Rob Ford, brought to you by …

Support for Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is evaporating with stunning speed. Few want to be associated with a man who has publicly and brazenly lied about past behaviour, engaged in open and obnoxious physical bullying, and now on public television used misogynist and degrading language. His mayoralty is disintegrating in a cloud of scandal and shame. We need to be clear, however, that Rob Ford is more than just one, dysfunctional, white former football coach from Etobicoke. He came to this dance party with many partners. Think back to the 2010 municipal elections, and remember the luminaries and institutions that counselled us to take a chance with Mr. Ford. A partial list would include …


Jim Flaherty, Tory Finance Minister, Government of Canada, who “said on CBC radio … that he was endorsing Rob Ford for mayor” (Fiorito, 2010).
Don Cherry, Hockey Commentator: “I was in their [the Ford brothers’] corner right from the start … Rob’s honest, he’s truthful” (HoofandCycle, 2010).
• Toronto Sun editorial board (2010): “It’s time to take City Hall and the City of Toronto in a bold, new direction. Rob Ford is the man to get it done”.
• National Post editorial board (2010): “In our opinion, Rob Ford is the best candidate”
Christie Blatchford (2010), columnist for The Globe and Mail: “Every blue-collar, working-class, anti-intellectual bone in my body finds him [Rob Ford] oddly endearing”.
Margaret Wente (2010), columnist for The Globe and Mail: “Sometimes, I think only a moron [sic] could vote for Rob Ford as mayor of Toronto. And sometimes, I think I might vote for him myself”.
David Booth (2010), Driving columnist for The National Post: “Let’s get rid of streetcars; Vote for Rob Ford”.
Marcus Gee (2010), columnist for The Globe and Mail would eventually step back and come to warn his readers about the potential problems of a Rob Ford mayoralty. But in February, 2010 – when Ford had yet to announce his candidacy – Gee was calling Ford “the right guy for a lefty race”, and urged him on with the rallying cry: “Run councillor, run”.
• On city council, Ford backers included Mike Del Grande, Ward 39, Scarborough-Agincourt; Giorgio Mammoliti, Ward 7, York West (“I don’t want to be a backbencher”); and three members of the “Responsible Government Group” – Peter Milczyn, Ward 5, Etobicoke-Lakeshore (“it’s time for a real change in attitude at city hall”); John Parker, Ward 26, Don Valley West (Rob Ford is “the only mayoral candidate who will delivery the change that Toronto taxpayers are looking for”); and Frances Nunziata, York-South-Weston (Alcoba, 2010; Anonymous, 2009; Moloney, 2010; Thomas & Rider, 2010)

It is incredibly satisfying to dwell on the 2010 positions of these one-time Ford backers and revel in the error of their ways. Don Cherry can now retreat from politics and restrict his retrograde musings to the hockey rink. David Booth can focus on mufflers instead of municipal politics. Christie Blatchford can find other means to demonstrate her self-professed anti-intellectualism (an odd label-of-choice for a career journalist). And Margaret Wente – well, she’s probably busy in plagiarist rehab at the moment (Kenyon, 2012).

But revelling in the disintegration of the Ford posse will only take us so far. We need to ask ourselves how someone as horrendous as Ford could find himself in the mayor’s chair, and that raises some uncomfortable issues which need to be addressed by the Toronto left and progressive community.

The political terrain of 2010 was the perfect petri dish where the Ford bacilli could multiply. That terrain featured a municipal left which was demoralized, in disarray and discredited in the wake of the 2009 city workers strike (the following is based on Kellogg, 2009).

In 2007, David Miller would let his membership in the New Democratic Party (NDP) lapse (Donovan, 2008). But in 2003 when he ran for mayor and won, his NDP membership was well known. Miller gathered around him a cadre of NDP and left-leaning councillors, and this left wing council was the political face of Toronto for much of the first decade of the 21st century.

The Miller era shed a spotlight on a perennial questions in politics – where does progressive change have its roots? Is the key thing to have good people holding office? Or is the key thing the mass action of the workers’ and social movements? Toronto’s historic 39-day city workers’ strike in 2009 showed just how important these questions are.

The 24,000 members of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) locals 79 and 416 – were asking for a modest pay increase. The issue, however, around which the dispute came to revolve, was an old provision in their collective agreement, allowing retiring workers to “cash in” unused sick days.

This was a very small benefit – a few thousand dollars at the end of a long career is a small price to pay workers for years of service. It is also a benefit shared by police and fire-fighters in the city – a point that few opponents of the strike bothered to mention. But small or not, this benefit became the rallying cry for an extremely organized anti-union right-wing on City Council (Bonnar, 2009).

This is the moment that the “Responsible Government Group”, mentioned above, emerged into prominence. Constantly represented in the press by right wing councillors such as Case Ootes and Denzil Minnan-Wong, this pro-business section of council demagogically portrayed itself as “friends of the common person,” inconvenienced by the withdrawal of city services (Hanes, 2009a, 2009b).

