The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) officially launched its campaign “Enough is Enough” with a Zoom meeting on Jan. 28. The stated goals of the campaign are to confront the cost-of-living crisis, build a larger solidarity network across the province to support ongoing struggles, and prepare for major escalations up to and including a general strike. It puts forward five main demands: real wage increases; keeping schools and health care public; affordable groceries, gas, and basic goods; rent control and affordable housing; and making the banks and corporations pay.
A campaign led by organized labour to address the crises facing workers that raises the possibility of a general strike is welcome. Enough is Enough is the first such campaign under current OFL president Patty Coates, elected in 2019. The OFL’s campaign overview accurately describes the present situation as one of spiralling living costs for workers, battered by inflation, interest rate hikes, and wage suppression; privatization of health care; and record corporate profits as workers struggle to make ends meet.
With the death of the post-war social contract, workers and labour militants want to know whether the OFL is going to lead a fight that can win. But does “Enough is Enough” go far enough to solve the cost-of-living crisis and the problems facing working people?
Online launch and six-month plan
The online launch event took place on Zoom and was livestreamed on social media. A press release followed on Jan. 31, and OFL leaders encouraged supporters to share a two-minute campaign video. Enough is Enough also includes a website, WeSayEnough.ca, where people can join the campaign by signing up to an email list.
That a major campaign led by organized labour was launched on Zoom and not in person already raises alarm bells. Why didn’t OFL leaders book a large room or organize a demonstration? This campaign launch took place as Premier Doug Ford was announcing investment in health-care privatization. There is palpable anger over this attack on health care among workers, who would have come out for a rally against privatization. Unfortunately, the OFL and union leaders did not organize a demonstration. While not encouraging, perhaps this was simply a mistake. Let’s listen to what OFL leaders and supporters say about the campaign itself.
Coates outlined the three goals of Enough is Enough. She spoke about the need to “build alternatives that help working people,” connecting with people’s widespread pain and anger and channelling it into collective action. Coates rightfully extolled the repeal of Ford’s back-to-work legislation, Bill 28, by CUPE education workers who threatened a general strike—though she did not highlight the disappointing final contract that followed after union leaders demobilized the movement. Despite the victory of CUPE education workers, Coates said, Ford’s attacks keep coming, from attacks on the Greenbelt to health-care privatization.
“If we want to defeat these attacks and make life more affordable for working people in this province, we’ll need to do more than threaten a general strike,” Coates said. “We’ll need to be ready to carry it out, and that is no easy task. And it won’t happen by simply announcing it.” We could not agree more! What is the OFL’s plan to prepare a general strike?
The Zoom launch included regional breakout rooms where those in attendance could discuss how to build Enough is Enough in their communities. Coates said that “we need to do the hard work of getting organized in every part of the province—in our workplaces, in our neighbourhoods, and in our communities. It means having those important, one-on-one conversations with our co-workers, our neighbours, our family and friends, and getting them involved in this campaign.” Left unsaid is who the “we” are that will do this hard work.
The OFL put forward a “six-month roadmap” for Enough is Enough. The first stage from Jan. 28 to Feb. 21 involved getting people to sign a pledge putting forward the five demands, including their contact information. Feb. 21-26 marked a “week of action”, which included another Zoom meeting on outreach and province-wide “Better Care Pickets” organized by the Ontario Nurses’ Association. Fightback comrades were among those who came out in force on Feb. 23 to support the nurses’ pickets.
A “Beat the Bosses Bootcamp” followed at Toronto Metropolitan University on Feb. 24-26, which included numerous workshops. People could also volunteer to organize an “outreach blitz” by providing a location and inviting people to join them at an event to publicize the campaign. The roadmap outlines community meetings throughout February and March, regional campaign launches in March, local actions or what the OFL calls “structure tests” from March to May, the “key date” of International Workers’ Day on May 1, and a province-wide day of action June 3.
Role of leadership
In an article for Spring magazine, contributor David Bush says the “day of action is not a goal, but something to build towards in order to go further”, again mentioning the possibility of a general strike. This article is worth analyzing because Spring has recently adopted the role of semi-official mouthpiece of the left wing of the labour bureaucracy. Bush says of Enough is Enough:
The campaign opens the door to building a united class fight back to Ford’s austerity agenda. Of course an open door is just that. If we want to unite our movements and build working-class opposition, we need to do it through action. We need to organize. Large protests, strikes or even a general strike require large numbers of people committed to taking action. This can’t happen via a declaration.
Here Bush echoes the words of Coates that a general strike “won’t happen by simply announcing it.” Of course organization and preparation are necessary for mass demonstrations and strikes. No serious labour activist would argue otherwise. We are not sectarian ultra-leftists who believe one can simply declare a general strike and organize it tomorrow. But how does Bush envision building to a general strike?
