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The time to strike is now

OCTOBER 2, 1996 – The term ‘jobless recovery’ perfectly describes the state of the Canadian economy. There is statistical growth, but unemployment is stuck at obscene levels.

But even if the current recovery is jobless, it does create better conditions for workers to wrench gains from both employers and the state than existed in the early 1990s.

During the desperate slump of 1989-1992, every day brought news of factory closings and layoffs.

The situation is different today. There are still layoffs. There is still high unemployment. But there are also plants putting on more shifts, hiring more workers.

Chrysler announced, after settling with the CAW, that it was looking to adding a third shift, and 1,000 workers, in 1998 to its plant in Bramalea, Ontario.[1]

That is why Chrysler was so keen to settle with its unionized workers. They need production now while the economy is a little healthier. We need to use this to strike hard and quickly.

There are signs that many workers know this.

Last month in British Columbia, a wildcat shut down five mills belonging to International Forest Products Ltd.[2]

In Halifax, a long occupation of a Canada Employment Office threatened with closure, ended in victory.[3]

And of course, there are the series of one-day strikes in Ontario which have all shown a tremendous willingness to fight on the part of the rank and file.

The next one-day strike is Toronto October 25. Union leaders have been building it with one hand tied behind their back.

To date they are not calling it a strike. They are afraid that this will “raise expectations.” They should raise their own expectations.

Strike levels are at levels not seen since the 1970s.

We have seen Westin workers and RMG telemarketers win outright victories from intransigent employers.[4] We have seen OPSEU workers stop the Tories from breaking their union. We have seen Jockey Club workers reject three contracts and go back to work with their heads held high.[5] And we have seen one-day shutdowns of workplaces in London, Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge and Peterborough.

We can shut Toronto down October 25.

And with a lead from the top, there would be a call to make it the first day of a province-wide strike that would stay out until the Tories were defeated.

As this is being written, 3,000 CAW workers in Oshawa had jumped the gun and walked out in advance of a midnight strike deadline, in a dispute with General Motors over outsourcing.

They were set to be followed by all 15,000 employees in Oshawa and Ste.-Thérèse. Next week GM’s remaining employees, about 26,000 in total, will join the strike.

The autoworkers are one of the strongest unions in Canada. With them already on the picket line, the timing couldn’t be better for pulling out all the stops for October 25 and making it the starting point for a province-wide general strike.

When 55,000 OPSEU workers went out the Monday following the Hamilton general strike, the timing was perfect to call a province-wide strike in solidarity with OPSEU.

The Ontario Federation of Labour leadership let the moment pass. We must demand that they not let this one pass.

© 1996 Paul Kellogg. This work is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 license.


[1] Tony Van Alphen, “Chrysler Sees Sales Gain despite 2.5% Price Hike,” Toronto Star, September 27, 1996.

[2] David Smith, “Hammond Employees Stage Wildcat Strike, Idling 1,000 Woodworkers at 5 Interfor Mills,” The Vancouver Sun, September 26, 1996.

[3] Charles Saunders, “Victory on Gottingen Street: A 122-Day Sit-in Convinces Ottawa to Do the Right Thing,” Daily News (Halifax) (Postmedia Network Inc., August 4, 1996).

[4] Nicolaas van Rijn, “Deal Reached in Hotel Strike,” Toronto Star, August 4, 1996; Trish Crawford, “Telework at Home No Paradise,” The Ottawa Citizen, September 14, 1996.

[5] Jonathan Eaton, “Jockeying for Survival,” Our Times (July_August 1996): 10.

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