Over the past two days, large, dramatic and unconventional strike actions have dominated the news…

Student Strike Still Growing
On Thursday, depending on estimates, a hundred thousand or so demonstrators converged on downtown Montreal in opposition to rising tuition fees. Around three hundred thousand students are now on strike, representing the, latest escalation in this weeks-long battle, in which neither side shows any sign of backing down. Since this began, students have marched, occupied buildings and blocked bridges in their attempt to keep Canada’s lowest tuition rates.

Return of the Wildcat!
Thursday night Federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt caused a bit of a stir when she walked off an plane at Pearson airport in Toronto, where Air Canada workers began to heckle, showing their displeasure at recent legislation away their right to strike. Three workers were suspended as a result, a move which quickly inflamed tensions. Support workers began to walk off the job in an illegal wildcat strike which spread to Montreal, Vancouver and elsewhere, leading to the cancellation of around 80 flights and causing enormous damage to the company’s “brand image“. After about thirteen hours, strikers were forced back to work by a court injunction along with promises that nobody would be punished.

While all this happened, a group of Toronto anarchists and others took the opportunity to occupy Minister Raitt’s office.

Air Canada has been battling several unions for over a month now, and has resorted to help from the Harper government to legally block strikes by pilots and support workers (baggage handlers, ground crews etc). Air Canada has also earned scorn regarding the mass-termination of Aveos employees, a major Air Canada contractor, provoked a conflict with the union representing is laid off workers Tuesday when a few hundred former workers, blocking the road to Aveos and Air Canada offices, ended up clashing with riot police.

Another General Strike
Thursday also meant a General Strike in Portugal, one of the many poorer EU nations now grappling with a debt crisis, mass unemployment and harsh austerity measures. Large parts of the small country were brought to a standstill as ports, schools, roads, trains and public transit were brought to a halt by strikers. Small clashes with police were reported, with two reporters from the state news service among those injured by cops.

Strikes Everywhere
It’s not just the number of strikes that’s remarkable here, or how far they’re reaching. The return wildcat, student and general strikes shows how the tactics and movements themselves are changing. Actions like these haven’t been seen on a scale like this since the revolutionary tumults of the 1960s. Autonomous direct actions like these were once the norm, in the days of the “Wobblies” and other radical, grassroots unions which fought for worker’s rights before such organizations were protected by law.

The wave of austerity programs which are now sweeping the western world are provoking a powerful backlash. While many took to the streets and occupied parks last fall, the drive to cut wages and jobs has only intensified. In response, people are taking their resistance to the next level. While these corporations and governments may be massive and powerful, they could never function without huge networks of workers and willing participants. When even a few groups decide to stop participating, it can disrupt the entire system, especially when it threatens to inspire others to do the same. It’s no coincidence that revolutions are often associated with student and general strikes, as they threaten the functioning of society in ways no simple “protest” ever could.

Within another few days Canada is expecting a Federal “austerity” budget, and Spain is due for the next general strike. As news of these actions and others spreads, we can only expect many more conflicts like these in the coming months, both here and abroad. Major demonstrations at parliament and wide-ranging strikes across the continent are now being planned for early May. Some are even beginning to call it the “Maple Spring”. It may still be too early to tell whether this will be enough to reverse the impending cuts, but it now seems certain that little else can.