It would not have been hard to counter their propaganda. A “Solidarity Caucus” could have made a few simple points to galvanize those who supported the unions.

• Where was the right-wing when we were fighting for childcare?
• Where was the right-wing when we were fighting for improved pension benefits?
• Where was the right-wing when we were fighting for improved health and safety?

Importantly, however, this would have meant not just attacking the right-wing members of the “Responsible Government Group”. It would have meant attacking the position of the “progressive” Mayor David Miller.

This was the challenge facing Adam Giambrone, Janet Davis, Paula Fletcher, Pam McConnell, Howard Moscoe – all individuals whose entire political careers had been bound up with the left and the workers’ movement. They did not meet that challenge. To do so would have meant showing up on the picket lines (which Moscoe did, to his credit) supporting the striking workers, and openly standing against the position of the mayor. It would have meant a political divide. They were not prepared to take this step. Instead of solidarity, we got silence.

Miller, the ex-NDPer, stood hard against the unions. The left-wing members of Toronto’s city council at worst sided openly with the mayor, at best sat silently. The combined effect was disorientation and disorganization of the left in the city, and the creation of a huge opening through which someone like Rob Ford could enter.

We had seen this film before. In the early 1990s, then-NDPer Bob Rae, as premier of Ontario, led a sharp attack on workers’ rights through the “Social Contract.” NDP members of the legislature (with the honourable exception of a small handful, most prominently, the late Peter Kormos) would not break from Rae. As a result, the anti-Rae sentiment was captured by the Tories, leading to the brutal years of Mike Harris (MacDermid & Albo, 2001).

We need to remember this history. The electoral pendulum could well swing left in the next election. Currently leading the polls is prominent NDP politician Olivia Chow (That, 2013). But replacing Ford with Chow is only a small part of what is necessary to change politics in Toronto. We need a left willing to stand with the social movements, the workers’ movements and the oppressed, even when that means dividing from progressive politicians.

© 2013 Paul Kellogg

References

Alcoba, N. (2010, September 25). Team Ford asks supporters to fight back. National Post, p. A.18.

Anonymous. (2009, March 26). Milczyn garners local support for “Two Per Cent Solution.” Etobicoke Guardian, p. 1.

Blatchford, C. (2010, August 21). Built Ford tough: The gadfly that Torontonians need. The Globe and Mail, p. A.2.

Bonnar, J. (2009, July 17). Incomplete information turns the public against CUPE strikers. rabble.ca.

Booth, D. (2010, October 22). Let’s get rid of streetcars; Vote for Rob Ford. National Post, p. DT.2.

Donovan, V. (2008, September 9). Miller won’t back any candidates; But mayor urges voters to ask how parties will invest in cities. Toronto Star, p. A.16.

Fiorito, J. (2010, September 24). With mayoral endorsement, Flaherty will get us nowhere. Toronto Star, p. GT.3.

Gee, M. (2010, February 6). Rob Ford, please run. You’re the right guy for a lefty race. The Globe and Mail, p. M.3.

Hanes, A. (2009a, July 18). “It’s getting harder with every day’; Councillors facing prospect of a long civic workers’ strike. National Post, p. A.15.

Hanes, A. (2009b, July 22). Poll serves as warning to pols. National Post, p. A.10.

HoofandCycle. (2010). Don Cherry and Rob Ford “…for all the Pinkos out there, that ride bicycles…” Youtube.

Kellogg, P. (2009, August 13). Toronto city workers’ strike: Silence on the left strengthens the right. PolEcon.net.

Kenyon, W. (2012, September 26). CBC turfs Wente from media panel: Q radio show “suspends” her from ethics segment. Toronto Star, p. A.13.

MacDermid, R., & Albo, G. (2001). Divided Province, Growing Protests: Ontario Moves Right. In The Provincial State in Canada: Politics in the Provinces and Territories (pp. 163–202). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Moloney, P. (2010, October 16). Councillors choosing sides as Ford, Smitherman battle: New poll suggests Ford still has small lead. Toronto Star, p. GT.2.

National Post. (2010, October 23). Rob Ford; Editorial: Why a vote for Ford is a vote for fiscal sanity. National Post, p. A.1.

That, C. T. (2013, November 14). Poll: 62% of Torontonians wouldn’t vote for Ford in 2014 “under any circumstance.” CTVNews.ca.

Thomas, N., & Rider, D. (2010, September 23). Not everyone is on Ford bandwagon: Even some right-leaning councillors say they will wait and see before backing a mayoral candidate. Toronto Star, p. GT.1.

Toronto Sun. (2010, October 17). Rob Ford for Toronto: Editorial. Toronto Sun.

Wente, M. (2010, October 5). Two and a half cheers for Rob Ford. The Globe and Mail, p. A.21.

