While the February 13th #shutdown Canada protests failed to significantly hamper the Canadian economy as planned, a legal strike by some 1,800 locomotive engineers at Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) represented by the “Teamsters Canada Rail Conference” (TCRC) union.1 Although there is no explicit connection to this strike and MMIW protests, it reveals an interesting overlap of issues as well as a shared recognition of a key pressure-point in the Canadian economy. Kellie Leitch, Minister of Labour and the Status of Women, who recently intervened in attempt to salvage negotiations between CP and TCRC tweeted that the strike would impact the economy to the tune of $205 million USD per week. Other estimates put the cost of the strike to the Canadian economy would be upwards of $504 million per week.2 Leitch also stated that the government would “take swift action to protect our economy,” pointing to the likelihood that back-to-work legislation will be introduced by the government at the start of the week.3 Leitch is also one of two federal cabinet Ministers (along with Bernard Vallacourt) who will be meeting with Assembly of First Nations Grand Chief Perry Bellegarde to discuss MMIW on February 27th.
Evidently the current government is perpetually ready to take swift action to protect the economy, promoting the same forces that are directly implicated in violence to Indigenous women, communities and the environment. The fact that Leitch is advocating for the economic bottom-line over and against both Unions and Indigenous peoples is not surprising. Colonial-capitalism requires both class-based and race-based violence in order to push for its endless objectives. What is somewhat remarkable (fortunate?) is the overlap in timing of the MMIW actions and the TCRC strike, and the fact that they both identify the shared tactic of putting economic pressure on the government and corporations by disrupting the business-as-usual flow of capitalism. The President of the TCRC Union, Doug Finnson calls the failed negotiation a “Crucial wake up call for Canadian workers…” he continues,
“No one is more disappointed in this situation than us. At the late stages of bargaining the Minister [Leitch] became involved in what we hoped would result in a positive development, it wasn’t. Blame became the practice and the workers are once again being blamed for not accepting the US style of labour relations imported into CP. Apparently, Canadians who express their rights to collective bargaining are subjected to different set of standards and expectation than the corporate friends of government. It seems lost on the Government that the Supreme Court has supported workers rights in this area and it seems lost on the Government that the workers at CP are under attack every working day. Disappointment in our Governments clear favouritism towards the corporate position is only exceeded by our determination to never give up the fight to protect the rights and working conditions of our fellow workers.”4
Based on this statement, Finnson’s position resonates with the Women leaders of MMIW by indicting the “US style of labour relations” whose neoliberal governance model of “public-private-partnerships” includes back-to-work legislation as well as increased policing powers that “serve and protect their oil, land, and resource assets.”5 Of course, Mr. Finnson does not take a stance against environmental violence or the fact that the rail lines have been carrying an increasingly large amount of bitumen from the Tar sands, a key part of the Harper government’s economic action plan. The question of racism is also left un-addressed in relation to the CPR strike. Again, this is a foundational aspect of colonialism and the ongoing prejudice that has served to create substantial social divisions. However, might the commonalities of these struggles be a way to begin to heal the problems that still exist? Could indigenous communities and Unions find a new basis for alliance in the current political climate?