Hospital Employees Union Wildcat Strike in Vancouver
Tuesday, January 28, 2003
More than 1,000 Hospital Employees Union (HEU) workers took part in an illegal wildcat strike and picket of several hospitals in Vancouver on Tuesday, January 28, the date that marks the first anniversary of the Liberal government’s legislation that tore up health union contracts and signaled the move towards privatization of the health care system. Since coming to power the Liberal’s have cut health services, closed hospitals, and fired hundreds of workers throughout the province. The HEU rank-and-file in Vancouver is largely made up of women of colour.
HEU workers picketed and blockaded entrances to hospitals with vehichles, banners and bodies early Tuesday morning as part of a Day Of Defiance, allowing only essential service workers to cross the line. A flying squad of Anti-Poverty Committee (APC) members and former Woodwards squatters came out in solidarity with the striking workers at the Vancouver Childrens Hospital. Several doctors and non-HEU workers attempted to drive through the blockade, endangering people by nearly running them over. Workers and supporters stood strong and prevented most people from entering the building. The level of militancy was high, and many workers suggested blocking the entrances with bails of hay, a tactic that was used at a recent HEU blockade in Chilliwack at which HEU leaders were arrested. The British Columbia Nurses Union told their workers to not pick up the slack for striking HEU members.
After a few hours workers and supporters boarded buses and headed to a march and rally downtown that was attended by thousands of people. Demonstrators chanted “Campbell’s Cuts are Class War” in reference to the premier of the province and his capitalist policies. Some demonstrators wore masks to protect their identities.
In Victoria HEU members and supporters occupied the Vancouver Island Health Authority offices and several demonstrators were arrested, including one HEU activist.
The vice president of the Health Employers’ Association called HEU members to announce that they are willing to negotiate with the union.
An HEU member responded by saying “it shows the power of people working together to say we’ve got to do the right thing. We’ve got to pressure to protect medicare, and we’ve got to fight for good-paying jobs, and the pressure is working.”