Bush acknowledges the failure of the OFL’s “wait-for-the-election” strategy to defeat Ford, and says anger and frustration at the crises facing workers can turn into “demoralization and defeatism” if not channelled into action.
Clear and relatable demands are necessary, but insufficient to build a strong working-class movement. The Enough is Enough campaign won’t spontaneously grow, it simply provides an opportunity for the existing Left to build it. Rank-and-file trade unionists, social movement activists and campaigners should seize the opportunity of the Enough is Enough campaign to connect campaigns and movements that are moving in order to build a united working-class response that can be greater than the sum of its parts. [our emphasis]
That means expanding our ranks. We have to get people involved in the campaign—signing up coworkers, neighbours, family, friends. We need to make links to people already fighting. We need to be systemic and ambitious in trying to connect people with a campaign that is taking on the cost-of-living crisis. Sentiment needs to be organized and translated into action. That means building the confidence of people around us to fight.
Bush inadvertently clarifies a key problem with Enough is Enough. While identifying the problems facing workers and stressing that organization and preparation are necessary to build towards mass actions including a general strike, it puts the onus on the rank and file to make this happen. If workers want to build to a general strike, OFL leaders say, rank-and-file members must make the effort to sign people up to the campaign, organize outreach events themselves, connect campaigns and movements, and build “solidarity networks”. If a general strike does not take place, union leaders can then blame rank-and-file members for not fighting and organizing hard enough.
This is the opposite of leadership. One is reminded of Bertolt Brecht’s poem Die Lösung (“The Solution”) satirizing the Stalinist bureaucracy’s response to the 1953 East German uprising, in which a party hack decrees that “the people had lost the government’s confidence and could only regain it with redoubled effort.” Brecht asks: “If that is the case, would it not be simpler if the government simply dissolved the people, and elected another?”
The reason there might be mixed enthusiasm among rank-and-file union members is because workers have become accustomed to inaction and weak leadership from the labour bureaucracy. Consider that through years of austerity and attacks on workers under the Ford regime, the main response of the OFL was to phone the offices of Tory cabinet ministers! Appealing to the same Conservative government responsible for attacks on workers to reverse course has about as much effect as spitting into a volcano. It is not surprising that workers may not believe OFL leaders when they say they’re going to fight, after decades of poor leadership.
Enough is Enough suggests that workers must prove they are radical enough to organize toward action, when in fact it is the other way around: labour leaders must prove to workers that the leaders are willing to fight to the end. Real leadership means explaining the objective reality that without mass demonstrations and strike action, the government will not move an inch. It means labour leaders saying forthrightly, “We want mass demonstrations and strike action, and we will organize to make that happen.”
What about the specific demands of Enough is Enough? Let’s examine each of them.
“Real wage increases.” As the cost of living soars, wages have stayed the same, which in the face of inflation means an effective pay cut. Enough is Enough calls to raise the minimum wage to $20 per hour; to permanently repeal Bill 124, which capped annual wage increases for public-sector workers at one per cent; end poverty wages; double Ontario Disability Support Program and Ontario Works rates; restore and expand decent work laws, including paid sick days and equal pay for equal work; and make it easier for workers to join unions.
The slogan “real wage increases” is unclear. The OFL should be demanding a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) and catch-up pay, along with decent wage increases on top of that. Given current inflation, a minimum wage of $20 will quickly become a poverty wage if it isn’t already. Workers should demand a minimum wage at least two-thirds the average wage plus COLA. On Bill 124, the way to defeat Ford’s wage cut for public-sector workers is through strike action. Benefits such as disability support should be tied to a living wage. Of course we support demands for paid sick days and equal pay for work of equal value. Finally, the OFL should explain how it will make it easier for workers to join unions. The OFL could do this by leading a mass unionization campaign fighting for card-check certification.
“Keep schools and health care public.” Enough is Enough calls for a stop to privatization of health care, to “stop short-changing education”, to eliminate user fees, properly fund all public services, end the staffing crisis in health care, slash tuition fees for post-secondary education, ensure “affordable and accessible” child care, and “treat public sector workers with dignity and respect.” While we support many of these demands, the language is too soft and does not make clear how to achieve them.
The OFL should call for workers to strike against privatization of education and health care, and for free post-secondary education. To properly fund health care and end the staffing crisis, we need to expropriate the pharmaceutical industry and nationalize long-term care. We need to abolish private health care and massively increase funding for universal public health care including pharmaceutical, dental, optometry, and mental health services, free at the point of use. Instead of “affordable and accessible” child care, workers should call for free universal child care. Public-sector workers will only be treated with dignity and respect under a government that represents workers, not the bosses, which is why these demands must be linked to the fight for socialism.
“Affordable groceries, gas, and basic goods.” Enough is Enough calls for an end to price gouging by grocery stores and oil and gas corporations; imposing price caps on groceries, fuel, and basic goods; for a “Right to Food law” that guarantees universal free school meals; and to tax the profits of food and oil giants. It seeks to “make sure every community has access to healthy and affordable groceries” and to “make transit free and accessible.”
