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Build the on-the-ground campaigns

Carolyn Egan

January 30, 2015

The next federal election is around the corner, most probably in the fall, but it could be earlier. The Harper government has been decimating social programs, attacking unions and destroying the environment. It has taken up the austerity agenda with enthusiasm and has tried to reshape the role of the state. Capital has been overjoyed at its approach of deregulation and privatization. The ruling class will be throwing a lot of resources into the election to keep its interest front and centre on any federal government’s agenda.
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As we saw recently in Greece, Syriza took power and grew out of strong social movements protesting against the harsh conditions imposed on the working class and the poor. Immigrant communities fought along side trade unionists and students standing up to the neo-liberal apologists. We will have to see as time goes on what the new government will do. Activists must keep the pressure on but its victory gave hope to millions.
Campaigns against the austerity agenda are critically important in Canada in the lead up to the federal election. In Greece looking back a few years we saw the real hesitancy of the trade union leaders to take on the government particularly when PASOK, the social democratic party was in power. When the labour leaders wouldn’t call workers out, it was groups of activists in the hospitals, schools, universities and other work places who began to move.
They connected with like minded workers and started out with small, local actions which were inspiring to those around them.  These actions grew from work place to work place and the pressure on the leadership became greater and greater.  They were forced to run to catch up with mood and this led to the series of general strikes which electrified not only the Greek working class but workers around the world.
We have an opportunity in this pre-election period to ramp up the struggle here.  We have seen in the past few years Idle No More, the Occupy movement, the Quebec student strike which mobilized  hundreds of thousands. Our union leaders have not put out a call for mass fight backs but there has been a lot happening on the ground. 
The environmental movement won against Kinder Morgan on Burnaby Mountain, huge demonstrations have taken place in Quebec against austerity, 6,000 activists came together in Ottawa for the People’s Social Forum. There is a will to fight back in this country. We have to make a priority of building campaigns against austerity in the lead up to the election and take advantage of whatever opportunities present themselves to connect with layers of working class people.
There is anger and we have to relate to it. The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) campaign to maintain door to door delivery is having a huge resonance.  It’s taking place all over the country. The work being done in London, Ontario is a model with Londoners for Door to Door being formed. Senior organizations, community groups and labour have all come together.  They are going to the postal depots talking to workers and leafleting homes talking about what the Federal government is doing to destroy their services and take away good jobs. In British Columbia the federation of labour has called “the fight for $15” which is gaining strong support.
The anti-Hudak campaign leading up to the Ontario provincial election was begun by the labour leadership because they were afraid of the “right to work” program the Conservatives were promising and the threat of losing union density. Activist assemblies took place across the province. It allowed for activists to connect with fellow workers to talk about the issues at stake. The result in some workplaces has been groups of rank and file members connecting and demanding accountabilty and action from their leaders.
We have to use the opportunities that are presented to us when the leadership provides openings to organize for change. The Canadian Labour Congress is sponsoring “workshops on issues that matter” in cities across the country. It’s calling activists together to discuss key issues in the federal elections and how to engage with our fellow workers in creating effective campaigns. There is an electoral focus to pull the vote but in the same way that the anti Hudak campaign connected rank and file members in workplaces through discussions and actions workers can use this to do the same.
We can use these conferences to develop the on the ground campaigns and draw support from working class people to fight the austerity agenda. The meetings are free of charge and on the week end . We should do all we can to bring fellow workplace activists out.  Committees on issues such as the CUPW door to door campaign or the “Fight for $15” can be formed in workplaces to bring activists together for discussions and actions. Lets take advantage of the openings that are there to build the campaigns and engage in discussions about a real alternative to capitalism and the devastation we are seeing all around us.

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