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IWD Toronto

Carolyn Egan

March 1, 2012

International Women’s Day is being celebrated in Toronto this year on March 3. Women representing the diversity of the city from unions, community and student groups have been organizing for the past number of months.

They have been inspired by the fight backs and uprisings that have been taking place around the world against the austerity agenda and the particular effects it is having on women. In this city women have been in the heart of the campaigns against the mayor and his allies on city council who have been trying to slash services and municipal jobs.

The majority of public sector jobs are held by women. Women and children are also the largest recipients of services. At the mass demonstrations that have been held, the many public meetings, and deputations made to city councillors, women have been in the forefront.

The library workers are in a countdown to a strike or lock out and CUPE 79 which represents the inside municipal workers are in hard bargaining with the city. A thousand cleaners who are employed with decent wages, benefits and pensions are in the process of being contracted out. Decent jobs will become poverty jobs with wages being reduced to just above the minimum wage.

This is part and parcel of the attacks we are seeing on working people around the world. The neoliberal mantra is to reduce services, contract out jobs and privatize everything possible. In the name of “efficiencies” working people are being made to pay the price.

In this city Mayor Rob Ford won a strong majority promising to cut the “gravy” but without reducing services. A KPMG report which showed that there was very little gravy, nonetheless made harsh recommendations of what services and jobs could be cut.

The mayor and his allies on the executive committee began to slash ruthlessly, but much to their surprise city council didn’t buy it. Organizing had been going on ward by ward. Union members were going door to door talking to their neighbours. People were fighting back in every area of the city .

Trade unionists and ordinary citizens packed city council chambers and committee meetings, some that lasted until morning, demanding that the services and jobs were vital to the quality of life in their city. When the vote on the cuts came the vast majority were pushed back. Councillors were receiving hundreds of calls from constituents and they listened in the end because residents were demanding that they represent their interests.

But the fight is far from over and the support for services is stronger than the support for public sector jobs among city council members. That’s why it is so important that the International Women’s Day march is being led by city workers including the cleaners with thousands marching behind them.

The support and solidarity that city workers are feeling from the women’s movement and the community at large is strong and growing. It has to be made absolutely clear that a cut to jobs means a cut to services. Women and men are going into the streets making that point loud and strong. This harkens back to the origins of International Women’s Day when immigrant women workers demonstrated for higher wages and better working conditions for all. As we have seen in Egypt and so many other places around the globe, women are standing and fighting and Toronto should be no different.

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