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Rank-and-file solidarity wins strike at Homes First

Pam Johnson

March 19, 2013

Homes First strikers have a victory after four brutal weeks on the picket line. These workers in OPSEU Local 540 are front-line staff in buildings that house the most marginalized Toronto citizens, many who are just making the transition from the street into housing when they arrive at Homes First.
The workers turned down two previous contract offers that included major concessions, which would have undermined choices in scheduling and overtime. The strike was very solid despite the employer bringing in scabs and intimating strikers with intense surveillance by security.  In the end, the employer was pushed back, all of the concessions were taken off the table and a few minor improvements were gained.
George England, striker and strike organizer calls it a "huge victory" for these workers.  This was the first strike for this local. England said that initially workers were afraid. He also said that there were low points when it became clear the employer was intent on breaking the union. England said, "We never thought we could come together and be this strong."
England also said that critical to the success of the strike was solidarity by other OPSEU members and especially the Greater Toronto Area Council (GTAC), others in the labour movement and Porter Airline strikers who visited the picket line on several occasions. Homes First strikers also returned the favour. This public sector/private sector solidarity points the way to the kind of solidarity that can build the capacity of the labour movement.
It is a victory for these workers and for the clients they serve. It is also a lesson for the labour movement that strikes can effectively push against employer attacks and the austerity agenda. Like the Toronto library workers, the Chicago teachers and the Quebec students, the Homes First workers fought and they won.

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