Putting the “Union” back in “Union Station”

I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to have a rally in Union Station in Toronto in the middle of rush hour. I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to wear picket signs and hand out union flyers either. But there they were, Friday May 25, at 4pm – a good two dozen or so striking employees of CP Rail, members of the Teamsters, doing all of the above. The picket signs were big and bold, saying “Leave my pension alone,” and the picketers, instead of being thrown out, were being welcomed warmly by the VIA, GO and TTC employees who were in Canada’s biggest transit hub that day. Something had changed in Toronto since I was last here.

Maybe it was the issue. The employer is after these workers’ pensions. Just two of the bullet points on the leaflet being distributed were:

• CP wants to reduce pension income for active employees … in some cases by as much as 40%;

•  CP wants to reduce Retirement Health Care benefits and eliminate benefits at age 65, a reduction of over $20,000 per member (TCRD Division 821 2012).

Those are both important issues for many workers in both the public and private sector. Everywhere there is pressure to reduce pension benefits. Everywhere there is pressure to reduce health care benefits. Everywhere, in other words, Main Street is being asked to accept a lower standard of living, to deal with economic problems caused by Bay Street and Wall Street.

But another explanation comes to mind, to explain this confident picket in the middle of rush hour, and the warm reception from the traveling public. Maybe a little of the spirit of Quebec has come to Toronto?

After all, just two days before, what is being described as “the single biggest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history” had taken place, in Montreal. Our sisters and brothers in Quebec are up against the draconian Bill 78 which puts very severe restrictions on the right to assemble for political purposes. The massive crowd which defied that law might have been 250,000 strong. The lowest estimate was 75,000 (Mennie et al. 2012).

When a quarter of a million stand up to defy an unjust law, it gives all of us confidence to stand up. The 4,800 CP rail employees now on strike – members of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) – are certainly doing just that. TCRC president Rex Beatty said that the “railway’s demands were unacceptable because while workers are seeing their pensions decimated, managers are seeing their benefits increase. ‘CP management … shouldn’t underestimate our members. This is an important issue and we’re going to see this fight through to the end’ ” (Teamsters Canada Rail Conference 2012).

A picket sign at union station put the matter in more colloquial terms. “CP touched my ‘No No’ place”. These workers who are saying “No” to cuts in pensions and benefits deserve our support. And in all of our struggles, we need to keep front and centre the story of the magnificent movement in Quebec which is inspiring students and workers all over the world.

© 2012 Paul Kellogg

References

Mennie, James, Katherine Wilton, Andy Riga, Chris Curtis, Max Harrold, Roberto Rocha, Jan Ravensbergen, and The Gazette. 2012. “Peaceful Day March, Heated Night Demo.” The Gazette, May 23, montrealgazette.com edition. .

TCRD Division 821. 2012. “Why Is There a Strike at CP Rail?

Teamsters Canada Rail Conference. 2012. “TCRC President Stands Behind Striking Canadian Pacific Workers.

Angry hospital workers wildcat in Edmonton

An old tradition in the workers’ movement came back to life in February in Edmonton – the wildcat strike. February 16 at 7 a.m., hundreds of angry service workers walked off the job at the Royal Alexandra Hospital. They were soon joined by workers at the University of Alberta Hospital and the Northeast Community Health Centre.

These general support service employees, 22,000 strong, form the indispensable framework for hospital activities in the province – managing health records, preparing meals, sterilizing surgical tools and assisting in therapy, in the pharmacy and elsewhere. But they are being treated as disposal workers by management.

Members of the Alberta Union of Public Employees (AUPE), they have been without a contract since last Spring. The results of mediation have been no better. Their bargaining unit was given a mediator’s contract recommendations, and rejected it overwhelmingly.

In response, the employer, Alberta Health Services, came back with a new offer that offered a two percent lump sum payment for 2011 (i.e., no increase in base pay), a two percent increase for 2012, and a cost of living increase for 2013. This offer “was even less than what was recommended in the rejected mediator’s report” said AUPE President Guy Smith. “What we got was nothing short of insulting,” he said in a press conference (CBC News 2012).

The response to this insulting offer was to have been a series of information pickets on the afternoon of February 16. While better than nothing, information pickets are usually ignored by the mass media, and so rarely bring very much attention to the issues workers face in struggles with management.

But the wildcats, which pre-empted those information pickets, certainly did the trick. The morning news, on radio and television, was full of sounds and images of angry workers, telling their story, and letting the public know about their concerns.

Wildcat strikes are technically “illegal” – but in the face of determined solidarity, and real sympathy from the Edmonton public, AUPE won a back-to-work protocol, with a guarantee that “there will be no legal action or workplace discipline” (AUPE 2012).

With employers across the country increasingly playing hardball, and with Conservative governments in office federally and in many provinces (including, of course, Alberta), Edmonton hospital workers are doing all of us a service by rehearsing this powerful, rarely used tactic – the rank-and-file led wildcat.

