By Ryan Dahlman
Southern Alberta Newspapers
The cover of the book Farm Workers in Western Canada: Injustices and Activism, a collection of nine essays written by university professor activists is especially appropriate in representing the journey of farm workers in Alberta, as a barn sits in the foreground with a violent lightning storm off in the distance.
The book’s first acknowledgments by Dr. Shirley A. McDonald, an English professor who has written books on Canadian history, points to southeast Alberta-based farm worker activists Eric Musekamp and Darlene Dunlop, who to Dunlop’s credit has a Question and Answer type chapter on the duo’s experiences with fighting for farm workers’ rights.
In the book’s introduction by MacDonald and co-editor Dr. Bob Barnetson, it points to the murder of Taber farm worker Terry Rash after he accidentally rolled his employer’s water truck in August 1999 and the death of Kevan Chandler in High River and his family’s subsequent lack of financial support.
It sets the tone for a tumultuous journey for the Alberta farm worker.
Barnetson is a professor at Athabasca University whose specialty is labour relations “political economy of workplace injury.”
It is not surprising that when Bill 6 came to be, he was more than a little interested when he wanted to follow its progress both in political process and deliverance, not to mention the public’s overall reaction.
It’s also not overly surprising that there was a lot to discuss as Bill 6 or the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act had raised not only the support of some, but the ire of many others.
However, Barnetson says the idea for a book related to the plight of farm workers had actually began about three or four years ago from a couple of casual conversations he had had with colleagues and others interested in the situation.
When the NDP were elected and Bill 6 came to fruition, it added to the book; the book was not a result of Bill 6.
“I’ve been interested and following the farm worker’s plight for a long time, especially in the cases of children. (It’s a) fairly odious situation here in Alberta,” explains Barnetson from his northern Alberta office.
The cases of Rash and Chandler especially piqued his interest in doing something research wise.
He notes he’s always been interested in labour laws, but the farm workers’ plight was especially troubling, if not fascinating.
“(I’ve) been intrigued following the situation of the Farmworkers Union of Eric (Musekamp) and Darlene (Dunlop) and their efforts,” he explains.
Contributors to the 256-page book include Barnetson; McDonald; Dunlop; Michael J. Broadway; Jill Bucklaschuk; Delna Contractor; Brynna Hambly (Takasugi); Zane Hamm; Paul Kennett; Jennifer Koshan; C. F. Andrew Lau; J. Graham Martinelli; Robin C. McIntyre; Nelson Medeiros; Kerry Preibisch; Heidi Rolfe; Patricia Tomic; Ricardo Trumper and Kay Elizabeth Turner.
Chapters include talking about the meat processing plant in Brooks; the historic development of farm workers in western Canada; farmers’ exclusion and how it relates to the Constitution; off-farm employment and agricultural themes related to working in British Columbia.
Barnetson is already in the midst of working on another book related to the farm-worker injury situation, only this time, he is concentrating on what the economic costs are to the individual farms themselves.
He doesn’t have a timeline on that, although it’s expected to be released sometime in 2018.