A General Strike Thwarted by Business Union Leadership

IWW workers strike with CUPE in Toronto.
IWW workers strike with CUPE in Toronto.

ONTARIO, CA – In early November, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Education Workers were in bargaining and the conservative Ontario premier Doug Ford and education minister Stephen Lecce passed anti-worker, anti-strike draconian legislation known as Bill-28. Workers spurred on by CUPE president Fred Hanh went on a wildcat strike. There was talk of this building into a rolling strike wave and even growing into a general strike. When the Tory cowards saw the teeth and claws of an angry working class ready to take to the streets, they backed down and said they would rescind Bill-28. The business union leaders took this promise as a minor concession and told the workers to return to work so legal bargaining can continue. Bill-28 was rescinded a week later, which shows that direct action does indeed get the goods. As legal bargaining between CUPE and their bosses is still in process, it is a complicated situation that as a Wobbly outside of CUPE I feel almost under-qualified to write about.

Unfortunately while the wildcat strike was underway CUPE leadership capitulated when Lecce said they would rescind Bill-28 which brings them back to the bargaining table. The workers had the upper hand to win all demands and even turn this into a rolling strike wave, hypothetically leading to a general strike. On the other hand, not wanting to ignore the elephant in the room, business unions provide some protection under capitalism. However, the only way to abolish exploitation is to abolish the wage system. Could a general strike lead to the abolition of the wage system?

Workers need to have the tools to liberate themselves which is what we as an industrial union provide through our Organizer Training 101. If we, the working class, stop doing what bureaucrats tell us to do and start doing what we collectively decide to do, there isn’t anything that can stop the one big union. Workers were ready and more than willing to wildcat strike, and they got a lot of support from the rest of the working class. Imagine what could have been accomplished if labour leaders didn’t return to legalistic bargaining but instead used direct action to get the goods.

Members of the Toronto GMB attended pickets and demonstrations in Toronto and Whitby. If there are more than 10 people at a picket/demonstration in Durham Region it’s considered a big turn out. There were hundreds of people in Oshawa and Whitby on the lines with the workers. There were thousands of workers on the lines in solidarity at Queens Park in Toronto. The business unions missed a real opportunity to turn this into a revolutionary movement, which is what business unions do – work under capitalism, not work to abolish it. Business union leaders and officers might make good photo ops by loudly going off at Queens Park but they rarely have the courage or tools to stand their ground and fight for workers rights. All too often we see business union leaders make a great song and dance for the media only to capitulate to the Canadian legal system. The law is always on the side of the capitalists and never the working class.

The business unions were attempting to plan a general strike in solidarity with education workers against Bill-28. Sources who contacted the Toronto branch to get us involved in the strike said an organization called “Rank and File” leaked the plans on Twitter before the movement/strike was ready. Shortly after the leak the conservatives said they would rescind Bill-28, which is where the movement started to lose its teeth. As we Wobblies learn in the OT101, going public too soon can hurt a campaign and this is sadly a perfect example of that lesson.

“The only safe and logical choice is industrial democracy – industry run by those who do the work using democratic procedures on a daily basis for the equal benefit of all.” One Big Union.

There are now rumors that the Tory scum aren’t attending meetings with CUPE to negotiate and come to an agreement. Apparently one was booked and no one showed up. This is not the most efficient nor effective way to carry out the class struggle. It is a giant waste of time that knee-capped genuine working class anger, but currently it is a confusing mess because business unions are not structured to take direct action. They are structured for legalistic gymnastics and political lobbying. This is why we need democratic, rank-and-file industrial control combined with solidarity unionism that uses direct action to get the goods.

IWW workers strike with CUPE in Whitby, ON.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to represent that of the IWW or Industrial Worker as a whole.

Contact the IWW today if you want to start organizing at your job.

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