© 2012 Paul Kellogg

References

AUPE. 2012. “AUPE Calls Off Strike, Picketers Protected, Negotiations Resume.” AUPE News.

CBC News. 2012. “Edmonton Hospital Workers End Wildcat Strike.” CBC News Edmonton.

Topp and Mulcair – the apparatus man and the ex-Liberal

The late Jack Layton’s political presence in Canadian politics owed everything to the social movements. But when members of the party gather, March 24, 2012 to elect a replacement for Layton, the party is likely to be moved very far from this social movement experience. The implications of this need to be seriously thought through by those interested in progressive social change in Canada.

In 1986, while a City of Toronto alderman, Layton was one of 11 jurors on a mock jury which ruled that the restrictions on abortion in place in Canadian law at the time was “’in contempt of Canadian women’ … “The verdict was greeted with a standing ovation and chants of ‘Choice Now!’ by the crowd of about 250 people who attended the mock court at Trinity-St. Paul’s Church” (Ferguson 1986).

In 1991, he was a co-founder of the White Ribbon campaign to combat violence against women (Minerson 2011), and every year he would wear a white ribbon, symbol of that campaign. Every year he would also happily march at Pride in Toronto, a politician who didn’t fear to be seen defending the rights of lesbian, gay, and transgendered people. In the run-up to the Iraq War, with the Liberal government clearly leaning toward joining in the slaughter, he openly sided with the anti-war movement. As newly-elected leader of the NDP, he marched in the thousands-strong anti-war protest in Toronto, February 15, 2003 (Conradi et al. 2003).

The resumés are very different for at least two of the front-runners to replace Layton – Thomas Mulcair and Brian Topp. The former comes from the Liberal Party. Three times, he won as a candidate for the Liberals in Quebec. In 2003, this saw him elevated into the cabinet of (ex-Tory) Jean Charest (The Canadian Press 2008). And if you doubt his conservative credentials, remember how he shamefully joined in the chorus attacking Libby Davies when she (correctly) stated that the occupation of Palestine had begun in 1948. Mulcair’s comrades in this assault were Tory Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal leader Bob Rae, both calling on Davies to resign as NDP House leader (De Souza 2010). The ease with which Mulcair can keep company with the parties of Corporate Canada came to light during the current campaign, when it became known that before joining the NDP, he held talks with other parties, including the Tories (Ivison 2012).

What about his chief rival, Brian Topp? His reputation is better than Mulcair’s. He has been seen by some as a “labour candidate,” early on winning the backing of the United Steelworkers, “the NDP’s largest affiliated union and the largest private-sector union in the country” (O’Neil 2011). His left-wing credentials were boosted by his early endorsement from deputy leader Libby Davies who somewhat surprisingly said that Topp has “a vision that I share” (Kennedy 2011).

Surprising, because Topp’s story is not one featuring the social movements with which Davies has long been associated, but rather staff positions in the administrative apparatus of the NDP and the union machine. In 1990, he went to work full-time for NDP MP Philip Edmonston, in 1992 moving on to be senior researcher for then party leader Audrey McLaughlin, and from 1993-2000 working first as a researcher and then as deputy chief of staff for Saskatchewan NDP premier Roy Romanow. His career then took him into a staff position in Toronto, working for ACTRA (the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists), until he returned to the NDP to work closely with Jack Layton in 2004 (Rana 2004). Topp is a career apparatus man.

The problem is, when political eyes are habitually fixed upwards – towards either cabinet positions in corporate parties such as the Liberals, or towards staff positions with social-democracy and the union bureaucracy, it becomes increasingly difficult to focus them downwards, to the grass-roots’ activism which is the only place from which we have every won real reforms. A victory by either Mulcair or Topp would make this problem extremely clear.

A recurring issue of the campaign has been whether the NDP should consider cooperation with the Liberal Party, in an attempt to topple Harper. The only candidate openly advocating this policy, is Nathan Cullen (Bryden 2012). But given his background, it is clear that coalition politics with parties of business would come very easily to Thomas Mulcair. As for Topp, remember that as a key adviser to Layton, he was one of the principal architects of the shameful attempt to form a coalition with the Liberal Party in 2008, something of which, by the way, he is extremely proud – see his book How we almost gave the Tories the Boot (Topp 2010).

We don’t know if either of these two will emerge as the eventual leader. But either of them will mean an NDP more firmly wedded to backroom politics, more likely to be enticed by a coalition dance with the Liberal Party – the party which grimly presided over draconian cuts to transfer payments in the 1990s, and the party which took Canada to war in Afghanistan in 1991.

Given all this, it is absolutely not surprising that many on the left of the NDP are backing Peggy Nash in the campaign for leadership. Nash, like Topp, has a long career as a union staffer – working for the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) from 1990 until 2006, returning to the CAW after losing her riding to the Liberals in 2008 (Van Alphen 2008). But unlike Topp, she has also been known as a supporter of the left and the social movements.

