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Build the stewards’ assembly

By: 
Carolyn Egan

March 5, 2019

A stewards’ assembly is taking place on March 25th called by the Toronto and York Region Labour Council. Over 1,000 labour activists are expected to attend, and the focus is to develop strategies to take on the attacks by Ontario’s Ford government. This is the time for bold actions. Rhetoric from trade union leaders is no longer enough as we see announcements coming one after another slashing health care and student grants, privatizing services, attacking unions and student federations.

The trade union movement can’t wait until all we have won is gone. It has to take on the task of mobilizing its membership to fight back, working with communities to challenge the provincial government. We have seen the Tories pull back on their plans to allow developers to destroy the green belt surrounding Toronto and the parents of autistic children have put them to shame about their plans to cut funding and services. This shows that they are vulnerable to organized pressure and this has to be ramped up a hundred fold.

There is some light on the horizon. The Canadian Union of Postal Workers has demanded that Canada Post revamp its truck fleet, which is the largest in Canada, and change it to electric power as part of the union’s climate justice agenda. It is suggesting that auto assembly plants such as GM Oshawa which is scheduled to close be retooled for this purpose, which would save thousands of good union jobs. GM is clamping down on workers who have mobilized walkouts and put up barricades outside GM HQ. Their example has inspired workers at feeder auto parts plants to do the same. The Tory government has said it will do nothing to stop the closure. There are tremendous examples in our history where workers have taken militant actions themselves and won real victories. The Political Action Committee at Unifor Local 222 in Oshawa did a study session the 1937 autoworkers’ sit-down strike in Flint, Michigan. This is what we have to return to.

Sting and the cast of The Last Ship, an incredibly inspiring musical on workers taking control of their own destiny, took the production to Oshawa. It tells the story of corporate owners and governments treating the shipyard workers with contempt and how they organized to take them on.


The cast performed before an audience of GM workers at a local centre in an act of solidarity. Those present were incredibly moved by the actions of the actors and inspired by
the message which put workers in the forefront of history. It was very uplifting to those who saw it and gave confidence that they can take on their corporate bosses.

This is the spirit that should infuse the stewards’ assembly and workers have to leave the event with a clear plan on how to bring this into their workplaces. We know that in every workplace there is a small number of activists, and an even smaller number of pro-management members, but the vast majority is in the middle going about their daily lives. Our job is to connect with that majority and bring them on side in the fight against the cutback agenda and attacks on unions. We did it before when Conservative leader Tim Hudak threatened to bring in “right to work” legislation when running for Premier and we can do it again.

There is tremendous discontent in society today. It is why we see centre parties failing around the world, as people are being drawn to both the right and the left. The truck convoy to Ottawa in defense of the failing oil industry, Corbyn winning Labour in the UK, the rise of the Democratic Socialists of America and the ‘yellow jackets’ in France are all examples. We have to play our role and make an absolute priority of taking bold steps to fight the right and take on the attacks of governments and corporations. The stewards’ assembly in Toronto can be 
the spark that sets us on this course.

For more information about the assembly please see: https://www.facebook.com/events/317593278895482/
 

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