Double Down on International Worker Solidarity!

A message from UE Director of International Strategies Kari Thompson

One of the most important ways we’ve built international solidarity over the past 30 years is our Worker-to-Worker Exchange Program. Unfortunately, we had to put the program on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2024, Worker-to-Worker Exchange is back — and we need your help to meet a $5,000 fundraising match and make it better than ever.

UEREF’s Worker-to-Worker Exchange Program is a life-changing program, but it doesn’t come cheap. This May, we’re sending rank-and-file members from the United States to Mexico to exchange their knowledge and personal stories with our allies at the FAT. An anonymous donor has pledged $5,000 in matching funds to help ensure our worker-leaders can access this transformative experience. Can we count on you to help us reach our goal of raising $5,000?

In solidarity,

Kari Thompson
UE Director of International Strategies

Unions Around the World Demand Ceasefire in Gaza

From the Winter 2024 UE NEWS

Close UE allies in Canada, Japan, Italy, France, Brazil, Great Britain, India and South Africa have all joined the worldwide call for a ceasefire in Gaza.

On October 17 Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector union and a close UE ally, issued a statement that, like the U.S. call, condemns the Hamas attack but notes that “retaliation against a Palestinian civilian population is not the answer, and must stop immediately.” UE’s close ally CSN signed onto a ceasefire statement organized by Quebec’s Center for International Worker Solidarity. They have been joined by many other Canadian unions, including the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Public Service Alliance of Canada, two of Canada’s largest unions.

UE’s close allies Zenroren (Japan), FIOM (Italy), CGT (France), CUT Brasil, Unite (Great Britain), and NTUI (India) have all been actively calling for peace and an end to the violence. Unions representing transport workers in Belgium and Barcelona, Spain have urged their members to refuse to transport weapons for Israel, and maritime unions in Australia have endorsed actions intended to achieve the same.

Some international labor efforts on behalf of peace were directly inspired by UE. In February, UE was contacted by a regional official of the French union Force Ouvrière (Workers’ Force), who said that ‘The call you endorsed “The US Labor Movement Calls for Ceasefire in Israel and Palestine” has been an inspiration to us,’ and sent a copy of a similar resolution jointly signed by a number of regional labor confederations in Ile-de-France (the region including Paris).

In addition to the unfolding humanitarian crisis, approximately 150,000 Palestinian workers who work in Israel have been unable to go to work since Israel closed the borders. The MAAN Workers Association, which organizes Palestinian and Israeli workers, says that “the prolonged unemployment of these workers may escalate into a severe social crisis.” They have issued a letter calling for a one-time payment to these workers, which would be deducted from their savings in the Israeli pension fund. The union notes that, “This struggle is vital not just for their livelihoods, but also for the Israeli economy, and for the future of both peoples.”

“People who know too well the pain of dispossession”

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa issued a statement in October declaring that, “We really regard what is happening as a tragedy that could have been avoided by simply giving Palestinian people their long fought for freedom.”

NUMSA connected the struggle of the Palestinian people with the long struggle against apartheid in their own country. “In South Africa we avoided a cataclysmic war and forged a democracy in a unitary state,” they declared. “There is no reason why the same cannot be achieved in Israel and Palestine.”

At the end of December, the government of South Africa initiated proceedings against Israel at the International Court of Justice, the top court of the United Nations, alleging that Israel’s military actions, and refusal to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, “are genocidal in character, as they are committed with the requisite specific intent … to destroy Palestinians in Gaza as a part of the broader Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group.”

Although the court’s interim ruling in January stopped short of ordering a ceasefire, as the government of South Africa had asked, it ordered Israel to “take all measures within its power” to prevent genocide. (The ICJ’s rulings are not enforceable, but carry important symbolic weight.)

Haroon Siddique and Bethan McKernan, reporters for The Guardian, note that the interim ruling “is not the final word from the court on whether Israel’s actions amount to genocide, but it provides a strong indication that the judges believe there is a credible risk to Palestinians under the genocide convention.”

