Guest Commentary by Gino Giovanni
I never thought I’d be the kinda guy who would expose the absolute failure of organized labour. I’m 26 and grew up in a household of union employees—but the actions of CUPE this week and over the last two and a half years had turned me from a staunch socialist to a liberated libertarian.
As a school custodian, I’m 1 of the 55,000 education workers across Ontario that was duped into an illegal strike on Monday, November 7th. Striking was prohibited under the Keeping Students In Class Act, which made it illegal for CUPE’s education workers to go on strike. It did so by using the notwithstanding clause to override parts of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It also imposed an unfair four-year contract on us. Now I’m no supporter of the legislation which was thankfully withdrawn by the Doug Ford government but below is a detailed account of the absolutely disgusting and disorganized one day strike mess that our union dues are paying for. This is one union that I’d like a divorce from.
I get off the TTC and arrive at the picket line in front of Doug Ford’s local constituency office in Etobicoke along with around 600 other workers from various locals. There is mass confusion. No one knows where to go or what to do. Long line ups form behind a half dozen volunteer ‘Picket Captains’ in orange and yellow safety vests who will record our names on a clipboard in order for us to get our strike pay of $15 per hour. I spend 70 minutes in line.
I reluctantly join the throng of disinterested NPCs (non-player characters) shuffling up and down the street half heartedly waving pre-printed protest signs. Only a militant few believe the slogans they are mindlessly chanting at passing cars. SOLIDARITY FOREVER! CUTS HURT KIDS! HANDS OFF OUR PUBLIC EDUCATION! And the ever so elegant, F**K FORD!
Many of my ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ realize that they’ve already put in two hours so it’s time for a coffee break. And for some a trip to the nearby No Frills. The picket line thins and a long line forms in front of the Tim Hortons down the street, while the inside of No Frills looks like a typical Saturday shopping trip.
Back on the ticket line with a Tims in one hand and a yellow shopping bag in the other, I strike up a conversation with a few other CUPE workers. There is no enthusiasm for the strike. Many say they never voted for it despite the unions’ outrageous claim of a 97% mandate for a strike. Most of them hate Ford, but they also hate the NDP, which CUPE is basically a mouthpiece for. One pink haired past her prime millennial in a SOCIALISM NOW! hoodie I made the mistake of talking to had a lot to say about Doug Ford.
“We should leave his office and go protest in front of his house!” she naively suggested. “Well, that would get you arrested,” I said. “No, it would be a peaceful democratic protest,” she sputtered. “Oh, is that right?” I replied. “They arrested anti mandate protestors like every weekend in front of his house for the last couple of years, actually.” At that point it was clear our solidarity had come to an end and she left for Starbucks (she didn’t offer to bring me anything back, weird.)
The more I talk with different people the more I realize that this was never about the kids. People didn’t actually want to strike, and many believe that the union only needed to justify its existence after months of failed negotiations. We would never have been in a strike situation if they would have done their job and figured out a way to negotiate with the government.
“This is what the resistance looks like!” chant a group of aging typists.
One library worker laughs and leans into me: “Where was all the faux outrage over charter rights violations when the school boards were intimidating, coercing and even firing employees who refused vaccination?”
I know where they were. They were standing on the side of management and the government, collecting grants to ‘help decrease vaccine hesitancy.’
“Respect the Charter?, sneered the petite but powerful secretary to a throng of employees chanting the words.
“The notwithstanding clause is in the Charter, guys. It’s just a section that you don’t like. How about the use of section 1 to restrict the freedoms of all Canadians, during the pandemic.”
A group of ‘Student Marxists’ from York University show up and temporarily hijack the protest. They high five the Picket Captains, pose for selfies with them in front of some problematic flags they’ve brought, and then retire to the Starbucks across the street.
A bunch of EAs (educational assistants) start nattering away about how the union’s $39,000 salary figure is a fake number. The only people making that little are part time workers. They say they’re not paid enough, but it’s dishonest for the union to keep twisting the numbers to suit their narrative.
One bearded dude on the corner has turned into a curbside preacher. A small crowd congregates around him, hanging off his every word.
“Ford didn’t give two shits about students or workers during the pandemic! In person learning was being turned off and on like a lightswitch. We showed them we’ll do whatever we’re told and now they’re using that power over us. It’s a joke. What did you all think the government would do when they saw how easy you gave away your rights the first time?
The word spreads on the picket line that the province is backing down on their legislation and our union has called off the strike. Logically, there was no point to continue protesting. Logic is not a word I would associate with CUPE. Here’s my interaction with the ‘Picket Captain’
Me: Should I sign out with you?
Them: At 3:30
Me: But the strike is over.
Them: Not yet, at 3:30.
Me: But it was on the news.
Them: Oh yeah there was ‘something’ about reported but we have to wait to hear from the union.
Me: Yeah, they were on the news and said they were withdrawing the strike since the Premier is going to repeal and rescind the legislation that made the strike illegal. Ford made a statement, so did the union.
Them: You have to stay till 3:30
Me: But why?
Them: You have to do your time.
Me: That makes no sense.
Them: If has to be fair to the people who did their time already. It’s equality.
Me: Do you mean equity?
Them: Yes, same thing. 3:30!
So I guess we have to all have to listen to you because you have a safety jacket on.
Them: That’s the way it is.
Me: Oh, right makes sense, because of communism.
Despite the exasperated calls of picket captains to the crowd, workers start to leave. Some publicly, some casually disappearing into a side street never to be seen again.
Our group of 600 strong has shrunk to around 40 people either too dumb to leave or waiting for rides. I’m curious to see the organization of this shit show come to an end so I hang out. Also, my bus hasn’t arrived.
Cars have stopped honking in support of workers. Maybe they have radios and know that the issue, for today at least, is resolved. What was the point of walking out for the day? What was the point of the government issuing then undoing the legislation? It’s all a game to these people and we’re just pawns.
I get a self-congratulatory email from my union. It reads: “We won the battle! Your worker power has won, continue the fight, stand down, allies.”
I process the militaristic terms as though this were an actual battle. It’s not, it’s a wage negotiation. My bus pulls up, I shrug and leave. Am I part of the resistance now?