Will the Ontario Labour Movement Return to Class Struggle as Austerity Deepens?

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 1658 ... September 2, 2018

Will the Ontario Labour Movement Return to Class Struggle as Austerity Deepens?

Sam Gindin and Michael Hurley

The Ontario labour movement is in deep crisis. Some impressive struggles aside, it has been staggering since the end of the great mobilizations of the 1990s. Given the labour movement’s historic role in leading and supporting progressive change, its current disorientation should be a matter of alarm to its members of course, but also to anyone concerned with countering the insatiable greed and social destructiveness of capitalism.

There is a tendency within the Canadian labour movement -- reinforced as we head into Labour Day -- to reduce this crisis to a lack of unity. But the content of ‘unity’ matters and is inseparable from the question of... direction. Battles over jurisdictional claims are certainly destructive. However, in the absence of political struggle, calls for unity can also be used to silence criticism and block difficult debates over vision and strategy. It is the lack of such crucial debates -- which inevitably come with some divisions along the way -- that is perhaps most disturbing about the state of today’s labour movement.

Consider. In the 1930s, the great breakthrough in the American labour movement, which also shaped the Canadian movement, was the birth of the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) and its principle of unionization across skills. But it only came alongside a difficult but necessary exit from the craft-based AFL (American Federation of Labor), a tectonic break that represented profound ideological and strategic differences. When the AFL and CIO came together again in the mid-1950s the ‘harmony’ it brought didn’t bring a stronger, more solidaristic movement. Rather, the newly unified federation, the AFL-CIO, oversaw four decades of stagnation and decline in U.S. unions accompanied by some of the most shameful undermining of working class struggles abroad.

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