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Student Activism, Labour and the Media

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Finally, an editorial in a leading Ontario newspaper that promotes fairness for organized workers.

Over the past couple of months, it’s been one offensive, union-bashing column or editorial after another. Perhaps I missed something while taking some time off with family earlier this summer. How did 800,000 hard-working unionists in this province suddenly become such a drag on the economy?

Truth is, from my vantage point, a lot of courageous union members are doing exactly what they should do in the face of a devastating recession: negotiate for manufacturing jobs to stay in Ontario, defend good wages and access to decent pensions, oppose insidious attacks by municipalities on longstanding benefits, resist costly privatization schemes. And yes, take strike action as required to protect good jobs and encourage unorganized employees to sign up with a union.

In the process, this year’s wave of resistance to cheap labour is helping to save the Ontario economy.

But that’s not the angle many media outlets prefer. Nor are they keen to publish stories on the successful negotiation of new and improved collective agreements for some 90,000 public sector workers in OPSEU over the past 12 months – without one strike. At best, win-win contract settlements appear to warrant a quick paragraph or 15 seconds of air time.

Instead, the mainstream media seems bent on slamming the labour movement as if we caused the global financial collapse. They repeatedly call on us to give and give at the bargaining table, joining a useless race to the bottom. Sadly, this trend extends to vicious columns like this. Fortunately, we are quite capable of countering this assault. The trick is to get published.

So it really was a relief to see The Toronto Star editorialize for an end to the McGuinty government rip off of 3400 unionized students in the public service. These determined activists are taking on the second biggest government in Canada – and they may just win. They are part of a brave new wave of young, progressive reformers.

I have no doubt that down the road we will see some of these new activists in leadership roles within Ontario’s labour movement and elsewhere in their communities.

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