In the depth of a Canadian winter, a picket line at an oil refinery in Regina captured the attention of trade union activists across Canada. The Federated Co-operatives Limited Co-Op Refinery locked out 730 members of Unifor Local 594 on December 5, intent on continuing production using scabs. The union’s picketing forced the Co-op to use helicopters to transport supplies and scabs into the refinery until court injunctions limited the union’s picket line presence.
On January 8 Unifor responded by making a call for hundreds of union members across Canada to travel to Regina and join the picket lines. When those members arrived it did not take long for matters to escalate and Unifor National President Jerry Dias, Western Region Director Gavin McGarrigle and a dozen other Unifor staff and activists were arrested on Jan 20. CLC President Hassan Yussuff and a group of Canadian labour leaders flew to Regina in a display of solidarity that would have been quite unexpected a week before.
It was not the first time that Unifor’s actions have put Canadian labour in focus. Since its founding in 2013 a disproportionate share of public attention and trade union debates have been in reaction to this new Canadian union. Much of the discussion about Unifor has been over its political influence, the NAFTA renegotiation, the campaign against General Motors and, among trade union leaders, its withdrawal from the CLC in 2018.