In 2001, Nash backed the New Politics Initiative (NPI). “We need a party with fire in its belly and blood in its veins,” she said as she and the NPI fought unsuccessfully to push the NDP into forming a new party rooted in the anti-globalization movement (Edmonds 2011). Throughout the war in Afghanistan, she was a frequent speaker at anti-war rallies. Following a multi-party fact-finding trip to Lebanon, in the wake of Israel’s bloody invasion of that country in 2006, she took considerable abuse for saying the obvious – that “it was just not helpful” to label Hezbollah as “a terrorist organization” (Fisher 2006).

This was one of the few times in recent history that a prominent NDPer took an open stand on the issue of the struggle in the Middle East, long seen as an almost taboo subject because of the way in which it might lose votes for the party. But social movement building is not a popularity contest. It means staking out a principal (for instance, the right of Palestinians to return to their homes under occupation since 1948), and sticking to it regardless of the backlash.

Unfortunately, Nash has been reticent to go much beyond this 2006 position. Neither she nor any other NDP leadership candidate has been willing to publicly identify with the current movement for Palestine rights, the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement which has built exactly the kind of grass roots social movement we need on so many issues. You are unlikely to find any of the leadership candidates attending the many events happening across the country this week, during Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW).

That said, there is really no comparison between Nash and either Topp or Mulcair. The people backing Nash include many who know very well that the future of the left will be found in the streets, and not in the back-rooms, that the coalitions we need are not with the corporate-backed Liberals, but with the poor, the oppressed and the working class – coalitions of the 99% to challenge the entrenched power of the 1%.

If either Mulcair or Topp wins, the dangers are obvious. A Nash victory would mean a step back from the brink. But leadership campaigns come and go, and the main task remains – rebuilding social movements from the grass roots up.

© 2012 Paul Kellogg

References
Van Alphen, Tony. 2008. “Nash Back at CAW After Poll Defeat; Former Parkdale-High Park MP Opts Not to Run for Ontario NDP Leadership, Saying Timing Not Right.” Toronto Star, November 18.

Bryden, Joan. 2012. “Cullen Gets Social-media Boost for Co-operation Among Opposition Parties: Cullen Gets Boost from Online Campaigns.” The Canadian Press, February 17.

Conradi, Peter, Bruce Wallace, Joe Lauria, and Anne-Sophie Dumetz. 2003. “Millions Say ‘No’ to War: Cities Around the World Overrun in Biggest Protest in History.” The Ottawa Citizen, February 16.

Edmonds, Scott. 2011. “Federal NDP Rejects Shift to Far Left; Plans to Forge Ahead with Renewal.” The Canadian Press, November 24.

Ferguson, Derek. 1986. “Panel Finds Abortion Law ‘in Contempt’ of Women.” Toronto Star, March 2.

Fisher, Matthew. 2006. “MPs Say Terrorist Label Bad for Peace.” Calgary Herald, August 21.

Ivison, John. 2012. “Mulcair Denies Cabinet Demand; NDP Leadership Hopeful Had 2007 Talks with Tories.” National Post, March 2.

Kennedy, Mark. 2011. “Veteran MP Davies Backs Topp’s Bid; Deputy Leader Says Former Party President Has ‘a Vision That I Share’.” The Province, October 2.

Minerson, Todd. 2011. “Jack Layton and White Ribbon Campaign.” White Ribbon Campaign: Working to End Violence Against Women.

O’Neil, Peter. 2011. “Steelworkers Union Backs Topp for NDP Leader.” Edmonton Journal, October 13.

Rana, F. 2004. “Topp Back in NDP Headquarters for Campaign 2004: ‘I Think Jack Layton and the Federal NDP Have a Very Good Chance in This Election’: Topp.” The Hill Times, May 24.

De Souza, Mike. 2010. “Prime Minister, Liberals Demand Davies Resignation.” Record, June 16.

The Canadian Press. 2008. “Thomas Mulcair Holds NDP’s Only Quebec Riding in Squeaker Vote.” The Canadian Press, October 15.

Topp, Brian. 2010. How We Almost Gave the Tories the Boot: The Inside Story Behind the Coalition. Toronto: James Lorimer and Company.

Toronto city workers’ strike: Silence on the left strengthens the right

During Toronto’s historic 39-day city workers’ strike, the left-wing members of Toronto’s city council at worst sided openly with the mayor, at best sat silently, and in the process opened the door for a newly-invigorated right-wing. It was a débacle several years in the making.

David Miller – Toronto’s mayor – was swept into office in 2003. A long-time member of the NDP, Miller – with a solid caucus of NDP and progressive councilors behind him – was a welcome change from the long run of pro-business Mel Lastman. Without question it has been a much better situation for workers and the poor in Toronto, to have a council headed by a mayor and council with links to the unions and to the NDP.

