Fighting Austerity: From Walmart to Bill 115

Hello all and a Happy New Year from the Boler Research Team!

It’s Averie here with a recap from an interesting presentation I attended this evening on behalf of our group.

You may recall a while back when we looked into the efforts of a group called OUR Walmart and the strikes by Walmart workers and their supporters on #BlackFriday.

Well this evening at OISE, the International Socialists at UofT held a discussion on austerity in the modern labour context and invited an organizer, Elizabeth Clinton, from OUR Walmart in Texas to speak about the movement. Also speaking was Ritch Whyman of the International Socialists.

The presentation did include a lot of labour lingo that I wasn’t altogether “hip to” but I found it incredibly valuable. In our project, we talk a lot about such large-scale movements, so here was my chance to actually meet activists who were themselves involved in these struggles and hear about the interrelatedness of these movements.

Allow me to summarize the main points that I found interesting below:

— The work of the OUR Walmart campgaign certainly did not stop after #BlackFriday, and as a result of some of the pressure being put on Walmart’s execs, the company announced today it would introduce ore transparent scheduling and more scheduling choices for part-timers.  On this development, Elizabeth Clinton said,“ I think that it demonstrates that if we fight, we can actually win.”


— On his own note of optimism, Ritch Whyman told those assembled that 1000 teachers surrounded the Board of Education downtown today to protest Bill 115 and its effects — shutting down Bay St. in rush hour in the process. (some news reports put the number assembled much lower)

–Overall message/question explored was how to knit together the activism going on in various movements presently within Canada and the US. As Whyman stated, “It’s not just a fight around Bill 115, it’s not just about Idle No More, .. It’s about how do we knit these struggles together.” He added that there needs to be further communication between activist groups to find strategies that will allow them to address the current labour environment as a whole, as a class issue, not a matter of isolated issues.

— One major obstacle noted by many in the room was the stifling of activist organizing at the grassroots by senior union leaders. Some suggested that workers must first rise up against the inaction/unfair practices of their unions before they can actually tackle the larger labour issues they’re facing.

Toronto Elementary and Secondary teachers block Bay St. in protest (via the Toronto Star).
Toronto Elementary and Secondary teachers block Bay St. in protest (via the Toronto Star).

–This feeds into an extremely interesting point/contradiction which may be one of the biggest takeaways from the night overall. For here was Elizabeth Clinton, in an environment like Texas, with some of the weakest labour conditions in the country, talking about the progress of OUR Walmart organizers helping workers to stand up for themselves within one of the most anti-labour corporations in the world. Meanwhile, the assembled Ontario socialists spoke at length about the failure of their robust and highly established unions to protect them and put their best interests first!

–Whyman had a very interesting point about this. He said that in Canada, there’s often an “illusion” that we’re  THE progressive country when it comes to labour — that we’re somehow ‘safe’ due to the simple fact that unions exist. This evening’s discussion suggested this couldn’t be further from the truth. Whyman and others encouraged workers to remain vigilant and talk to their co-workers about how they feel their union is/is not representing them for a start.

STAY TUNED for an upcoming interview with Elizabeth Clinton on women’s roles in the OUR Walmart/ #Occupy Walmart organizing!



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