The cost of living crisis is hitting Ontarians hard.
The state of public services in the province, from healthcare and schools to transit are in crisis. The cost of basic necessities, such as food and energy, have been far outpacing incomes. Affordable housing is further out reach than ever before. All this is happening while big corporations, banks and the rich have seen their coffers swell.
Making ends meet for most Ontarians is getting harder. Our political leaders aren’t just allowing this to happen, they are actively facilitating it.
Defunding everything but the police
Decades of underfunding in healthcare by the Liberals and Conservatives have crashed headlong into a years long pandemic putting the whole healthcare system under duress. Ford has made the situation much worse. He continued to systemically underfund healthcare, while suppressing the wages of overworked healthcare workers via Bill 124. The predictable understaffing as result of staff leaving the field has exacerbated any already strained system. Ford is now leveraging the worsening crisis in healthcare as means to push his privatization agenda. This will only worsen the crisis.
Similarly, Ford’s approach to public education has been to at every step underfund the education system. Hundreds of millions of dollars that should be invested in upgrading our schools has remained unspent. The government has played hardball with education workers, trying at every turn to squeeze down their wages and working conditions.
It is not just healthcare and education, but the whole gamut of public services in the province are in a state of stress. At the same time, municipalities are choosing to fund an increase in police services, when what communities desperately need are strong public services that actually make people’s lives better. Both the defunding of public services and the funding of police disproportionately impact low-income and racialized communities. These choices showcase the deep seeded racism of those in power.
Low wages and high rent
As the public services Ontarians rely on are crumbling, wages and incomes we need to get by are coming up short. Ford cancelled the minimum wage increase to $15 an hour in 2019 and it has never caught-up. After a sharp deep pandemic recession, workers wages are nowhere near catching up to the increased rate of inflation. Groceries are more expensive, largely due to the pandemic profiteering of large corporations. For people on fixed incomes, like Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Supports Program, the minimal increases to income support levels still leave people sinking further into poverty.
On top of all this the housing market has become even more unaffordable for most Ontarians. Ford has made this much worse by passing a series of laws that benefits developers and landlords, while leaving renters and the housing insecure in the lurch.
The crisis facing Ontarians can seem overwhelming and exhausting. It is easy to feel isolated and powerless to change things. The bosses and their politicians in Ontario are engaged in pushing their for-profit agenda on multiple fronts.
Enough is enough
To tackle the crisis we need a strong unified response that aims to pull new layers of people into action. The bosses and developers are organized and they have resources to push their agenda. To counter this we need both a vision of what we want, but also a mechanism to build it. It is not enough to know that there are links between issues, we need to make them concrete through political action. And give people the confidence to fight.
The Ontario Federation of Labour’s new Enough is Enough campaign, which launched this weekend, is an opportunity to build a board based movement to challenge the bosses and build the power to fight for a better Ontario. The campaign is centred around five core demands:
- 1. Real wage increases for all
- 2. Strong public services for all
- 3. Bills we can afford
- 4. Rent control/ Affordable housing
- 5. Make the rich pay
These demands are both simple enough to express clearly, and broad enough to resonate with a range of people across the province. The campaign’s demands also present the basis upon which we can link existing and active campaigns. When the government requires laws to benefit developers, it opens the door for us to create links between social movement groups fighting for affordable housing, defunding the police, climate justice and public transit.
Organize: Turn an opportunity into action
The Enough is Enough campaign’s demands are animated by an action plan that aims to widen and deepen the struggle against Ford’s big business agenda. The road map of escalating actions is clear. Local outreach will help build regional actions and meetings, culminate in a large Enough is Enough day of action on June 3. The day of action is not a goal, but something to build towards in order to go further. There was open talk at the event launch of a possible general strike.
The campaign opens the door to building a united class fight back to Ford’s austerity agenda. Of course an open door is just that. If we want to unite our movements and build working class opposition, we need to do it through action. We need to organize. Large protests, strikes or even a general strike require large numbers of people committed to taking action. This can’t happen via a declaration.
Clear and relatable demands are necessary, but insufficient to build a strong working class movement. The Enough is Enough campaign won’t spontaneously grow, it simply provides an opportunity for the existing Left to build it. Rank and file trade unionists, social movement activists and campaigners should seize the opportunity of the Enough is Enough campaign to connect campaigns and movements that are moving in order to build a united working class response that can be greater than the sum of its parts.
That means expanding our ranks. We have to get people involved in the campaign – signing up coworkers, neighbours, family, friends. We need to make links to people already fighting. We need to be systemic and ambitious in trying to connect people with a campaign that is taking on the cost of living crisis. Sentiment needs to be organized and translated into action. That means building the confidence of people around us to fight.
To wait until the next election or to wage a series of smaller isolated fights against Ford’s austerity is not a winning strategy. Anger and frustration at the cost of living crisis, low-wages, unaffordable housing and attacks on our public services can quickly turn into demoralization and defeatism if they are not challenged into action.
The first step is to sign-up to the campaign and get others to sign-up: www.wesayenough.ca. The next step is to lead with action and help build local actions and regional meetings of the campaign. This is how we can build unity amongst those already fighting and draw in new layers willing to take on the Ford and big business lobby.
Ontario is in crisis. The stakes are high. We can’t afford inaction, which will only demoralize workers, but open the door to right to push an even more reactionary agenda. We can either roll over and let the bosses win or stand up and say Enough is Enough!
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