Showing posts with label workers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label workers. Show all posts

Friday, December 7, 2012

Ontario teachers and students step up the fight against austerity and Bill 115

On Monday, Ontario teachers will start rolling walkouts across the province against the draconian Bill 115, the "Putting Students First Act." But the best way to put students first is to support teachers against the Liberal government's anti-democratic austerity agenda.

The Ontario Liberals claimed Bill 115, passed in September, was necessary in order to balance a budget during the economic crisis. But this is after McGuinty wasted billions of dollars in corporate tax cuts. While the 1 per cent has been bailed out, the 99 per cent are facing cuts -- from imposing a pay freeze on teachers, denying universal childcare to parents and continually raising tuition for students.

Students have been at the heart of the fight against the Liberal's austerity agenda, including occupying the office of Glen Murray, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities. As Cindy Brownlee, Director of Education and Equity for the Student Association of George Brown College said last April, "As a single mother nearing the end of my studies in early childhood education. I've joined today's occupation to demand that the Ontario government reverse their decision to increase tuition fees next fall."

In addition, students are not abstract or frozen-in-time. As one writer put it, "Today's high-school student without sports is tomorrow's college student racking up debt and next week's angry, unemployed or precarious worker."

Teachers are putting students first by resisting the austerity agenda that is undermining their futures.

In addition to imposing a pay freeze and removing sick days, Bill 115 strips teachers of their democratic rights to collective bargaining, and gives control to the Education Minister of the austerity-driven government. As one legal expert put it:

"You do not have to be a constitutional lawyer to conclude that this proposed legislation is an unprecedented attack on the civil liberties and constitutional rights and freedoms of educational workers. We should expect our governments to defend our constitutional rights and freedoms and to respect the constitutionally protected process of good faith bargaining between school boards and educational worker and teacher unions."

Instead, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty broadened the attack on democracy from collective bargaining to social democracy. Proroguing the Ontario legislature is part of a pattern of undermining democracy to advance the austerity agenda -- from the federal Tories proroguing Parliament and imposing omnibus bills, the BC Liberals suspending the legislature amidst their campaign against teachers, and the Quebec Liberals imposing Bill 78 to attack the student movement.

The Ontario Liberals accuse the teacher strikes of harming students -- just like transit strikes are accused disrupting passengers and nurses strikes are accused of harming patients. This is a time-honoured, divide-and-conquer strategy to scapegoat workers for cutbacks: cut jobs and services, and then when service providers resist, blame them for the disruption and pit them against service users. But it doesn't always work.

The Tories are calling for firm action against teachers, but the vacillation of the Liberals show they have a better sense of popular opinion -- like the repeated waves of high school walkouts in support of teachers. At the end of September high school students also organized a rally at Queen's Park.

As grade 12 organizer Kayla Smith said "I have a message for Mr. McGuinty: repeal Bill 115. It bans the right to strike, it freezes the wages of teachers and cuts their benefits. There was no negotiation, there was no collective bargaining. Teachers feel disrespected and that is what we want to say today: you have to respect the teachers, negotiate and not just impose demands on them."

The same weakness that drove the Liberals to prorogue the legislature is making them ambivalent about their own legislation. McGuinty recently claimed that “teachers have a democratic right to strike in the province of Ontario,” -- after revoking that same right -- while contenders for the next leadership have criticized his attacks on teachers (though not promised to revoke it).

Education Minister Laurel Broten has narrowed the blame to union leaders -- which is ironic since the union bureaucracy has been trying to negotiate with the prorogued government, and its rank-and-file teachers whose rejection of tentative agreements set the stage for job action.

Rank-and-file activity and mutual community support are critical ingredients in resisting austerity -- as recent victories show. Rob Ford went after library workers, but because they had built a campaign around protecting library services they received widespread support and pushed back against the worst of job cuts -- protecting the services those jobs provide.

When Charest imposed Bill 78 on students, the Quebec student strike responded by broadening the movement to include all those concerned about basic civil liberties -- isolating the government in the process. Students didn’t wait for the next election, they mobilized picket lines and protests and reached out to the broader community. Through the process, teachers joined the movement -- from marching in demonstrations to strengthening picket lines -- which got rid of the government and its hated Law 78.

