Militant's account of Ontario Strike

HANLY at BrandonU.CA HANLY at BrandonU.CA
Sun Apr 7 20:10:12 MDT 1996

Here is the settlement of the Ontario strike. What does NC think of this?
There is no doubt that the union leaders gave away lots: at least 13,000
to be laid off, and privatization to go ahead. It is a bit better then
nothing and it did as the Globe mentions show the Harris government that
the workers will not just accept anything, that more cuts could mean
more resistance. I would expect that NC would think that this is clearly
a "sell-out". Yet 90 percent of the members voted in favor of the contract.
This is not uncommon. Are 90 percent of members sell-outs? And if they
are how do you expect a more militant leadership to get them to stay out
for greater benefits? Or are you saying just forget about unions altogether.
Unions are hopeless, collaborationist institutions, and should be
Sounds like the impossibilist position of the SOcialist Party of Canada
around 1910. When the miners went on strike on Vancouver island and they were
asked to support the strike the response of the party was: Let them get
beat on the head by capital, it will teach them that only revolution will get
them anywhere. How large is your proletarian LAWV?
  Cheers, Ken Hanly

>from the Militant, vol.60/no.15                         April 15, 1996

  TORONTO - "We are strong and unified. Whatever the
government tries to do, we'll be ready for them," said Ron
Marino, one of 100 Ontario Public Service Employees Union
(OPSEU) members who gathered behind a union banner April 1 and
marched together into work at the Queen Street Mental Health
Centre. The previous day, OPSEU members across Ontario had
voted more than 90 percent in favor of accepting a new
contract and ending the five-week-long strike of 55,000 public
  The Queen Street hospital workers, some still wearing picket
signs, sang "Solidarity Forever" as they marched through the
corridors. Across town, 200 office workers rallied before
entering a government office complex.
  The big-business daily Globe and Mail stated April 1 that
the strikers dealt a "major hit" to the conservative
government of Michael Harris. The Harris administration plans
to cut between 13,000 and 27,000 public employee jobs and
privatize a number of government services. Prior to
negotiations with the union, Harris passed laws abolishing
government workers' rights concerning pension eligibility and
the protection of jobs and union contracts in the case of
  The government's "final" contract offer, rejected by OPSEU
members before the strike, sought to impose short-term
layoffs, and to gut seniority by limiting "bumping" - that is
the right to transfer by seniority to another job instead of
being laid off. Many workers said the offer was a slap in the
face and that Harris was on a union-busting course.
  "The master plan was to break us. To rush us into a strike,
defeat us, and make us a lesson to other unions," said Isan,
an OPSEU striker who participated in a demonstration March 28
against cuts in compensation for injured workers.
  OPSEU members walked out February 26. The union officials
did not challenge the layoffs but advanced demands concerning
severance pay, bumping procedures, pensions, and the impact of
privatization. It was the first strike in the union's history
and the first walkout for many of its members. "The government
thought people would cross the picket line in droves and that
it would be able to break the union," said Winston Walkes, a
nurse at Queen Street Mental Health Centre, where only seven
out of l,000 workers crossed the picket line.
  On March 18, in the midst of mass picketing by thousands of
OPSEU strikers and other unionists at the legislature and
government offices, Harris sent the provincial police riot
squad against the strikers. Several workers were injured and
two were taken to the hospital.
  The police attack made the strikers even more determined and
sparked outrage among working people across the province. The
following week the government agreed to a settlement. It then
demanded reprisals against certain strikers, but backed off
when the union resisted.
  According to a union bulletin summarizing the new contract,
it contains improvements over the government offer rejected by
the strikers.
  There is "enhanced severance pay," "improved bumping"
procedures, "short-term layoffs are not permitted," and there
are some new "provisions that allow laid-off workers near
early retirement to reach their unreduced pension." In regards
to privatization, "the government must make reasonable efforts
to ensure that [OPSEU] members are offered jobs with the new
employer with comparable terms and conditions of employment."
  "This probably means I'm more likely to be bumped," said
Andrew Male. "But I support it because it's more just."
  "The first offer was an insult" said Danielle Larmand, a
nurse at Queen Street hospital. "We've kept our dignity. Now
at least there's a little more protection for our jobs than
  " `Reasonable efforts' doesn't mean a lot," said Andy
Watson, interviewed after voting. He expressed the view of
some workers who said there was little protection against
privatization and layoffs.
  "When we started, most didn't know what a strike was. Now we
know that we're workers and they're management. The lines
between us are very distinct," said Nicki, a nurse at Queen
  "With all the labor unrest you're going to see a lot more
OPSEU members out on picket lines like this," said Barb, an
OPSEU striker who picketed the Woodbine Racetrack March 30
with members of the Service Employees International Union
locked out by management there.
  "Even before the strike I decided to get out to Kitchener,"
said Male, referring to the April 19 day of protest in
Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge planned by the Ontario Federation
of Labor. Kitchener is the third in a series of anti-cutbacks
demonstrations and work stoppages.

  Al Cappe is a member of United Steelworkers of America Local
5338. USWA members Steve Penner and Joanne Pritchard
contributed to this article.

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