By Katie Leonard
April 21, 2012
As the austerity measures being imposed on workers become increasingly incisive, working people are fighting back all across Canada.
Despite uncertain outcomes, workers are willing to engage in long struggles with employers in hopes of keeping good jobs and pensions.
In Sudbury, workers at Vale Inco remained on strike from July 2009 to July 2010. ECP workers at the Brantford, Ontario plant went on strike in August of 2008, after the company demanded a cut to wages and benefits of 25 per cent. The strike continued until March 2011, when the company decided to close the plant down. Despite the less than ideal outcome, workers at ECP have shown their willingness to fight for as long as necessary for good jobs.
Today, locked out workers at a Rio Tinto plant in Alma, Quebec are refusing a contract which would allow jobs to be contracted out at half the pay. Since the lockout began on January 1, they have received solidarity from workers around the world. Workers at a Rio Tinto plant in Kitimat, BC have pledged $60,000 per month until their own contract comes up for negotiation in July, and on March 31 a global day of solidarity drew approximately 8,000 people from across Quebec and as far away as South Africa and Australia.
The fightback is not just to protect jobs, but also to save much needed services. Here workers have been able to garner public support. Library workers in Toronto began a public campaign to support library services and workers last fall that translated into a short, successful strike with much public support.
Teachers in British Columbia successfully equated the attack on their unions with an attack on public education. After nearly a year without a contract, teachers staged a three-day walk out in early March with high levels of public support. Their struggle is ongoing.
In other places, workers resistance is taking decidedly radical forms. Service workers at Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton walked off the job in February of this year, and were quickly joined by workers at University of Alberta Hospital and the Northeast Community Health Centre, who have been without a contract since last spring. The wildcat strike garnered media attention and public sympathy for the union, and resulted in a back-to-work protocol and no action taken against strikers.
But Edmonton is not the only place where radical tactics led to positive results. A spontaneous wildcat strike of Air Canada workers disrupted flights for a day at Pearson Airport in Toronto, in response to the suspension of three workers who had sarcastically applauded Labour Minister Lisa Raitt as she walked through the airport. They were joined by workers in Montreal, Quebec City, and Vancouver. The strike lasted thirteen hours and by the end, no disciplinary action was taken against striking workers.
Although these struggles are not always easy, and the outcomes are not guaranteed, workers all over Canada have shown that they are willing to stand up and fight for good jobs and services, not just for themselves, but for the next generation as well.