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Losing the right to strike

Carolyn Egan

March 27, 2012

We are seeing more and more examples of workers losing the right to strike in this country. Recently the city of Toronto asked the province of Ontario to declare workers at the Toronto Transit Commission essential. Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union lost the right to withdraw their labour.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers, after holding rotating strikes, was legislated back too work. The same has happened to pilots and flight attendants at Air Canada. Most recently the Machinists lost their right to strike. In that instance workers took matters into their own hands. When the minister of labour was spotted walking through the terminal, baggage handlers started to slow clap, sarcastically thanking her for what she had done.

Three workers were suspended which sparked a wildcat in Toronto and similar walkouts in Quebec and British Columbia in solidarity. The airline was essentially shut down which shows the power that workers have when we withdraw our labour.

These attacks are all part and parcel of the austerity agenda. Privatization, contracting out, cuts in services and attacks on unions are happening in every jurisdiction. The neoliberal agenda is proceeding, and knocking back the unions is an essential component.

It is not lost on governments and corporations that organized labour has the potential when it uses its collective strength to fight back and win. It has the power to undermine the economy as we got a glimpse of when the national airline was shut down for a day.

The walkout showed the simmering anger beneath the surface that broke out for a moment at Pearson Airport when an unjust suspension was imposed. The workers didn’t care if it was illegal or unsanctioned by their union. They struck to stand up for their fellow workers and against the injustice of what had happened to all of them when their right to strike was taken away.

That is why it is so important to build solidarity for the strikes that are happening—whether it be teachers in British Columbia, library workers in Toronto, or locked-out Steelworkers in Alma, Quebec. Any strike that makes gains will give confidence to other workers who are being buffeted by the attacks on their jobs, wages and working conditions.

The mainly women library workers built support for months within the communities they serve. Meetings were held in every workplace. Strike coordinators talked with fellow workers about the issues involved and why they had to stand strong against the employer. Public support grew and notable figures such as world-renowned author Margaret Atwood took up the cause. Writers are doing “read-ins” at the strike line.

I met with a number of the striking library workers last evening at a strike support meeting and they were strong and undaunted. The broad public support they are receiving has been very gratifying and has built their confidence.

The same happened at the Rio Tinto line when a bus of Toronto steelworkers traveled the 12 hours to stand with their locked out brothers and sisters in Alma . They didn’t share the same language or the same history but the solidarity brought tears to the eyes of the Quebec and Ontario workers. The embraces and shared chants and songs built a tremendous bond that is continuing.

A day of action is taking place on March 31 and workers from throughout Quebec will be taking part. There will also be buses from Ontario showing the growing solidarity between anglophone and Francophone workers against the austerity agenda

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