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John Clarke on Stop the Cuts and Respect Toronto

Interview for "Tensions Surface in Rally Against Ford"

by Zach RuiterMegan Kinch

John Clarke spoke to the TMC at the OCAP offices on Jan 11th
John Clarke spoke to the TMC at the OCAP offices on Jan 11th

For an upcoming story and video, Megan Kinch and Zack Ruiter did in-depth interviews with organizers from Stop the Cuts (John Clarke of OCAP and S. K. Hussan of NOII), Occupy Toronto (Octavian Cadabeschi, Brandon Grey and Jordon White) and David McNally, a Professor at York University and Carolyn Egan, President of the Steelworker Toronto Area Council. The transcripts of some of interviews will be posted here on the Toronto Media Co-op. The topics of conversation include not only the upcoming rally but the larger context of upcoming labour struggles and the global struggle against austerity. Here’s the first interview, with John Clarke of OCAP [Ontario Coalition Against Poverty], which is part of the Stop the Cuts Coalition:

Interview with John Clarke of OCAP, January 11th 2012           

Kinch: So, how long has Stop the Cuts been planning this rally for?

Clarke: We’ve had this planned now for weeks and weeks and had lined up a whole range of different speakers, performers, its been on going on for quite some time.

Kinch: I even saw people handing out flyers in my neighborhood for this rally a while ago.

Clarke: Yes, the rally was planned a whole outreach operation was well underway.

Kinch: I know that they called a separate labour rally “Respect for Toronto” and the flyer even said ‘stop the cuts’ on it . Is it true that they didn’t consult you guys at all before doing that?

Clarke: Well the history of it is that the Stop the Cuts rally had actually been significantly supported by sections of the labour movement. CUPE Ontario had endorsed, the Public Service Alliance of Canada had endorsed. We had called the thing really because we hadn’t had any reason to believe that there was going to be any kind of a rally. We specifically asked Respect and nothing had been announced. But it seems like some of these plans are developed somewhere else and then brought to meetings. And so we just suddenly discovered that there is in fact going to be a rally and were told that the only place that plans could be drawn up for it are at the “Respect Toronto” meetings. And if we want to be part of this we have to go to these meetings. Some level of involvement by Stop the Cuts was apparently going to be approved.

But what now has emerged is that it really comes down to the disagreement that exists between Stop the Cuts and the Toronto and district labour council.  Which essentially is around a tactical question of ‘what is the best way to Stop these Cuts’? The perspective that is apparently being advanced by them is a lobbying strategy. The idea that what is required is quiet, respectable pressure that Margaret Atwood and the editorial board of the Toronto Star would think was acceptable and that will supposedly win over this ‘mushy middle’ of councilors so that the cuts will not go through.  I don’t think that strategy’s’ worked out, I don’t think there’s any indication that it is working out.

And in any event as far are we’re concerned what’s happening now, this round of cuts is only municipally the first installment,  Ford has acknowledge that there’s more coming next year. But moreover its part of a whole international agenda of austerity.  it doesn’t come down to Rob Ford, this is happening in the united kingdom, this is happening internationally, and its going to to be relentless. And we’re going to have to build a movement to stop it. which means it’s going to have to be powerful enough, disruptive enough, threatening enough that it can stop them proceeding with their agenda.

 And I think to the immediate leadership of Toronto labour council that position is an anathema. As far they’re concerned, respectability is the watchword. But We don’t accept the tactics of a movement of working-class resistance can be based on what the liberal wing of the ruling class thinks is acceptable, that’s preposterous. If the deer bases itself on the wishes of the wolfpack they’re going to be in big trouble.

Kinch: I can hardly believe that’s their strategy, especially after Occupy Toronto showed that at least illegally camping is supported by broad masses of people in Toronto.

Clarke: There’s no question that their strategy is delusional, politically delusional.

Kinch: And its not just about Ford either, I think  we have to think more long-term and be building organizations that can actually fight, because appealing to the ‘mushy middle’ and getting library cuts cancelled, that’s not going to handle the fights that’s going to come whether of not we get rid of Ford.

Clarke: Of trade union functionaries who are advancing this perspective owe the organization that they’re part and thier own function to the militant struggles of the past. if the workers at General Motors  or Ford had tried to organize on the basis of these sorts of tactics they would have got nowhere.  People had to actually struggle for these rights, for these unions for these social programs. People had to actually fight for them. They don’t understand the history of Ford/Windsor 1945 and Vallyfield Quebec 1946 and the On to Ottawa march that led to the gains that are now under attack. But as a movement we’re going to have to re-discover that.  And we’re not looking to tell the labour council or anybody else that we have the franchise on social mobilization. But what we are going to have to do is- over the objections of some labour leaders- we’re gonna have to start building a movement that can actually resist.

