120,000 ONTARIO WORKERS DEMONSTRATE AGAINST TORY CUTS

The Anarchives (tao@presence.lglobal.com)
Wed, 28 Feb 1996 19:32:21 +0000 (GMT)


[this article will appear in the March /96 issue of the PEOPLES VOICE]

120,000 ONTARIO WORKERS DEMONSTRATE AGAINST GOVERNMENT CUTS
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HAMILTON: "THE LARGEST PROTEST IN CANADIAN HISTORY"

> OPSEU Gears Up for Province-wide Strike
Hamilton - An estimated 120,000 trade unionists and their
social coalition allies jammed the streets of this steel town
February 24, on the second day of a wave of province-wide protest.
The first day saw plants and factories around the city shut down,
while 25,000 unionists cross picketed one another's employers, and
then rallied after a march from the city's west end to a site
downtown, nearby the provincial Tories' 1996 Convention
headquarters.
But it was the Saturday protest that far exceeded the expectations
of the Ontario Federation of Labour and local organizers, the
Hamilton District Labour Council and the Hamilton Wentworth Social
Justice Coalition.
It was an historic moment as 1400 busses unloaded, and wave after
wave of public and private sector workers carried their local union
banners down into the gathering point at Bayside Park. Supported by
women's organizations, interfaith groups, students, seniors, the
Communist Party, some NDPers, and many others, it was a sight to
see. Teachers' federations were recognizable throughout the more
than 3 km.-long demonstration, and many of the demonstrators wore
the warm hats and headbands handed out gratis by the various
teachers' unions.
Public statements earlier in the week projected the Saturday
participation to be about 50,000, while private comments from
organizers hoped for 75,000.
Even the Tories were nervous, as their corporate friends began a
massive media blitz in the last week aimed at frightening would-be
protesters and supporters with speculation that "violence"
organized by "union bosses" and "special interest groups" would be
the only outcome of the protest. To boost the message, the Ontario
Provincial Police were called in along with special tactical units
- riot police - from Halton, Peel and Metro Toronto.
But the protests were completely peaceful. And the message wasn't
anarchy, it was politics. This is just the beginning, said speaker
after speaker, The protests won't stop. They'll just get bigger and
broader until the government resigns or is driven from office.
And the speakers were right. From the OFL's first Day of Protest
involving 15,000 in London Ontario December 11, the 37,000 strong
Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association demonstration at
Queen's Park in January, followed by the students in early
February, and now the 25,000 plus 120,000 in the Hamilton Days of
Action, it's clear there is a momentum growing and a movement
building that will be unstoppable.
CLC President Bob White told demonstrators "We represent more of
Ontario than the Conservative party ever did or ever will."
Speaking to a sea of banners and demonstrators so large it receded
into the distance, White said their voices will reach the Tories,
and the Liberals in Ottawa as well who are greasing the skids
nationally to dismantle public and social services, "including
medicare, public education, pensions, and unemployment insurance.
Together they'll turn the clock back 50 years." White called for
a national fightback against the Liberals and for greater
coordination of the fightback in Ontario and provincially.
CAW President Buzz Hargrove castigated the government for its
coordination of the fightback in Ontario and provincially.
CAW President Buzz Hargrove castigated the government for its
litany of crimes against the people of Ontario, focusing on the
Omnibus Bill 26 and the government's sinister efforts to curtail
and dismantle labour, democratic and social rights in the province.
"I have said before, and I'll say again," said Hargrove, "that I've
never seen a government as close to fascism as this one, in my
lifetime."
Several speakers from the teachers' federations blasted the
government for the $1 billion in cuts that will devastate public
education in the province. Chants of "cuts hurt kids" intercepted
many of the speakers and were a constant refrain throughout the
march, which followed the same path taken by the marchers for the
nine hour day almost 100 years ago.
At least a quarter of those present at the Saturday demonstration
were teachers from districts all over Southern and Eastern Ontario.
Teachers federations' hats, headbands, and pennants could be seen
everywhere throughout the day, and on the Friday as well.
Ontario Secondary School Teacher's Federation President Earl
Manners told demonstrators that the "toolkit" of devastation
promised to local school boards has not been delivered because the
Tories are afraid of public reaction. But some school boards have
already acted with the tools, sending out layoff notices to 60
teachers in Muskoka. About 20,000 Ontario teachers are expected to
lose their jobs in the next four months.
One day away from a province wide strike of public sector workers,
Ontario Public Service Employees' Union (OPSEU) President Leah
Casselman was greeted with massive applause when she said the
battle with the government was about the continued existence of
Ontario's social infrastructure and in this respect OPSEU's battled
was everybody's battle.
Speaking of the numbers of demonstrators out in the streets since
the OFL first opted for mass independent labour political action to
fight the Tories in November, Casselman said "the most important
number, the number I'm proudest of as a union leader is the number
66!" This referred to the 66.5% support strike vote turned in
last week by 67,000 OPSEU members who will be on their first picket
line ever at midnight February 26. Massive solidarity support is
expected - and needed - as provincial and local unions and
community organizations send money and bodies for picket-line duty
to OPSEU picketlines. The first to come up in post-social contract
negotiations with the Harris government, OPSEU is in the front line
against privatization, deregulation, and union busting. Part of
the bargaining still to be won by the union is adequate severance
and pension provisions, and union successor rights in the event
services such as prisons, liquor stores, and Ontario Hydro, amongst
others, are sold off.
Ontario Coalition Against Poverty organizer John Clarke touched
nerves when he spoke about the deaths of three homeless men in
December and January, and the suicide of two others. "This man
couldn't be identified because his hands were frozen to his face,"
Clarke said, adding "we have to build a political movement, a
common front, that will not stop until we have driven this
government from office - until the Tories are dead and we can dance
on their political grave."
The Tory Convention itself was an armed camp throughout the two-day
protest. Even Harris acknowledged that he couldn't have left the
hotel if he'd wanted to.
In fact, the contrast between the huge demonstrations of opposition
to the Tory agenda outside the Convention Centre, and the fortified
band of completely isolated Tory politicians within, was widely
noted in the press. Even the far-right Toronto Sun, which
regularly beats up on labour and cosies up to cops and Tories (and
the Reform Party) ran a headline "Time for the Tories to start
listening."
The question now for the fightback forces is how to move forward
from Hamilton. CLC President Bob White said the next city or the
one after it will be the Premier's home riding of North Bay. And
it could be as early as May 1, perhaps twinned with a city in
southern Ontario for simultaneous demonstrations of public anger.
Another likely date is June 8, when the Ontario Coalition Against
Poverty treks from various Ontario points will converge on Queen's
Park, and when the National Action Committee on the Status of Women
(NAC) Trek to Ottawa will pass through Toronto. This is a date
being pressed for by the Metro Toronto Labour Council.
Communist Party spokesperson Wilf Szczesny said "the next steps
need to include a sharper focus on an labour's alternative
political program. That will help the fightback by giving it
political depth and strength to match the significant momentum it
is gaining."
"People need to grasp that there is another way out of the crisis,"
said Szczesny, "that it is possible to develop and implement a
political program that will put people's needs ahead of corporate
profits and greed - and that this alternative can help to rebuild
the economy and restore needed employment and wage security, social
security, and democratic and labour rights."
"Without this, the public can be suckered again by right-wing
populists like Harris and Manning who will be undertaking a major
organizing drive in Ontario this spring," he warned. "Being mad
isn't enough - working people need answers that the labour movement
- including the Communist Party and the NDP - need to provide or
develop. This is a time of big movements and big solutions to big
problems. We've certainly made the first crucial step!"

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