On July 28, the workers of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 2 released a statement calling for free public transit. CUPE Local 2 is a small union within the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), and represents approximately 650 electrical workers. Importantly, the statement calls on all workers of Ontario to join the struggle to bring down the Ford government through a campaign of mass strikes. The activists of Labour Fightback wholeheartedly endorse this development. We only demand that the leaders of the much larger unions take it on as well so that these words can really be turned into action.
The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 113 is the largest union within the TTC, consisting of around 12,000 workers. The union’s president, Carlos Santos, reportedly refused to endorse the statement. During Santos’s campaign for president only months ago, he declared at the time, “I want my daughter to know that I did my part to fight Ford’s austerity program, that I didn’t just stand by and watch him dismantle Ontario’s public transit system, privatizing what’s profitable and leaving the public to pay for everything that’s not.” Given the opportunity to put this promise into action, Santos has so far been absent, and this latest development marks yet another disappointment.
In order to bring down Ford, there is a need for a mass militant strike of all layers of the working class in this province. Workers have all the power in society and without their kind permission, public transportation and overall production would be brought to a halt. As the leader of a large and potentially powerful union, Santos was elected with a mandate and a responsibility to organize, educate and engage with the rank and file of the ATU Local 113 towards the larger goal of fighting Ford’s transit privatization plans. He was given an opportunity here to link up with CUPE Local 2 to do so on the basis of an even more bold demand for free transit, and refused to do so. The response of the rank and file, understandably, has been one of anger and frustration.
Since coming to power, Doug Ford has placed the working people of Ontario under constant attack, slashing health care, education, social services, and anything that makes life half livable. His plan to upload TTC subway service, once effected, will pave the way towards future privatization. This will not only turn good quality, unionized transit jobs into poverty wages, but will also lead to higher fares eventually. Ford’s main aim with the upload is to provide more profits for him and his rich friends once the TTC is more fully sectioned off and privatized. He is, in other words, trying to take Toronto transit out of the public hands of the many and put it into the private hands of a few. He has clearly shown that this is not a government for the people and is only concerned with benefiting his Bay Street banker and private developer friends.
The adoption of the demand for free public transit by a section of TTC workers, as mentioned, marks an important step forward in the fight against Ford-led austerity. One might reasonably ask, however, how we could afford to pay the wages of the workforce and the operating costs of the service without income from fares. The TTC is already one of the least well-funded public transit systems in North America as it is, and depends on fares for a large proportion of its yearly operating revenues.
The TTC’s total budget is approximately $2 billion, of which just under $1.3 billion comes from the fares paid by working class Ontarians. We say, make the bosses pay! For example, Doug Ford cut taxes for the rich to the value of $3.4 billion in his 2019 budget. The federal Liberals cut $16 billion in corporate taxes in November of last year. As of two years ago, Bombardier had received $3.7 billion in bailouts and subsidies (a sum that is sure to balloon year by year). Corporate Canada is allegedly shortchanging the federal government $18 billion due to exploiting loopholes. Ottawa had no problem gifting $4.5 billion to buy a leaky oil pipeline. And to top it all off, corporate Canada has been sitting on a money hoard of more than $950 billion worth of uninvested “dead money” that they have no idea what to do with. The money exists—we just have to have the political will to use it for the needs of working class people.
That political will is clearly not going to come from this current government. The more pressing task, therefore, is to fight and bring down the Ford regime. CUPE Local 2’s call for mass strikes follows on the heels of CUPE Ontario’s endorsement of a resolution for defiance of back-to-work legislation at its convention in May. The challenge now is to put these bold words into action. Union leaders so far have seemingly been determined to avoid this at any cost. In this way, they resemble the proverbial ostrich with its head buried in the sand. If they don’t pull their heads out of the sand soon, though, the rank and file will do it for them, and they will pull them right out of office so that new leaders committed to actually fighting can step in to take their place.