Five Ideas for Building the Manitoba Activist Left

Photo from Public Domain

This is the third and final piece in a three-part blog series. In the first post, I provided an overview of Manitoba’s activist left. In the second piece, I explored reasons why the Manitoba activist left is struggling. In this final entry, I offer five modest proposals on a way forward for Manitoba’s activist left. This is all written in the spirit of building a collaborative, activist left that can fight to win.

1. Get Involved in Community & Union Organizing

People need to get involved in order to build the activist left in Manitoba.

There are a number of existing and emerging initiatives that you can get involved in like the Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition, Communities Not Cuts, and emerging initiatives like Fight for $15 and a potential campaign around public transit.

Recent union protests have largely been one-off actions, so if you are in a union, push for a longer-term campaign rather than one-off rallies.

The success of the Fight for $15 campaign in Ontario shows us that patient, long-term organizing that slowly builds and brings people into the fold can result in big wins. The activist left also needs to be nimble and prepared to organize quickly around new Pallister PC attacks that have potential for movement-building.

2. Education & Learning from What Works

One of the many things I learned through union membership and as a member of Solidarity Winnipeg is that continual education work is essential.

Educational work helps us understand our collective place in the world, develop a broadly shared political perspective, continually improve our politics and chart a path forward. Particularly when people are getting involved in activism for the first time, solid educational work is empowering and creates “leaderful” organizations and movements.

Educational work can also help provide historical and contemporary examples of struggles that the Manitoba activist left can learn from and build upon.

Recent movements, successes and failures ought to be collectively discussed to learn about what can work, what doesn’t, and what can be altered to suit Manitoba’s particular political climate.

Lessons can be learned from the Mike Harris years in Ontario, and more recent inspiration from the student strike in Quebec, Standing Rock, and the remarkable winning strategy implemented in West Virginia, of all places, and more.

Encourage your union or community organization to bring in activists from recent victories to learn first-hand about what worked or get involved in your union’s educational committee. Organize public events and host reading groups.

3. Organizer training

The public speaking and union consultation series hosted by the Winnipeg Labour Council this winter with author and organizer Jane McAlevey was very good.

Jane puts a strong emphasis on organizing to win, getting a majority of union members involved in workplace organizing, and mass democratic decision making in bargaining and action.

The University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA), who organized an inspiring recent strike, took Jane’s consultation to heart and have been trying to implement these deep organizing principles.

It would absolutely be worth getting Jane to do more consultations, along with community organizers and others that have experience in mass organizing to win. Not only should core union leaders and activists be invited, but rank-and-file members and community activists too. Strong efforts should be made to have union and community organizers working together.

4. Strive to Work Together

There is a negative tendency in Winnipeg to organize in small silos, friendship groups and cliques, often based on ideological differences or petty interpersonal histories. There should be no place for this at a time when people’s livelihoods and wellbeing is at stake.

Where important political differences do exist, we ought to strive for common ground and understanding, as I’ve written elsewhere. Organizers ought to do everything together as far as conscience permits, because capacity and resources are limited in Manitoba.

That is one of the ideal features of Communities Not Cuts, which was created with the intention of forming into a coalition that brings unions, community organizations and grassroots groups together for a common cause.

The Quebec Student Strike of 2012 was successful in part because different political tendencies and factions organized together for a shared base-goal of defeating tuition hikes. This movement brought tens of thousands of people into the streets for months, and ultimately brought the provincial Liberal government down.

Some collective setting that brings us together (like the Winnipeg Labour Council or Manitoba Federation of Labour) should exist that consistently has community groups like MEJC, CNC, Solidarity Winnnipeg, Fight for $15, Justice for Errol Green and other groups at the table.

5. Support Organizing and Movements

Most unions and organizations in Manitoba have limited capacity when it comes to a core base of members or organizers. The majority of the grunt-work is done by a dedicated few, who often work on multiple campaigns and occasionally burn out.

When opportunities for temporary coalitions around a specific mobilization or campaigns exist, it is worth making the tent big, even if there are groups at the table that you disagree with. Education work becomes essential here as it’s important to have a broadly shared perspective and common goal.

One of the benefits of working together is that campaigns, actions, and plans can be coordinated. Groups without anything on the immediate horizon can contribute personnel and resources to aid the cause when an action or event is taking shape.

Campaigns and actions organized by unions and groups like Communities Not Cuts, Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition, Fight for $15, CUPE 204, teachers, nurses and others are just a few examples of opportunities to collaborate.

Supporting organizing and movements by contributing resources and – most importantly – personnel, helps build a culture of solidarity that must be cultivated across unions, communities and grassroots groups during these difficult times.

The activist left in Manitoba already has several amazing organizers in grassroots groups, community organizations, and trade unions. There is emerging potential and momentum, however slow-brewing. Planning should be underway now to create a season of discontent this fall that builds ongoing momentum into 2019 while Pallister retreats to his Costa Rican villa.

Matthew Brett is community organizer who helped create campaigns and organizations including Communities Not Cuts (Manitoba), People for Posties (Winnipeg), Solidarity Winnipeg, and Stop the Cuts (University of Manitoba). Read his website here or follow him on Twitter @mattbrett_1984.