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Tactics and Timing: Interview with Carolyn Egan from 'Respect Toronto'

by Megan Kinch

Carolyn Egan
Carolyn Egan

For their story 'Tensions and Tactics in the Struggle Against Rob Ford" and associated video on organizing differences between Stop the Cuts and Respect Toronto, Megan Kinch and Zach Ruiter interviewed 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, Professor of Political Science at York University .  We made attempts to get in touch with 'Respect Toronto' and the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, but were unable to get in contact.  As the story was in final edits and we began to publish some interviews (including Clarke's), Carolyn Egan, President of the Steelworker Toronto Area Council and part of 'Respect Toronto', called the TMC and was kind enough to give us an interview. We are happy to publish this interview, which presents another perspective on understanding labour and community activism in Toronto. The rally will take place Tuesday at 5:30 and is now a joint rally between Stop the Cuts and Respect Toronto.

Kinch: So it's been published that 'Stop the Cuts' and 'Respect Toronto' are going to have a joint rally now?

Egan: Yes there is going to be a joint rally, initially they called one and then respect Toronto called one but we met and it’s a joint rally.

Kinch: Right. But Respect Toronto did call a rally for a day on which there was already a rally planned by Stop the Cuts?

Egan: The 17th is the day the city council is meeting to discuss the budget so both groups called rallies for that day for the evening.

Kinch: So in a sense this is kind of like the Saturday of the G20 where the day and place is kind of set, and there starts to be a disagreement of who owns the day to do protests on?

Egan: Well, no one owns the day. But obviously its two different groups in coalition that want to work together, and that is what happened in the end.

Kinch: How is the fight to keep jobs related to the fight to stop cuts to services?

Egan: I think they’re totally integrated, there’s the austerity agenda, the neoliberal agenda that the Ford forces are trying to put forward, so that includes cuts to services and cuts to jobs, so they’re integrally related

Kinch: Moving forward, how can community groups and labour work together more effectively?

Egan: Respect Toronto is a coalition made up of community groups and labour, it involves groups such as ACORN and Toronto Environmental Alliance, Good Jobs for All, and other community groups as well as labour and stop the cuts had been working within Respect Toronto organizing for example for the September 26th rally, they had stopped coming to meetings after that we went on to organize a big public forum in Scarborough so I think there’s every intention that community and labour have to work together because this is affecting all of us. For example I’m with United Steelworkers none of our jobs are affected by ford but certainly our services are affected and we know that an attack on jobs and services is an attack on every person in the city.

Kinch: How does the long history between certain labour groups and community groups play into these tensions, and how can we work together despite that?

Egan: The groups that labour council is working with, ACORN for example has something like 8000 low income members who pay 10$ a month they are very rooted in the community and so is low income jobs for all so is many of them so its important for us to connect to the struggles and go deeply into the communities with which we work. Both the workers assembly and Stop the Cuts have been a part of Respect Toronto in the past and we see no problem with a working with them or with anyone whose fighting the cuts

Kinch: What the strategy to fight Ford?

Egan: Let me go back a bit. When Ford was elected we knew that we had to build strong links between community and labour deep within communities, and we’ve been doing that. CUPE 416 for example, they did a tremendous  amount of work gong door-to-door in communities working within their own union but beyond it as well, trying to bring the issues to the forefront of people’s consciousness. And other groups we’ve been working with like ACORN, like Good Jobs For All, have really been helping to change the consciousness of people who were voting for Ford. In the polls in every people are opposed to the cuts. We know we have 3 more years of Ford’s regime so we know we have lot of work to do in this struggle, deepening it and broadening it.

Kinch: One of the critical issues coming up now is going to be the fight of CUPE 416, CUPE 79, library workers and ford and his allies. There’s a count down to a lockout coming up and its going to be hugely important that both the broader labour movement and community organizations fight to defend workers rights, and any cuts in jobs are going to mean cuts in services. This is something that will be probably be coming up in the next few weeks in Feb, and building broad support is going to be critically important. In steelworker workplaces we are bringing CUPE workers to lunchtime meetings in our fight and explaining why its their fight as well as CUPE’s fight. And there are all kinds of activities of that sort going on, teachers are doing the same. People are going to meetings across the city on worksites in building trade, and working with the recipients of services the people of Toronto to build as broad a fight both for services and for jobs.

Kinch: My roommate works in an un-unionized manufacturing plant and he was talking to a co-worker who voted for Ford because he thought he was going to lower taxes, and he said that now he feels ashamed that he voted for him.

Eagan: I think many, many, people voted for Ford all over the City who have now realized that they were sold a bill of goods and appreciate what now is at stake and its incredibly important to continue to build up that movement. There’s been real changes but we can’t give up on this. The more people that are involved at every level in the campaign, then the stronger our movement becomes. We can look at examples in the state of Ohio where a tea party governor and legislature was elected and passed very anti-union legislation.  And because the people have the right to put such legislation up to vote if they can get enough signatures they got 1.4 million signatures a  groups called we are Ohio organized very, very, hard and were able to overturn that legislation. They got 1.4 million and that put the question on the ballot in November and they were able to get a majority of votes against the legislation so it had to be overturned. It speaks to the fact that if you do it broad-based organizing in the community, church based in unions halls you are able to mobilize broad numbers of people to win victories and that’s what we have to keep doing.

Kinch: So the tensions between Respect Toronto and Stop the Cuts has been characterized as electoral vs. community organizing strategy, do you think that’s a fair characterization?

Eagan: Not really, I don’t think it’s an electoral strategy at all. What we are trying to do is mobilize people to take control of their own situations, their own lives and mobilize pressure to forced the municipal government to stop cutbacks. We want to have a movement that has the force and the depth to be able to do that. One aspect of that is putting pressure on the city councilors to not adapt a cuts agenda, but the long-range goal is to build a political consciousness across the city that will not accept an austerity agenda

Eagan: One of the tactical differences that we’ve been discussing is when we move in after the rally, move into city hall and move into the chambers because we’ve moved for people to pack the chambers late night during the council meetings, so the question is at what juncture we choose to take action. And I think that’s one of the debates that we want. There are a lot of amendments and there’s a lot of back and forth going on. There’s a lot fluidity in where the votes are going to play out. And we want to be able to have hopefully as many of the amendments to the cuts budget adapted by the majority. At some juncture that’s going to stop and we’ll  we’re going to see people express their outrage and anger. Neither Respect Toronto nor labour council tells people what to do though, people make their own decisions on these things.  We don’t tell people what to do, it’s a tactical question.

Kinch: Its no secret that OCAP does a lot of occupations, going into city hall, disrupting meetings and the like, they are known for that.

Eagan: The question to us is a question of when exactly to do this, timing, etc.

Kinch: Part of the reason I want to do this piece is so that we can get as much information as possible for people who are attending these protests so they can make the best decisions for them on when to do these things and what to do, so thanks for talking to us.  Do you have anything else you want to add?

Eagan: Yes, I have one more thing.  The labour movement has had a long history of sit down strikes and occupation of plants. That’s our history in the past and that’s our history much more recently as well, so its all a question of strategy and tactics.


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Megan Kinch (Megan Kinch)
Toronto Ontario
Member since December 2009

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is a writer and editor with the Toronto Media Co-op.

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