The 1996 Home Care Strike - A look back on a defining moment in MGEU history
“In the end, that strike, and other MGEU strikes at that time, had a significant effect on this union. It was a defining moment for the MGEU and it kick-started a lot of activism within the union." - MGEU President, Michelle Gawronsky.
Apr 17, 2016
Today marks the 20th Anniversary of the MGEU Home Care strike. On April 17, 1996, thousands of MGEU home care workers and supporters began walking picket lines in a legal strike against the privatization of Manitoba’s public home care system.
Although the union intended to start the strike in stages, starting with Winnipeg and progressing into other areas, home care workers in rural Manitoba were not prepared to wait. By the end of the week, the MGEU had home care picket lines up and running across the province.
Home care supporters created a Coalition to Save Home Care that drew 2,500 people to a noon hour rally at the Manitoba Legislature and the strike gained strength over time. A large-scale “Save Home Care” lawn sign campaign was initiated and by strike’s end, 12,000 Manitoba families had placed signs on their front lawns.
The union lobbied the government to hold public hearings on the issue, but eventually organized its own at the Legislature with the Coalition.
The strike lasted 5 weeks, but the fight to keep home care public continued. With strong lobbying pressure from the public and MGEU members over the two years that followed, the government announced that its “experiment” to privatize home care was being abandoned.
“In the end, that strike, and other MGEU strikes at that time, had a significant effect on this union,” says MGEU President Michelle Gawronsky. “It was a defining moment for the MGEU and it kick-started a lot of activism within the union. When I think about many of our long-time MGEU activists, they became involved in the union right at that time.”
The strike of 1996 also led to a dramatic increase in MGEU membership as 600 home-support workers, who had witnessed the impact of union solidarity in action during the strike, certified with the union shortly thereafter.
But 20 years later, the greatest legacy of the 1996 strike is that Manitoba’s province-wide public home care system remains the oldest, most comprehensive universal service in Canada. And while MGEU leaders and members continue to work to improve our public home care system, many, including the Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents’ Rights say “the best home care program can be found in Manitoba.”