In November, Doug Ford’s Conservative government avoided a potentially fatal confrontation with Ontario’s unions by repealing its anti-union bill. Bill 28, a piece of legislation that stripped 55,000 education workers of their right to strike and would have forced them to accept a contract, was so odious that it moved the entire Ontario labour movement into action. Bill 28 provoked a call for a general strike, which was only called off after Ford backed down entirely on the proposed legislation.
For a brief moment, workers across the province tasted their potential power. But the concessions by the Ford government and a quickly ratified agreement by education workers brought the province mostly back to business as usual. Prices continue to rise while wages stagnant. The government continues to underfund public services like education and healthcare, pushing to privatize aspects of these public services.
The struggle of Ontario’s education workers allowed us to learn a lot of lessons: rank and file activity matters, solidarity can and must be built as widely as possible, we don’t have to wait for an election to take on Ford, and the path to a general strike could be way shorter than we think. In politics, moments come and go, but we need a robust and unified response to the cost of living crisis that can pull new people into action. By campaigning with a vision of what we want and a way to build it, we can link the diverse issues facing workers in Ontario and pull them into political action.
Enough is Enough: Workers hit from all sides
The Ontario Federation of Labour’s new Enough is Enough campaign, which launched in January, is an opportunity to build a broad-based movement to challenge the bosses and build the power to fight for a better Ontario. The campaign centres on five core demands:
- Real wage increases for all
- Strong public services for all
- Bills we can afford
- Rent control/ Affordable housing
- Make the rich pay
These demands are 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 for linking existing and active campaigns. The strategy behind Enough is Enough springboards off the lessons learned from the education workers’ strike.
Rank and file activity matters
The commitment of 96.5 percent of their members to unite and fight for a fair deal built the confidence of education workers to go on strike. Their power came from decentralized, rank-and-file organizing all across the province rather than a mandate from above. Confidence among the rank-and-file workers ultimately inspired their successful defiance of Ford’s Bill 28. At the same time, union leaders followed their lead, eventually voting in favour of a general strike. Now, the Enough is Enough campaign has the potential to harness the power of an even greater group: the entire working class of Ontario.
And so, there are infinitely more opportunities for building community and workplace leadership. It is important to go directly to workplace leaders to foster meaningful relationships and expand leadership. While it is tempting to go through the motions of existing pathways of top-down power (for example: emailing union presidents and stopping), it is important to think bigger. Action, after all, inspires confidence. And engaging in collective action helps workers get a taste of their power.
We must build solidarity as widely as possible
Education workers built strong solidarity networks with other workers and community members, including teachers, parents and other workers. Ford’s legislation made it clear to families and unions who their natural allies were and the importance of solidarity to win their demands.
The Enough Enough campaign is an exercise in building winning solidarity. While the key demands will likely resonate with all of the working class, they are only a starting place. The anger channelled through the slogan “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH” can open conversation with workers and community members and begin the process of agitation, education and organization. In a recent conversation with a group of health workers, they brainstormed ways to target radiation technicians, pharmacists and other health workers by designing tailored “Enough is Enough” posters. Meanwhile, climate organizers are showing up with their own “Enough is Enough” Demands: Scrap Bil 23 now!
To build organized solidarity, we need to be connected. The campaign is using a slack channel where interested activists can communicate through different subgroups. Communicating over slack allows easy access to many subgroups or more extensive conversations that are not mediated by others. Unlike a mailing list or exclusive group, Slack is a space where anyone can host and share upcoming events. The Slack channel is an opportunity to draw other people into action, spread the best ideas, learn about how we can all best build the campaign.
The campaign has a series of upcoming events both regionally and on zoom. These events range from political education and organizing training to regional strategy sessions. Each Enough is Enough event is an opportunity to build relationships with other organizers and widen the campaign’s reach. The campaign is aiming to build rallies on June 3 through smaller outreach actions. June 3 is not the culmination of the campaign, but simply another opportunity to scale up action and widen the working class resistance to the big business agenda. Where we go from there will be shaped by our ability to use these opportunities to draw in wider layers of the working class into struggle.
A general strike is closer than you think
In many ways, the education workers’ strike was the show of power that organized labour has been waiting for. They defeated the Ford government significantly, with the whole province watching. Workers will need even more confidence and solidarity to win a broad-based campaign that can respond to the disgusting oppressive policies spreading poverty, homelessness, food insecurity and health crises. Now that we know what’s possible, we must start preparing for that next pivotal eruption of worker anger.
If we are serious about building greater workers’ power in Ontario and beyond, we must take advantage of the objective opportunities before us. The Enough is Enough campaign launched by the OFL allows us to build political relationships with workers beyond our usual networks.
Socialists can sit back in rhetorical criticism “It was better in the old days” or demand the campaign focus on orienting to people who think exactly like us. Or they can choose to educate, agitate, and organize their fellow workers and draw in new layers of the class into activity. We can use a campaign launched by the largest labour federation in the province to build a rank and file network of activists and pull together a broad based fight back against the Conservative government.
This campaign creates unique opportunities to broach difficult but essential conversations with coworkers. So, let’s build these OFL events and use the materials to go beyond business as usual. Let’s engage our fellow workers about the province’s politics so we can organize with other rank-and-file members who want to build a genuine working-class response to the cost of living crisis.
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