Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Two days ago the city of Toronto became the second major community in Ontario to been visited by a civic workers' strike. this follows a strike by workers in the city of Windsor that is edging towards three months. Like in Windsor, both Toronto inside workers, represented by CUPE Local 79, and outside workers represented by CUPE Local 416, have gone on strike. Interested readers can follow the progress of the strike from a labour point of view by visiting the sites of these two locals. What follows below is the official announcement of the strike from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). But before that, here's a little Molly aside....

New Brooms Become Old in a Few Years ?

A little backgrounder on this strike is in order. The last civic workers' strike in Toronto occurred in 2002, and it lasted 3 weeks before the provincial government legislated the strikers back to work. A year afterwards an aspiring municipal politician rode discontent with the city's handling of the strike (amongst many other issues) to victory as the new mayor of Toronto. His name...David Miller, the present Mayor of Toronto. He rode to power on a slogan of being a "new broom" to sweep clean the entrenched cronyism, corruption and unresponsiveness of City Hall.

The years have passed. The Toronto civic workers have demonstrated their disgust with Mayor Miller's record of broken promises by "breaking brooms" at their recent solidarity rally, a media stunt that says what they think of him now. It must be admitted that Mayor Miller rode to power on a set of promises, almost all of them unfulfilled, that were more of a vague lefty "greenishness"(sort of the colour of lower small intestine bile), rather than a traditional socialist program, let alone a libertarian socialist one. As far as I can see a socialist program, traditional or libertarian, is pretty well a non-starter in terms of electability anywhere on the North American continent if one is vying for a mayor's chair. A vague lefty "greenishness" can, however, swing into power in some situations.

Is it, however, worthwhile to devote more than a few nanoseconds of one's time to helping such sparkling politicians to power ? Correct me if I'm wrong but isn't the example of Mayor Miller example number 86,953,284,631 of the treachery of leftist politicians. I might be out by a few million ! No doubt a lot of the civic workers who are now opposed to the Mayor were great supporters of his as little as 6 years ago. Is electing lefties to power any worthwhile way to spend one's limited time on Earth ?

But anyways, here's the story from CUPE.
Toronto city workers strike:
City of Toronto inside and outside workers walked off the job just after midnight tonight in a fight against management demands for concessions.
“After six months at the bargaining table, the city has not heard the message from our members that they must be treated as fairly as all other unionized workers who provide public services to the people of Toronto,” said Mark Ferguson, president of CUPE 416.
“This city cannot treat their direct employees, our members, like second-class citizens,” said Ann Dembinski, president of CUPE 79, representing about 18,000 inside workers. “We had two choices – roll over and play dead or stand up and fight for our rights.”
In all, about 24,000 workers are on strike. Other unionized public employees in the city, ranging from Toronto Community Housing, Parking Authority, and Port Authority to police and firefighters have achieved collective agreements with wage increases of at least three per cent and no concessions.
Here's another interesting item, this one from the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP). Here they state their solidarity with the Toronto city workers, and they also say more about the so-called "progressive" Miller Administration. History is full of examples of such treachery, as too much of the "left" is more concerned with becoming a new ruling class through political means rather than actually carrying out the ideals that they profess.
The members of CUPE 416 and 79 who work for the City of Toronto are now on strike. The business media has begun its inevitable campaign of misinformation to produce the greatest possible backlash against these workers. We are encouraged to focus on uncollected garbage and suspended services but not, of course, to give any regard to the rights of public sector workers or to think as working people about what is at stake in this strike.
OCAP, as a matter of basic principle, stands in solidarity with workers' struggles. We don't hate or blame workers who have been able to win a living wage or support calls for them to be driven into poverty. Rather, we want to see the poor provided with wages and incomes that raise them out of poverty.
This strike occurs in a context that makes it especially important for all of us that it end in victory and that the concessionary demands of the 'progressive' Miller Administration be defeated. The Mayor defended his shameful efforts to gut the collective agreements of City workers by pointing to rising welfare caseloads brought on by the economic downturn. What a disgusting statement. To pit City workers against those who are being forced to turn to the wretched sub poverty pittance that welfare provides is an outrage. This comes from a man who boasts that there are more cops on the streets under his regime than every before and who is taking us towards an obscene billion dollar a year police budget, while he has frittered away the welfare reserve fund to a fraction of where it was when he took office.
The Mayor points to the state of the economy to justify his attack on City workers. In doing this, he makes clear what side he is on when it comes to who should pay for this economic crisis. As unemployment shoots up, we face the situation with an empty shell of an unemployment insurances system that shuts out most of the unemployed and with a post Mike Harris welfare system that fails to provide the necessities of life. None of the 'solutions' to the crisis involve meeting the basic needs of the unemployed and poor. For those who still have jobs and unions, the bankrupt corporations they work for will be bailed out at vast public expense while their rights as workers are destroyed and they are presented with massive concessionary demands.
The process of attacking workers started in the auto industry and other parts of the private sector. The drive for austerity is now spreading, inevitably, to the public sector. Beginning with militant fights by postal workers in the 1960s, public sector workers have spent decades struggling for decent wages and conditions. The present crisis of capitalism will mean an all out confrontation to take back those gains. Moreover, an attack on the workers who deliver public services can't be separated from the attack on the services themselves and the rights of those who receive them. (NB-Molly )
That is the context of this strike and we in OCAP know what side we're on. We call for full support for the City workers.
Send messages of solidarity.
Be there with them on their picket lines.
Stand with them in their fight because they are fighting for all of us.


Anonymous said...

thanks for remembering all of us down here in windsor. its day 72 of the strike today... needless to say, municipal life here is getting pretty intense: on the surface, we seem to be 'losing', or so the local media constantly reminds us. and yet, for all that, so many of the citizens absolutely detest what has happened (and is happening)to their city and are entirely supportive of us ending this strike and being able to return to our jobs. that said, the city is not humming along swimmingly "thanks to the strides of the 400 managers doing the work of themselves! and of the workforce of 1800!" as our myopic and self-absorbed leaders would have you think. rather, the city is very nearly falling apart - "social services have ground to a halt" seeing many of these same services (of those that can be 'outsourced') thoroughly swarmed by scabs and semi-scab labour (such as managers working for 53 dollars an hour, et al). through it all, the mayor has consistently refused to empower his bargaining committee with the tools needed to bargain in good faith, and/or, failing that, he also seems almost morbidly opposed to sending it off to arbitration (like the majority of residents actually want, contrary to what the man has struggled so hard to make us all think). and through all this, the local media has all sewn up tight-- officially, one way or the other, in cahoots with this callous and corrosive agenda out of city hall aimed at breaking the union. despite this relative isolation, our struggle here - which was too long 6 weeks ago - seems to have the curious effect of making so many of us stronger and stronger every day that this injust outrage is made to continue as it has with seemingly no witnesses and with nearly no hope...

i think we are all of us a lot stronger than anyone might have suspected we were.

CUPE 82 & CUPE 543

mollymew said...

Good luck CUPE 83 and 543. No doubt the media will never be on your side, with occasional exceptions. In the end public service workers like you struggle for us all in that you will refuse to let the present economic crisis be the EXCUSE for the further advancement of the class interests that got us into the present economic mess in the first place.
I wish I could give you good suggestions that would be helpful, but I can think of only ONE that comes immediately to mind that is without drawvbacks ie that you try and create your "own media" whether this be by a public website or by fliers that would present your view consistantly to the public. Your strike will succeed or fail on public support, and you should be doing the maximum to achieve this support. I'm happy to add my little 2 cents worth to this goal.
I have other ideas that may have drawbacks, but those are the subject of a seperate post on this blog.