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Organized labour in Canada is under attack legislatively and economically, blackmailed by strike and lockout. Two and three tier levels of wages, benefits and pensions are being forced on workers under the bludgeon of lockout and forced strikes. There has not been a major victory in years for labour but the corporate offensive is still escalating.
Ask the Toronto Transit workers, the BC Teachers, airline workers, Sudbury miners, Rio Tinto workers in Quebec, Hamilton Steelworkers or Windsor Diesel Plant workers if this is a hospitable or a dangerous environment. All these workers were and are militant. Some are licking their wounds others are still engaged, but the formula for victory has not been found.
In BC the attack of “net‑zero” bargaining threatens public sector workers who are emerging from previous wage freezes, and a 15% roll‑back for hospital employees just a few years ago. In Ontario the provincial Liberals are sneering at public sector workers and teachers who thought they could bargain with them. Ditto Quebec and every other jurisdiction in Canada.
In every capitalist state in the world, the neo‑cons have forced “labour reform” on the agenda. The anguish of the present is only a sample of the staggering misery that is looming if we do not organize more effective resistance. The global plan for cheap, flexible, mobile, compliant and un‑organized labour requires the destruction of organized labour as we know it, or its transformation into a control mechanism of management.
Organized labour will be legislated into compliance and tolerated only if it is not an inconvenience to the corporations. The right to strike, to withdraw labour and to free assembly is being denied larger sections of workers by provincial and federal legislation. The International Labour Organization cites 30 violations of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights by Canadian governments.
The two and three tier conditions are a direct and vicious attack on youth, the future workers. The different levels of economic citizenship that this creates will eventually separate youth from organized labour, which they so badly need as an instrument of resistance. In Europe the “reforms” in the Lisbon Treaty talk about “productive” and “non‑productive” labour, where a worker’s right to freedom of movement will be determined by their usefulness to employers. In Canada, with over 10% real unemployment (closer to 20% for youth), less than 40% qualify for E.I. benefits that all paid for when they were employed. Yet the Tories are talking about E.I. “reform” geared to satisfying the need for agricultural labour. This is forced labour paid for from the workers’ own contributions; for the employers, a disposable pool of strong and healthy youth for subsistence wages and third world living conditions. “Guest Workers” in our own country. A Harper refinement of the “dirty thirties” work camps.
The debt‑based paper wealth of capitalism that feeds off the destruction of the real (manufacturing) economy nourishes itself on the privatization and plunder of public wealth and services, the destruction of lives doomed to hunger, disease, unemployment and subservience. The accumulation of wealth and the degree of misery are unparalleled in human history and the “trickle down” theory has been exposed as the “cascade up” of wealth into the maw of insatiable greed.
The resilience of the world’s working people, the 99%, has produced rumblings of discontent that emerges in movements ranging from peaceful protest to insurgency. The Occupy Movement has flexed its global muscle. The Greek Militant Workers Front (PAME) has inspired Portuguese, French, Italian and Spanish workers into massive strikes and protests. The Indian people, both organized and unorganized, responded in millions to a general strike in February that was not reported in our media. The Quebec students have launched an historic strike struggle over tuition fees with labour support. The BC Teachers persevere, and will probably win in the courts and public opinion, only to be robbed in the legislature. The Hamilton Steelworkers and the Sudbury Miners fought courageously and will fight again.
The will is there but the top leadership and unity is not. Where is the Canadian Labour Congress in these struggles? Why are centre or left‑centre elements under attack from the right? The vaunted re‑organization of the CLC structure has given us a resounding more of less. Raiding continues, and mergers are organizational consolidations for business purposes without fightback ideology or strategy.
How long can the leadership of the Canadian labour movement preside over a membership mauled by trade agreements, de‑industrialization, claw backs, anti‑labour legislation, plant closures and unemployment? And what about the 70% unorganized?
Who will speak for them, who will organize them?
What were sore points in the class struggle twenty years ago have become open wounds. But we need more than bandages, we need the weapons of program, planning and unity. We need the indignation of oppression and defeat to express itself in organization and resistance. If the entire workforce, or a sizeable percentage merely stayed home, we could bring them to the bargaining table. We can win because the capitalists cannot live without us, but we can live better without them. There is another world and it is waiting for us.
Happy International Labour Day, May 1st!