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A call to battle

By: 
Carolyn Egan

April 3, 2019

Almost 900 stewards and trade union activists gathered in downtown Toronto for the first multi-union stewards assembly in years.

The event began with a stirring drum performance by the Raging Asian Women who inspired the crowd with their passion and intensity. Drumming has been historically a call to battle in many cultures and this was what was happening that night. The assembly was a call to arms for the working class in this city, and the workers who came out after a long day on the job on building sites, in manufacturing plants, hospitals, schools, hotels and more, were there to build a movement of resistance against the attacks of the Ford government.

Pressure has been building on the Toronto and York Region Labour Council from delegates to take up the fight, and the leadership called the assembly. There was worry about how many would respond. The Ford government had won a majority election based on lies and false promises. Over thirty percent of union members had voted for the Tories but the tide was beginning to turn.

Over ten thousand marched for International Women’s Day. The parents of autistic children, the farmers in the green belt surrounding Toronto, university and college students have been pushing back hard and it was time for bold steps. Many labour leaders have been slow to respond but the numbers coming out over recent months have shown that people want to fight.

Aside from a couple of speeches by labour leaders, it was rank and file workers who took the stage. A young racialized apprentice from the electricians spoke of what was at stake for the building trades. In an attempt to break their unions the government is intending to allow non union companies to bid for contracts from cities and large institutions such as hospitals and universities. A transit worker spoke about the proposed takeover of the subways by the province and the effect that would have on its workers. Teachers and childcare workers spoke about the attacks they are facing. At the same time, hotel workers from Unite Here local 75 and members of IATSE 58, who had just finished a long work stoppage, spoke about their victories and the importance of solidarity.

Into every workplace

There was not enough time for discussion and a clear plan did not emerge, but the direction was clear from those who spoke. There are key actions coming up such as the health care rally at Queens Park, mobilizing at elementary schools in support of the teachers, and the ongoing fight against the subway uploading. There are major battles to come and workers showed that the confidence is there to build a grassroots movement of resistance.

The stewards and activists in attendance pledged to bring back the message of the assembly to their workplaces and communities. Workplace meetings, connecting with other activists, lunch time discussions, forming committees, talking to the majority in every workplace who are not with the bosses are the tasks ahead. Drawing these fellow workers into the growing movement of resistance is what has to be done.

I was speaking to a young, Black steward in my local. He said that he learned so much about what was going on in other sectors that he can now take on the discussions and debates in the workplace and organize solidarity. This is what we have to build on.

Workers in this country have a long legacy of working class fight back. This year is the 100th anniversary of the Winnipeg general strike, when immigrant workers and Canadian born veterans of WWI shut down the city for six weeks. They were inspired by the Bolshevik revolution where workers took control of their own lives, their workplaces and their society. In Russia they legalized abortion and homosexuality and created possibilities that had never been dreamed of by ordinary working people. Sadly, that revolution was betrayed by the horrors of Stalinism and the incredible gains were reversed. But we have the legacy of those courageous women and men who have left us with lessons of what is possible when rank and file workers use the collective power that is ours.

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