Shutting Down Toronto: For Two Days The City Is Ours! (fwd)

The Anarchives (tao@lglobal.com)
Sun, 3 Nov 1996 18:03:01 +0000 (GMT)


---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 28 Oct 96 04:43:27 -0700
From: Arm The Spirit <ats@locust.cic.net>
Reply-To: ats-l@burn.ucsd.edu
To: Multiple recipients of list <ats-l@burn.ucsd.edu>
Subject: Shutting Down Toronto: For Two Days The City Is Ours!

Shutting Down Toronto: For Two Days The City Is Ours!

Two "Days of Action" by labour unions and community activists, supported by
hundreds of thousands of people temporally retook Toronto from the
rightwing political and ideological forces that have controlled Ontario
since the election of a rightist Conservative government in June of 1995.
Under Premier Mike Harris, the provincial government has proceeded with an
ideological rightwing economic restructuring such as Margaret Thatcher
imposed on Britain: huge cuts in welfare, education, the health system,
transfer payments to the municipalities, public sector workers, etc.

On Friday, October 25, a million people stayed away from work, shutting
down the city. Rather than the traffic chaos predicted by the mass media,
large parts of the city had a "Sunday morning" feel to it is as we
discovered the obvious - that if workers quit working, the city gets quiet
and peaceful. Beginning at midnight Thursday night with a large turnout to
shut down the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) yards, hundreds of picket
lines were set up across the metropolitan area. Except for emergency
service, the public sector was nearly totally shut down including public
transit, the post office, garbage collection, etc. Many of the workers who
did cross the line, supported the protest. Some TTC workers took coffee out
to those on the picket line, and refused to take their street cars or buses
across the lines leaving management little choice but to accept the
inevitable - there would be no service that day. Shutting down the heavily
used transit system was a major victory and came in spite of a court
injunction prohibiting the protestors from doing so.

All levels of education, from pre-school day care to universities were also
all but closed down. In many high schools, the handful of teachers who
showed up outnumbered the students. Thousands of university and college
students protested in one way or another, and state-supported day care, one
of the most threatened sectors, was virtually non-existent.

Much of the private sector was also affected. All construction sites, both
union and non-union, were shut down with persuasion being used in some
cases. Many factories and other work places, including aircraft maker De
Haviland, gave their workers a day off, either as a holiday or in exchange
for work done at another time. Many suppliers, fearing the predicted
traffic chaos stepped up deliveries, during the week, and closed down for
the day. Confrontational picketing at the Food Terminal, the main wholesale
market for fruit and vegetables, closed it for much of the day.

Many non-union, private sector employees also stayed home. There were many
reports of such workers making arrangements with their bosses before hand
to miss the day. No doubt for many it was due to the predicted loss of
transit, day care and schools, but the near total lack of traffic downtown
showed that people didn't fight to get to work. Granted it is easy to get
people's passive support if all they have to do is go back to bed for a few
hours, but it does show that there wasn't large scale disenchantment with
the protest either. Four of the very few arrests over the two days were of
a car load of men who attacked picket lines with ballbearings and a
slingshot. In spite of the rantings of the rightwing press, it was obvious
that many people decided they could live with the inconvenience.

The international airport was picketed, they had also gotten an injunction
limiting the picketing and ensuring that all essential workers would be
allowed through, but so many people had changed plans that the two major
airlines ended up cancelling many flights, and flying many empty seats.

Executives at downtown corporations made arrangements to deal with the
chaos by having key workers stay overnight in hotels, or sleeping in the
office. The brought in extra food for the day and arranged for extra
security. But they looked a little foolish as anyone driving in to work
made it in record time. And other than a lot of lower level workers not
being able to make it in, (which of course meant that little real work was
done) there was little disruption in the corporate towers.