When Chicago's Democratic mayor Rahm Emanuel went after teachers, they didn't wait for the end of the election. In the midst of the election, they mobilized the networks with parents and students they had built over previous years, and launched a confident strike to defend public education -- and they won.

These three victories began years before the strikes, with rank-and-file organizing and outreach. Ontario teachers don’t have the same structures in place, but the high strike votes and high school walkouts have created the potential of building a broad movement to defend public education and the good jobs that provide it.

To put students first, we should join them and their teachers in walkouts, and join with everyone else at the January 26 protest outside the Liberal party convention.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Photo essay: global day of action in Alma, Quebec

On March 31, 8,000 people—including striking students, workers from across Quebec, and contingents from Toronto to South Africa—converged in Alma, Quebec to support locked-out workers.

On New Year’s Eve, Rio Tinto locked out 800 workers in Alma—a town of 30,000 people, three hours north of Quebec City. The mining giant wants to contract out jobs so it can impose a 50% wage cut. But Alma workers have launched a campaign that has gone global—from California workers who had a successful strike against Rio Tinto, BC workers who have pledged $60,000 of their own wages, and Toronto Steelworkers who in early march took a bus 12 hours to the picket lines (for video footage, go here).

The solidarity for locked out workers is converging with the massive student strike. Alma workers have supported the Quebec student strike, and on March 31, students from Quebec (including the leadership of CLASSE, the group leading the group) joined the day of action in Alma. 

There were also contingents of trade unions from across Quebec, buses of steelworkers from Hamilton and Toronto, and workers from Kentucky, Los Angeles, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Turkey, the Netherlands, and South Africa.

In the Arab Spring, the interaction between students and workers has been crucial: while students and youth groups were often the first in the streets in Tunisia and Egypt, it was mass strikes that finally drove out Ben Ali and Mubarak, and the revolutions have continued on campuses in workplaces with demonstrations, occupations and strikes. As Amir Khadir, one of the leaders of Quebec’s left-wing electoral party Québec solidaire, has explained in this video interview, Quebec’s “printemps érable” (which is translated as “maple spring” but in French sounds like “Arab spring”) includes both students and workers. The mass student strike is giving confidence to broader movements, from Earth Day protests on April 22 to the labour movement. In the last two weeks of March, Aveos workers blockaded a road in Montreal after being laid off, Air Canada workers went on solidarity wildcat strike in Montreal and Quebec City, and then the mass demonstration converged in Alma.

Canada’s 1% rules by dividing, including divisions across Canada and Quebec, but there is growing solidarity. For more information on the campaign, including video footage of the March 31 demonstration, go here. To hear a song one of the locked out workers wrote, go hereSo-so-so, solidarité!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

photo essay: Toronto IWD march

On March 3, women from across Toronto took to the streets for International Women's Day.

The march included labour and community groups, opposition from inside and outside Parliament/City Council, and people of all ages.

As the organizers explained, the austerity agenda is worsening the lives of women, who already face endemic problems of violence. "Over the past year, the 99% has faced attacks on our rights as workers and the right to decent jobs, while austerity-driven political agendas have moved forward to slash public spending, targeting the very services upon which we rely during times of economic uncertainty.  Women and other marginalized people are disproportionately affected by cuts to public services, which deepen socio-economic marginalization. Our services mitigate socio-economic inequity and are vital to an equitable society." 

This year's theme--"Reclaim our city: good jobs, services, dignity. Together we are stronger"--built on the organizing of the past year.

Women have been at the heart of resistance movements, from the Egyptian revolution to anti-austerity fights in Toronto. Last year, IWD organizers were one of the first to confront Rob Ford over his cuts that threaten women's access to public services. Since then a year of organizing has dented the Ford agenda--stopping some budget cuts, stalling the sell off of social housing, and leading to a rebirth of the public transit debate. Ford is trying to get around the opposition by attacking the jobs on which public services depend, like contracting out cleaners. The march connected the fight for public services with the defence of the jobs that provide them, and included cleaners and library workers at the front of the march--who are campaigning to save jobs and public services.

Slogans also make links were also made to broader issues, like "childcare not warfare". While Harper is wasting billions on fighter jets, battle ships and wars from Afghanistan and Libya to threats against Syria and Iran--he still refuses to fund a national, publicly-funded child care program.

