the hotel laid-off 143 hotel workers (70% of the hotel staff ). After one year, these workers unjustly lost their jobs when the recall rights entrenched in their collective agreement expired. The Public Health Agency of Canada eventually terminated their contract with Pacific Gateway, expressing concern about the mass terminations of hotel staff as one of the reasons, as reported in Richmond News. However, the laid-off workers have still not got their jobs back, and the strike has continued.
In late July 2023, the Labour Relations Board ruled that the picket line at the Sheraton Vancouver Airport can extend to the Marriott Vancouver Airport and the Hilton Vancouver Airport hotels, which share the same building complex and are also owned by Larco Hospitality. In solidarity, five airlines (not including Air Canada) have so far refused to cross the picket lines and have stopped sending passengers to the three picketed hotels.
The SEIU Local 2 strike of workers at the Granville Island Brewery is a strike of seven workers up against one of the world’s largest brewers – Molson Coors. This strike, where the central demand is for a living wage, began on July 8. As reported by the Union, most of the workers at Granville Island Brewery are making $20.97 per hour (the starting wage is a miserable $16.75 per hour). This wage is far below the living wage for Vancouver of $24.08, as calculated by Living Wage for Families BC in 2022.
Workers at five Coca-Cola locations in BC, including the Richmond bottling plant, are also fighting for fair wages and better working conditions against a global corporation. More than 400 workers with Teamsters Local 213 have been on strike against Coca-Cola Canada since July 13. Already, Coca-Cola Canada has been caught twice attempting to use “scab” strike-breaking labour to keep its operations going. They have been ordered to stop this illegal practice twice by the BC Labour Relations Board but have not suffered any consequences.
Same struggle, Same fight, We must unite!
The strikes in B.C. are reflective of the increasing labour struggles across Canada and the United States. During all these strikes, the demands of workers are very much the same: cost of living increases, better benefits, job security, and dignified and safe working conditions.
Most working and poor people in Canada know that each year their wages are covering less and less of the basic necessities: food, housing, transportation and utilities. In fact, real wages for workers have not increased since the 1970s, according to data from Statistics Canada. As explained by Kaylie Tiessen, an economist with Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union, in a recent CBC article, “The share of GDP that labour is taking home compared to the share of GDP that capital is taking home — the gap is increasing and has increased over time….Workers are not taking home as much of what is produced in Canada and that leads to higher inequality.”
As more and more people are struggling every day, employers are continuing to make record profits. For example, Molson Coors, which owns the Granville Island Brewery, had net sales reaching over $10 billion USD in 2022. In February, the Canadian Press reported the CEO of Molson Coors saying, “The company is healthier than it has been in many years and has a strong trajectory.” So, why is it that they cannot pay workers at one of their Vancouver breweries a living wage?
All the way across Canada, Michelle Charles, a worker on strike at the Metro Grocery store chain in Brantford, Ontario, told CBC News, “I can’t afford to shop at Metro…It’s ridiculous that I had to sell the house...honestly, I needed about $200 or more a week, and I probably could have kept the house.” It is an outrage that in 2022, Metro made a record-high profit with net earnings of $922 million, yet they cannot offer the people that work for them a dignified wage.
There are ongoing strikes throughout Canada and the U.S. From Metro Grocery store workers and the Windsor Salt Mine strike in Ontario to the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAGAFTRA) and the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike in the U.S. and many more important struggles, workers are standing up to say to their bosses, “Enough is enough!”
A Victory for Striking Workers is a Victory for All Working and Oppressed People
When 155,000 PSAC workers went on strike across Canada in April 2023, Angus Reid released a study showing that most people in Canada supported the three main demands of the PSAC strike. These were: better compensation for overtime or latenight shift work, work from home protections, and higher wages. These results demonstrate that despite a campaign by major media in Canada and the federal government to paint the striking workers as “ungrateful” and “greedy” for fighting for their rights, most people in Canada identified with and understood their basic demands.
Emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic, working people across Canada have found that life is increasingly more expensive and more difficult under capitalism. While capitalists and corporations are making billions of dollars, workers are sinking deeper into debt and are increasingly pushed into poverty and worsening living standards. Now is the opportunity for us to stand up in solidarity and support with striking workers! If unionized workers make gains in benefits, wages, and job security, that will mean better working conditions for all workers as capitalist employers are forced to raise their standards across the
board. The outcome of any of the ongoing strikes in BC, Canada, and the U.S. will set the stage for the many labour struggles that are sure to come. A victory for any worker is a victory for all poor, working, and oppressed people! More and more working people are finding out that this system, capitalism, does not work. Capitalism must go! There is no other option!
Follow Alison on Twitter: @Alisoncolette
Back to Article Listing