Followed his anti-teacher Bill 115 with a wholesale prorogation of the legislature, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has demonstrated how the austerity agenda attacks basic democratic rights–from collective bargaining to social democracy. This challenges us to build democratic alternatives to the bargaining table and the ballot box, and there are growing examples around the world of rank-and-file resistance.
Even before teachers had a chance to bargain, McGuinty imposed Bill 115–imposing concessions, taking away their right to strike, and handing decision-making power over any issue to the Minister of Education. As one legal expert said, “You do not have to be a constitutional lawyer to conclude that this legislation is an unprecedented attack on the civil liberties and constitutional rights and freedoms of educational workers.”
Now that McGuinty is facing opposition—from high school students walking out to oppose Bill 115, to scandals over healthcare and energy, to losing a recent by-election to the NDP—he has shut down the most limited form of democracy in the legislature, and handed power to Cabinet to rule unaccountably. This is not a sign of strength but a sign of weakness, exposing how much the unpopular 1% austerity agenda needs to undermine the most basic forms of democracy in order to impose itself. This is happening coast to coast and around the world, raising the need for alternatives.
The ballot box and the bargaining table
The BC Liberals have been attacking teachers while sinking in the polls, and recently cancelled the fall session of the legislature. In Quebec, Liberals imposed Bill 78 to attack students and basic civil liberties, and used an election in an attempt to divide the movement and distract from corruption scandals. Federally, Harper’s austerity agenda has included two prorogations to avert scandals, and omnibus bills that ram through austerity.
Electing a different driver won’t alter the path of the austerity train, because the tracks are designed for the 1%. This awareness exploded at Occupy Wall Street, including signs saying “the system’s not broken, it’s built this way.” In the midst of the US election, Democratic mayor Rahm Emanuel attacked teachers. Social democratic governments in Britain, Spain, Greece and South Africa have imposed vicious austerity, and the Nova Scotia NDP has raised tuition and is contracting out jobs. Despite student occupations and labour demonstrations, Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath supported McGuinty’s austerity budget claiming that “we serve the public better by getting to work here in this legislature.”
Meanwhile the trade union bureaucracy repeats the same calls of waiting for elections and bargaining as usual—when the austerity agenda is undermining what remains of the ballot box and the bargaining table. The CAW leadership settled for concessions without a fight, and despite mass strike votes from Ontario teachers and solidarity from students the union leadership seems intent on bargaining with a prorogued government.
The most effective opposition to austerity has been from below: in the streets, campuses and workplaces. Egyptians occupied and went on strike to topple their dictator, and workers are continuing to strike against the new regime. In South Africa a victorious miner’s strike has exposed the ANC government and trade union bureaucracy, and inspired other workers to strike. There have been mass strikes in Britain, Greece, and Spain–pushing the trade union bureaucracy to act through rank-and-file pressure.
Wisconsin students and workers occupied their capital building and built a movement that struck down an anti-strike law. Chicago teachers built alliances with students and parents and won their strike against the Democrat mayor. Even precarious Wal-Mart workers are gaining the confidence to strike.
Quebec students built a broad strike movement that toppled the government, its tuition hike and its draconian law—while boosting the new left party Québec solidaire. At the same time, Air Canada workers went on wildcat strike, and locked out workers in Alma built a rank-and-file resistance that pushed back mining giant Rio Tinto. On the West coast teachers have won public support fighting the Liberals, government employees have struck and built solidarity networks, and there was a mass sit-in yesterday against the tar sands.
While the austerity agenda is undermining the traditional forms of democracy through the ballot box and the bargaining table, people are rediscovering rank-and-file resistance in workplaces and campuses–building our own democracy from below, that can beat austerity.