Terence Corcoran: Hey, Canada! How about a general strike?

It’s only been 100 years since the last

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Across the country and around the world, major global economic and political challenges – China, COP27, US elections, recession, inflation, G20, Indo-Pacific relations, Russia – hit the fan as tempting targets for columnists looking for fodder . But there’s a little whirlwind of local Canadian news that got sucked up by fans last week and deserves a brief retrospective, in part because it continues to generate snippets of comment and excitement among leftists and trade unionists.

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It’s not just the left that is fascinated by the idea that Ontario’s labor movement, led by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), scored a major victory early last week when Premier Doug Ford withdrew his Bill 28 to use the notwithstanding clause of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to prevent the province’s 55,000 education workers from going on strike. On the National, CBC’s flagship program, the weekly “At Issue” panel joined the unanimous media chorus last Thursday in condemning the Ford government for threatening to take away a Charter right to strike. Except it’s not in the Charter, as noted in this space last week. The right was instead coined by the Supreme Court of Canada in a 2015 decision.

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Around the water cooler here at FP Comment, CBC’s “At Issue” panel is affectionately known as the “No Issue” panel, since the four reporters rarely disagree and usually spend their time tripping over each other. on others as they move towards the same conclusion. In this case, the “No problem” panel unanimously concluded that CUPE had successfully fought off Ford’s offensive use of the notwithstanding clause by forming a public coalition with other public and private sector unions around of the threat to hold a “general strike”.

The idea that a threat of a general strike, backed by public and private sector unions, forced Ford to back down is now part of Canadian labor relations lore and legend. CUPE national president Mark Hancock said his union “took on the Ford government and the government turned a blind eye”. Another union leader said: ‘Workers, united, will shut down this province whenever we need it.’

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It’s wonderful, classic union rhetoric, which in this case fails to acknowledge the facts, that the education workers who had threatened to strike did not go on strike and returned to the negotiations. Essentially, the union backed out of its strike threat after Ford decided to strip it of the ability to strike. Perhaps the labor movement has realized that engaging in a legal battle for the right to shut down the school system and plunge millions of parents into a childcare nightmare may not be the right thing to do. smarter option.

Yet the legend of the great general strike of 2022 continues to spread. Stephanie Ross, director of labor studies at McMaster University, told CBC Radio over the weekend that a general strike in Ontario could even have spread across the country. During an interview, Ross was asked, “If Premier Ford hadn’t backed down on Bill 28, what would people have faced on Monday?” What would this general strike have looked like?

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According to his webpage, Ross’ academic focus is “how ordinary people bring about social change through collective action in the face of powerful opposing forces…(and) effectively create more egalitarian socio-economic arrangements while fostering forms depths of democratic participation. In response to the question, Ross said there were “certain indicators” that a general strike “could have meant” that the people of Ontario would have seen auto workers, postal workers, the service industry, transport and others “leaving their jobs in support of education workers.

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Oh good? The only real indicator came from the public list of leaders of other unions — Unifor, United Steelworkers, Canadian Labor Congress — who appeared to support plans to shut down the provincial economy.

With union membership falling to less than 30% of the Canadian workforce and the economy bracing for a recession, it is hard to imagine how union leaders could organize a provincial or national strike that would be without precedent in modern times — unless one considers the great Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 a modern day event. Described by the Canadian Encyclopedia as the largest strike in Canadian history, it was a six-week walkout by 30,000 workers who closed factories, stores, public transport and municipal services. Despite disputes and arrests, the strike “did not immediately succeed in empowering workers and improving working conditions”, although it was able to unify the working classes. “Some of its participants helped establish what is now the New Democratic Party.”

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Another obstacle to a 2022 general strike, conceded by McMaster’s Ross, is that “sympathy strikes are not formally legal in Canada.” Is the Canadian labor movement, which claims to be rock solid behind the Charter of Rights, ready to mount an illegal picket line around the Ontario or Canadian economies and deny others the right to work?

And now there is talk in activist circles of using general strikes to achieve other goals. “After the resurgence of work in Ontario, is it time for a general strike for the climate? asked the National Observer. Answer: No. There is no resumption of the workforce, a general strike would be illegal, and Canadians are unlikely to support a general strike, whatever the motive.

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