To be blunt, it is utopian to believe we can end price gouging and ensure that groceries and gas remain affordable so long as supermarkets and the oil and gas industry remain in private hands. Taxing their profits is not enough. The bottom line is that you cannot control what you don’t own. To achieve these demands we must expropriate these sectors of the economy, nationalize them, and run them under democratic workers’ control. Companies making record profits off the backs of working people claim that high prices reflect costs. Under workers’ control we can open the books of these companies and see what the real costs are, eliminating profiteering and running these enterprises on the basis of social need.
“Rent control and affordable housing.” Enough is Enough calls for “real rent control”, a Tenants’ Bill of Rights, launching an Ontario-wide public housing program to build decent homes in every community, and building homes sustainably without threatening the environment or Greenbelt. It calls for a cap on mortgage payments, stopping evictions and foreclosures, creating commercial rent control for small businesses, and to “house those without housing instead of policing them.”
We agree with many of these demands, such as rent control. However, rent control must be based on the housing unit and not the individual. In the latter case, landlords can jack up the price of rent as soon as the current tenant moves out. For that reason, rent control must also be linked to income by capping rent based on wages. Fightback supports capping rent at 10 per cent of a worker’s income.
Other calls do not go far enough. We should support an outright ban on evictions, backed by the organized refusal of workers who participate in evictions to carry them out. Meanwhile, the notion of “affordable housing” is a scam, in that it retains private ownership and is usually paid for by tax breaks and regulatory benefits for corporations while prices still increase. Workers should reject the corporate slogan of “affordable housing” and state clearly that we are for public and social housing, including a massive building program.
The problem of homelessness is one of the most devastating examples of capitalism’s inability to meet social needs. The call to house those experiencing homelessness rather than policing them is correct. To protect those currently experiencing homelessness from police repression, the labour movement must defend homeless encampments. We must be clear that the housing crisis cannot be ended on the basis of capitalism, which treats housing as a speculative investment rather than a basic human need. To end the housing crisis, we need to expropriate empty properties to house the homeless and nationalize the big property developers, along with rent control tied to income and a massive program of public housing construction.
“Make the banks and corporations pay.” Enough is Enough calls for taxing the record profits of banks and corporations, to “make the wealthiest one per cent pay their fair share and restore tax rates for the highest earners,” to end tax breaks and tax loopholes for banks and corporations, and to fine banks and corporations that fail to pay unpaid taxes.
Imposing higher taxes on banks and corporations leads to capital flight. Moreover, these firms have a million and one ways to avoid paying taxes, such as offshore tax havens. Once again, we cannot control what we do not own. The only way to make banks and corporations pay is by expropriating them.
This leads us to a sixth demand not included in the Enough is Enough campaign, but which is the only way to achieve any of the others: the struggle for socialism.
Fight for socialism!
Labour leaders must state clearly that the Ontario government’s austerity policies and attacks on workers are not based on the fact that Doug Ford is a terrible human being, but that these are repercussions of capitalism in crisis. To solve the cost-of-living crisis and improve the conditions of workers, the labour movement must overthrow capitalism and institute socialism, taking the commanding heights of the economy under workers’ control and running them on the basis of need. Labour leaders must state this perspective clearly and openly, uniting our particular demands and preparation for mass action up to and including general strikes with a general demand against capitalism and for socialism.
A general strike is not an end in itself, but poses point-blank the question of which class holds power in society: the bosses or the workers. Labour leaders who do not understand this, who fail to unite disparate struggles with the understanding that capitalism is the problem, and who fail to adopt an explicitly anti-capitalist and socialist point of view cannot lead the movement to victory. Critics may dismiss the importance of such a perspective in organizing a general strike, or claim that workers do not understand such ideas. In fact the entire history of the labour movement in Canada, including the greatest general strikes which shook the ruling class to its foundations, began precisely by labour leaders putting forward an anti-capitalist and socialist perspective. The Winnipeg General Strike in May and June 1919, for example, followed the Western Labour Conference in March which expressed support for Bolshevism, the Russian Revolution, and for the formation of a soviet government to eradicate capitalist private property in Canada. The 1972 Quebec general strike followed the publication of the CSN manifesto “Ne comptons que sur nos propres moyens” (“It’s up to us”) that called for the overthrow of capitalism to be replaced by a classless society with workers’ control and socialist planning.
These experiences point the way forward for the labour movement today in Ontario and beyond. As Lenin said, “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.” A successful fight against the cost-of-living crisis and the Ford regime requires a conscious revolutionary movement whose leaders recognize that capitalism is incapable of solving the problems facing workers, and who will explicitly organize mass demonstrations and prepare for a general strike as part of the fight for socialism. Only on that basis can we solve the cost-of-living crisis, permanently improve conditions for workers, and give working class people control over our own lives.