Workers Against Austerity – Lessons from Canada’s ‘Days of Action,’ 1995-1998
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Workers versus Austerity: Lessons from Canada's Days of Action, 1995-1998 The Great Recession has left in its wake an expected "age of austerity" where the deficits accumulated to stave off economic collapse, are being addressed through steep cuts to government spending, with profound implications for social services and public sector employment. This scenario is playing out across the Global North – from the U.K. to the U.S. to Canada to Greece to France. This paper will examine an earlier era in one of these countries – Canada – where in quite similar circumstances (recession, deficit-spending and austerity) there was a concerted effort by unions and social movements to mount a campaign of resistance. From December 1995, through all of 1996 and 1997, until coming to an end in 1998 – a series of mass strikes and enormous demonstrations swept through the major cities of Ontario, Canada's biggest province and the heart of its manufacturing sector. Among many other issues, this "Days of Action" campaign highlighted the difficult and important relationship between "traditional" and "non-traditional" sections of the working class. It also was characterized, within the existing workers' organizations, by periodic clashes between the energetic inexperience of newly-active union members, and the institutional experience of the movement embodied in a quite developed full-time layer of union officials.