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support Toronto library/city workers


March 22, 2012

After being pushed back from a year of organizing against cuts to public services, the millionaire mayor Rob Ford is trying to cut services by attacking the workers who provide them. Whenever one group of workers fights back, we all need to join them on the picket line.

In 2009 the City of Toronto blamed workers for the recession. Without broad solidarity, city workers were isolated and the millionaire mayor Rob Ford rode to office on a backlash–and then unleashed his austerity agenda on public services.

But labour and community groups have fought back, with over a year of organizing–demonstrations, deputations, town hall meetings, petitions, and calls to councillors. This grassroots organizing in workplaces and neighbourhoods has eroded Ford’s support on city council, leading to a series of humiliating defeats that few would have thought possible just a few months ago–from stopping some budget cuts, stopping the mass closure of libraries, delaying the sell off of social housing, and derailing Ford’s plans for transit.

Job cuts = service cuts

But each step of the way, Ford has tried to force through his agenda by going after workers.

He began his term in office by revoking transit workers’ right to strike and privatizing garbage collection. When months of organizing won a majority of Torontonians to oppose cuts to public services, Rob Ford declared last September that “the gravy is the number of employees we have at City Hall.”

On December 1, Ford celebrated the anniversary of coming to office by announcing 1,200 job losses, the biggest layoff in the city’s history and another clear attack on public services.

When Toronto outdoor workers (represented by CUPE 416) tried to negotiate by offering a wage freeze and promising not to strike, Ford went on the offensive and forced a contract that strips employment protection, and is now trying to force concessions like this on library workers and city workers.

Support library workers

Attacks on library workers have been Ford’s main strategy for carrying out attacks on public libraries, as library worker Jonathan Hodge explained:

“The Toronto Public Library Board is pursuing a course that will severely undermine the library services that Torontonians hold dear. Already, budgets cuts have resulted in the loss of over 100 full-time equivalent positions, including the entire office for services to people with disabilities! This is on top of a 17% reduction in staffing over the last 12 years, while library circulation has increased over 25% in that same period.”

The main issue behind the current strike is Ford’s attempt to attack workers to pave the way for attacks on services. As TPLWU local 4948 president Maureen O’Reilly explained:

“At the end, the City’s negotiators would not budge from their demand for the right to fire librarians and staff anytime they want, for whatever reason they want. This is the stumbling block. In all good conscience, it is a demand that we cannot accept. Especially after you and thousands of others defended our public library with such passion and conviction. For if we did, the door would be wide open for Mayor Ford and his allies on Council to fire the staff that run your neighbourhood branch, then close it. Or, to fire staff to make it easy to privatize entire library services.”

Solidarity overdue

Rob Ford is attacking city workers as a way to salvage and continue his agenda. Economically, smashing the union benefits the 1%. Ideologically, it divides the majority who oppose his cuts to services. Politically it regains a majority on council. Lack of solidarity with city workers let Rob Ford come to power, and we can’t repeat the same mistake.

Library workers launched the campaign to defend libraries that became a lightning rod for opposition to Ford last summer, and city workers have been part of the major mobilizations in the streets, and campaigns in neighbourhoods.

Now library workers are defending picket lines and inside city workers have voted for a strike mandate.

It’s clear from Ford’s treatment of outdoor city workers that he only has contempt for negotiating, and that the bargaining table is stacked against jobs and services. But Ford is weak in the streets and on the picket lines, and it’s here that the 99% can show our strength.

Ford has already been pushed back on a number of fronts on public services–from the budget, to social housing, to transit–but he continues his agenda on the backs of workers. If the same support for public services can support the workers who provide them, then Ford’s agenda could be stopped.

* join a picket line

* contact your councillor and tell them to support library and city workers

* put up a window sign supporting workers

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