Thoughts on Strike Breaking

It’s been a long time since the Honourable David Croll resigned from the Ontario cabinet stating “I would rather walk with the workers than ride with General Motors.” It recent times it has almost become a badge of honour for politicians to oppose organised labour, up to and including organising strike breaking efforts. This became very apparent in the recent strike by employees of the City of Toronto.

City Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, a former NDP MPP, who served as a union local president and the first declared candidate for next year’s election for mayor of Toronto organised residents to do the job of striking municipal employees. Two other possible candidates for the mayor of Toronto—provincial liberal cabinet member George Smitherman and former Ontario Progressive Conservative Party leader John Tory also organised strike breaking initiatives. And not only local politicians—one prominent charity War Child Canada also organised efforts to do the work of striking employees. Its past president, Eric Hoskins , won a recent provincial by-election for the Ontario liberals.

With these examples before them it is not surprising that Vale Inco promotes the using of scab labour during the strike in Sudbury or that Cadillac Fairview has locked out and then fired all their unionized staff and replaced them with non-union labour. If successful politicians gain votes from strike breaking, it gives legitimacy to anti-union activities in the broader world.

Strikebreaking has a long and dishonourable history. Sometimes it involves the direct hiring of replacement workers. At times it involves other forces doing the work of those on strike. It pressures unions to back down and creates permanent tensions in the workplace, giving even more power to management than it already has in the always uneven struggle between employers that own the jobs and those that are leasing their labour power.

While private sector and government employers have brought in strike breakers in the past, it has rarely been done with so much direct involvement by politicians and so little outrage.

This bodes poorly for the future well-being of society. The stronger the union movement the stronger all aspects of civil society are. Unions create a work in which there is more justice in the work place, greater community accountability and an ongoing pressure for a more egalitarian society. It is not surprising that a strong independent union movement is opposed by totalitarian and authoritarian states. It is far more surprising when attacks on the union movement becomes wide spread even amoung those that have benefited, and continue to benefit, from the union movement. And it does become frightening when political leaders feel that setting an example by strikebreaking is something helpful in a politicial career in a liberal democratic society.

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