By David Bush
The Rally for Decent Work on October 1st is an important moment for Ontario’s labour movement. After years of legislative attacks and austerity directed at workers, the rally is a chance to build the movement for $15 and Fairness, push for positive legislative change for workers, and put real pressure on both employers and politicians.
In February of 2015, the Liberal government announced their Changing Workplaces Review, a full-scale review of both the Employment Standards Act (ESA) and the Labour Relations Act (LRA). This review, the first major examination of the ESA and LRA in over a decade, consisted of consultations with labour, community, and business groups from June to September of that year by Special Advisors appointed by the government.
Creating the Fight for $15 and Fairness
In response to the review and the growth in precarious work, workers and activists — many of whom worked previously on the Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage — came together to launch the $15 and Fairness campaign in the spring of 2015.
Workers debated and decided on a list of demands for the campaign. These include calling for seven paid sick days for all workers, the abolition of exemptions in labour standards, fair scheduling, and making it easier to join and keep a union.
Inspired by the movement in the United States, workers also called for a $15 minimum wage. Even though the issue of minimum wage was not technically under review, workers felt that the Liberals should not set the agenda for the movement. Workers who crafted the campaign demands saw them as ambitious enough to inspire and help build a movement, while also feeling like they were achievable within the next few years.
The 24 demands of the campaign, ranging from increasing the minimum wage to improving enforcement of employment standards, articulate a bold working-class political agenda for Ontario. The demands would dramatically raise the floor for workers in the province and strengthen the confidence and power of unionized and non-unionized workers alike.
Rebuilding Ontario’s labour movement
For the last number of years the labour movement in Ontario has been racked by infighting.
The last major protest mobilizations organized by labour were centred around defensive struggles between 2009 and 2013 when employers and the government were attempting to run roughshod over workers’ rights and livelihoods. The EMD lockout, the U.S. Steel lockout, the Vale Inco strike, the protest against Bill 115 and the G20 saw the labour movement organize large protest mobilizations.
In recent years however, the labour movement, outside of the Stop Hudak campaign, has been largely quiet when it comes to mass mobilizations.
Not all of the Ontario labour movement is even onboard with the Fight for $15 and Fairness. While not directly hostile to it, parts of the labour movement are missing out on the chance to help inspire and mobilize low wage workers who currently don’t have unions. Organizing these workers are an essential part of a renewed and fighting labour movement in Ontario that can win.
We need a broad and united effort in the Ontario labour movement for not just improved legislation, but winning a $15 minimum wage. The $15 and Fairness campaign is our chance to rebuild working-class power from the bottom-up by uniting union and non-union workers. The October 1 rally is an opportunity to shake off the rust of inaction and infighting and escalate the fight for improved working conditions for all. If the Ontario movement can do this it can achieve major victories like those in Seattle, California, and New York State.