Kinch: There’s been a bit of a model proposed coming out of the more syndicalist people in occupy of having labour and community assemblies instead of just rallies, of having a more people’s assembly-type decision making bodies.

Clarke: I think that that’s begun to emerge as something that has some real possibilities in terms of involving more people in terms of actually involving people in more than just rally fodder, but actually be part of the discussion and part of the debate that sg going on.  and the signs are quite encouraging. There was an assembly organized at the airport with large numbers of trade unionists participating. So that  does point us in a good direction.

It seems like the labour movement is trapped in this excessive legalism. We kind of saw this at occupy where they’d back us to the point of eviction at which point there was a bit of conflict of interest with some people ready to do some more civil-disobedience . But also labour leaders are not necessarily at a point where they can legally advocate for civil disobedience , which is an interesting position  for community groups because to what extent do you want to take direction from labour and to what extent are they constrained by the legalities.

Clarke: Well, we all face legal constraints. I think the problem is that we’re dealing with a kind of a hangover from the post second world war years. At that time there was really a deal worked out in society, where ‘well give you incremental improvements and concessions, in return for you’ll agree to keep the struggle compartmentalized, legalized regulated. and the other side has revoked the deal and we’re still playing by the rules of a dead deal. and we’re getting hammered as a result. and I think that has to change.  I think community organizations can give something of a boost in that direction but on the other hand it has to be actually workers, workplaces, that have to actually exert their power as well. because we’re not going to be able to do it just on the basis of communities.  I think a community mobilization in the end is a police problem, the level of a police problem. it requires workers actually taking mass action and job related action to use the real power of the working class.

Kinch: And unions not stopping them. Sometimes unions actually act against the interests of workers.

Clarke: Ya. I don’t have a personal grudge against John Cartwight , President of the labour council, but I think the truth is that the perspective that he’s advancing has actually become a political impediment. Whatever his intentions, he may have the best intentions, but it’s a political impediment. And so what its going to require is that we go deeper into the rank and file and actually find allies there. City workers in Toronto must be coming to the conclusion that going there and sitting in the gallery and watching these people vote to destroy their jobs and lives and the union is not a productive strategy. People must be beginning to realize.

Kinch: At 'Occupy' labour leaders are perfectly happy to make a speech but they weren’t able or interested in mobilizing their membership, and I think we’re at the end of great speeches and at a time where we need to mobilize rank and file members.

Clarke: Yes. And labour leaders can and must adapt to that changed situation, because the unions must adapt to that changed situation or they have to stand aside, and allow others who are not so conservative in their views to come forward, that’s the new reality. Since 2008 it's clear that we are not longer dealing with neoliberalism in the classic sense- if we go on with this approach of passivity and respectability and restraint in the face of this attacks we're not just going to face gradual losses of what we’ve run in the past we’re going to face catastrophic defeats and there’s one coming up in Toronto right now.  Its on the horizon. we’re either going to mobilize to stop this or we’re going to watch terrible, terrible defeats.

Kinch: So the rally is happening and stop the cuts is reluctantly supporting this other rally? What’s the plan for Tuesday?

Clarke: Honestly its still unclear at this point what is going to happen. There is a respect Toronto meeting coming Thursday and there’s going to be discussions about whether there’s going to be some kind of element of a joint venture to it or whether we mobilize independently. at this point its not clear.


Kinch: Are these “Respect Toronto” meetings open? Or invited?

Clarke: I don’t think they’re open in the sense that anybody can walk in although it's expected that people from stop the cuts will be there

Kinch: But that’s different than the way Stop the Cuts organizes with open community meetings and assemblies in the park and stuff like that.

Clarke: I mean, not always not universally- there are trade unions that adapt a better perspective- there has been an ongoing problem of the so-called social partners that labour works with being  hand-picked and also relegated to a kind of 5th wheel status that’s been really unfortunate.  and stop the cuts represents something more powerful, more dynamic than that. its not going to accept that kind of a position

Kinch: And I think we see from Occupy that people want more open and more democratic relations. but I think on the other hand we also need some structure.

Clarke:  I don’t think democracy has to mean being rudderless. Democracy doesn’t mean having no purpose or direction but we do have to be answerable to a broader  constituency. We need democratic organization in the community, and we need democratic leadership.


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Megan Kinch (Megan Kinch)
Toronto Ontario
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is a writer and editor with the Toronto Media Co-op.

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