Canadians appear to be increasingly supporting striking Canadian workers.
For example, it’s common to see Metro customers joining grocery chain employee picket lines in Toronto. Others outside the labor dispute have vowed to boycott branches directly owned by Metro. Some honk in support or bring gift cards, coffee or snacks.
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She believes that the pandemic has opened many people’s eyes to the importance of food workers. She said she’s noticed many customers are angry that grocery stores are eliminating the “hero reward.”
And that’s not all: inflation and high interest rates have dented the savings of many households. This has repercussions.
“Sympathy for striking workers is due to the accessibility crisis that affects all workers, union and non-union,” says Larry Savage, a professor of labor relations at Brock University.
A Gallup poll indicated that satisfaction with unions has never been higher in the United States in more than 50 years.
That support is difficult to measure in Canada, but strikers and labor relations experts agree that public sympathy is stronger than usual here, too.
A recent Angus Reid Institute poll indicated that support for unions was relatively high in Canada. However, it’s difficult to put these findings into context because they can’t be compared to previous studies, warns Adam King, an associate professor in the Department of Labor Studies at the University of Manitoba.
He adds that supporting the subway strikers illustrates well how the union’s message is getting across to Canadians. “Profits in the grocery sector have been in the spotlight, as has the fact that rising food prices have contributed to higher inflation. There is something deep and personal about it.”
Professor Savage says experts usually rely on opinion polls on specific labor disputes to gauge public opinion.
Historically, residents have had a low opinion of unions due to strikes that can disrupt people’s daily lives. Professor Savage cites the example of a Toronto municipal workers’ strike in 2009 that disrupted garbage collection.
The professor says he was surprised by the support that union members received in the latest opinion polls.
For example, a recent Abacus survey on conflict between Ontario and its teachers last year indicated that more respondents blamed the provincial government for the dispute. Nearly half said they would support other unions if they called to strike in solidarity.
A few months later, another survey conducted by Angus Reid indicated that almost all of the demands of the 155,000 striking public servants who were members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada were approved by the population.
“You don’t usually see this level of empathy with public sector workers,” Professor Savage says.
Canadian Labor Congress President Pia Broski said she’s noticed a new wind on picket lines and at marches across the country.
“The public’s support and understanding of the need to strike has been unparalleled in many years,” she said.
Sympathy for large, profitable private companies has declined in recent months. Professor Savage says Unifor was able to exploit this sentiment against Metro.
Sometimes public support is very important for reaching agreement in some conflicts, but in other cases it is less important, says Professor King.
“What has been encouraging for some time now has been that the public has supported workers even in conflicts that have had less serious consequences.”
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