We Need Allies To Win

Kent Peterson, SFL Strategic Advisor and Labour Reporter Editor


The Labour Movement is one of the most successful, democratic, and long-standing movements in our modern history. Workers have been able to accomplish any number of astonishing victories – victories that didn’t come about by asking nicely. Throughout history workers have mobilized, strategized, withdrew their labour, and protested to achieve the many successes we are so proud of today. You’ve likely heard of them before: ending child labour, the creation of workplace safety standards, the formation of maternity leave; it was the workers’ movement that brought us the weekend, the minimum wage, and in many ways Canada’s flagship social welfare programme – Medicare. A more recent addition to this list includes the constitutional right to strike – thanks to Saskatchewan’s Labour Movement.

 

It’s an impressive roster of laws and programmes that have helped level the economic and social playing fields. So impressive, in fact, that sometimes we can be lulled into a sense of believing we did it by ourselves.

 

Each battle we fought and each victory we won came about as a result of intensive outreach and ally-building. Workers and their unions simply cannot win in isolation – they never have, and they never will. Only by including others and practicing reciprocal solidarity does the Labour Movement have any hope of carrying forward with the march of progress.

 

There are several topical threats facing workers today. One such threat is the attacks by right-wing governments at all levels on organizing rights, and union rights. The federal government and many provincial governments have passed laws that attack these rights, and they are designed not just to weaken unions, but to destroy them. It’s scary stuff. When strategizing to counter these attacks, we ought not overlook the significance of building allies with those who rely most on unions in the first place – marginalized workers.

 

It is true that gay and trans* workers need union protection more than what some might call the “average worker”. LGBTQ workers are so easily harassed, discriminated against, and summarily fired by employers that a union isn’t seen as a nice perk, but rather it is necessary for even a very basic level of economic possibility. So, when unions are taking on right-wingers to defend workers’ rights, they must properly engage their LGBTQ members and the broader community in a way that makes sense.

 

It’s about building allies, and when it then comes time for unions to be there in defense of LGBTQ rights – they better be there, and not just with a donation but with people in the streets. That’s what I like to call “reciprocal solidarity”.

 

The above example using LGBTQ workers can be extended to all marginalized workers and non-workers including, but not limited to: women, First Nations and Métis folks, racialised people, and those with ability issues.

 

The Labour Movement cannot, and should not, go it alone. When unions are strategising about how to defend workers’ rights and expand the progressive agenda they should not just consider what they can do, but rather what they can do in coordination with others. Going it alone always has, and always will, result in fantastic failure.

Saskatchewan's Labour Movement: the folks who brought you the constitutional right to strike!