The victory won by 55,000 school workers in Ontario, members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, is an important victory for all working people and our unions. Defying the provincial government’s imposition of a new anti-strike law, they went out anyway and forced the government to rescind their attack on labor. Solidarity with their refusal to buckle to the government, and their fight for better pay and conditions, was won across the labor movement.
The government’s drive to cripple the strike shows it is not neutral, but a tool in the hands of the bosses. As long as they hold power, state intervention is always aimed at fortifying their class interests, and denying workers the right to wield the power of our numbers and decisive place in production and commerce.
Workers can use our unions to fight for what we need. Our labor produces all wealth and we can win. Bosses get their own way only if we don’t join together, reach out for solidarity and fight for what we need.
Ontario Premier Douglas Ford is not alone wielding government authority to ban union action. President Joseph Biden has invoked the Railway Labor Act to force rail unions into years of enforced mediation, “cooling-off” periods, a Presidential Emergency Act of more mediation, barring them from going on strike.
Biden’s Labor Secretary, Marty Walsh, now threatens to get Congress to outlaw any strike and impose a settlement. They intend to prevent rail workers from having access to the strike weapon as they look for ways to resist bosses’ attacks that worsen conditions, making work more dangerous. They fear the power rail workers have to shut down the movement of goods.
For decades U.S. bosses have relied on the Democratic and Republican parties to pass laws and impose injunctions impeding workers’ right to strike. To fight, workers have had to use their own power. This requires a sober judgment of the relationship of class forces. Throughout the sit-down strikes that forged industrial unions in the 1930s, and since, workers had to overcome company thugs, government intervention, cop assaults, court injunctions, the National Guard, even U.S. troops.
During World War II, Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt was the bosses’ chief strikebreaker, enforcing a no-strike pledge and freezing wages. In defiance of the government, coal miners struck in 1943. When Roosevelt threatened to use the army to force them back to work, miners were not intimidated. They refused to go back, pointing out, “You can’t dig coal with bayonets.” Their victory opened a new wave of labor struggles.
The example set by the Ontario school workers shows that laws aimed at preventing workers from striking can be defeated. Government intervention to hamstring unions also shows the class reality under capitalism. It shows that workers need to act in our own interests on political questions as well as on the picket line. The U.S. rulers have two major parties to advance their assaults on workers. We need a party of our own, a labor party based on our unions, that can act as a tribune for all the exploited and chart a road to replace capitalist rule with a government of workers and farmers.