SUMMER OF ’86: A THIRTY-YEAR COMMEMORATION, 2016
The Alberta Labour History Institute (ALHI), with supporting organizations, commemorated the “Summer of ‘86” with three free-of-charge Alberta workshops, a video, and a booklet. Our goals were to commemorate the workers’ struggles of that summer of strikes and solidarity and use them as a basis for discussion of how workers today can confront another outbreak of recession and employers’ attempts to make workers, the victims of the economic crisis, pay for other people’s greed and lack of foresight. That’s what happened in the 1980s. Following a period of uncontrolled capitalist speculative greed, the global economy went into a deep recession in 1982. Employers, private and public, expected workers to make sacrifices so that investors would think that they could make a killing if they started reinvesting. Workers did sacrifice and then were asked to sacrifice more and more to bring about an elusive economic recovery that never seemed to arrive.
But by 1986, Alberta workers, having absorbed unemployment, pay cuts, intensified work for less pay, and worsening working conditions, said “enough is enough.” A strike wave ensued to demand reversals of wage cuts, speed-ups, and replacements of full-time workers with part-timers. Six major strikes marked the summer of 1986: Alberta Liquor Control Board workers province-wide, meatpackers at Gainers in Edmonton and Fletchers in Red Deer, Suncor plant workers in Fort McMurray, and Zeidler plywood workers in Slave Lake and Edmonton. These strikes joined ongoing struggles like the Dandelion movement against an industry-government alliance to eliminate construction unionism and efforts to organize Lakeside Packers in Brooks. Now that we are in another employer-created economic crisis, this is an occasion to reflect on strategies that worked best in 1986 and what we must do now to achieve social justice for workers.
We had three workshops—in Red Deer (May 28), Calgary (May 29), and Edmonton (June 4). Each included discussions by participants in 1986 events, research reports, a “Summer of ’86” video, and the live music and video performance, “Packingtown.” The Edmonton event also featured breakout groups that allowed all participants to have their input in planning strategies that link lessons from the Summer of ’86 to workers’ current struggles.