But there was always a tension. Where does progressive change have its roots? Do we fundamentally change our position in society through the good offices of friendly progressive councilors? Or is the foundation of our progress the mass action of the workers and social movements? Any examination of history will show that it is the latter – the mass movements – from which we win our gains. But there is a tendency, once in office, to forget the mass movements on which all progressive politicians stand, and to develop the illusion that progress comes from the work of a small progressive elite. This was reflected in the quiet withdrawal of Miller from the NDP in 2007. He was choosing the mayor’s office over the workers’ movement.[1]

Enter the confrontation between Miller and the city inside and outside workers. The 24,000 members of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) locals 79 and 416 – were asking for a modest pay increase. But the issue around which the dispute came to revolve, was an old provision in their collective agreement, allowing retiring workers to “cash in” unused sick days.

This is a very small benefit – a few thousand dollars at the end of a long career is a small price to pay workers for years of service. It is also a benefit shared by police and fire-fighters in the city – a point that few opponents of the strike bothered to mention. But it became the rallying cry for an extremely organized anti-union right-wing on City Council.[2]

The so-called “Responsible Government Group” went into action from the first minutes of the strike. Profiled in the press again, and again, and again, right wing councilors like Case Ootes and Denzil Minnan-Wong, a pro-business section of council demagogically portrayed itself as “friends of the common person,” the working people inconvenienced by the withdrawal of city services.[3]

It is not hard to respond to this kind of conservative union-bashing.

• Where was the right-wing when we were fighting for childcare?
• Where was the right-wing when we were fighting for improved pension benefits?
• Where was the right-wing when we were fighting for improved health and safety?

They were of course, nowhere. But given a chance to lead an attack on Toronto’s unions – these right-wing councilors suddenly discovered their concern for ordinary people, putting aside for a moment their cocktail parties with Real Estate developers.

But for this simple response to the right wing to get a hearing, the response had to be organized by the left on council. There were people who were in a position to do just that. Adam Giambrone, Janet Davis, Paula Fletcher, Pam McConnell, Howard Moscoe – these are all individuals whose entire political careers have been bound up with the left and the workers’ movement. What we needed was a “Solidarity Caucus” to meet and counter the nonsense coming from the pro-business councillors.

But that would have meant breaking from David Miller. It would have meant showing up on the picket lines (which Moscoe to his credit did) and supporting the striking workers against the position of the mayor. It would have meant a political divide. So instead of solidarity, we got silence.

Sometimes it was worse than silence. July 8, Miller emerged from a closed-door briefing with council where by all reports, councilors – left and right – were united against the workers and in support of Miller.[4]

We risk paying a steep price for this in the months to come. There is contempt and hatred for Miller in the wake of the strike. But the most visible voice articulating this anger has been the pro-business section of council.

We know where this can lead, those of us who remember the years of then NDPer Bob Rae as premier of Ontario. He led a sharp attack on workers’ rights through the “Social Contract.” But NDP members of the legislature would not break from Rae. So the anti-Rae sentiment was captured by the Tories, leading to the brutal years of Mike Harris in office.[5]

Let’s not make the same mistake. We need a left on council and outside council to stand up and challenge Miller for his anti-union stance. We need the anger against Miller to be captured by the left and not the right.

An important step in this direction was the decision by the Toronto and York Region Labour Council to refuse to invite Miller to the annual Labour Day parade. A strike is a line in the sand. Miller stood on the wrong side, and must now pay the price.

© 2009 Paul Kellogg

References

[1] Donovan Vincent, “Miller won’t back any candidates,” Toronto Star, Sept. 9, 2008, p. A.16. The drift away from the NDP was visible much earlier. In 2006 Miller backed Liberal John Godfrey in that year’s federal election.
[2] John Bonnar, “Incomplete information turns the public against CUPE strikers,” rabble.ca, July 17, 2009
[3] Allison Hanes, “ ‘It’s getting harder with every day’; Councillors facing prospect of a long civic workers’ strike,” National Post, July 18, 2009, p. A.15 and Hanes, “Poll serves as warning to pols,” National Post, July 22, 2009, p. A. 10
[4] Brodie Fenlon, Jennifer Lewington, “Council determined not to yield as unions threaten long strike,” The Globe and Mail, July 9, 2009, p. A.10 and Alison Hanes, “Council supports city stance; United Front,” National Post, July 9, 2009, p. A. 12.
[5] For an overview, see Robert MacDermid and Greg Albo, “Divided Province, Growing Protests: Ontario Moves Right,” in Keith Brownsey and Michael Howlett, eds. The Provincial State in Canada: Politics in the Provinces and Territories, Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2001, pp. 163-202.

Labour solidarity with Palestine

“I want to express my gratitude to both CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) and CUPW (Canadian Union of Postal Workers) for the solidarity they have shown to the Palestinian people.” With these words, Manawell Abdul Al, member of the executive committee of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions summed up the sentiment at the 150-strong opening plenary of the “Brick by Brick” conference at the Steelworkers Hall in Toronto. He was referring to the motions passed first at CUPE-Ontario, and this year at CUPW national, supporting the campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the state of Israel.

