Ontario austerity and rank-and-file resistance

J26By Carolyn Egan

The attacks on working class people and the poor are intensifying as we witness the passage of “right to work” legislation in the state of Michigan which was once the heart of union strength in the United States. In Ontario Tim Hudak, the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, is calling for the same. The Liberal government has passed Bill 115, which allows it to impose concessions contracts on teachers and educational workers, taking away their democratic right to collective bargaining.

We had previously seen the federal Conservatives legislate against postal workers, airline workers and rail workers, removing their right to strike. Corporations and governments at every level are set on a course to take away the gains that workers have achieved over past decades.

In Toronto Mayor Rob Ford came to power denouncing public sector workers and the “gravy  train” of public services which “we could no longer afford.” A major fight back from the broader labour movement and the community was able to stop many of the cuts but there were still significant loses. CUPE 416 and 79, which represent city workers, accepted concession contracts.

The library workers went on strike for over two weeks and pushed back the worst of the attacks with broad community support and active participation of the rank and file. We also saw the Machinists at Air Canada stage a wildcat strike in support of suspended workers that had “slow clapped” the federal minister of labour who had legislated against them. The work stoppage spread from Toronto to British Columbia and Quebec.

The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario has been calling rotating one day strikes across the province effecting every school district. Polls show that 47 per cent of the population supports the teachers while 35 per cent do not. We are in a major fight for the hearts and minds of workers and the communities they serve.

These actions give a glimpse of working class power and shows the spirit of resistance that we saw in the Occupy movement and the Quebec student strike. Both young and old are taking to the streets and picket lines to defend their rights but the fight must be broadened.

The January 26 rally called by the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) for 1pm at the Liberal Party Convention in Toronto is an important step forward. Public and private sector unions are coming together against the austerity agenda and attacks on unions.

Unfortunately the Ontario Public Service Employees Union  (OPSEU) which has withdrawn its support from the OFL is calling its members out to a separate rally in the morning. This is unnecessarily divisive and is putting the squabbles of union leaders over the interests of the members. Some OPSEU members are organizing to join the afternoon rally in solidarity with the broader labour movement which is an important step forward.

This important march and demonstration rally must be built and followed up upon.  At a recent meeting of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council a motion was passed calling for a steward/activist assembly on March 2. The assembly will bring rank-and-file workers together to initiate a major campaign to organize in our workplaces and engage as many members as possible in the fight against the anti-worker agenda.

The meeting was very spirited and workers came forward recognizing what was at stake and pledging their support to engage with their fellow workers. The intent is to take the offensive and fight for greater organizing rights, stronger labour laws and living wage policies. The only way that this can succeed is if rank-and-file workers take up the challenge, push for action, and show the way forward by building a strong fight back in every workplace.

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