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, a former leader of the mineworkers’ union, welcomed the ruling, saying, “Some have told us we should mind our own business … and yet it is very much our place as the people who know too well the pain of dispossession, discrimination, [and] state sponsored violence.”

UE in Solidarity with Striking Public-Sector Workers in Quebec

420,000 public-sector workers — including members of UE’s close ally the Confédération des Syndicats Nationaux (CSN) — began a one-week strike across the province of Quebec today.

UE’s officers wrote in a solidarity letter to the CSN that “Public sector workers are the backbone of our communities, maintaining our infrastructure and public spaces, teaching our children, and supporting our social services. We know most of these workers persevered throughout the pandemic to keep our communities safe because UE represents many public workers around our country. These essential roles deserve better pay and respect, just as you are demanding in your negotiations.

“The collaboration and joint resolve across the unions in the Common Front is particularly important so that the government cannot pit different public workers against each other. Our employers are adept at creating division, yet your coordinated solidarity in the two prior warning strikes this fall shines as a beacon for the working class. We wish you continued resolve in the upcoming one-week strike, and we hope that it brings the government to the table with serious offers for an improved contract.”

International Guests at UE Convention: “Our solidarity is without borders”

Photo, left to right: Sonia Vázquez of the Frente Auténtico del Trabajo (Mexico), Keisuke Fuse of Zenroren (Japan), and Chantel Ide of the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (Quebec)

On Tuesday afternoon of the 78th UE Convention, convention delegates were joined by international guests from Japan, Mexico, and Quebec. Takeshi Takeshita and Keisuke Fuse, both deputy secretaries-general of Japan’s militant labor federation Zenroren, described the “long history of friendship and solidarity” between Zenroren and UE. That history included Zenroren taking action to put pressure on Japanese multinationals such as Kobe Steel and Hishi Plastics when their workers in the U.S. sought to join UE.

Takeshita and Fuse reported that “the working class has been in miserable working conditions in Japan” but that Zenroren’s members “have been aggressively organizing struggles” to improve their situation. They also said that one of the important struggles for Japanese workers is opposing their government’s attempts to divert resources from social needs to the military.

The Zenroren representatives congratulated UE for victories in the Wabtec strike and in organizing graduate workers. They declared, “This is what international solidarity looks like,” and said they looked forward to UE and Zenroren continuing to work together to “defend peace, democracy, and human and workers’ rights.”

Sonia Vázquez, a rank-and-file worker from a garment factory in Mexico and a member of the Frente Auténtico del Trabajo (FAT), described how she and her co-workers threw out a corrupt union. “They did not defend us, what they did was not in favor of the worker,” she said. “But everything changed in September, thanks to the work of the FAT.”

Taking advantage of the labor reforms passed in Mexico several years ago, Vázquez and her co-workers, with the assistance of the FAT, were able to negotiate a new contract with improved wages and other benefits. However, “When it came time to sign the contract, the company denied it [and] implied that we had intimidated the manager to accept it.” The workers submitted a complaint using the labor enforcement mechanism of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement in 2020. “Following six months of constant attacks by the company,” they finally won a contract that included “a raise, time off for the union, training for all employees, and most of all … recognition from the company.” Lenin González Tellez and Benedicto Martínez of the FAT also attended the convention as guests.

Chantel Ide of the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN) in Quebec spoke on the convention theme of “building strike power,” which she called “such an inspiring theme.” She said that “Going on strike is an act of courage, an act of solidarity. It’s never a decision that workers take lightly. This is how we win the respect we deserve as workers.”