Organized by the Labour Committee of the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA), the conference focused on “building labour solidarity with Palestine.” As well as members of CUPE and CUPW, the weekend conference brought together members of CAW (Canadian Auto Workers), the USWA (United Steelworkers of America), FNEEQ (Fédération nationale des enseignantes et des enseignants du Québec), OSSTF (Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation) and other unions to debate ways to strengthen the BDS campaign in the labour movement.

Marion Pollack from CUPW also spoke on the opening panel. “It is very clear to us that the struggle facing the Palestinian people is the same struggle faced by the South African people against apartheid,” she said, and thanked CUPE Ontario for taking the lead in being the first major union grouping in Canada to pass a BDS resolution. In the wake of the CUPE Ontario resolution, there were literally thousands of emails sent by pro-Israeli forces denouncing the union. After CUPW members at the recent national convention voted 90 per cent to endorse the BDS resolution, “we were braced for a backlash” Pollack said. “However, we have not had the same level of fall-out.”

One of the most moving speeches came from Paul Loulou Chery, Secretary of the Confederation of Haitian Workers. He described the extremely difficult conditions being faced by Haitian workers, chafing under military occupation sanctioned by the United Nations. He talked about the conditions created by the 2004 coup d’état, carried out by the military of the U.S., France and Canada. But he also said that even though Haitian workers face terrible conditions, they do not want their Palestinian sisters and brothers to stand alone. Manawell Abdul Al took the microphone in response, and said that the occupation of Haiti and the occupation of Palestine are one and the same. “It is the dictatorship of capital that wants to exploit and put its hands on the wealth of the people.”

Notably present at the opening plenary was Phyllis Bennis, well known anti-war activist, (prominent in United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), the principal anti-war organization in the United States), who spoke from the floor as a member of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. Also from the US were members of US Labor Against the War. Links with the U.S. anti-war and labour movements will be critical in the campaign to build solidarity with Palestine.

© 2008 Paul Kellogg

Resources

Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid Labour Committee, www.caiaweb.org/labourcommittee
CUPE B.C., The Wall Must Fall, 2007, www.cupe.ca/updir/WallMustFall2007-eng.pdf
CUPE, “CUPE Resolution 50 Palestine“, www.cupe.on.ca
CUPW, Resolution for BDS, http:stopthewall.org
U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, www.endtheoccupation.org

Transit strike exposes fault lines in labour movement

The Ontario legislature convened at 1:30 pm, April 27 – the first time in history that the august body had met on a Sunday. In 35 minutes, the politicians had time to have prayers, make a few speeches and, oh yes, give three readings to a bill called the “Toronto Public Transit Service Resumption Act.” By 2:05 pm it was finished, with the support of the NDP and its leader Howard Hampton, his “reservations” notwithstanding.[1] Workers in Ontario will be living with the repercussions of these actions for some time.

Unionized workers at the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) had been on legal strike since midnight, Friday April 25, and the strike had caught most by surprise. The Toronto Star of April 24 carried a short article headlined “TTC contract expected to pass vote.”[2] Tense negotiations had resulted in a tentative agreement between the Toronto Transit Commission and the 8,900 strong Amalgamated Transit Union (Local 113) that most saw as a victory for the union. TTC drivers won a wage increase of 3 per cent a year in each year of a three-year deal. On top of that, in what became known as the “GTA clause” drivers received the right to remain the highest paid transit drivers in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area). What it means is that if, at the end of 2009, city of Toronto transit drivers are earning less than transit drivers in Mississauga or any other municipality in the GTA, they would “get an increase of 5 cents an hour above the other drivers’ wage.” The Mississauga example is key, because “TTC drivers have been earning 5 cents an hour less than those in Mississauga.”[3]

Conservative members of Toronto City Council were outraged at the deal. “I think it’s a mistake … We’ve turned over control. It’s not wise,”[4] said Councillor Doug Holyday. “I don’t know where we are going to get the money from,” said Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong.[5] But if the right-wing was dissatisfied, so was the rank and file – but for completely different reasons.

First – one of the key areas of disagreement, the treatment of workers injured on the job, had not been fully addressed. Under the old contract, workers injured on the job received 85% of their pay while they were away from work. The union wanted that raised to 100%, and while they made some headway, “obviously, we didn’t get everything we wanted,” said local president Bob Kinnear.[6] The importance of the issue was graphically demonstrated April 20, when two TTC workers were injured, one seriously, after two subway cars collided in a maintenance yard.[7]

There were other issues. While drivers were awarded the “GTA clause,” no such agreement existed for other sections of the local, including maintenance workers who represent about 1/3 of the locals’ membership. Skilled trades workers were also dissatisfied. They had wanted a 10-cent an hour premium raised to 50 cents, but were offered only 25 cents. Tensions around these issues were so high, that seven members of the local’s 16-member executive refused to sign the tentative agreement.[8] In this context of a division at the top, and a feeling that drivers were being treated differently than non-drivers, rumours began to swirl through the membership – most starkly, that there were plans afoot to contract out much of its maintenance work.

