Rank and File Rebellion: The 1981 Ontario Hospital Strike (2014)
by Ron Rosenthal
The Ontario Hospital Strike poses important questions for the union movement. What compelled hospital workers to strike illegally? How were members able to maintain the strike despite opposition from union officials? What forced the strikers back to work? What strategies could have been used to keep the picket lines strong? And how can we better prepare for next time?
The 1981 Ontario Hospital Strike was born from the courage of thousands of workers organized in the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) who, with no strike experience and no financial cushion, defied bitter weather and even more bitter enemies to fight for their dignity.
— Ron Rosenthal
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The 1981 Ontario hospital strike
In their own words: Hospital workers speak
How to be a socialist at work
Woman striker: “I don’t regret it – in fact, I’m glad we struck. You couldn’t begin to understand what it meant for me. I’m a different person at home and at work.
Housekeeper: “It’s like being in a life-type school. I remember how I thought laws and politics was for men to understand. I know now the same as men do – it’s a good feeling to know how things work.”
Woman striker: “They all said I should use my head and not get involved. My father, my boyfriend, they sounded the same. I made two big decisions, first I decided to ignore them, then I went ahead with the strike.”
Ronald Lee Rosenthal
June 14, 1950 – July 14, 1982
We never met anyone like Ron before. After he died, we realized it was not possible to place him in any familiar category because he epitomized the man of the future. There was nothing sexist or macho about him. When he spoke of human rights and liberties, they excluded no human being from the cradle to the grave, regardless of race, colour, sex, etc. I am meeting and hearing about more and more young men with Ron’s sense of justice and equality. When these young people become socialists, they will be like Ron. It will take some time yet. That’s why Ron was so rare and in a very special category. He had class!
— Genora (Johnson) Dollinger
On July 19, 1982, over 200 people gathered to commemorate the life of my son, Ron Rosenthal. Tributes were given by family members and by members of the gay, union, and socialist movements to which he belonged.
All his life, Ron suffered from a serious physical handicap which gave him an acute sensitivity to the feelings and sufferings of others. It provided a human dimension to his politics. And it led him to unqualified support for all who are discriminated against. He was the champion of all victims of injustice and exploitation. He will be greatly missed.
— Joyce Rosenthal
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