Canada’s major unions launched a concerted action over the weekend to quell a growing general strike movement in Ontario sparked by a strike by 55,000 education support workers. Details of this plot, which included secret communications between national union leaders and Ontario Premier Doug Ford, were revealed in a Toronto Star article published on Tuesday. Union intervention led the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) to call off the strike on Monday with immediate effect without securing any of the workers’ demands, sparking widespread outrage among rank-and-file members.
School custodians, teacher’s aides, early childhood educators, librarians and administrative staff walked off the job last Friday in defiance of Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s draconian anti-strike legislation. known as Bill 28. The legislation imposed on workers by the government’s agreements contained savage wage cuts in real terms and threatened them with massive fines of $4,000 per worker for each day of defiance. Admitting that the law violated basic democratic rights, Ford invoked the “notwithstanding clause,” a reactionary provision of the Canadian constitution that allows governments to pass laws that violate rights contained in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and protects them. of any legal challenge. . At a news conference yesterday, Ford made the telling remark that the strike was “much more dangerous” than any violation of Canadians’ rights contained in Bill 28.
The strike by education support workers has galvanized widespread opposition to the ruling elite’s capitalist austerity and wage-cutting agenda. Thousands of workers took part in solidarity demonstrations across the province on Saturday and polls showed almost half of respondents backing the launch of solidarity strikes. A rank-and-file rebellion has developed among teachers demanding to join the fight after the four teachers’ unions forced them to oppose the support workers’ strike.
The intervention of the working class transformed the political dynamic. Ford, previously portrayed as an unassailable leader with popular support for his brutal attack on some of the lowest-paid education workers, was forced into a humiliating retirement on Monday morning when he told a hastily called press conference that Bill 28 would be repealed if CUPE called off the strike. Without consulting its members, CUPE duly obliged to do so. The strike sabotage perfectly illustrates how the union apparatus fights tooth and nail for the “right” of well-paid bureaucrats to negotiate betrayals with government ministers, but is fiercely hostile to workers who are waging a struggle for wage increases. wages that keep pace with inflation.
It is now clear that Monday’s events were part of a carefully choreographed deal between Ford, the national leaders of Unifor, the building trades unions and CUPE, as well as the bureaucrats who run CUPE Ontario and its Council. school boards in Ontario. affiliated with trade unions (OSBCU). The Star wrote on Tuesday: “Sources say private sector union leaders phoned Ford over the weekend condemning the use of the notwithstanding clause and urging it to reconsider. Some of those same union leaders called Ford again on Monday to congratulate him on reversing his position.
At a Tuesday press conference explaining that talks with CUPE would resume, Ford went to great lengths to praise union leaders for their help in quelling the strike, commenting, “I want to especially thank CUPE Canada, Unifor and our private sector labor partners who have helped us get back to the table.
It’s not hard to imagine what Unifor President Lana Payne, CUPE National President Mark Hancock and other union bureaucrats told Ford during those weekend calls. Your attempt to impose real wage cuts with the cudgel of state repression is provoking a workers’ rebellion that neither you nor we can control, they would have complained. Withdraw your anti-strike law, let us enforce Bill 28’s strike ban for you in practice, and we can all come back to the bargaining table to decide how best to impose a clearance sale to these workers.
That such was the mindset within the leadership of Canada’s unions was revealed in a tweet Monday morning by a senior Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation official, who called on Ford to thinking about “how we will recover from the brink” of a general strike. She wrote: “It’s not the union leaders. I can’t begin to tell you how many messages are in my inbox, on my phone. It’s the people.
Bargaining has now resumed on the basis of massive concessions offered last week by CUPE, when chief negotiator Laura Walton more than halved the initial demand for an 11.7% annual wage increase. Ford reportedly slightly increased its offer for workers earning less than $43,000 from 2.5% to 3.5%, but continues to insist that everyone else accept an “increase” of less than 2%. With inflation well over 7%, that equates to a huge pay cut.
The concerted intervention by Canada’s strongest unions over the weekend followed a Friday morning meeting between Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and leaders of Ontario’s education unions. At the end of the meeting, the Prime Minister declared that his government was considering “all options” to end the conflict. Trudeau, whose government has had close ties to the union bureaucracy since taking office in 2015, publicly criticized Ford’s use of the “notwithstanding clause” in the days leading up to the strike. However, Trudeau did not complain about Ford’s attempt to impose massive pay cuts on workers. It’s because Trudeau and his Liberals don’t oppose brutal wage-cutting and capitalist austerity. Their only objection to Ford’s policy was that he did not use the union bureaucracy to enforce these attacks and rein in opposition from below.
New Democratic Party (NDP) Leader Jagmeet Singh reacted to Ford’s draconian anti-strike legislation by begging Trudeau to act, including potentially using the federal government’s “disallowance” power, which has been invoked to the last time 80 years ago. Predictably, Canada’s social democrats made no appeal to the mobilization of the working class. In the end, Singh and the NDP got their wish. With Trudeau’s encouragement, the union bureaucracies stepped in, but in doing so they proved that their primary concern was to save the Ford government, not to support the workers who courageously resisted its draconian attacks.
The role of Canada’s unions, the federal Liberal government and their New Democratic Party supporters in strangling Ontario’s burgeoning general strike movement provides a devastating exposure of the Liberal/Labour/NDP alliance that has been systematically cultivated over the last quarter century to suppress the class struggle. Trudeau’s minority Liberal government currently depends for its parliamentary majority on the support of the NDP, which reached a “confidence and supply” agreement with the Liberals in March. The deal gave Trudeau a free hand to enforce ‘post-pandemic’ austerity; supporting the Bank of Canada’s interest rate hikes, which aim to drive up unemployment in order to undermine a growing wave of strikes; increase military spending and wage war in the interests of Canadian imperialism abroad. The Trudeau government is a major player in the U.S.-NATO war on Russia and is set to release an Indo-Pacific Strategy, formulated in close consultation with Washington, that will align Canada on diplomatic policy, all-out economic and military of American imperialism. – security offensive against China.
The unions’ sabotage of the Ontario education workers’ strike and general strike movement has significantly weakened school support staff in their contract struggle and the working class as a whole. But the fight is not over. Workers are angered by CUPE’s betrayal and are looking for a way to advance their fight.
As one worker wrote in a widely shared tweet: “Shouldn’t members consent to making such an important decision? Would they have voted to end the protest before the bill was even canceled and without any guarantees or conditions? Are the interests of the union leadership aligned with those of its members?
The widespread anger over CUPE’s betrayal must translate into a conscious strategy to take control of the struggle from the union bureaucrats and place it in the hands of the rank and file. The Ontario Education Workers Rank and File Committee, which is spearheading this fight, won strong support for a statement it released Monday afternoon condemning CUPE’s decision to call off the strike.
The statement read, “Don’t let the CLC, OFL, four teachers’ unions and CUPE/OSBCU bureaucrats tear defeat from the jaws of victory. Any negotiations with Ford and (Minister of Education) Lecce will be about negotiating our terms of surrender and result in contracts that fail to reverse years of real wage cuts, defend public education or satisfy our just demands. We can only achieve anti-inflationary wage increases and billions of dollars of investment in public education by building a mass movement to mobilize the working class against capitalist austerity.
“Teachers and all workers should join education support workers in preparing for a general strike. All workers have a stake in defending public education and preventing the government from setting a precedent, as it did with the unrepealed Bill 124, for real wage reduction contracts.
“To secure victory, we must take the lead in our struggle from the corporate union apparatuses by the creation of rank-and-file committees, uniting education workers across section lines in schools, and workers in all workplaces, both in the public and private sectors.