Hundreds of Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) stores are closed in Ontario, as part of an historic, provincewide strike by 9,000 members of the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union (OPSEU).

The strike, the first in the LCBO’s history, follows years of cuts, increased workloads and privatisation schemes—under the cover of “customer choice.”

In plain language, the Ford government is working to cut these workers’ unionized jobs and contract their work out to private, non-unionized corporate monopolies like Mac’s and Couche-Tard. This will inevitably drag down working conditions for the rest of us.

Now, the workers have shut the stores down, correctly holding Premier Doug Ford responsible for Ontario’s “dry summer”.

This strike has been supported, in words, by the leaders of Ontario’s main unions, but more must be done to beat back the Ford government’s attacks. The whole labour movement must be mobilized to support the LCBO workers in this fight.

Communist Revolution visited the picket lines this weekend to discuss the strike and the broader struggle against the Ford government. These interviews have been edited for length and clarity. 

Jessica Scriver, casual LCBO worker and OPSEU Local 497 union steward

Communist Revolution: What’s your position at the LCBO?

Jessica Scriver: I’m a casual employee with the LCBO. I’m part of that 70 per cent of LCBO workers who are casual and looking for benefits and job security and guarantees that we’re not going to lose our jobs.

I have a six-and-a-half-year-old son. I’ve been working with the LCBO for two and a half years, and I’m still two and a half years away from qualifying for health benefits. My son was a toddler when I started working for the LCBO and I’m not going to qualify for benefits until he’s old enough to start playing on intramural sports teams, which is just insane.

The average [LCBO worker] takes between seven years and a decade to get full-time employment, which is full medical benefits and the entitlement to sick days and protections. Right now if they were to close my store, I would have to hope I had enough hours for EI. I wouldn’t be entitled to any severance after two and a half years, despite working just as much as any part-time worker at any retail setting would, which is the biggest thing.

CR: What’s the mood been like on the picket lines?

JS: I was expecting it to be obviously very positive with the employees and we’ve been having a great time keeping spirits up. People have been extremely positive and supportive. They’ve been yelling and thumbs-upping out of the cars and letting us know, “We support you.”

I think we can keep it up for as long as we need to and it looks like we’ve got the public on our side so far, so it’s a really nice feeling.

Reshawn Walcott, LCBO customer service representative, member of OPSEU Local 5111.

Communist Revolution: What is it like working at the LCBO? What is a typical workday like?

Reshawn Walcott: A lot of people say that this job is an easy job. It’s really not. It’s a lot of work. It’s a very taxing job.

My typical day would be I’d come into work. I’d count my till like most any retail employee and I’d [plug] into the cash. But recently, a lot of my work has actually been in the back. I’ve been loading a lot of the products to then go out and put them into the store. It’s been a lot of heavy lifting and having to learn how to actually use heavy machinery.

CR: There are about 9,000 LCBO workers on strike right now across Ontario. How is the strike going? What has the mood been like on the picket lines?

RW: We’re actually having these conversations about what we want, what we think, what we think about our current government. It’s funny, during one of our chants we started chanting, we want Ford out! 

Usually at work, we’re not having these conversations. We’re just focused on work! 

CR: What’s the mood like in the union in general? 

RW: This is the first time we have actually gone on strike, which is historic. We are the kind of people who [when] we get threatened, we back down and we say, “OK, we’ll compromise.” 

We’re not compromising now. 

Justin Bouillon, part-time casual LCBO customer service representative and cashier, PhD philosophy student at Queen’s University

Communist Revolution: What are LCBO workers fighting for in this strike?

Justin Bouillon: I can say what we’re fighting for as far as what’s on the picket signs—fighting against Doug Ford. At the end of the day, I think we’re fighting for better long-term employment opportunities at the LCBO. We’re fighting so that the corporation doesn’t go into private hands.

CR: Job security seems to be the big demand from LCBO workers on the picket lines. It appears Doug Ford is trying to bust the union and set a precedent for other public services in Ontario.

JB: It seems like the union’s been left with no choice. I don’t quite know what the end goal is for the LCBO. I heard that Doug Ford just wants to make it wholesale.

The mood on the picket line has been optimistic. People are in good spirits and we’re getting a lot of generally positive reception from the public, lots of people making noise in solidarity for us. 

I just wonder, how is this going to get to Doug Ford? What kind of pressure is this putting on him? I get that it’s putting pressure on the LCBO. But if they’ve already had plans to just wipe this retail side of things away, then I feel like this might just stamp us out for good.

It needs to become more of a political movement. I think this strike is caught in the middle of that.

The LCBO can come to an agreement with us, but then what’s going to happen if Doug Ford just continues to roll out his plan? We’re on strike with the LCBO, not with Doug Ford. We need to strike the government.