Here’s my take on the May Day CUPE Sponsored Workshops in Ottawa on Saturday, the 27th of April:
It was an interesting affair for its lamentations and the myriad problems it laid forth with little emerging by way of tactics, however, and certainly no overall strategy. Unions can’t even wrestle concentrated concern from their members, it would seem, let alone solidarity - which means that, even though they’re already in a knife fight in a phone booth, they can’t even dream of organizational solidarity across unions lets alone with other progressive organizations of the left. And, when you think about it, all the unions really have left as a weapon is solidarity since negotiations and the strike have in effect been taken from them under the Harper Regime in the name of “the economy."
Unless working people (union and nonunion) start thinking of themselves as a class rather than focusing on their same old micro-political and boutique concerns they are doomed to failure in my judgment. They have capitulated once too often already out of fear, and they appear not to have drawn a line in the sand - a line which cannot possibly be drawn albeit so long as they remain disorganized as a political force. As one worker at the Ottawa Hospital put it to me, the stark dilemma is ”do we move ahead with those already on board or do we wait for an even deeper crisis to catch the rest up?” There is no guarantee of course that even with a more serious crisis the rest would take up solidarity cudgels.
I see little hope for the left or the possibility of systemic transformation without the institutional participation of labour unions. Their struggle is ours, in that sense, but, unless labour radicalizes itself soon, it appears to be a struggle in vain.
May 10: Addendum:
I really do believe - and its not just the socialist in me driving my conviction - that organized labour ( the union movement) is the only potential political force with enough critical mass and enough organizational capability to get things moving. But unions, like the Council of Canadians and countless other progressive groups, have to get over what American economic historian Gar Alperovitz calls “projectism” in order to move towards any sort of strategy involving systemic undoing. Of course I've been arguing this latter point for a year or so, but my sense of the potential pragmatic power of unions if they can surmount their fears is recent.
I think other progressive groups should give them a push offering all out support for their efforts, for the war against unions and the suppression of wages and benefits is a war against all working people and the middle class.