Elementary school teachers in Ontario are facing an unusually harsh attack from the provincial government in the negotiation of their collective agreement. Once the champions of teachers against Ontario’s former Progressive Conservative premier Mike Harris, Dalton McGuinty and his Liberals have shown their true colours and are insisting that teachers (about 191,000 in total) accept a wage freeze and a reduction in benefits and sick days, and have resorted to some harsh tactics in order to achieve this.
The McGuinty government has even gone so far as to file a “No-Board” —which puts them in a legal position to lock-out the teachers— without having even sat down at the negotiating table. Further to this, the government has made moves to legislate their proposed contract instead of negotiating a collective agreement with the teachers.
These are tools the bourgeoisie has always had at its disposal, though it is only in the past few years that it has elected to exercise their full potential.
It should come as no surprise that the labour law recognizing and governing the existing social democratic trade unions, which was written for and by the ruling class, has mechanisms built into it for subverting the entire process.
Nearly every major labour dispute in Canada since the 2008 has been resolved using one or another of these mechanisms —usually back-to-work legislation or imposed binding arbitration— and this latest case is simply the logical next step in what is a general campaign to nullify trade unions using their primary weakness: a commitment to bourgeois legality.
If the case of Ontario’s teachers illustrates anything, it’s not that the Liberals are a party of capitalism and austerity —this has been clear for a very, very long time— it’s that the traditional trade unions pursue a dead-end strategy to achieve concessions from a system that cannot afford them, and that only a revolutionary mass movement can effectively challenge the overwhelming might of capitalism and its state, and emerge victorious.