Organize, Educate, Resist!

Labour’s fight for policies that improve Ontarians’ lives more crucial than ever in face of provincial “austerity agenda” 

Members of the Toronto & York Region District Labour Council have long fought for the rights of diverse worker communities. Shown: Filipino Workers Network marking Labour Day 2018.  Supplied

Members of the Toronto & York Region District Labour Council have long fought for the rights of diverse worker communities. Shown: Filipino Workers Network marking Labour Day 2018. Supplied

The Toronto & York Region Labour Council works to build a society based on social, economic, racial and climate justice. Throughout our history, which began with the Council’s founding in 1871, we have survived through tough times and won victories that have made real improvements in people’s lives. None of those victories came easily – we had to be strategic, engage with union members and build community alliances in order to win. 

Today’s challenges require us to continue our fight for equality and justice. Ontario has been under Conservative party leadership for more than a year, and the change in government has been accompanied by a marked shift in our political culture. In the 15 months since the Conservatives took office, they have slowly exposed their true nature, not through words, but through actions.

Doug Ford’s rhetoric is cloaked in fake populism, masking an objective that is just as revolutionary as the Harris regime of the past: to permanently change how our province functions. We should keep this front of mind when we go to the polls this fall, when the federal Conservatives are once again vying for our votes.

We can expect the provincial government to make further attempts to undermine labour rights while forcing municipalities, school boards, and healthcare and social service agencies to do the dirty work of cutting programs and turning on their own employees. Cuts to programs and services always land hardest on vulnerable and marginalized communities, while concerns about systemic racism – and increasingly, explicit racism – go unaddressed by those with the power to make change.

 Labour must relentlessly challenge the notion that our governments “can’t afford” to take care of us anymore. In fact, if we collected taxes at the same rate today as in 2000, we would have the resources to address urgent needs like child care, pharmacare, public transit, tuition fees and effective action on climate.

We know that regular people are concerned with the affordability of daily life. It’s hard enough to be concerned with putting food on the table and finding money for your kids’ recreation programs and worrying about the rising cost of housing. Nobody can tackle the larger systemic problems on their own – and that’s why we do it together.

As a movement, we can fight back. As a collection of workers, just normal people, we can share the burden and understand that the challenges we face are part of larger trends. And crucially, it is incumbent on organized labour to build a resistance movement that is inclusive and expansive, so that together we can stand up for our rights.

We are challenging the austerity agenda that is pervasive in all orders of government, and we want to do it with you, the people of Ontario. That’s why we have adopted the slogan ORGANIZE, EDUCATE, RESIST! 

Organize:

We have been building and organizing in response to the Ford offensive. In response to attacks on education, we’re engaging union and community activists to take the message to parents in suburban schools. We are pushing back on threats to our health care. We continue to defend public transit, and we are mounting a strong opposition to the privatization of public services. 

Educate:

Political economist Linda McQuaig sums up three key messages that help us understand Ontario’s new reality:

  • The Conservative slogan should be “for the rich people.” 

  • The rules of the game have changed dramatically. This has been achieved by corporations that work very hard to elect those who will change the rules in their favour. 

  • It doesn’t have to be this way – a better world is possible. 

Our goal is to educate Ontarians on the damage being done by the Conservative government and inspire them to take collective action to achieve a more just and progressive society.    

Resist:

It is critical that we keep challenging this government and their corporate friends every day. Yet we recognize we are in a marathon, not a sprint. We need the energy and momentum to maintain an alternative vision and change this government in three years. The fight to protect public education is a key part of the resistance, and through it we are learning how to organize more deeply and hold our elected officials accountable.

In the face of the onslaught, some people may become dispirited or demoralized. But we know that joining in struggle with others is a powerful antidote. Out of knowledge, comes power. Out of struggle, comes leadership and new voices mingling with the wisdom of experience. 

People, working together, can bring justice to all Ontarians.

By John Cartwright   President, Toronto & York Region Labour Council

By John Cartwright
President, Toronto & York Region Labour Council