The Toronto and York Region Labour Council (TYRLC) has passed a resolution calling on labour organizations and unions to organize mass resistance in the event that “back-to-work” legislation is used against striking workers. Initiated by rank-and-file trade unionists with Labour Fightback and the Workers United Canada Council, the resolution was submitted by members of Workers United Local 154 at the July 5 Labour Council meeting, where it was passed unanimously. The adoption of this resolution by the TYRLC, which represents approximately 205,000 workers in the Greater Toronto Area, sends a strong signal to the Conservative government of Premier Doug Ford that workers will not be bullied out of their democratic rights.

Jennie Ernewein, a member of Workers United Local 154 and activist with Labour Fightback, helped write the resolution, which calls on the Ontario Federation of Labour and the Canadian Labour Congress to develop a plan of action that would resist any future imposition of “back-to-work” or “essential service” legislation violating the democratic right of workers to withdraw their labour. This plan would be triggered by the next use of such anti-democratic legislation, and could consist of acts of defiance that include, but are not limited to, solidarity walkouts and mass political protest. The resolution also called on the TYRLC to develop an interim plan of solidarity action that would come into effect as soon as any union local affiliated to the labour council has its rights violated, while encouraging other labour councils and unions to follow suit.

Speaking in favour of the resolution to the labour council, Jennie noted that both Local 154 and the national executive of Workers United had voted to pass the same resolution the previous week. Describing the resolution as an important step forward in the fight back against Ford’s Conservatives and coming austerity measures, she also pointed out that back-to-work legislation is nothing new and was also used by the Ontario Liberals. Jennie highlighted the Liberals’ use of back-to-work legislation to crush the Ontario college faculty strike led by OPSEU in the fall of 2017. She also reminded labour council that the Liberal government had taken away the right to strike of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) members by declaring transit an essential service in 2008. It is therefore unsurprising, Jennie said, that several ATU members had voiced their support for the resolution against back-to-work legislation on social media.

Now the threat of back-to-work legislation is once more staring the labour movement in the face, with Ford promising to end the strike at York University by using such legislation against CUPE 3903. Although organized labour has fought such laws in the past through Charter challenges, Jennie said that such challenges have often dragged on for years, proving both costly and ineffective.

Doug Ford “may have won at the ballot box, but we can defeat him on the streets,” Jennie said. “We have to talk about mass defiance. We cannot just leave that struggle to CUPE 3903. And brothers and sisters, we stand with you. If you defy that legislation, we are with you.” Her call for solidarity with CUPE 3903 met with enthusiastic applause from members of the labour council.

While going on strike is generally a last resort due to the sacrifices involved, Jennie said, being able to withdraw labour by going on strike is the source of workers’ power. Any challenge to that power by attacking the democratic right to strike must be defied on a mass scale. Workers do not have to accept defeat, but can fight back against back-to-work legislation and win. Jennie praised the recent wave of wildcat strikes led by teachers in the Southern United States, who subsequently gained major victories, and expressed hope that similar militancy would take root among workers in Ontario.

The full text of the resolution passed by the TYRLC follows:

Stop ‘back-to-work’ and ‘essential service’ legislation, defend democratic rights!

Whereas, both Liberal and Conservative governments are increasingly using the dictatorial tool of so-called “back-to-work and “essential service” legislation to remove the democratic right of workers to decide to withdraw their labour, and

Whereas, premier-designate Doug Ford has indicated his plan to use “back-to-work” legislation as part of his initial actions once he takes office. Doug Ford is no friend to workers and labour must organize and be prepared to defy his attacks on workers’ rights, and

Whereas, such legislation has repeatedly been declared illegal and in violation of the Charter right of free association, and

Whereas, Charter challenges against new instances of “back-to-work” and “essential service” legislation have proved to be ineffective, costly, and time consuming, and have not deterred further violations of democratic rights, and

Whereas, these democratic violations will only increase if they are allowed to continue without response. Trade unions would not exist today if workers were not prepared to defy unjust laws. And an injury to one is an injury to all.

Therefore be it resolved that the Toronto and York Region Labour Council (TYRLC) call on the Ontario Federation of Labour and the Canadian Labour Congress to develop a plan of action to resist future impositions of “back-to-work” and “essential service” legislation that violates the democratic rights of affiliates. This plan of action would be triggered upon the next use of anti-democratic legislation. Such action can include but not be limited to solidarity walkouts and mass political protests.

Therefore be it further resolved that the TYRLC develop an interim plan of solidarity action that would be triggered in the event that any TYRLC affiliated local has its rights violated, and encourage other labour councils and unions to do likewise.