In her remarks, Ide described one recent, one ongoing, and one potential upcoming strike by CSN members. A group of 13 women at a child care facility in a remote location in Quebec struck after the employer offered improvements to 12 of the workers, but not to the worker responsible for preparing food at the center. But, Ide said, “her 12 comrades wouldn’t let her down” and after nine weeks on strike, the employer relented. She also spoke about a group of 70 office workers at Montreal’s oldest cemetery who have been on strike for a year and without a contract for five years, and negotiations in Quebec’s public sector, where 400,000 workers will be conducting strike votes soon.

“When you are attacked, we are attacked,” Ide concluded. “We stand with you in solidarity. Our solidarity is our power over the ruling class. Our solidarity is without borders. When we fight, we win!”

Now Is the Time to Fight for the Better World Workers Deserve

In a recorded video, Roxane DuBois of UE’s Canadian sister union Unifor delivered a message of solidarity and a report on how Canadian workers are fighting for economic and social justice. “Canada is facing many political, social, and economic challenges, just like many countries in the world,” she said. Working people face “a real affordability crisis” while “corporate profits soar,” and Unifor has been actively calling out central bankers for raising interest rates while “having no regard for the impacts of their decisions on the lives of working people.” Unifor has also been fighting to protect social programs and defend the public sector from privatization, and to oppose the far-right targeting of members of the LGBTQ+ community.

DuBois described a recent strike by 70,000 Unifor members who work for a grocery chain that makes “profit off the back of minimum wage earners.” The strike was successful in winning back a $2 wage gain given during the pandemic but then taken away.

She concluded by saying that in the current moment, “Support for our demands is high, support for unions is high. Now is the time to build our unions and … fight for the better world workers deserve.”

Daniele Calosi of the Italian metalworkers’ union FIOM, who also recorded a video for the convention, reported that “We have … the heirs of Fascism ruling Italy.” Calosi said, “The task of the union is to organize the workers so that there is the possibility for them to assert their rights, which are more and more denied by a clearly fascist government.” He warned in his “message of solidarity” that the possibility of a new fascism developing “is real,” in the U.S. as well as Italy. “We must continue to exercise high levels of solidarity,” he said, and ended with “a big hug by the Italian comrades of FIOM-CGIL. Come on — let’s fight together!”

Convention delegates also watched solidarity videos from Frédéric Sanchez of the French metalworkers’ union FTM-CGT, and Maicon Michel Vasconcelos da Silva of the Brazilian metalworkers’ union CNM-CUT.

“It is time that we think global as well”

In her report, Director of International Strategies Kari Thompson said, “The bosses love nothing more than to have an easy scapegoat of blaming workers in other countries for the decisions they make here.” She described “some of the things workers around the world are up against” and pointed out that “if we’re honest, it should sound really familiar. The bosses are doing the same things there that they do here.”

Thompson reported that Locals 506 and 618 received solidarity messages and photos from unions all around the world during their ten-week strike against Wabtec. “These unions care what Wabtec is doing in Erie and Wilmerding because they know they are next,” she said. “Our approach to international solidarity helps us to protect ourselves collectively and to push back against our organized bosses.”

During discussion of the resolution “International Solidarity,” Scott Slawson, Local 506, reminded delegates that “As work filters out of our own country to other countries we tend to want to blame the workers, and we need to understand that it is not the worker, it is very much the corporate greed and the politicians that cause our problems.

“Companies today, like the one that I work for, Scabtec, are global companies, they are in multiple countries, and it is time, and I’ve said this since [the 74th UE convention in] Baltimore in 2015, that we think global as well.”

Bryce Carter, Local 150, spoke about his trip to Japan in 2019 to take part in a meeting of public-sector union hosted by Zenroren, and praised the public transit system in Japan. Kevin Sites, Local 1186, also spoke on the resolution.

Florence Criley Speaker: Cross-Border Connections “Tremendously Powerful”

Following the convention session, retired UE Director of International Affairs Robin Alexander gave the 2023 Florence Criley Women’s Leadership Speaker Series talk at City of Asylum bookstore in Pittsburgh’s Northside neighborhood. Alexander spoke about her 2022 e-book, International Solidarity in Action.

