Being Sisters and Brothers: Losing Freedom of Association Hurts

By Larry Kowalchuk

When we were preparing to file an argument for damages for the violation of the freedom of association right to strike after having the Supreme Court validate that losing the right to strike violated freedom of association, we looked at its impact.

Back in 2008 the Government of Saskatchewan introduced the Public Services Essential Services Act which gave bosses the right to designate their employees and take away their right to strike. Twenty-four unions took them to court and in a historic decision by Justice Ball, Q.C. in Queen’s Bench in Regina, the law was struck down as violating their freedom of association. The Supreme Court of Canada eventually upheld Justice Ball’s decision and the matter went back before him to explore remedies for that violation of freedom of association. One of the original union Plaintiffs through their counsel, Larry Kowalchuk, filed the attached affidavits in the court and with the Human Rights Commission seeking to explain the value of the freedom of association to workers and society.

Two sisters and leaders – Pam Russell and and Reina Polsom – of the Saskatchewan Joint Board, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, Local 568 (Hospital Laundry bargaining unit) agreed to be interviewed for the purposes of filing an affidavit about it. Their bargaining unit had been over 90% designated as unable to strike and eventually lost their bargaining unit completely – they couldn’t strike or threaten to, because of the illegal legislation and its use on them, do anything about losing their jobs and union.

“Laws were passed and used by my government and my employer and their bargaining agents to take all that away and to deprive me of the only means I had to do something about it, as if me and my co-workers mattered not.” – Reina Polsom.

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With the full support of their staff representative and their Local, we met. It was very hard for them to re-live their experiences and to tell their story about it. You will read what they said in their affidavits filed both in the court of Queen’s Bench and in another legal action pursuant to the Human Rights Code of Saskatchewan which guarantees their right to association and their right to expression.

In the court filed argument, we noted that Aristotle suggested that the freedom of association was fundamental to a free and democratic society and that citizens learn how to have such by forming associations and experiencing them. Unions are a unique and necessary form of association in our capitalist society and take many forms. In some forms, the rank and file are supported in being the union in all aspects through empowering educational, training and social programs. The inherent value of this is obvious in their affidavits.

When some of us organized the original Open Rank and File caucus decades ago, it is the beauty and power of being brothers and sisters in all of our words and deeds that motivated many of us. Take the time to read and even share these affidavits as a reminder of why the terms ‘Sister’ and ‘Brother’ are part of our history – how necessary it is to nurture, cherish and protect the freedom of association and freedom of expression through the right to strike, as an individual freedom and the right to collectively exercise it as freely chosen. This may remind us all why the anthem ‘Solidarity Forever’ was written and so powerfully ‘sung’ by these two women in how they share their stories.

Sworn affidavit by RWDSU Local 568 member, Pam Russell

Sworn affidavit by RWDSU Local 568 member, Reina Polsom

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