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Workers are under attack: Where is the ONDP?

David Bush

January 6, 2018

On January 1, Ontario's workers saw the minimum wage jump from $11.60 to $14 an hour. For the province's low-wage workers, this has been a huge benefit. Unfortunately, some employers are trying their best to push back against this new reality by cutting shifts and paid breaks, laying workers off, and even engaging in outright wage theft.

The week that followed the increase has seen Ontario become a flashpoint for a sharp and bitter ideological class war over the minimum wage. Business owners have been attacking workers and the broader public has in turn grown angry and hostile towards businesses like Sunset Grill and our beloved Tim Horton's. The hashtag #boycottTimHortons has been trending on Twitter for the last number of days.

In this context Premier Wynne took to the media, calling the Tim Hortons franchise owners bullies. The Friday cover of the Toronto Star featured Wynne telling owners to leave the workers alone and take her on instead. Yes, the opportunistic Liberals, who just rammed through strikebreaking legislation against college faculty, have now become the defenders of low-wage workers.

How did this happen? Look no further than the Ontario NDP. The ONDP leadership team has completely ceded the ground of standing up for low-wage workers to the Liberals.  

The ONDP is seriously in danger of losing the plot. They have communicated next to nothing on the minimum wage recently -- a handful of tweets in the New Year after the Liberals came out strong. They communicated nothing congratulating workers on the win for the minimum wage, nothing informing workers of the changes, nor anything defending the raise against a slew of attacks in the media and by employers.

Their emails for the past year have been almost completely devoid of political content. Instead, they ask workers to match donations, joke about ugly suits, and claim they won't give their office puppy proper attention until I pony up cash. Meanwhile the Liberals have been bombarding voters with emails asking people to fight for fairness, support the $15 minimum wage, and sign up to be a fair wage activist.

The contrast is stark.  

This inaction and dithering on the part of the ONDP leadership fits a pattern. They refused to endorse the $14 minimum wage called by the movement in the lead-up to the 2014 election, opting to call for $12 instead.

Then, a full year after the launch of the Fight for $15 and Fairness, they finally came around to supporting the call for $15, but gave no timeline for implementation. They equivocated on many of the other movement demands, supported some, ignored others and cut others down into size (the movement called for 7 paid sick days, the ONDP demanded 5). True, it was better than the Liberals, but the ONDP never really championed these ideas. They never aimed to organize support for these ideas, help build the movement, and stump the message across the province. They were not a megaphone for the movement, even though many of their supporters were working hard at the grassroots level on the campaign. 

The ONDP leadership said one thing here and then turned around and talked about cutting red tape and providing offsets to business there. The ONDP played footsie with business, speaking at the Chamber of Commerce this fall showcasing their business credentials. And minutes after she voted for Bill 148, Horwath was down at the the Empire Club giving a speech about how the NDP was going to tackle the barriers businesses face to investing in Ontario. 

When, under grassroots pressure and falling poll numbers, the Liberals changed their tune in the spring of 2017 and announced Bill 148, the ONDP's response was to complain the Liberals stole their ideas. During the summer hearings on Bill 148, they brought up tax credits, tax breaks, and offsets a total of 21 times. The Liberals and PCs brought up those ideas a total of 7 times combined. Then the Liberals shifted again in the fall and backed tax offsets for businesses, another stolen NDP idea I guess.  

It should be noted that the ONDP have better policy positions on workers' rights and labour law reform, but Wynne and the Liberals have taken over the ground the ONDP ceded. They have message discipline on the issue, and they frame it along class lines bytalking about bully bosses, and they champion the low-wage workers. They are the Liberals, so we know this is opportunistic, but who gave them this opportunity? The ONDP leadership only has to look in the mirror.

Horwath's first response to the attack on workers was to attack Wynne for being all talk. Wynne's response was to attack bully bosses. Talk about losing the plot.

If Horwath thinks critiquing Wynne for being all talk is going to play well with workers when her government just passed Bill 148, while the ONDP has only meekly supported these issues, the ONDP is in for a world of hurt.

If the ONDP wants to get out in front it on this issue, and not get boxed out in the election, it should support the actions that local labour councils, the OFL, and the Fight for $15 and Fairness are organizing against bully bosses. 

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