Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Saskatchewan Coalition for Social Justice

Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan

The SCSJ is an umbrella organization encompassing numerous church, labour, anti-poverty, and other so-called “popular sector” organizations, founded for the purpose of opposing what it considered the right-wing agenda of the Progressive Conservative provincial government of Grant Devine. The idea for forming the group was first discussed at Regina in April 1987, during a meeting that brought together representatives from the Association of M├ętis and Non-Status Indians of Saskatchewan, the National Farmer’s Union, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, the Catholic Church’s Social Action Department, the Saskatchewan Action Committee on the Status of Women, the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, Seniors Action Now, and the Saskatchewan Conference of the United Church of Canada.

In May of that year, a second meeting of eighty representatives from fifty organizations established an “interim planning group” in order to initiate the process of organizing the coalition and planning an event to protest the fiscally conservative provincial budget. The result brought out some 7,000 people to march on the Saskatchewan Legislature on June 20, 1987—the largest demonstration in the province’s history. Shortly thereafter, the SCSJ was officially founded in October 1987 and held its first “Peoples Convention” at Saskatoon in April 1988. By that time it had also associated itself with the Pro-Canada Network, a national anti-free-trade coalition, and thus became involved in the effort to sway public opinion against the proposed Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement. Many members of the group campaigned against the Devine government in the provincial election of 1991 as well, in which the Progressive Conservatives were defeated by the New Democratic Party led by Roy Romanow.

Despite the early enthusiasm generated by the SCSJ, the organization had a turbulent history over the next years. A number of commentators have hinted that “coalition movements” such as the SCSJ were little more than an expedient association of leaders from various social and political organizations, which had neither significant input from the membership of its constituent groups, nor the ability to mobilize large numbers of people except for the occasional short-term event that might temporarily energize their membership. An even more serious problem, as might be expected in such a broad collection of groups, was that conflict and suspicion soon emerged, particularly between the more moderate members of the labour and farm groups, and other more left-leaning activists.

Meetings became increasingly fractious, and by the mid-1990s growing numbers of activists lost interest. Some, who became frustrated by the constraints of operating within the SCSJ and by the group’s hesitancy to speak out against what they saw as the right-wing policies of the Romanow government, later went on to help found what would become the New Green Alliance party. Others simply felt that with the election of the New Democratic Party in Saskatchewan, their work was done. The SCSJ is presently not nearly as active as it was in the late 1980s and the early 1990s, and exists largely on paper. Its significance lay not so much in its longevity, but rather in the way in which it represented—together with all of its attendant advantages and drawbacks—a contemporary example of the attempt to construct a formal, broad-based social movement organization in the province.

Tim Krywulak

Also read Saskatchewan and the New Green Alliance

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