But to really understand the events, the entire context has to be seen. City workers – including transit workers – have lived through years and years of budget crises, cuts to services, threats to wages and threats of attacks on conditions such as contracting out. But this year, for the first time since the creation of the amalgamated City of Toronto in 1997, the City came forward with a balanced budget. With Canada’s labour party (the NDP) dominating many of the key positions in the City (including in the mayor’s office, held by David Miller, a long-time NDP stalwart), and with the threat of a budget deficit finally removed from over the heads of the city’s workers, there was a sense that now was the time to make up ground lost in the difficult years of the 1990s. There was developing what labour historian Stuart Marshall Jamieson called in earlier times, a “momentum of rising expectations,”[9] expectations that it was time to make some progress. In that context, we should not be surprised that maintenance and other workers should want to be treated just as well as drivers in the new contract. That is the context in which the tentative agreement was rejected, 65% voting it down.

The rejection of the transit deal was announced late afternoon, Friday April 25. By midnight, the transit system was shut down, the local leadership having called its members out on legal strike. But it was a strike of a special kind. There were no picket assignments, no picket signs, no picket lines, no activity of any sort. At midnight, the doors were locked, the union’s members were sent home and the “strike” was on. The rank and file had spoken, decisively, and the union leadership responded by showing absolutely no leadership.

The workers had been put in an incredibly vulnerable position. Their leadership had announced up and down throughout the long negotiations that any strike would happen after 48 hours’ notice. Instead there was none, maximizing the possibility of a backlash against the union. And with no picket lines, the striking workers were expected to take on their boss, the city and the anti-union media by staying at home – a recipe for failure and demoralization. Perhaps Kinnear and the rest of the ATU leadership were too divided to come up with a plan. Perhaps they were so surprised at the rejection of the deal that they were paralyzed. Perhaps Kinnear was himself “on strike” against the rank and file – pulling them out after the vote, but refusing to do anything to give shape and structure to the strike. In any case, the effect was total confusion.

It did not take long for anti-union forces to enter into the vacuum created by the local leadership’s inaction. Shamefully, it was mayor Miller, flanked by TTC head Adam Giambrone (former head of the federal NDP) who led the charge, calling the strike “unacceptable and unnecessary.”[10] This set the stage for the provincial NDP to help out the Liberals and the Tories in making the strike illegal. So as quickly as it was over, the strike was done.

There is now talk of declaring the TTC an “essential service” and completely stripping its workers of the right to strike. It is not clear that this will happen without a fight. Sid Ryan, Ontario president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) said in a press release: “We successfully mobilized labour throughout the province when [former Tory premier] Mike Harris tried to suspend the right to strike during amalgamation, and we are prepared to do that again. The right to strike is a fundamental right in any democracy … If you take that right away, workers are little more than indentured servants.”[11]

The whole experience has shed light on the fault lines that exist inside the labour movement in this country. The rank and file showed surprising militancy, rejecting a deal that most saw as a victory – saying that they deserved more. The union leadership showed itself incapable of providing a lead to this new sentiment of militancy. And social democratic politicians showed again, that – when forced to choose between working class militancy and being good corporate managers – it is their management hat that often carries the day.

© 2008 Paul Kellogg

References

[1] “Hansard Issue: L034,” April 27, 2008 http://hansardindex.ontla.oon.ca
[2] Tess Kalinowsky, “TTC contract expected to pass vote,” Toronto Star, April 24, 2008, www.thestar.com
[3] Tess Kalinowski, Vanessa Lu, “Critics slam deal’s GTA clause,” Toronto Star, April 22, 2008, www.thestar.com
[4] Kalinowski, Lu, “Critics slam deal’s GTA clause
[5] Jeff Gray, “Miller opponents say TTC deal is too generous,” The Globe and Mail, April 22, 2008, p. A8.
[6] Katie Rook, “TTC deal averts transit strike,” National Post, April 21, 2008, www.nationalpost.com
[7] 680News staff, “Two TTC workers injured after subway cars collide,” 680 News, April 20, 2008, www.680news.com
[8] Jeff Gray, “Coup at TTC union blamed for strike,” Globe and Mail, April 29, 2008, p. A1
[9] Stuart Marshall Jamieson, Times of Trouble: Labour Unrest and Industrial Conflict in Canada, 1900-66 (Ottawa: Ministry of Supply and Services Canada, 1976), p. 418
[10] CityNews.ca Staff, “Visibly Angered Mayor David Miller Calls Sudden TTC Strke ‘Unacceptable And Irresponsible,’” www.citynews.ca
[11] CUPE, “Expect province-wide labour unrest,” April 28, 2008 http://cupe.ca