B.C. Government Employees Union members are scheduled to be off the job in Kamloops today as part of a provincewide walkout involving some 27,000 workers.
Anywhere BCGEU members are normally at work, such as liquor stores and forestry offices, there will be pickets. They will be joined by members of the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union, which bargains for ICBC employees.
They're protesting the delay in getting a new contract to replace the one that expired March 31. The union wants a 3.5-percent increase in the first year, an unambitious number.
"We are striking for a fair and reasonable agreement and to support BCGEU members' wage proposal, but the government is not listening," BCGEU president Darryl Walker said several days ago in announcing the walkout.
"We have not taken the decision to strike lightly. We have no choice but to send a clear message on Sept. 5: there can be no more falling behind for government workers."
The provincial Liberals, however, aren't flinching. B.C. Attorney General Shirley Bond, new to the responsibility of overseeing government employees, says it's just a normal part of the bargaining process.
"It is unrealistic for the union to be asking for further wage increases given the uncertain world economic situation," she said. "We will not add to the deficit or ask taxpayers for more money to pay unaffordable wage increases."
Thus, we have yet another confrontation between a union and the government, the last significant one being the protracted teachers strike. While such disagreements can have a significant impact on the public, seldom does unionized labour hold much sway over political will.
The provincial party that closely aligns itself with the ambitions of labor has seldom held power in B.C. While the NDP are widely expected to topple the Liberals in next May's election, positioning in the polls has little to do with labour issues and much to do with economics in general and the personal popularity, or lack of it, of the party leaders.
In 1983, in perhaps the most contentious dispute between unions and government in the history of the province, a general strike was threatened in opposition to Premier Bill Bennett's economic restraint program. The BCGEU was front and centre in that one, too, as part of Operation Solidarity.
But when the smoke cleared, Bennett remained in power.
On the civic front, the local labour council often endorses candidates for mayor and council, and almost never has an iota of impact on the outcome.
Let us acknowledge that organized labour has had a significant effect on working conditions, reducing the work week, increasing wages and improving safety not just for its own members but for non-union members as well. However, those gains are seldom made through the vehicle of confrontation with government.
Maybe acrimony, walkouts and confrontations are, indeed, just part of the labour process in B.C., but it's an unfortunate way to bargain.
We Say editorials represent the viewpoint of The Daily News and are written by editor Robert Koopmans, city editor Tracy Gilchrist, news editor Mike Cornell or associate news editors Dan Spark and Mark Rogers.