On November 14, the streets of southern Europe will be full of people saying no to austerity. In Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Malta and Cyprus, unions will be conducting a co-ordinated general strike. This one-day strike comes on the heels of numerous demonstrations and labour actions across the region in an effort to resist government imposed austerity and privatizations. Last week in Greece they had a 48-hour general strike; the 20th in the last two years. This is precisely the type of action and co-ordination that the Canadian left must engage in to defeat Harper’s austerity. We need a national day of action against austerity of our own.
The response to the neoliberal austerity in Canada has been woefully inadequate to the task. Labour and other leftist organizations have been largely missing in action when it comes to organizing a national anti-austerity strategy.
In Canada, we have not faced the same level of austerity as the people in Europe have, but that doesn’t mean capitalism is working for workers here either. It’s not. We are still dealing with massive cuts and a general assault on working-class gains. Austerity is now occurring at all levels of government in all regions of the country. Environmental regulations are being cut for economic gain, especially for oil and mining. Students are paying even more for an education that is increasingly commodified to serve the needs of the labour market. Unemployment has remained high, wages have stagnated or decreased, services are being squeezed and cut, disproportionately effecting those who are already marginalized. Workers in both public and private sector are under the gun. Collective bargaining rights are being curbed. Health care is under siege by the government and for-profit interests like never before.
Increased federal spending in the wake of the recession has now ended. But the risk of another global economic downturn has not. Europe is headed for a recession (indeed Great Britain, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece are already there), China’s economy is slowing dramatically (meaning global resource prices will surely drop) and the United States seems headed for a long stagnation. When this is coupled with new massive oil discoveries across the planet, the short- and medium-term prospects for the Canadian economy look grim. Add to this the coming austerity, the next five years could get very painful for most Canadians.
The resistance to austerity in Canada has been sporadic at best. In Quebec, the students waged an amazing struggle that achieved a rollback in planned fee hikes for students. Workers in various localized struggles, such as at Rio Tinto and the Toronto Public Libraries, have occasionally beat back the worst excesses of austerity. But more often than not, workers in both the private and public sector have seen job losses, lockouts, contract concessions and even the violation of collective bargaining. The narrative of austerity has also meant that government services and regulations are being cutback in the name of fiscal responsibility. The crisis is being offloaded onto workers and the most vulnerable and downtrodden members of society.
The Harper government isn’t going anywhere for at least the next two years. If we want to counter the austerity agenda we need to take the fight into the streets. We need to oppose not just each localized manifestation of austerity, but its very idea. We need to start to co-ordinate our efforts into a national day of action against austerity. I know much more is needed than a simple day of protest against austerity. I also know that austerity in every province and community looks a little different. But we must recognize that the fight is essentially the same. We can use a national day of action to strengthen our local campaigns, deepen our analysis and build meaningful alliances.
So how can this be done? Well, those of us who are members of unions, student unions, environmental groups or any other progressive or leftist organization need to organize within those groups to win them to the idea of mobilizing for a day of action. Those who are outside of bigger progressive organizations or unions should keep the pressure on those organizations. Some organization, a union or a federation of labour for instance, will have to make a public call for a day of action on a certain date and other groups will need to heed this call. The day of action should be far enough away to allow for sufficient organizing but it should be before students are writing exams and leaving the university in the spring. We can’t wait much longer to co-ordinate our efforts, but we can’t rush our organizing either.
If we want to defeat the austerity agenda and build a collective future based on solidarity and social justice then we sooner or later need to start working and organizing together on a much bigger scale. These turbulent times are going to require the left step up its game and start mobilizing in the streets. If we fight, we can win.