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The Hospital Employees’ Union Strike and the Privatization of Medicare

“The Hospital Employees’ Union Strike and the Privatization of Medicare in British Columbia, Canada.” International Labor and Working-Class History, 71 (Spring 2007): 91-111. With Melissa Moroz. Read Here (0.1 MB PDF)

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In April 2004, the Hospital Employees’ Union (HEU) waged an illegal strike that mobilized sections of British Columbia’s working class to the brink of a general sympathetic strike.  Influenced by BC’s class-polarized political culture and HEU’s distinct history, the 2004 strike represents a key moment of working-class resistance to neoliberal privatization.  HEU was targeted by the BC Liberal government because it represented a bastion of militant, independent unionism in a jurisdiction that appeared overripe (from the neoliberal standpoint) for a curtailment of worker rights and a retrenchment of public-sector employment.  HEU also represented a direct barrier, in the language of its collective agreements and collective power of its membership, to the privatization of health services and dismantling of Medicare.  The militant agency of HEU members, combined with anger generated by a constellation of social-service cutbacks, inspired rank-and-file workers and several unions to defy collective agreements and embrace sympathetic strike action.  This revealed differentiation in the strategy and tactics of BC’s labor leadership, and enduring sources of solidarity in labor’s ranks.


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