Labour Day: Reviving the Labour Movement
Date: Sunday, September 02 2007
LABOUR DAY SEPTEMBER 2007
Reviving the Labour Movement Through Reviving Class Solidarity
Socialist Project Labour Committee
As Canada and Ontario's labour movement marches in this year's Labour Day
Parade it does so with something to celebrate: an increase in the
provincial minimum wage. That victory, all the more significant for
victories being so rare in recent times, was partial -- amongst other
things it is only being phased in over three years -- but all victories for
working people are partial. Why this achievement merits special celebration
i) It materially matters for hundreds of thousands of workers.
ii) It demonstrated the exciting possibilities of creating spaces through
which immigrant workers and youth could express their frustrations and
mobilize to improve their conditions.
iii) It opened a new door through which the unionized labour movement -- in
various stages of crisis since the Days of Action -- might be revived:
supporting the struggles of non-union workers because it is both the
morally right thing to do and because it contributes to uniting and
building the working class as a potential social force agent.
** What next? **
That victory poses a number of questions. First what will the labour
movement now do to build on this momentum? One option is to move on to
fight for improvements in other standards (such as paid time off). Another
is to raise the ante and get unionization itself more clearly on the
agenda. New minimum standards are themselves an opportunity to do so
because in many cases, these minimum standards are not enforced. And so
there is a powerful opening for the need for a union just to get what the
law allegedly guarantees you. A further campaign might be to take on the
'temp agencies' -- parasites that live off the back of workers -- and
restore this function to public agencies providing a social service.
Second, having experienced the potentials of collective action at the
community level, how can the labour movement strengthen these capacities?
One step is internal: if we really want to make some organizing
breakthroughs, we will have to overcome our sectionalism (divisions over
who 'gets' new members) and develop an effective degree of cooperation that
puts workers and the movement first. Another is external to formal
unionism: there are groups like the Workers Action Center in Toronto that
currently provide services to non-union workers (and have been long-time
activists in the struggle for raising the minimum wage); they should be
encouraged and supported in expanding their work.
[Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on September 4, 2007]