The day itself was amazing. There were pickets at over 300 locations
throughout the city - government offices, colleges and universities,
construction sites, factories, etc.. One could walk from one to another in
the downtown, and many other areas. There were scores of planned and
spontaneous demonstrations and rallies. Hundreds of people got into the
Stock Exchange and spent nearly an hour shouting slogans, hammering on the
glass barricade above the trading floor with sticks, leaving a trail of
torn paper on the floor. The protestors eventually left as the riot squad
gathered and a parade marshall pleaded with people to leave. One of the few
occasions at which the riot squad showed up was when a spontaneous march of
healthworkers, on realizing that they were going by the Convention Centre
where a conference was being held by the Conservatives, decided to try to
enter the building.

The police, in general left the picketers alone, going with the ongoing
policy of the Police Department to interfere only if there is "violence" on
a picket line. The police on the scene at the TTC yards, only shrugged when
management brought out the injunction making such picketing illegal.
Reinforcements had been brought in from outside the city, but it was
obvious that the police were going to let things ride, depending on the
union marshalls, and the "self-control" of the participants to keep the
peace.

On Saturday, the 26th, a march and rally, estimated by the police at 80,000
and by the organizers at 300,000 left from various points to gather at
Queen's Park - the provincial legislative buildings. It was a powerful
experience even for those of us disenchanted with rallies. The numbers were
impressive, but so was the range of people there. They came from all over
the province and many different unions and community groups. There were
skilled and unskilled workers, young and old, marginal and mainstream
people, students, activists, artists, teachers, poor, women,
environmentalists, and the First Nations (Natives), who fittingly, led the
march. The older protestors were predominantly white, but the younger
protestors more reflected the racial and cultural diversity of the City.

There was a festive atmosphere to much of the two days. Glorious autumn
weather didn't hurt at all. We had reclaimed the City as our own, asserting
a collective power and joy in opposition to the individualist ideology of
rightwing economics. Hundreds of thousands of people are not willing to
just let the rightwing Tories define the future of Ontario.

Amongst the most positive political gains:

* tens of thousands of people participated in a political demonstration for
the first time.
* the political passions of activists were regenerated and renewed.
* community groups and the social movements were given equal billing with
the unions.
* the experience of having seen first hand the power of workers to withdraw
their labour - without us the City doesn't run, and then to see tens of
thousands of people marching in common cause, will, hopefully open many of
us up to new political possibilities.
* The two days were marked by competent organizing and political
sophistication. It was decentralized by design, but this also meant that
the two days held together. The organizers, though, maintain tight control
over what they considered most important, knew that to try to control
everything would be counter productive, so there was a lot of space for
grassroots activists, of which there are many in this city, to do what they
considered important.

The primary political problem is that it is not clear how to go forward.
The idea of a province wide general strike is already being advanced, and
considering that the Days of Action in Toronto were proceeded by similar
days in four other Ontario cities: London, Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo and
Peterborough, it would seem quite possible.

Yet it is not clear at all who will be the political beneficiaries. The New
Democratic Party, historically supported by the unions, and ostensibly
social-democratic, alienated many of their supporters by initiating the
government cutbacks when they were in power. The divisions they generated,
particularly by attacking the public sector unions and community activists,
resulted in their crushing defeat by the Conservatives in the 1995
election. These divisions remain. And certainly no one on the left, neither
the anarchists, nor the Trotskyists are in a position to offer some vision
(or "leadership") to go beyond the point we are now at.

Forcing the Conservative government to resign would be a "victory" but that
would not get us back to what now seems like the prosperity of a golden age
of the '80s in which the state had lots of money to hand out, welfare
provided enough to live on, and workers were generally doing okay for
themselves, or at least had the prospect of doing better. And for those of
us who would prefer to ahead rather than back, it is not at all clear as to
how we can go forward towards a democratic, egalitarian, green future. But
then no one would have predicted a couple of years ago that we would shut
down the city even for one day. We are left with new (as of yet,
unarticulated) possibilities and a new sense of our own power.

Jim Campbell (Prison News Service)
pns@pathcom.com

If people want more info, I'll try to respond if possible. There was much I
left out, and others who were there would have a different perspective.
Hopefully there will be other reports sent out. Please repost to any list
or person who might like to see this report.

October 27, 1996

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