Matthew Stella | CUPE Communications

Knock on wood. There are currently no strikes or lockouts in the province of Ontario. When the members of CUPE 1600 ended their strike at the Toronto Zoo on June 11, it marked the first time since June 25, 2016 that there were no CUPE members on strike or lockout in Ontario. We have seen a wave of increased work stoppages in public and social services sector workplaces over the past year.

At the root of this wave of strikes and lockouts is the ongoing corporatization of social services and successive austerity budgets for public services. 

Stacey Connor, president of CUPE 2073, led Canadian Hearing Society workers across Ontario on a nine-week strike during the spring. Connor said that “many social service agencies have changed the make-up of their boards to include more people from the business community. This has led to a shift in thinking and an attempt to make social service providers run more like businesses. What this means for our members is direct attacks on sick-leave benefits, vacation time and a refusal to address workload issues in the interest of the bottom line, while directors’ and managers’ pay continues to rise.”

In the public sector, workers are facing increased precarity and minimal (if any) pay raises, while consistently being told that the money is just not there.

Uniting these recent struggles is the fact that most of these workplaces are predominantly female and most of the locals that have been locked out or forced out on strike have been led by women.

At a time when Ontario’s premier has said she is putting women’s issues front and centre and making the gender pay gap a priority for her government’s ministries, the experiences of our members show that the negative effects of this government’s economic policies and austerity budgets disproportionately impact women.

While it is encouraging to see the members of CUPE respond to the erosion of the province’s public and social services with strength and solidarity, we also recognize that to truly turn this tide we need a government that recognizes the impact its economic policies has on women. “To truly address women’s issues, we need a government that will end austerity budgets and stop the attacks on our social and public services,” said Connor.