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Austerity, Class War, and Classrooms: Why We Need Community Unionism

editorial from CLASSROOM

by Classroom

(Download the complete newsletter from the IWW website)

In recent times, organized labour has been ineffective in rallying its membership and the broader working class community against the continued assault on working people through the capitalist austerity agenda - downloading the costs of the 2008 economic crisis via lower wages and cuts to public services. More urgently, the government is attempting to make strikes illegal and to erode our collective bargaining rights.

The Government of Ontario has imposed a public sector wage freeze for the next two years and shrunk the legal number of sick days from twenty to ten – effectively seeking to cut a benefit that allowed workers to collect unclaimed sick days for a retirement payout up to $46,000. Predictably, the unions’ official position has been to essentially “hold the line” on benefits. These demands are, by their nature, insular to the concerns of its membership and aren’t likely to inspire support in non-unionized workers who depend on services staffed by public sector trade unions.

One way of combating the cynicism and disconnectedness of the wider working class from the struggles of organized labour is for unions to take a more combative perspective on the capitalist crisis and its effects in restructuring the public sector services gained by the post-war generation. This should mean the building of solidarity unionism - raising the demands of the community and fighting for the defence of the public education system. This is especially critical, given that the “Drummond Report” on Education details cuts to full-day kindergarden (acting as a buffer for childcare) and education support staff, and calls for the introduction of de facto tuition fees for high school students taking extra courses. These attacks against the public education system need to be at the forefront of demands made by our unions that seeks to legitimize themselves in the eyes of working people in Ontario by taking up the role of defending our class and classrooms.

What’s needed for today’s labour movement is to distance itself from unsustainable traditional trade union practices. It should also recognize that political solutions in the social-democratic left have resulted in little by way of sustainable gains for working people. It’s unclear what social-democratic parties can do to protect working people from a globalized capitalist environment that will likely see capitalists divest assets needed to fund the coffers of the state to provide public services. Even when the “left” wins by the electoral means – parties are under enormous pressure to cede their social-democratic aspirations to accommodate the needs of capitalism.
A fighting labour movement with ambitions to win wider class solidarity must not fall into the trap of social-democracy or liberalism; relegating our fellow workers to act as little more than the foot-soldiers of the so-called “progressive” electoral machine. We cannot short-cut class solidarity through these electoral vehicles, but rather we should create an organic united front of our class and our unions through collective community demands. Change will not sustained through the ballot box, but by establishing meaningful relations between our labour movement and the working class through the slogan of community demands and class defense

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