United against a common enemy, but do they have a common hero?

With the provincial election advertising blackout lifted as of last night at midnight, it likely won’t be long before you see an ad from the Working Families Coalition – a coalition of members of the labour movement – asking voters to ‘stop Tim Hudak and his plan to hurt Ontario families through public sector job cuts’.

The participation of labour groups in an Ontario election isn’t something new. But this time around, labour unions are conducting themselves differently than before. What is this recent shift on the union front? It’s the unprecedented level of cooperation amongst organized labour to work together to stop the PCs and Tim Hudak. And it stands to potentially have a significant effect on the outcome of the election.

In Ontario, labour groups have traditionally supported different political parties during elections. The Working Families Coalition has supported the Liberals and traditional union members find their voting home with the NDP. In the past, unions have often worked against each other in ridings, in some cases splitting the left – centre-left vote. But in this election, things are much different. Even though the PCs have backed away from earlier positions of right-to-work legislation and the elimination of mandatory union dues, their recent announcement of 100,000 public sector job cuts has swept away any union divide and has rallied organized labour with a strategic voting focus.  The result? Unions will now be cooperating at the riding level to ensure the vote is not split between NDP and Liberal candidates when one of the parties can clearly win.

What are the visible signs of this so far? It’s a ‘Stop Hudak’ campaign for the unions. Communications from labour leaders are now accompanied by #StopHudak and #Hudaxed tag lines. The highly coveted organizational capacity (think about the awesome people-power to make calls, knock on doors and get out the vote) and communications channels of labour are focused. In the coming weeks, expect an increase in labour involvement in targeted ridings to deliver final results on E-day.

Is this meaningful only while the election campaign is on?  Perhaps. This year alone several large union contracts including those with teachers, AMAPCEO, OPSEU, etc, are up for negotiation with the government. After the election, each union will re-focus on its specific issues. But for the time being, unions know that with a Tim Hudak government, they will surely face antagonistic battles. And that’s why for the immediate time-being organized labour is placing its bets and its focus on any government but a Conservative one.