In May 1983 British Columbians voted the Social Credit Party, headed by William BENNETT, into office. Two months later, on July 7, the Socreds introduced their so-called Restraint Budget, accompanied by 26 prospective bills. The crucial legislation fell into 3 categories: those that abolished watchdog-type bodies; those that undermined trade-union practices and the status of collective bargaining, especially in the public sector; and those that cut social services. The Bennett legislation threatened labour and a host of underprivileged groups, including welfare recipients, women and children, the handicapped and ethnic minorities. In response, the BC Federation of Labour, led by Arthur Kube, allied with community and advocacy groups and organized a massive protest movement, known as Solidarity. It was composed of a trade-union wing, Operation Solidarity, and the Solidarity Coalition, made up of the various "people's organizations." Funded and staffed by the trade-union movement, Solidarity gave the appearance of a democratic, grass-roots movement; in fact it was carefully controlled by a narrow stratum of labour leaders.
For 3 months Solidarity protested the proposed legislation. Huge marches and rallies were staged, bringing tens of thousands into the streets of Vancouver and onto the lawns of the provincial legislature, a weekly newspaper was launched, and the Vancouver offices of the Cabinet were occupied. There were rumours of a general strike. By late Oct many of the Restraint Bills had been passed into law. Parliamentary debate was stifled by CLOSURE and all-night sittings were used by the Socreds to force through certain pieces of legislation. The leader of the Opposition, NDP head Dave BARRETT, was ejected from the House.
Many government workers were scheduled to be fired on Oct 31 with the lapsing of the BC Government Employees Union contract. That date thus became associated with strike action. When the BCGEU did indeed take action on Nov 1, Solidarity organized an escalating series of strikes in the public sector which threatened to put 200 000 workers in the streets. In the second week of November, a teachers' walkout seemed to tip the balance in Solidarity's direction. With thousands of pivotal public-sector workers ready to leave their employment in political protest, the labour leaders at the helm of BC Fed began to get uneasy at the prospect of an all-out confrontation which might force Bennett to introduce repressive back-to-work orders which, in turn, would necessitate promised private-sector job action.
Solidarity was thus stopped by the very trade-union officials who had led it. They abandoned the movement's broad aims of repeal of the entire legislative package for the narrower end of a contract for the BCGEU. When that was secured, on Nov 13, Jack Munro, vice-president of BC Fed, flew to Bennett's Kelowna home, shook hands with the architect of restraint, and ended the most massive protest movement in the history of Canada's West Coast province.