The march passed by City Hall, where people left messages in chalk connecting local with global, from "save transit city", to "status for all", to "free Palestinian female prisoners" (for more information, come to Israeli Apartheid Week)

By uniting women and men from across the city in defence of good jobs, public services and dignity, IWD left a strong message for Ford, Harper and the rest of the 1%: expect resistance.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

“Defend our education: support teaching assistants”

Organized in just a week, hundreds of people representing a broad layer of the University of Toronto community united for the rally “Defend our Education: support teaching assistants”. As the Governing Council—the 1% on campus—met in a private meeting under chandeliers, the 99% on campus rallied outside in the lead up to CUPE 3902’s February 24 strike date.

Undergraduates were at the forefront of the rally. CUPE 3902 supported the student day of action against tuition fees, and students are reciprocating.  OPIRG-Toronto made a video supporting TA's, and "Undergrads for 3902" has organized a letter writing campaign. As one of their members explained, “we need a politics of solidarity. They support us every day of the year, and we need to stand with them when they need us. The interests are not opposed, they are aligned. We will not be crossing the picket line, we will be joining it.”

She and others brought 1000 letters signed by undergrads supporting CUPE 3902, and after demands from the crowd they were let through a police barrier into Simcoe Hall to deliver the petitions to the Governing Council. Meanwhile CUPE3902 hoisted a banner on helium balloons up to the window where the Governing Council was meeting.

Students wore stickers saying, “I hate my tuition, but I love my TA”. While tuition has been rising, so too have so too have tutorial sizes—a quarter have over 50 students, and a hundred have over 100 students. This undermines the ability of TAs to respond to undergrad’s educational needs, and reducing tutorial and lab sizes is a main demand of CUPE 3902. As an international student and member of CUPE 3902 explained: “We have been reduced to grading machines. If I’m in the fight it’s because I’m concerned about the quality of education at this university.”

As another placard read, “their working environment is our learning environment." CUPE 3902 is also demanding better graduate student funding, which benefits both grad students and undergrads. Because of insufficient graduate student funding (PhD students only receive funding for four or five years, when it takes an average of six years to complete), grad students need to take on extra jobs, undermining the time they have to devote to research and teaching. For international students who can only legally work on campus, this even threatens their ability to stay in the country. 

There was support from other unions on campus, including Steelworkers 1998 (administrative and technical workers), Unite HERE 75 (food service workers), CUPE 2484 (childcare workers). There was also a broader support, including a Toronto city worker from CUPE 416, Toronto Steelworkers, CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn, and Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario chairperson Sandy Hudson—who led the crowd in chanting, “TAs and lecturers under attack, what do we do: unite, fight back.”

1) Contact Provost Cheryl Misak (416-978-2122, and Vice-President of Human Resources Angela Hildyard (416-978-4865, and tell them you support CUPE 3902. Copy so they know you support them
2) Stay updated: visit and follow @cupe3902
3) If there’s a strike: don’t cross the picket line, join it

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

photo essay: Feb1 student day of action

On February 1, students across the country took to the streets for a day of action, organized by the Canadian Federation of Students.

In Toronto, thousands of students from multiple campuses converged at the University of Toronto, marched through downtown and rallied at Queen's Park.

Students are facing skyrocketing tuition and massive levels of debt. 
On top of chronic education cutbacks and underfunding, students are being made to pay for the economic crisis they did not create. But as they chanted, "they say cut back, we say fight back", and "education is a right, we will not give up the fight."

In Ontario, Premier Dalton McGuinty campaigned on a promise to reduce tuition fees by 30%, but this only applies to a fraction of students. The size of the demonstration in Toronto, and the chants directed at McGuinty ("Dalton, you liar, tuition's getting higher") shows that students weren't fooled. In their thousands, students demanded a reduction of tuition fees for all, a dropping of the student debt, and an increase in education funding.

Students also made links with other issues, chanting and face-painting "drop fees, not bombs". The money for accessible education exists, but it's being wasted on fighter jets, tar sands, prisons, and tax breaks for the 1%.

The labour movement supported the day of action, including members of CUPE, Steelworkers, Toronto District Labour Council and the Ontario Federation of Labour.

This solidarity is crucial. More than 4,000 teaching assistance, graduate-student instructors, lab demonstrators, invigilators and writing instructors at the University of Toronto (represented by CUPE 3902) unanimously voted to set a strike deadline of February 24 if the administration fails to offer them a reasonable contract. They are asking for smaller class sizes, adequate compensation and better funding--in other words, they are trying to improve education.

