The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 113 recently joined the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 2 in calling for free public transit and a campaign of mass strikes and protests to bring down Ontario Premier Doug Ford. As CUPE 2 is a relatively small local of 650 electrical workers within the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), the addition of the 12,000 TTC operations and maintenance workers represented by ATU 113 represents a significant advance in the fight against Ford. The vast majority of the commission’s unionized workforce is now united in its opposition to Ford’s privatization agenda, and moreover, is presenting a bold alternative vision for a universal public transit service.
The initiative for the support resolution within ATU 113 came from grassroots activists under the wider Labour Fightback banner. Labour Fightback is made up of workers, union and non-union, who have united to fight against the attacks of the bosses and the injustice of the capitalist system. Labour Fightback activists have been busy at work in the past couple of years promoting resolutions calling for defiance of back-to-back legislation, and to nationalize the Oshawa GM plant under democratic workers’ control. These resolutions have been adopted by important unions such as the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, CUPE Ontario and Unifor Local 222 (Oshawa). Inspired by the bold stand of CUPE 2, Labour Fightback most recently decided to help promote the idea of free transit and mass strikes within a number of other unions where it is present, and ATU 113 is the first success in this campaign to date.
While hesitant at first, the ATU 113 leadership, feeling the pressure of the rank and file, eventually supported the resolution. Submitted formally to a general membership meeting of the union, the motion was voted in unanimously after a long and lively discussion. CUPE 2 Executive Board members, having been invited to attend the meeting, helped to explain the urgency of the situation, and why mass strikes ultimately are the only means by which we can bring down Ford. CUPE 2 has been energetically promoting this position across the labour movement, and has gotten additional endorsements from CUPE Local 3902 (University of Toronto academic workers), Durham Region Labour Council, and CUPE Ottawa.
This outreach work is useful, but resolutions, endorsements and statements, at the end of the day, are nothing more than words on paper. To be brought to life, they must be publicized, and then ultimately put into practice. This, however, is precisely where the present leadership of the labour movement in Ontario is lacking. Bold words are most often met with silence, or even hostility and contempt, when the rank and file suggests means by which these words can be translated into militant action. For example, OFL President Chris Buckley seems content to simply posture, while he and other union leaders stifle any attempt to build towards mass strikes to really stop Ford in his tracks.
The rank and file can’t wait though, because the stakes are too high. Ford is threatening everything that makes life half-decent, everything that workers have fought for and won in the past.
Rank-and-file workers of ATU 113 and CUPE 2 need to build a bottom-up movement for free public transit and to maintain good-quality union jobs. But that is not all. Transit workers must connect with the teachers, who may soon be on strike to reverse class size increases and break the one-per-cent pay cap imposed under Ford. And then there are also the students, whom workers must unite with to defeat Ford’s OSAP cuts and to fight for free post-secondary education. In the final analysis, all sectors of the working class must unite, and through the vehicle of a general strike, shut the economy down in order to force the government to resign.