Recent collective bargaining for Ontario’s education workers has raised the question of what constitutes a “reasonable” wage demand in the context of rapid inflation. The Canadian Union of Public Employees originally called for annual increases of 11.7 per cent. This was met with outrage by the ruling class and its lackeys in government and the right-wing media. Education Minister Stephen Lecce called the demand “astronomical, unreasonable”. Others demagogically claimed that it would not be fair to the rest of the workers, who on average have seen a 2.6% increase. All of this reeks of hypocrisy, when the capitalists have done nothing but enrich themselves in the present inflationary crisis.
In the current inflationary climate, an increase of 11.7 per cent is the bare minimum. Inflation reached a record high of 8.1 per cent last June. And the situation is worse when we look at basic products, such as food, which saw a 16 per cent price increase in October, or gasoline, which rose by 17.8 per cent. Add to that the fact that wages have been stagnant for decades, and an 11.7 per cent increase would be the least that could be done for all workers in Canada, who now have to cut back on their spending on necessities.
If the rest of the workers only got a 2.6 per cent increase in the last year, that means they got poorer. That doesn’t mean CUPE workers don’t deserve 11.7 per cent, it means that all workers deserve the same and should fight for such increases.
But while journalists will criticize workers who dare to demand more than peanuts, they leave out a very interesting fact: capitalists and CEOs have benefited greatly from the current economic situation. Indeed, capitalists have seen their profits increase by 109 per cent in the last two years and CEOs have seen their compensation increase by 32 per cent since 2021. Canadian CEOs earn about 200 times more than the average wage of their workers.
Aren’t capitalists and CEOs already well paid? Why afford such large profits and increases when workers’ wages can’t even keep up with inflation? These are the kinds of questions the right never asks.
We are told that it is “unreasonable” for workers to demand living wages. But the same people who say these things have no problem with the massive salaries of CEOs and the huge profits of corporations. If in the present system it is unreasonable for workers to ask for anything better than misery, we are entitled to ask whether it is not the system itself that is unreasonable. When capitalists say they cannot give workers good wages, they are merely admitting the failure of their system. It must be overthrown. It is a matter of survival for a growing number of workers. Trotsky said it very well: “If capitalism is incapable of satisfying the demands inevitably arising from the calamities generated by itself, then let it perish.”