On Monday, March 26th, 800 labour leaders and activists from across the province gathered at the OFL’s Power of Many conference to discuss how to defeat the anti-worker Doug Ford regime. Since being elected in June 2018, Ford has attacked union rights, frozen the minimum wage, cut autism funding, rolled back post-secondary education funding, and threatened privatization of the health care system. As none of these cuts were in the platform Ford was elected on, anger has mounted against his government, which has seen its approval rating plummet to 38% in March. In this context, the OFL leadership’s decision to organize this conference and to launch a broader campaign through it is a welcome development in the fight back against Ford’s austerity agenda. It does raise important questions, however, about what the end goal of such a campaign should be, as well as of how we get there.
OFL President Chris Buckley opened the conference with a keynote address, making it clear that he “will not stand idly by” as Ford runs roughshod over working people in this province. Buckley emphasized that a key plank of the campaign will be building “rapid response networks” throughout Ontario, with the potential goal of “shutting the province down.” At another point, Buckley proudly asserted that, “we will take this government down”. OFL organizer Melissa Bayon followed Buckley at the podium, adding, “we have to do whatever it takes to win,” and that, “we can’t wait for the election,” in 2022 if we are to do so.
Taken together, these opening speeches gave attendees the impression that a militant fight back against Ford was being prepared, involving the building of a mass movement in the streets, and using all means available towards the goal of bringing the government down before the end of its term. During the ensuing discussion on the floor, however, Labour Fightback activist Jahan Niroomand asked Buckley to clarify whether “shutting the province down” could entail building towards a general strike to achieve this goal. Buckley seemed taken aback by the question, and did not actually answer it, stating instead that a general strike can not be conjured out of thin air. This much is obvious, and Labour Fightback wholeheartedly agrees that a general strike must be built towards through a series of escalating actions and partial mobilizations. At the same time, however, to not have a clear idea of what we are building towards, and to not concretize exactly how far we are willing to go in order to get there, is to invite confusion into the movement.
Written documents handed out at the conference add more confusion into the mix. On the positive side, there are a series of planned and escalating actions outlined, involving multiple rallies in April against education and health care cuts, and an unspecified series of “mass actions across Ontario” for the one year anniversary of Ford’s inauguration on June 7th and 8th. Along the way, the campaign sets targets of making 500,000 contacts by the end of 2020, developing “rapid response networks” within 12 strategic “local hubs”, and recruiting 4,000 regularly active new volunteers. One might say that all this work could well serve the purpose of building up to a one-day general strike in Ontario, which could be made extendable if necessary in order to force the government to step down before the election in 2022. But while “escalating direct actions that lead to shut down of targeted regions” is part of the plan for 2021-2022, the final phase of the campaign is clearly stated to be, “a robust election strategy to win back Ontario in 2022.”
So there you have it! A series of escalating actions in the streets leading us to…take our chances at the ballot box over three years from now? One would have to be forgiven if the dots do not seem to connect here! A report by the CBC on the conference provides a further light as to the real intentions of the OFL leadership. On the basis of an interview with Chris Buckley, the article states, “Union leaders will urge their members in PC-held ridings to call and write to their MPPs in an attempt to put pressure on Ford to abandon policies that they say would would hurt working people. (…) While the union movement still intends to organize large protests around the Ford government’s first budget April 11 and the June 7 anniversary of the PC election victory, the less raucous methods of communicating directly to MPPs will play a central role.”
In other words, the actual end goal of the OFL’s anti-Ford campaign seems to be to split the Conservative Party’s strong parliamentary majority by appealing to individual MPP’s in their constituencies. Such a strategy is utterly hopeless! The Conservatives are a party of Bay Street, and the most ruthless one at that. They are a party of the rich, by the rich, for the rich, and nothing more. The way to defeat them is not through polite phone-in and letter writing campaigns, but through escalating mass mobilizations of the working class. The goal should not be to undermine or erode their power in parliament, but to organize a general strike in the streets to show them where the real power in society lies.
The pressure from below forced the OFL leadership to convene this conference and build the beginnings of an anti-Ford campaign. However, at this point, the leadership seems to be talking out of both sides of their mouth, preaching militancy at one moment, and then class collaboration the next. The collaborationist approach has led to one defeat after another in the past period, and can only lead to humiliation now in the face of a much more determined enemy. The way to defeat a bully is not to beg and plead one one’s knees, but to stand up and punch him square in the face!
In this environment, we must strike to win. A successful general strike is one that does not just involve the minority of unionized workers in a region or country, but pulls in the wider masses of unorganized workers and youth. This ensures that the ruling class cannot mobilize the public opinion of the relatively worse paid against the better paid layer of workers. As Ford’s cuts affect all workers, so the leadership of the best organized should actively reach out and connect with the least organized in order to ensure that our strike movement is truly ‘general’ in its scope.
An excellent opportunity to do just that is coming up. High school students across the province are planning mass walkouts on Apr. 4th to protest Ford’s latest proposal to lift the cap on class sizes and eliminate teaching jobs. The youth, being the most affected by the crisis of capitalism, stand the most to gain by rediscovering such militant tactics as the mass walk out. The leadership of the OFL and the teachers’ unions would do well to link up with these radicalized students, learn from their militancy, and then help to spread these tactics to the wider working-class. The future of the movement may depend on it.
Strike to bring down Ford!
Don’t wait until 2022 election day!
Prepare the general strike!