Striking Mississauga Library workers, represented by CUPE Local 1989, recently won an important victory in contract negotiations. Ratification occurred on July 26th, after almost three weeks on strike. During the strike, Socialist Fightback Students joined the picket line in a show of student-worker solidarity. In a time of few gains, this victory highlights the power of the working class and the need for collective solidarity.
With a 96% strike vote, the workers said “enough is enough” to the cuts they have faced over the years and rejected the original offer by their employer, the City of Mississauga. The City presented a meagre salary increase, which would not even keep up with inflation. This offer also excluded library “pages”, entry-level workers who make up the largest and lowest paid group of library workers. While those on the bottom were offered crumbs, upper management treated themselves to healthy bonuses. Rose Vespa, Director of Library Services, was offered a 7.36% increase on top of her $176,000 salary. After two years of below-inflation 0.5% salary increases, this proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back and fueled the strike.
The workers united, will never be defeated!
While the community supported and joined the picket lines, the City of Mississauga used one trick after another to disrupt the strike. In the first week, Rose Vespa (Director of Library Services) emailed striking workers to imply that CUPE had deceived the workers into a strike. This is far from the truth and it was the rank-and- file workers who were demanding that a fair settlement be reached.
We interviewed Laura Kaminker, CUPE local 1989 Union President, and she described the mood of the strike: “on the line, everyone was in it together, high-wage workers, low-wage workers came together and felt that unity.” While the City attempted to frame the question of better working conditions as a gain for either full-time or part- time workers, the natural unity between the full-time and part-time workers on the picket line quickly cut across the City’s propaganda.
When students and workers from Fightback went out to support the strike, we noticed the presence of security guards and several managers to “monitor” the workers. To quote one of the workers we chatted with: “if the city had put the money they used on watching us into a better offer, maybe we wouldn’t even need to be out here.” The reality is that it is never a question of the funds available as much as it is about how those funds are to be distributed.
Gains of the strike
Mississauga library workers fought and won a $15 per hour wage for their part-time workers including the “pages”, to be applied immediately. These are the first workers in this sector to achieve higher than minimum wage! This is a massive gain, especially for students and young workers who make up the largest section of part-time and precarious labour.
All workers will be receiving a 1.75% annual wage increase for the next four years on their current contract with the City. This is a significant increase from the amount originally offered. In a time where few gains are made for the labour movement, Mississauga library workers showed the power of collective struggle and the natural unity between part-time and full-time workers, as well as between students and workers.
Importance of libraries
Libraries offer a variety of public programs and services that, in the face of cuts and the increased cost of living, play a vital role in our communities. This is particularly important for low-income neighbourhoods. With programs ranging from newcomer services, educational programming, seniors services and employment support, library workers play a day-to- day role in the functioning of our communities. Yet, despite their importance, libraries are often one of the first places to see cuts in funding. This speaks to the desire of right-wing governments to lower taxes for their rich friends, no matter what effect this has for the rest of society.
The need for solidarity!
It is with great enthusiasm that we at Fightback congratulate the brave library workers who demonstrated the strength that lies in unity. Students organized in the Socialist Fightback Clubs of York University, University of Toronto, and Ryerson, coordinated with militant workers to organize a few days of solidarity action for the striking library workers. We joined the picket line, chatted with the workers about strike developments, and strengthened the unity between students and workers.
Together, workers and students create a force capable of fighting back against austerity and improving the living conditions for the majority in society. As the struggle for decent living standards continues, it becomes all the more imperative to spread unity to the different branches of labour and youth, from the factories to the universities. Join us in helping more workers win, just like the Mississauga Library workers!