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Ford can be beaten

Teachers' rally against Ford. Photo: Mary Crandall cc by nc nd 2.0

April 25, 2019

Since their election last June, Doug Ford’s Tories have been on a mission – to roll back, slash or eliminate services and legislation affecting working class Ontarians.

Unlike their Liberal predecessors, who preferred a ‘death by a thousand cuts’ approach, Ford’s Tories, under the slogan “For the People”, have moved quickly to satisfy the people he really represents: Ontario’s true special interest group, the 1%.

The Ford government has attacked health care, French language services, Indigenous education, replaced the sex-ed curriculum, rolled back labour rights for the lowest paid, attacked autistic children, rolled back grants to university students, licensed new construction on the green belt, attacked health & safety for construction workers, to mention a few low-lights.

Workers’ power is the key

There has been pushback! Thousands of students, precarious workers, parents of autistic children and anti-poverty activists have been on the streets since Ford’s election. But there is an elephant in the room: the labour movement’s failure thus far to bring its weight to bear in opposing these attacks.

There are signs this is changing. A mass teachers’ protest against education cuts on April 6 and an upcoming province-wide protest to defend healthcare April 30 are an excellent beginning.

Our class, the workers, has the power, when organized, to pull together all the fightbacks, and strike a blow against the Tories and their rich backers in the Chambers of Commerce. We can shut down their factories, offices, construction sites, schools etc. – in other words, where it will hurt them most – in their pocketbooks.

We saw a recent glimpse of the possibility of labour/community solidarity when postal workers were ordered off their strike by Trudeau. Trade unionists and community members immediately shutdown postal facilities and picketed Liberal MP offices across Canada and Quebec in protest. This speaks to a mood of resistance and solidarity that can be the spark for mass actions that can push Ford back.

We’ve done this before – during the Days of Action against the Harris government starting in 1995. Labour began shutting down city by city, “London Calling”, “Hamilton Answering”, to Kitchener-Waterloo and eventually to Toronto.

Nothing moved during the strike in Hamilton, and downtown Toronto was virtually shut down – demonstrating the awesome power we have as workers, if we use it.

Yet Mike Harris was re-elected with a majority in 1998 – were those mass strikes a failure?

In a word, no. The failure was to be found at the top of the labour movement. After the shutdown of Toronto at the end of October 1996, calls were made throughout our movement for an Ontario-wide General Strike. But it was never called. Our leaders at the time wound down the Days of Action, de-mobilizing our movement in the run-up to the election.

Mass strike action can and does work – we are this year celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike. But we must carry it through to the end, and aim to bring down the Ford government, not wait passively for the next election while our province is destroyed.

Next steps: actions against Ford

Labour needs to build on recent mass anti-Ford meetings with a plan, including hiring action coordinators for every city and region, so that we can coordinate not only among ourselves as different unions, but give maximum solidarity to others in struggle such as students, parents of autistic children, social assistance recipients etc.

We need to do this now – an attack on union rights à la Hudak may be in the cards, and we must be ready.

We need a plan for mass action against the Ford government to bring us all together – to begin to demonstrate our power when we fight together, and to show those who are angry and demoralized, who may have voted for Ford, that there is an alternative, and that we, ‘The People’, in collective struggle, are the ones who can make it happen.

The plan must include a Solidarity Pledge. When educational workers and others go up against Ford in bargaining this year, we need to pledge our support up to and including picket line support and strike action in solidarity.

Every Local should be ready to form a flying squad. This will say to bargaining teams that they don’t have to cave at the bargaining table, that there is an alternative, to be found on the picket line if need be.

Finally, we must look at building on the wonderful legacy of the days of action, a PLAN for mass action to force back Ford’s Tories.

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