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Steelworkers against Hudak

Carolyn Egan

March 6, 2014

Over one 160 Steelworker activists crowded into their union hall in downtown Toronto checking their state of readiness if Tim Hudak, leader of the Tories, becomes the next premier of the province. Even though he has backed down on his threat to role back the Rand Formula, which would have allowed workers to opt out of paying union dues, no one felt that they could trust anything he said.
These members came from primarily private but also public sector work places and discussed how Hudak’s policy paper on creating “One Million Jobs” was a frightening outline of his intention to declare all out war on public sector workers. He promised to do away with 10,000 education jobs, and freeze wages for every government worker.
A recent article in the New York Times showed the devastation that has taken place in the state of Wisconsin. State employee unions now can only negotiate wage rates and this is tied to inflation. Seniority provisions, grievance procedures, just cause for termination, health and safety regulations have all been gutted. Members have to pay a much greater share of their benefits and in most instances this as resulted in a 10 per cent reduction in wages.
Hudak is trying to drive a wedge between public and private sector workers by denouncing defined benefit pension plans and other hard won gains. He is pushing the politics of envy, “if I don’t have it why should they.”  The Steelworkers in that hall recognized that an attack on public sector unions will also weaken private sector unions. They saw through his lies and we have to bring this understanding into all of our workplaces.
This US Republican “Tea Party” style programme recognizes that trade unions are the strongest defence that working people and the poor have to fight back against the so called “austerity agenda.” The intent of right wing politicians on both side of the border is to dramatically decrease the capacity of unions to defend both their members and the broader community. Hudak’s plan is to smash the union movement in this province.
Only 15 per cent of private sector workers are unionized in Ontario and the corporations are doing all they can to demand concessions and bring in two-tiered wages. The goal is to create a low wage economy with workers’ rights greatly diminished. We have seen long fights at Vale Inco, US Steel and other corporations where workers stood their ground for many long months before they were forced to bite the bullet and take the roll backs which will particularly affect new and primarily younger workers.
Steelworkers are on strike now at Crown Packaging in Toronto. They have been out for over six months and not one of them has crossed the line. Recently they rejected by 100 per cent another concessions agreement and are standing firm not only for their own future but for every working person in this country. Whenever a company wins it is a blow against the entire working class. Solidarity is crucial in struggles such as these to ensure that workers understand they are not alone and that we fully appreciate they are fighting for all of us.
Build the resistance
The reason that Hudak should not be believed is that he made it clear he is ideologically committed to doing away with the Rand Formula. He wants to make sure in any way he can that workers do not have union protection in their work places. He backed down because there has been a real push back on his proposal. Even from within the ranks of the Tory party, candidates have seen it as a problem in the upcoming election. This same scenario took place in Michigan where the present Republican governor promised that he would not introduce such legislation if elected. Surprise, surprise once in power it was introduced and is now law in a state which was often seen as the heart of the trade union movement in the United States.
We have seen in the United States how seductive and convincing the anti-union appeals to union members can be. The argument that they should have the “choice” not to pay their dues has resulted in dramatic decreases in union membership. We have to do everything we can to continue to dig deep into our membership.
We have to listen to the concerns of workers about what their issues and concerns are, and talk about how we can change our unions from the bottom up. We have to talk about the need for rank and file controlled unions where the members are setting the agenda. We have to have the face to face conversation with our fellow workers about the need for union representation and how their union must represent their interests.
There is a huge threat to the working class in this province. Working people and the poor could loose the only organized force that could push back the “austerity agenda,” working along side community movements. We have a huge opportunity to rebuild our unions in every workplace and use the collective power that is our as workers to build a better world. 

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