Alexander recounted how, in the early 1990s, UE realized that “we really needed to do international solidarity in a different way,” and she was given the opportunity to help shape that new approach, one that involved rank-and-file members and was connected to organizing. That history forms the subject of her book, framed by the close relationship that the UE developed with the FAT.

She read excerpts from her book, especially focusing on relationships developed between public-sector workers in the UE and the FAT. Those relationships had “a tremendous impact within UE,” she said, especially on members’ understanding of the dynamics of immigration, as they came to realize that Mexican workers were just like themselves and, given the opportunity for decent jobs in their home country, would generally prefer to stay there. She called the cross-border connections between workers made by UE’s international work “tremendously powerful.”

Alexander was introduced by Nichel Dunlap-Thompson, Local 150. Following her talk, Alexander discussed the book with current Director of International Strategies Kari Thompson, then took questions from the audience.

A recording of the talk, which was live-streamed, is available at Solidarity in Action can be downloaded, and donations can be made to support UE’s international solidarity work, at

UE Represented at Union Conventions in Brazil, Quebec

Photo: UE Director of International Strategies Kari Thompson (in front in blue jacket) with CSN President Caroline Senneville (second from left) and other international guests at the CSN Congress.

In a return to pre-pandemic practices, UE was delighted to accept invitations to the national conventions of two of our international allies this May. 

Retired UE General President Peter Knowlton represented UE at a meeting of Confederação Nacional dos Metalúrgicos (CNM-CUT) in Brazil. The metalworkers union, which was once led by Brazilian president Lula da Silva, has been a strong critic of corporate greed, and has waged militant fights with multinational companies to improve working conditions and pay. These include GE, Wabtec, St. Gobain, and many other employers also represented by UE. CNM-CUT hosted a number of other international unions that are part of a group of similarly oriented unions in IndustriALL.

Retired UE General President Peter Knowlton (right) with CNM-CUT leader Geraldo Valgas.

International solidarity is a core principle of UE because living and working conditions in the US are directly linked to those of other workers around the world. “Attending other unions’ conventions is a great way to better understand their values and practices, and to meet other workers who are employed by the same bosses in other countries,” shared Knowlton. While in São Paulo, Knowlton met with Geraldo Valgas, a CNM leader from Belo Horizonte, where CNM represents workers at a Wabtec locomotive factory.

Kari Thompson, UE’s Director of International Strategies, attended the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN) Congress in Montréal, Quebec. The CSN has a very similar democratic structure to UE, and represents workers in a wide range of sectors including manufacturing, public and service sectors, just as UE does. The CSN Congress was celebratory, with thousands of new members having joined in the last few years. Numerous locals have engaged in militant strikes against their employers, resulting in major contract gains. Thompson had the opportunity to visit the picket line of some striking cemetery workers, including gravediggers, who have been on strike for more than a year. Among the many new workers joining CSN’s ranks are graduate workers from Concordia University. 

UE was the only English-speaking union invited to the Congress, though other progressive international unions were also represented, including CGT from France and ELA from the Basque region of Spain. 

“The CSN is making dynamic plans to address the many challenges faced by workers in Quebec, from privatization of public work to the impacts of climate change on jobs and worker health,” reported Thompson. “They will continue to be an important ally for UE as we grapple with similar issues.”

Unions Representing Wabtec Workers from Four Continents Send Solidarity to UE Locals 506 and 618

Five unions representing Wabtec workers from across the globe have written letters to Wabtec CEO Rafael Santana expressing their solidarity with the members of UE Locals 506 and 618, and demanding that the company settle a fair contract at its locomotive plant in Erie, PA.

