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Stop. Respect. Occupy. Tensions and Tactics in the Struggle Against Rob Ford.

by Zach RuiterMegan Kinch

Activists from Occupy Toronto poster against Ford
Activists from Occupy Toronto poster against Ford
There is funding for transit police, but transit service is getting cut.
There is funding for transit police, but transit service is getting cut.

(Watch this video for interviews and footage on the fight against Ford)

There has been friction in the coalition of forces against Ford, with the Toronto and York Region Labour Council on January 5th calling its rally- ‘Respect Toronto’ at the same time and place as Stop the Cuts ‘Final Budget Showdown’.  The Stop the Cuts network has been organizing and promoting the ‘Final Budget Showdown’ rally and action for several months.

John Clarke, an organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) and Stop the Cuts, said in an interview with media co-op: “Disagreement exists between Stop the Cuts and the Toronto and District Labour Council which is essentially a tactical question, what is the best way to stop these cuts?”

Clarke perceives the labour council’s tactics as a “lobbying strategy” arguing, “The idea is 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.”

NOW Magazine has published lists of the ‘mushy middle’ swing voting councillors or confirmed Ford supporting councillors who have defected on occasion when cuts are directly affecting their constituency.

The scale of Mayor Ford's proposed cut to public services and the jobs necessary to provide them have necessitated cooperation but exactly how this will take place is momentarily murky due to long-standing disagreements on strategy between the hierarchies of both the labour council and a core group who speak on behalf of the Stop the Cuts network. The groups are said to be negotiating over a list of speakers and to co-MC the event.

John Cartwright, President of the Labour Council and incidentally the husband of left wing city councilor Paula Fletcher, wrote on Dec. 14 in The Star  that “it takes skill and creativity to accomplish real goals in a complex urban centre” adding that driving down workplace morale has become “reminiscent of the Mike Harris years”.

On Jan. 4 Carolyn Egan  wrote in the Socialist Worker, “A Common Front has been set up across the province linking labour and community with the hope that local and cross-province alliances can be made to mobilize against both provincial and municipal cutbacks.” Although the Ontario Federation of Labour have started a process towards creating an organization where unions and community groups can work together, it’s still in the early stages of formation, and a common front organization hasn't.

Recently Unite Here Local 75 and the library workers union have removed their endorsement of the Stop the Cuts rally, instead endorsing Respect Toronto. CUPE Ontario, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, and several union locals are still listed as endorsers of the Stop the Cuts rally.

Stop the Cuts member S.K. Hussan recognizes the value of working towards union/community alliances: "There are alliances that were formed between different unionized workers and bureaucrats as well as grassroots activits and the occupy movement in Toronto and elsewhere, right now we have to come down to creating the most democratic structures we can to build a powerful resistance." 

David McNally, Professor of Political Science at York University, told Media Co-op “I’m completely convinced that the answer is community mobilization and union mobilization tactics, which are by far the most effective, and that’s what we have to do is build a powerful resistance in the City. And that may well shake up some of the mushy middle- but if you concentrate on lobbying them rather than pushing them you get caught up in their bureaucratic version of politics rather than the participatory politics you need to defeat Ford.”

Thursday evening’s Davenport/Perth meeting of Stop the Cuts at 1900 Davenport Road is a clear indication that effective anti-austerity organizing has begun in specific neighborhoods where residents are collaborating with each other as leaders in their own community.

In attendance was NDP MPP Jonah Schein who said “this is a big fight because we are under attack at all levels, this community is under attack….we are doing our best to keep up with this, things could be much worse than they are, not as bad as they could be, mostly because of the people in this room and people like people in this room across the city who have been organizing.”

The Davenport residents focused their discussion on combating the city-wide threat of Ford's budget by influencing Davenport Perth Councilor Cesar Palacio.  Some members of Davenport Perth will be canvassing streets where Palacio polls highly to collect signatures petitioning against the proposed budget.

This meeting shows despite Toronto Sun headlines like ‘Stop the Nuts’, local participatory neighbourhood organizing may be novel but not necessarily more radical than practical.

One woman spoke up in the Davenport STC as “a member of CUPE and I’ve been helping out with privatization campaigns around the problems and the thing I really admire and appreciate about what Stop the Cuts has been doing in all the different communities is making the connection about the impact on workers and jobs and how it will impact on the community”.

Adding another dimension to the protests, Occupy Toronto has been busy wheat-pasting ‘Occupy the Budget’ posters promoting their three-day occupation of Nathan Phillips square starting on Jan. 17 .

Octavian, a member of Occupy pointed out, “At this time I think Occupy Toronto has to be careful, if there are any divisions, not to take sides. The issue for us more than anything is austerity.”

Stop the Cuts, Respect Toronto, and Occupy may not be unified in voice but will converge on the commons of Nathan Philips Square to confront Rob Ford and partake in the difficult yet necessary conversations and actions required to effectively stand up for themselves and each other.

(In the week leading up to the ‘Respect Toronto’ rally, we were not able to get in touch with organizers from Respect Toronto. As this piece was in final edits we were able to speak with Carolyn Egan, and this interview was published on January 16. )

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