There is already solidarity growing for CUPE 3902, from a campus organizing meeting drawing the links between students, TAs and food service workers, to an undergraduate-led campaign by OPIRG. As their video states, "CUPE 3902's proposals will improve the quality of education at UofT. What's good for CUPE 3902 members is good for undergraduate students." The February 1 day of action showed the strength and solidarity of the 99% on campus, which will be crucial in the weeks and months ahead to win accessible, high quality public education.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Mass organizing dents Ford's agenda -- now it's time to defend jobs

With a majority of 23-21, an amended budget passed at City Hall last night revoked millions in planned cuts to Toronto public services -- from pools to daycare spaces to shelter. This is the result of a year of mass organizing, which now needs to protect the jobs on which further public services depend.
Timeline of resistance
The change in council was the result of a year of mass campaigns uniting labour and community groups. As I wrote before:
"On his inauguration on a cold December day, 150 people protested. On his first council meeting, a temper tantrum about 'left-wing pinkos' by his invited guest Don Cherry sparked protest by councillors, while thousands of people across the city got 'left-wing pinko' buttons that they continue to wear with pride. In March organizers of International Women's Day confronted Rob Ford about his cuts to public services, and that weekend thousands marched for public services and jobs. On April 9 unions joined with student and community groups to bring 10,000 people into the streets of Toronto, transforming Ford's motto 'respect for taxpayers' into 'respect for communities, public services and good jobs.'
Many people saw the election of Ford as a sign of a right-wing surge across the city that could not be stopped. But by bringing thousands of people into the streets just a few months into his mandate, the April 9 showed there was mass opposition to austerity and division, and this mood has continued to grow.
Instead of dividing the city, Ford's boycott of Pride in June backfired and isolated him. In July a petition by Toronto Public Library Workers Union became a lightning rod when Margaret Atwood called on her supporters to sign. On July 28 the first marathon deputations spoke overwhelmingly against cuts revealing that the so-called 'Ford Nation' of citizens demanding austerity was non-existent. Instead August revealed a 'Jack Nation' as thousands of Torontonians covered City Hall in a rainbow of progressive messages to honour the life of Jack Layton and pledge to continue the fight for a better world. In September hundreds gathered at local organizing meetings -- the Stop the Cuts meeting in the west, and a town hall meeting in the east -- to discuss the cuts and organize against them."
In September a poll found a majority of Torontonians in all wards were against the cuts and that Ford's popularity was plummeting. Ford announced a delay of some cuts, hoping the opposition would dissipate, but on September 26 a second labour/community rally organized by Respect Toronto brought thousands more to protest outside City Hall.
In October and November, Occupy Toronto organized a series of marches to City Hall -- hearing from library workers, social housing advocates and others against the Ford agenda -- and on December 3 hundreds of labour and community activists held a mass meeting in Scarborough to protect jobs and services. This year of organizing by labour and community groups won a majority on council to revoke millions of cuts, as a third mass protest occurred outside City Hall.
Protect services to protect jobs
While Ford has been attacking city services directly through budget cuts, he is attacking them indirectly through job cuts. It was the attack on striking city workers that Ford rode to office, and his early actions included contracting out garbage workers and taking away transit workers' right to strike. As Ford has faced increased opposition to cuts to services, he has began scapegoating workers -- claiming that, "the gravy is the number of employees we have at City Hall." While some services were saved through the budget, there is an escalating campaign against the jobs on which services depend -- from York transit workers, to library workers, to city workers. To save the Toronto services on which we all depend, we need to protect the jobs that provide them.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Unethical oil

Today, "cog in the Conservative machine" Alykhan Velshi relaunched his website "ethical oil", with a series of ridiculous posters. Based on Ezra Levant's tar sands book by the same name, the posters take aim at "the world's bastards" (Iran, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan). As Velshi argues "When you’re filling up the tank, I think you’re indirectly funding them and their pet projects." The "ethical oil" argument counterposes "foreign oil" with Canada's tar sands--claiming that the latter promotes the environment, human rights, peace and democracy. Below are alternative posters to expose the myth of "ethical oil" and argue that a green economy free of the tar sands is the only viable future for the planet and its people.


