From ports, universities, docks, and hotels to long-term care facilities and even Coca-Cola plants, BC workers have participated in almost a dozen strikes this summer alone. And while it may seem like there are more strikes here than ever before, assistant professor of labour studies at the University of Manitoba Adam D.K. King says that’s not actually the case.
“Strikes are not way up—we’re not in the 1980s or something like that,” King, who also writes a weekly newsletter about labour rights and the economy, says over Zoom. The Current Disputes page of the BC Federation of Labour currently lists four ongoing strikes, with two recently settled. Still, there’s no question we’re seeing more local coverage of these strikes—something MoveUP president Lori Mayhew attributes to an increased emphasis on the value of employees.
“We hear more about strikes now because people are recognizing the value of workers,” says Mayhew, who represents nearly 14,000 workers nationwide, “and are recognizing the challenges that people are facing with rising costs of living.”
In addition, a lot of the strikes we’re seeing in the news—from the Port of Vancouver to the Hollywood actors’ and writers’ strike in the US—involve important parts of our local industries, which helps give them the spotlight.
“A lot of these strikes are very high profile in the sense that it’s recognizable workers or essential parts of the economy,” King explains. “The public is really taking notice.”
On top of this, he attributes the concurrent strikes we’ve seen lately to post-pandemic recovery, coupled with increased inflation rates. It was recently at a 40-year high, peaking at eight per cent.
“For the last couple of decades, we’ve had really low inflation, and I think a lot of unions were very used to this,” King explains, adding that the lower rates made it easier for unions to negotiate wages. “But when inflation is eight per cent, then you have a problem. Members are having their living standards lowered, their real wages are being eaten away by inflation, and they want unions to do something about it.”
To make the certification process easier, the BC NDP introduced card check unionzation in June 2022. This means an in-person vote is no longer necessary to unionize; instead, 55 per cent of a company’s workforce simply needs to sign digital cards showing their support.
Of course, not everyone benefits from strikes, which often leave people without classes, work, or resources for weeks or even months at a time. During the BC port strike, which ended in July, 63,000 shipping containers were stuck on ships waiting to be unloaded. Even though the shutdown only lasted 13 days, experts say it will take at least five and a half weeks to unload the backlog. Meanwhile, at Capilano University, a two-month strike resulted in disrupted courses, delayed final grades, and an overlap between the two summer terms.
“I had one strike stopping me from finishing the last course I needed, and another strike that was—and still is—preventing me from finding work in my field,” Capilano University Motion Picture Arts Program graduate Kaylin Schober shares. “I always expected to face a lot of uncertainty as a recent graduate, but for a while it felt like I was just stuck in no man’s land.”