By: Chris Grawey
On November 12, approximately 50 students and workers successfully organized a ‘welcoming party’ for Progressive Conservative (PC) party leader Tim Hudak as he arrived in the Schmon Tower for a meeting with the Brock Campus Conservatives.
Workers and students distributed literature outlining Hudak’s political philosophy and policies, held signs with statements like “Students Before Profits,” and chanted various slogans such as, “When students and workers are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”
Hudak’s emphasis on business and hostility towards working people is well documented. More specifically, his Tea Party style of politics, anti-worker agenda (i.e. right-to-work legislation) and lack of concern for students were primary reasons for holding the demonstration.
Under Hudak’s leadership the PC party has drifted to the extreme right of the political spectrum, adopting the policies and uncompromising politics championed by Tea Party politicians in the United States. Regarding Hudak’s shift to the right, former PC Premier Bill Davis stated, “Tim, I would say to you, you need some people around you who are middle of the road.” Red Tories such as Davis, who promoted bipartisan governance and elements of progressiveness, are nearing extinction in the contemporary PC party.
Right-to-work legislation, a Tea Party favourite and one of the cornerstones of Hudak’s “Paths to Prosperity” (more accurately: Paths To Poverty) would allow unionized workers the ability to opt-out of paying union dues, yet the workers would still benefit from the collective agreement and the union would still have a legal responsibility to represent the worker. Once the union is bankrupted out of existence due to members not paying dues, all such protections would end. Hudak claims right-to-work legislation gives workers ‘greater choice’ and would improve the economy of Ontario.
However, all empirical evidence suggests otherwise. It would be more accurate to label the policy right-to-“work for less” legislation. The Ontario Federation of Labour released a report stating that right-to-work laws drive down wages, lead to more dangerous workplaces and limit the democratic rights of workers. A study included in the report by the University of Notre Dame found that in 18 of 22 right-to-work states, wages were below the national medium. Additionally, the report included studies from Princeton and the University of Nevada that demonstrate how wages plummeted in Idaho and Oklahoma, following the introduction of right-to-work laws.
With substantial evidence that clearly reveals the dire consequences of right-to-work legislation, why does Hudak continue to stand behind the policy? Plain and simple: like his Tea Party brethren, Hudak wants to crush unions and the collective voice of the working class.
Tuition fees and student debt have skyrocketed in the past three decades. A practical and straightforward solution to the problem would be for a massive increase in government funding for post-secondary education. Hudak’s brilliant strategy: ignore these problems and tie student loans to performance. Who does that policy affect? The answer is quite obvious – working class and low income students are disproportionately targeted by Hudak’s scheme.
There are numerous reasons why Hudak’s policy is absurd. As we know, marks are not the only determinant of an individual’s ability or intelligence; many students perform poorly early in university or college because of unexpected adjustments from high school; students may not have found their best field of study; students may have undiagnosed learning or other disabilities that are only noticed after a drop in grades; many students are working a part-time job, and some have a family to raise. Also, many students’ low averages are a result of poor investment in student funding and student services in the first place.
By not allowing students with a certain average to receive loans, Hudak would be limiting options available to working class and low income students, in an era when the majority of jobs require a post-secondary education. Notably, the wealthiest students who can afford post-secondary education and do not need to take out loans are not penalized for their poor academic performance.
It is important to note that the demonstration was more than simply a critique of Hudak and the PC party. Many of the demonstrators are critical of the current state of electoral politics, where there is an absence of a party that truly represents the poor, the unemployed and working people.
A critique of capitalism and its current predatory form (neoliberalism) was also important to the demonstrators’ message. Specifically, demonstrators objected how to the current neoliberal era, beginning in the 1970’s, has reinforced and expanded the power of the capitalist class (wealthiest few) to the detriment of everyday people, including the poor. For over three decades the capitalist class has demanded austerity and hardship from people who have to work for a living, by dismantling social programs, attacking trade unions, privatizing public assets, deregulating the economy, lowering corporate taxes and criminalizing all dissent.
What has this meant for the middle class, working class and poor? Neoliberal economic policies have led to the exponential growth of inequality, the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, a transition to precarious work, permanently high unemployment, rising tuition fees, increasing debts and a generational decline in the standard of living.
Brock Labour and Students Together (BLAST) is a recently formed group of students and workers fighting back against the austerity agenda (aka, “Program Review”) introduced by Brock’s senior administration. The Program Review will inevitably lead to a further decline in the quality of education at BrockU. BLAST also sees the reduction of tuition fees as paramount to ensuring that education is affordable for all people. We will be hosting a talk on tuition fees, student debt, the Program Review and fight back strategies on November 26 from 1:00p.m.-2:00p.m. in WH 202 and on November 27 from 5:00p.m.-6:00p.m. in WH 305. These talks are open to all students and workers. BLAST can be reached on Facebook: facebook.com/blastprogramreview or by email: email@example.com.