The bus strike has had torturous effects on youth and other underprivileged people in Squamish.
We already lack agency in our lives, and the inability to travel for little money is a real kick in COVID-bruised shins.
But Unifor 114’s strike was successful, and everyone gets to ride for free for the rest of the summer!
The effects of the strike have been most noticeable on youth. Ask anyone anywhere, and they will tell you that. But what about the impact of the union’s success?
Two teenage girls, Tessa Lowinger and Jennifer Weibe were the driving forces behind North America’s first unionized McDonald’s, right here in Squamish.
In August 1998, it was proven that it is possible to unionize even in the most union-adverse of workplaces and even in a small town.
Lots of people heard about the McDonald’s union, one of them being a university student working at a Cheesecake Cafe in Victoria. His name was Gavin McGarrigle and he felt that the union was “thrilling,” he told CBC news.
I don’t know how he felt when the union was disbanded a year later. With less than half of the staff that had been working there remaining a year later, the first McDonald’s union in North America didn’t even exist long enough to reach a collective agreement with their employer. It was not the first time collective action was tried and then failed. Not in North America, not in Canada, and certainly not in B.C. It wasn’t the last time either.
I don’t know if this McDonald’s union is what inspired McGarrigle to dedicate his life to collective action in the workplace. I don’t know if it was the spark of hope ignited by the dedication of two youths trying to make their small town lives better that made him join Unifor, Canada’s largest union.
I don’t know if the crushing defeat of having such a hope dashed out before it could act created a gasoline-like substance called spite that grew that spark to an inferno which fuelled McGarrigle into becoming the western regional director of Unifor, putting him in charge of all the Unifor dealings in B.C.
I haven’t the slightest clue where Lowinger and Weibe are, nearly 23 years after their union failed. But I hope — very very sincerely — that they know that their union didn’t really fail at all. It just took a long time, as many labour disputes do. And if a small-town McDonald’s union started by two teenagers can, in the long run, be in some way hugely successful, I think that maybe that is an effect on youth worth observing.
Tallula Russell is a Squamish youth, resident and member of the Squamish Youth Council.