Anger, fear pushing more workers to strike

The worst economic slowdown to hit the world since the Great Depression doesn’t seem to have deterred workers from taking their grievances to the picket lines.

Members of the United Steelworkers Union Local 6500

Members of the United Steelworkers Union Local 6500

TORONTO — The worst economic slowdown to hit the world since the Great Depression doesn’t seem to have deterred workers from taking their grievances to the picket lines.

Indeed, the number of work days lost to strikes in the first three months of 2009 was almost double that of a year earlier, before the financial crisis hit and the national unemployment rate soared, according to data from Statistics Canada.

Labour experts say workers’ anger about being asked to bear what they see as the brunt of the recession, as well as fear of losing hard-won benefits, are overcoming nervousness that striking could cause them to lose their jobs.

Major strikes currently underway include those by city workers in Toronto and Windsor, Ont.; miners at Vale Inco in Sudbury, Ont., Port Colborne, Ont., and Voisey’s Bay, N.L.; and paramedics in B.C.

Alan Hall, director of labour studies at the University of Windsor, said it’s unusual to see workers so willing to embark on major strikes during a recession, indicating that this economic slowdown is different from ones that have preceded it.

Hall said many workers resent their employers for asking for major concessions from their employees while continuing to enjoy raises, benefits — and often huge bonuses — themselves.

“I think part of the reason the workers are willing to stay out in these kinds of conditions is they see the causes of the current recession and crisis as being clearly not of their making, and that there’s a certain level of anger that’s out there that can be mobilized,” Hall said.