Unifor National President Lana Payne, on behalf of her union’s 315,000 members across Canada, told Santana “It is troubling to hear from our brothers, sisters, and counterparts at UE that your company … continues to demonstrate contempt for the very workers that work every day to ensure that Wabtec’s business continues to prosper and succeed. According to your own most recent annual report, Wabtec saw a 7% increase in sales in 2022, reaching $8.36 billion compared to 2021, while company profits increased 13% to $565 million. It is only through the labour of your skilled workforce have these gains been made possible.”

Andrew Dettmer, National President of the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union, blasted Wabtec’s “union busting”: “Your attorneys are litigating every grievance, demanding arbitration rather than sorting problems out on the shop floor. Worse, these self same attorneys are then challenging the decisions of the arbitrator when they don’t like the result.” He emphasized AMWU’s support for the UE locals’ demand for the right to strike over grievances, “a simple step” that would allow disputes to be “resolved quickly, by people in the plant, and without involving expensive lawyers.”

From Europe, CCOO Industria, which represents Wabtec workers in Spain, and the Italian metalworkers’ union FIOM-CGIL, a long-time UE ally, both sent letters to the Wabtec CEO expressing their support for UE members’ demands, including specifically the right to strike. From South America, Brazilian metalworkers’ union CNM-CUT sent a letter declaring “All solidarity from the CNM/CUT and its unions to Locals 506 and 618 of the UE! Your fight is our fight.”

Crossborder Mural Project Documentary Now Available on YouTube

Earlier this year, the Chicago-based labor television show Labor Beat posted their 1997 documentary about the cross-border mural project organized by UE and our Mexican partners the Frente Auténtico del Trabajo (FAT) on YouTube:

The documentary, which runs approximately half an hour, follows the creation of two labor murals, one at the FAT headquarters in Mexico City, the other at the UE Hall in Chicago. In April 1997, U.S. muralist Mike Alewitz painted the Mexico City mural, entitled “Sindicalismo Sin Fronteras / Unions Without Borders,” which incorporates images of working-class heroes from both countries. Later that year, Mexican muralist Daniel Manrique Arias, a major voice in Mexican art and the foremost exponent of the neighborhood-based movement Tepito Arte Aca painted “Hands in Solidarity — Hands of Freedom / Manos Solidarias — Manos Libres” on an outside wall of the UE Hall in Chicago. Manrique was assisted by three young muralists from the Chicago Public Arts Group, which co-sponsored the project.

The project was an initiative of the pioneering cross-border Strategic Organizing Alliance between UE and the FAT. In the film, both muralists, along with UE Director of International Labor Affairs Robin Alexander, talk about the painting of the murals and the importance of international solidarity.

If you enjoy the video, please consider making a donation to support UE’s ongoing international solidarity work.

World of Labor: Half a Million Strike in United Kingdom Despite Attacks on Rights

Economic conditions have sent workers in numerous sectors on strike across the United Kingdom for the past several months, culminating in a February 1 strike of over 500,000 workers, including teachers, civil servants, and university and railroad workers. During the day of industrial action, union leaders delivered petitions signed by more than a quarter of a million people demanding that the government withdraw its anti-strike legislation.

The new British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is a conservative who is attempting to slash spending instead of investing in essential public-sector workers. His conservative parliament has introduced legislation that, if passed, would curtail the right to strike for many sectors, requiring unions to send members across their own picket lines upon pain of workers being fired and the unions being sued.

From the railroad and postal sectors, to healthcare and education, workers across the country have been out on picket lines demanding higher wages that keep pace with inflation that has caused prices to rise more than 11 percent over the past year. UE ally Unite the Union represents many striking workers in the public sector, such as the National Health Service, as well as in the private sector, such as workers at Wabtec facilities that also went on strike last summer. More strikes are expected in various sectors throughout February.

