The Ontario Liberals have tabled back-to-work legislation to end the strike at York University that has now entered its tenth week. This represents a direct attack on the labour movement and an attempt to break CUPE 3903, a union local that has been at the forefront of struggle in the university sector.
On Saturday, May 5th the York administration released a statement calling on all Ontario MPP’s to support back-to-work legislation. However, this is not a new position for the administration. From the very beginning of the strike, the administration refused to negotiate at the bargaining table.They have pushed for significant concessions from the teaching assistants and lecturers, including slashing 800 graduate assistant jobs, reducing job security and clawing back TA funding.
Five weeks into the strike, the administration moved to a state-administered forced ratification vote on the concessionary deal they were offering the workers. At that forced vote, the workers came out in large numbers and voted an overwhelmingly 86% against the contract being offered. It should be noted that the workers had already rejected this deal just prior to the strike beginning. This showed that the university bosses did not care to reach an agreement with the workers, that they were bent on pursuing concessions, and that they were openly contemptuous of the strikers.
Following this defeat at the ratification vote, the employer then pursued binding arbitration and continued to demand concessions. Nonetheless, the workers fought stubbornly and insisted that any agreement would be reached through struggle on the picket lines and at the bargaining table.
The true intentions of the employer have now become clear. Instead of bargaining, they were holding out for state intervention, trying to exhaust the union and hoping that the chaos caused to the school term would be blamed on the TAs and lecturers. Their strategy was to rely on the government to repress the democratic right of the workers to withhold their labour.
Now, the Ontario Liberals have stepped in to break the strike by tabling this legislation. Hot on the heels of the back-to-work legislation used to break the college teachers strike in the fall, this shows the true pro-business and anti-worker face of Kathleen Wynne and the Ontario Liberals. Instead of insisting that the administration reach a deal at the bargaining table or providing adequate funding to universities to ensure quality education and good jobs, the Liberals are actively intervening to force the workers to accept a concessionary deal by taking away their democratic rights.
An attack on the entire labour movement
This legislation represents a significant attack on education workers, and the labour movement more generally. We can see how allowing this strike-breaking legislation to go through against the college teachers in the fall prepared the grounds for this attempt to break the York University strike.
Passing such laws sends a message to employers that they can push for concessions, ignore the demands of their workers, and if the workers go on strike, wait for the government to step in and crush them. If legislation like this goes through unchallenged, it can have a demoralizing and chilling effect on other workers who are considering taking strike action.
The NDP parliamentary caucus must do everything in its power to stop back-to-work legislation from passing. The first attempt to move the legislation on Monday morning was thwarted by the refusal of the NDP to support a discussion on the motion. The entire labour movement must pressure the NDP to defeat this legislation. However, this in itself is not enough. The labour movement cannot depend on parliamentary measures by the NDP caucus to defeat back-to-work legislation, especially when the Liberal party has an absolute majority.
What is needed is a mass mobilization to defeat the union-busting legislation. CUPE 3903 has called an emergency rally today at Queen’s Park which Fightback is mobilizing workers and students for. This mobilization must be intensified. The entire labour movement must come out to support CUPE 3903 and defeat back-to-work legislation. The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) must immediately call for a mass demonstration at Queen’s Park, and the entire labour movement must mobilize its forces into the struggle.
If the legislation is passed, the labour movement must be prepared to defy it. Employers will refuse to bargain, and governments will continue to smash workers’ democratic rights, so long as the organized labour movement lets them do so. None of the democratic rights present in society were ever given away freely by the rich and powerful. They were all won in struggle. We have to remember that even forming unions was once illegal in Canada. If workers then were not prepared to defy union-busting laws, we would not have the rights we have today.
A concrete plan must be drawn up, not just in CUPE 3903, but across the labour movement to defy such legislation if it passes. This will mean mass mobilization to bolster picket lines, organizing mass rallies, and launching solidarity strikes. Socialist Fightback Students stand firmly with CUPE 3903 and will be mobilizing for solidarity action.
An injury to one is an injury to all!
Strike to win! Victory to CUPE 3903!
Defeat the back-to-work legislation!
The labour movement must organize solidarity action for CUPE 3903!