Counterposing tar sands oil with other oil is a false dichotomy. The oil economy in general is leading the world to catastrophic climate change, and the tar sands is accelerating this process. According to Greenpeace,
"The tar sands cover an area of land the size of England, which has been divided up and leased to the world’s biggest oil companies...The tar sands use more water every day than a city of two million people and consume enough natural gas to heat six million Canadian homes. Until the oil boom, the tar sands were too expensive to be economically viable. But our global addiction to oil has us scraping the bottom of the barrel. The tar sands generate 40 million tonnes of CO2 per year, more than all the cars in Canada combined...As the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country, the tar sands are the main reason Canada continues to block meaningful global climate regulations. The Canadian government ignores the warnings of the scientific community by aiming for abysmal targets that will leave us at nearly double the science-based target that we need to meet to keep the increase in global temperature below 2 C and avoid catastrophic climate change."

The claim that tar sands promotes indigenous rights has been exposed by indigenous people themselves, who are leading the fight against tar sands. According to the Indigenous Environmental Network,
"Indigenous peoples (known as First Nations) in Canada are taking the lead to stop the largest industrial project on Mother Earth: the Tar Sands Gigaproject...The cultural heritage, land, ecosystems and human health of First Nation communities including the Mikisew Cree First Nation, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Fort McMurray First Nation, Fort McKay Cree Nation, Beaver Lake Cree First Nation Chipewyan Prairie First Nation, and the Metis, are being sacrificed for oil money in what has been termed a “slow industrial genocide”. Infrastructure projects linked to the tar sands expansion such as the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and the Keystone XL pipeline, threaten First Nation communities in British Columbia, Canada and American Indian communities throughout the United States. Community resistance is growing and Indigenous peoples throughout North America have mounted substantive challenges to tar sands expansion."

The actions of the Harper government make the false dichotomy of "conflict oil" vs "ethical oil" obvious. As opposition Harper wanted Canada to join the oil war in Iraq, and as Prime Minister has persecuted US Iraq War resisters (with Velshi an eager participant) for trying to be ethical soldiers refusing to fight for conflict oil. While promoting the tar sands, Harper has extended the oil war in Afghanistan three times, already once extended his oil war in Libya (where NATO intervention is designed to undermine the Arab spring that threatens to overthrow all the Western-backed "bastards"), and plans on wasting billions on oil-dependent fighter jets to participate in further conflicts over foreign oil.


The claim that tar sands production supports worker's rights ignores the experience of workers themselves. Last year a tar sands workers was fired for blogging about the conditions at Fort McMurray:
"We have options for bagged lunches to take to work that includes stale vegetables that are sometimes unwashed (and occasionally are rotten/slimy), green fruit, sandwiches so high in salt it would terrify you, and a selection of donuts/cookies/cupcakes that would make Tim Horton's pale in comparison...All the vents are connected together so that if one person gets sick you are almost guaranteed to get it as well, the only answer is to stuff your vents with towels and live with stuffy stale air. It is not uncommon to have dozens of people ill, and there are occasional outbreaks of flu or cold that can affect hundreds at a time...There is no viable complaint procedure, no responsible person to notify of low quality or dangerous conditions, as camp patrons we are almost entirely helpless and at the whim of these people and they know it. This only reinforces the general resentment (or forced acceptance) of these conditions."

The simplistic and racist dichotomy between inherent Western democracy and inherent Middle East dictatorship ignores Western arms sales to dictatorships, Western political support for dictators (from Paul Martin's support for Libyan dictator Muamaar Gaddafi, to Harper's support for Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak), and Western oil companies profiting from dictatorships (like Canada's Suncor operating in Libya and Syria, as well the tar sands). Meanwhile the Harper government has ignored majority support for a green economy, highlighted last year by Greenpeace's banner drop from Parliament. According to a poll last year,
"over 70 percent of Canadians support redirecting of military spending toward efforts that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the idea of a World Climate and Justice Tribunal to judge and penalize countries and corporations whose actions have contributed climate change. Over 80 percent of Canadians believe the Canadian government should invest in “green jobs” and transition programmes for workers and communities negatively affected by a shift off of fossil fuels."
Despite attempts to greenwash the tar sands, the majority of people support a truly green economy--and movements uniting indigenous groups, environmentalists, the labour movement and the anti-war movement are working to bring for this democratic and green future to life.