Will 2012 be year for Labour fightback?

The big business Conference Board of Canada predicts that 2012 will be a year of major labour-management strife across the Canadian state. 
The big business Conference Board of Canada predicts that 2012 will be a year of major labour-management strife across the Canadian state.

In a report released in early December, the Board points to Toronto, where the right-wing administration of Mayor Rob Ford has been waging a war on workers to cut costs, and to privatize city services. The report also noted that the Toronto District School Board is set to negotiate a new collective agreement with teachers in 2012 “on a course of bargaining that is unlikely to be resolved peacefully.”
In 2011, Canada Post workers staged rotating strikes, got locked out by management, and were ordered back to work by the federal government, which imposed a wage rate lower than management’s last offer. The threat of legislation kept Air Canada workers from striking, despite workers voting twice to reject management’s position.
According to McMasterUniversity labour relations Professor Charlotte Yates, governments aren’t just trying to keep deficits in check; they are cutting for political reasons. Unions, per se, are the target. They believe they can succeed at this time knowing that the bosses are permitted to cut jobs without any real challenge from the working class, including its unionized sections. When postal workers challenged the Stephen Harper Conservative government agenda, the labour movement across the country failed to back them up with job action. The NDP filibuster in the House of Commons made many workers feel good, but it did not threaten to deter the government’s course of action.
The Conference Board is now worried that the potential for strikes in the public sector will be greater in 2012 because those workers gave concessions at the outset of the recession/depression in 2008. Rank-and-file frustration is rising. The average public sector raise will be 1.5 per cent in 2012—below the predicted inflation rate of 2 per cent. In contrast, private sector workers will earn an average raise of 2.3 per cent. Overall, workers’ wages have been falling or stagnant for over 30 years.
Health care workers in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba will be negotiating new collective agreements in 2012, as will employees at the Canada Revenue Agency.
By alerting its well-heeled members to potential labour conflict, and by countering the arguments that unions make (for example, that government revenues are down due to corporate tax cuts and concessions to the rich), the Conference Board is helping to get the Canadian capitalist class ready for the big fight ahead. But what is the labour leadership doing to get workers ready for this fight?
The Ontario Federation of Labour, at its November biennial convention in Toronto, promised to expose the one-sided class war being waged by bosses and their governments. But OFL leaders have no plan to challenge the rulers’ agenda with mass action in the streets and work places.
There is talk about a possible merger of the Canadian Auto Workers Union and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers’ Union. A democratically conducted merger would be good. Much better than a raid, which too often is the resort of shrinking unions. But a merger is no substitute for organizing the unorganized, much less for an anti-concessions strategy.
Can workers fight back? Transit workers in York Region, north of Toronto, show that we can. Those employees of private bus companies that pay $7 an hour less than what Toronto transit workers earn, are in the third month of a strike for a wage and benefits catch-up. Their weekly mass pickets and bus occupations are attracting tremendous attention and inspiring considerable hope in broad sections of the working class.
They show the way forward—to a coordinated labour struggle against the bosses’ “austerity” agenda.
If 2012 is to be the year for a labour fight back, now is the time to start talking up the idea of a general strike. Nothing less than escalating, mass job actions are needed to stop the attacks on jobs, public services, and workers’ rights. And that’s what we need to win nationalization of the banks and big business under workers’ democratic control—to lay the basis for an economy that serves the majority.> The article above was written by Barry Weisleder.
Advertisements