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Labour Day in Toronto

Carolyn Egan

August 28, 2013

Labour Day in Toronto usually draws 20,000 to 25,000 workers into the streets. Workers rights and the fight back against the ongoing attacks on unions is the focus this year. The austerity agenda has many faces and one that has been showing itself more and more across North America is the attack on union rights.
There is a real attempt to break the spirit of organized workers, trying to enforce a notion that fighting back is not worth the risk. The ruling class is trying to instill the view that there is nothing we can do against the power of the governments and corporations, and a strike or lockout will have devastating economic effects on workers and their families. The intent is to enforce a strict discipline on the working class so that concessions can be wrested from it and a low wage economy will become the norm.
They say cut back…
We have seen the federal government take away the right to strike from postal workers, airline workers and rail workers. We have seen the Ontario government enforce collective agreements on the teachers unions. We are hearing the threats from the Ontario Conservatives that they will follow the example of state governments in the US by attacking the membership base of our unions, hoping to weaken them to the point that they would be unable to defend their members.
Every level of government has decided that attacks on unions will help them move forward the austerity agenda and strengthen their assaults on the working class and the poor.
We have seen a decline in union density particularly in industrial unions, due to plant closures and layoffs. There is a real need to organize precarious workers, many of whom are women and from racialized communities. They make up more and more of the working class.
We say fight back
We have seen the fast food walkouts in the US and the organizing of independent cab drivers in Toronto and Baristas in Halifax, which show the possibilities.
Organized labour has the capacity to organize and fight back with its collective power and potentially defeat many of the attacks particularly when it connects with community as we saw in the Chicago teachers’ strike. Students, parents and a highly organized membership, which had been building its capacity for years, took on the city government which was determined to close schools and push concessions, and won.
The ruling class is well aware of the potential strength of unions and is targeting them for that very reason. The labour movement has initiated a workers rights campaign to fight back against the anti-union threats of the Ontario Conservative Party. It gives a tremendous opening for activists to connect with fellow workers in face-to-face conversations about renewing their union structures so that they in truth represent the needs of the membership and become a real voice for every worker.
This is what is needed to push back and win against attacks as they did in Chicago. The workers rights campaigns have different approaches in different unions but activists in every union can take advantage of the possibilities that are there to talk about renewing our unions with real rank and file involvement. The attacks are hard but if we take the opportunities that are there to rebuild within our workplaces, we can connect through campaigns and solidarity actions with other like-minded activists. We can be part of renewing a worker militancy that could make a huge difference in the fight against the austerity agenda.

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