In Israel, parliamentary elections in November resulted in a change of prime minister, but not to a new face: Benjamin Netanyahu resumed the post, as part of a coalition agreement with a far-right party. The new government poses a threat to the rights of Palestinians, including for Palestinian workers to advocate for humane working conditions. Our union partner, MAAN, which organizes both Palestinians and Israelis, has referred to this as “an extreme rightwing government.” In their statement on the election, MAAN calls “for the joint building of one democratic state that can provide an alternative to the violent and destructive reality that has been feeding from years of occupation and injustice.”

The world’s attention was on two other events in the Middle East last fall, both with implications for workers’ rights: COP27 and the World Cup. The UN’s Conference of Parties in Egypt continued on-going conversations about addressing climate change but in a location where the right to free speech is severely curtailed. While IndustriALL and some other union organizations had a presence at the event to demand that a just transition for workers be a part of planning for the changing climate, there was little meaningful movement at the conference.

A few weeks later, the World Cup was held in Qatar, where more than 6,500 workers died to build the stadiums, hotels and other facilities used for the games. Some unions and human rights organizations highlighted problems with work permits that amounted to indentured servitude and unsafe working and living conditions for the migrant workforce. The Qatari government attempted to say their labor laws have been reformed, but they also refused to comment on specific allegations of unsanitary conditions and have tried to cover up worker deaths.

Unfortunately, the Qatari labor conditions have bled into allegations of corruption among officials in the European Union, and at least one international labor leader. Luca Visentini was elected to lead as General Secretary the International Trade Union Confederation (UE is not an affiliate) in November. In December, Visentini was arrested on corruption allegations. He has admitted to taking €50,000 in cash from an NGO funded by Qatar. He also happens to be one of the labor leaders who said Qatar had improved their workers’ rights. Though Visentini has denied that he did anything wrong, many of UE’s international allies are outraged that he would tarnish the reputation of international unions and confederations that are trying to improve working conditions.

Meanwhile, in Japan, the government announced revisions to its “national security strategy,” which include a huge increase in military spending that would put them third behind the U.S. and China. UE’s ally Zenroren released a statement condemning a military buildup, which contradicts the Japanese constitution’s prohibition on maintaining a standing offensive military. Zenroren committed to “help people raise the call from all over the country for policies for better livelihoods and not for arms buildup. [Zenroren] works to develop a major movement to win political change to defend peace and livelihoods.”

In South Korea, UE ally the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions is facing attacks reminiscent of the Cold War-era attacks on the UE in the United States. Just as democratically-elected UE leaders were accused of being Soviet agents in the late 1940s and 50s, South Korea’s conservative President Yoon Suk-yeol is accusing KCTU of meeting with North Korean spies — and the South Korean intelligence agency raided the KCTU offices in January. KCTU has condemned the raids as an effort to suppress the labor movement and promised to “struggle against the violence of the Yoon Suk-yeol regime.”

Finally, in France, workers across the country in at least 200 towns and cities walked off the job on Thursday, January 19, to protest plans announced by Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. UE’s trade union ally CGT united with other unions to shut down large parts of the country, impacting everything from public schools to train transportation, and from shipping to public television and radio broadcasts. The CGT estimated that 1.8 million people participated across the country, with 800,000 of them in Paris. It is unclear if the retirement age legislation can pass the French parliament.

UE Young Activists meet with members of the Frente Auténtico del Trabajo

UE Plans Return to In-Person International Exchanges in 2023


In a “Giving Tuesday” email to supporters of UE’s international solidarity work this morning, UE Director of International Strategies Kari Thompson announced that “In 2023, we are planning to return to in-person member exchanges with workers in other countries, if health conditions continue to allow.”

Specifically, Thompson said, UE is making plans for a worker-to-worker exchange with UE’s close allies in Mexico, the Frente Auténtico del Trabajo. UE’s rank-and-file approach to international solidarity, where union members visit with their counterparts in other countries, has become a model for other organizations over the last few decades.

“On these trips, UE members meet with other workers to learn about their experiences under different labor laws, but sometimes with the very same multinational bosses,” explained Thompson.

