This weekend, well over two hundred workers from across Ontario and beyond gathered at Toronto Metropolitan University for the Beat the Bosses Bootcamp. The three day conference, organized by Justice for Workers, was a place for organizers to connect, discuss, and learn about how we take on the bosses and win. Through a variety of skills-building workshops and plenary sessions, the weekend helped set the tone for the workers’ movement to make the rest of 2023 a year of agitating, educating, and organizing.
Education: Lessons from the past, understanding our present
The bootcamp began on Friday night with a plenary session reflecting on the events of 2022. Panelists and attendees discussed lessons from a busy year of organizing. While the pandemic has undeniably created barriers to organizing and sustaining momentum, it has also provided us with opportunities to highlight capitalism’s contradictions and society’s reliance upon workers, not bosses. In particular, the education workers’ strike late last year provided valuable lessons on the importance of building solidarity and the amazing possibilities that come with it.
Saturday morning’s plenary session on decent work as racial and migrant justice focused on the links between exploitation at work, exploitation through immigration status, and racism. The Justice for Workers campaign is clear, the fight for decent work means taking on racism in the workplace, and this goes hand-in-hand with the fight for equal rights for all migrants. As speakers noted throughout the session, so long as precarious immigration status can be used to force migrant workers into poor working conditions, the bosses will use it to divide us along racial lines. The fight for equal rights for migrants is a racial justice issue and winning status for all will empower the whole working class. This was reinforced by stories shared by several migrant workers who were in attendance.
Throughout the weekend, workshop presenters armed organizers with arguments and skills to head out into the world and create change. Among the workshop topics were understanding inflation and how to talk about the cost of living with peers, building multiracial solidarity and organization, effective marshalling for rallies and actions, and how to do effective public outreach. Attendees worked in groups large and small to hone their skills for the big fights ahead.
Agitation: From ideas to action!
The bootcamp wasn’t just about thinking about action. It was about taking action. Having a hall filled with workers provided the perfect opportunity for solidarity actions.
Saturday afternoon saw the launch of the Migrant Unity Quilt, a project coordinated by Migrant Workers Alliance for Change where migrants across Ontario were encouraged to decorate a square of fabric that would be woven together to symbolize solidarity. Migrant workers and students gave speeches on their struggles and how they fought back against the racist, colonial immigration system. The quilt itself is a powerful testament to the power of migrant organizing and collective action, and the unfurling of the quilt was met with raucous cheers as migrants led the crowd through chants of “United, we fight! When we fight, we win!” that rang out through the auditorium.
Throughout the weekend, attendees were encouraged to take pictures with signs and posters in support of two major union struggles: the Ontario Nurses Association, who are heading into negotiations with the province amidst a healthcare crisis and mass privatization of its sector, and four hundred workers at Highbury Canco in Leamington, ON, who are fighting for a real wage increase and recently held a strike vote with 99.9% in favour of striking. Attendees sent the message to these workers that over two hundred workers are standing with them and putting pressure on their bosses.
Attendees were also encouraged to get involved with the Ontario Federation of Labour’s Enough is Enough campaign, which takes on the rising cost of living by calling for (among others demands) wage increases, the doubling of Ontario Disability Support Program and Ontario Works payments, and the repeal of Bill 124, all of which will have a major impact on Ontario’s working class. Attendees left the bootcamp armed with plenty of campaign materials to distribute and discuss with their friends, family, and coworkers.
Organizing: Ready, set, fight!
Beating the bosses cannot be done alone, and appropriately, the bootcamp provided a fantastic opportunity for workers to connect with people in their neighbourhoods and towns to plan actions and form coalitions. The bootcamp featured a designated time slot for different groups to meet and plan actions together, including actions for health workers, status for all, the Somali community, education workers, post-secondary students and workers, and gig workers.
Of course, organizing was hardly confined to scheduled blocks. During every break in the program, attendees could be heard exchanging contact information and planning meetings and events together. In the workshops, smaller breakout discussions gravitated toward applying the lessons in the workshops to upcoming actions and using collective organizing power to strengthen movements. Unionized and non-unionized workers alike shared ideas and experiences to raise the floor for every member of the working class. Justice for Workers provided everyone with materials—pamphlets, signs, petitions, posters, even lawn signs—to do actions and outreach events in the coming weeks. In an environment like Beat the Bosses Bootcamp, workers almost couldn’t help but organize.
Not just fighting: We’re here to win!
The Beat the Bosses Bootcamp was an uplifting weekend full of activity, education, and organizing. It was a jolt of energy for all who attended, and a reminder that even as we stare down a difficult year ahead, we are stronger when we are together. Armed with the knowledge, energy, and resources from the bootcamp, all who attended are in a much better position to fight and organize—and, most importantly, win.
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