UE’s last worker-to-worker exchange was a Young Activist delegation to Mexico City in 2017. Four UE Young Activists — Matthew Braddon, Local 222, Daniel Campos, Local 1123, Bailey Kelley, Local 896, and Emma Paradis, Local 255 — spent a week hosted by the FAT’s National Coordinators — Rosalba Calva Flores, Eladio Abundiz Gudian, Jose Ezequiel Garcia Vargas, and Benedicto Martinez Orozco. The jam-packed agenda included an orientation to Mexico’s economy, labor law, and organizing struggles; a discussion of the FAT’s work to stop violence against women, including disappearances and murders; meetings with FAT members, including a tour of an auto part plant; and meeting a group of workers still struggling to organize their independent union.

“Hearing the stories of the workers we met was informative and helped create real relationships and a way to remember what we learned,” said Braddon. “I liked seeing how struggles in Mexico were similar to ones at home.”

“Worker-to-worker exchanges are one of the best ways to help our members embrace our core principle of international solidarity in a direct way,” concluded Thompson

Learn more about the importance of international solidarity, and UE’s rank-and-file approach, on this website. Retired UE Director of International Affairs Robin Alexander, who was the key architect of UE’s international solidarity program in the 1990s and 2000s, has written an e-book about UE’s relationship with the FAT. The e-book, published by UE earlier this year, is available for download at Donations to support UE’s international solidarity work in 2023 can be made at

Unifor National President Lana Payne at a CUPE press conference with placard reading Respect Charter Rights Repeat Bill 28

Ontario Workers Defeat Anti-Strike Legislation


Earlier this week, workers in Ontario won an inspiring victory against their right-wing government. Premier Doug Ford attempted use legislation to impose a contract on 55,000 education workers and revoke their right to strike. Those workers went on strike anyway, receiving support from the rest of the province’s labor movement (including important support from UE’s close Canadian ally Unifor), and on Monday Ford’s government announced it would withdraw the bill.

The 55,000 education assistants, early childhood educators, custodians and administrative assistants represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) had authorized a strike in an attempt to regain some of the ground they had lost over the past ten years, when their wages increased at only half the rate of inflation. CUPE members, who make on average $39,000 (Canadian) per year, are the lowest-paid workers in Ontario’s schools.

Ford’s legislation not only declared the strike illegal, including fines of $4,000 per day for each individual striker, it imposed a four-year contract with annual wage increases of 2.5 percent for the lowest-paid workers and 1.5 percent for all others — well below the current rate of inflation.

As CUPE members began their strike on Friday, Unifor National President Lana Payne declared that “This is an unprecedented attack against workers’ rights and trade union freedoms, and what you’re going to see is an unprecedented response.” On Sunday, Unifor’s Automotive Council and Independent Parts Suppliers Council, which represent 40,000 autoworkers throughout the province, wrote to Premier Ford demanding a repeal of the bill, and announcing that they “will be exploring all options in the coming days to respond to these actions.”

After the provincial government committed in writing to repealing the bill and resuming negotiations, CUPE announced on Monday they would suspend their strike action. Mark Hancock, the union’s national president, told the CBC that CUPE members “took on the Ford government, and the government blinked. We’ve shown that when under attack, our movement is strong and we will stand up for each other.”

Canadian workers (including public-sector workers) are guaranteed the right to strike by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a part of their constitution. In order to pass their anti-strike legislation, the Ford government invoked the so-called “notwithstanding clause,” which allows provincial governments to suspend rights guaranteed by the charter, with no judicial review, for up to five years. It is a provision designed to be used “only in most unusual and extenuating circumstances,” according to Wally Oppal, a justice in British Columbia.

“If fundamental rights can be taken away from public-sector workers without recourse, no one’s rights are safe,” said Payne following the announcement of the bill’s withdrawal. “Workers made it clear that they will not tolerate the weaponizing of the notwithstanding clause to strip away our Charter rights. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.”