With COVID-19 tearing through the province due to the Ford government’s negligence, a new coalition has formed to demand militant action. On April 27, more than 400 workers, activists, and community members came together in a mass meeting over Zoom and livestream under the banner of the “Ontario Coalition Against Ford.” The meeting focused on the need for NDP and union leaders to support mass work refusals as a means to get employer-paid sick leave and hazard pay for essential workers, among other demands. The passionate contributions of the attendees highlighted the widespread anger in Ontario, and the frustration at the lack of a lead given by working class organizations.

Speakers highlight the need for mass work stoppages: The labour leadership must act!

With hundreds in attendance, the meeting was opened by Jessa McLean, President of the York-Simcoe NDP riding association. Jessa spoke about the need for action, and how the response of the ONDP of focusing on parliamentary motions has been wholly inadequate and must go further.

“Some people say that […]Doug Ford ceded some ground when he tearfully apologized and promised paid sick days…but that’s not enough. We know that even sick days are not enough. We don’t have time to wait for the next election, we need action right now,” Jessa stated, lambasting the approach of the ONDP leadership thus far.

The next speaker was Fightback organizer Marco LaGrotta, who spoke about the desperate situation in the province. He highlighted that currently in Ontario, someone dies of COVID-19 every hour. He pointed out that the only way out of this impasse is for workers to take matters into their own hands and halt production themselves. He also criticized right-wing labour leaders who are refusing to take action, highlighting that keeping the struggle within legal confines is not enough.

“I believe that it is better to break the rules, and even to break the law, than to break the poor, break our communities, and to break the working class,” Marco stated passionately. He was met with virtual applause, with most of those in the meeting agreeing with the fiery sentiment. Marco drew on examples from history, such as Ontario teachers withdrawing their labour via mass resignations and walkouts during the 1960s and 70s (before they had the legal right to strike), or the 1970s Canadian Postal Workers strikes which won increased pay for female workers and set the stage for CUPW becoming the first union to obtain paid maternity leave for its members. These actions were only semi-legal, if not outright illegal, yet they gained important victories for the working class. Marco called on labour leaders today to muster up their courage and take similar action in the form of work stoppages to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.

The final speaker was Jahan, a member of the UNIFOR Freelance union and an organizer with Labour Fightback, who also spoke on the need for the labour leaders in Ontario to act. He highlighted that whether labour leaders liked it or not, workers are already committing work stoppages, and their labour leaders must support them. He also highlighted how inadequate the OFL’s call for a ten-minute work stoppage was.

“CUPE 3906 produced a wonderful statement a couple days ago… and finished their list of demands with… ‘workers across the province should be prepared to strike’… the OFL is calling for ten minutes of stoppages for ten days of paid sick days. Ten minutes is better than zero minutes, but it is not a work stoppage. Ten minutes is hardly a washroom break for most workers. But with this call, what the OFL has proven is that unions have the ability to make public demands and opinions to counter the Ford government.  So instead of ten minutes, why don’t we call for ten hours for ten days of paid sick days? Now is really the time to make demands that reflect the life and death crisis that we are living in. And CUPE 3906, the union that has signed our letter and endorsed the demands of the Ontario Coalition Against Ford, they are leading the way.”

The OFL needs to go further, and must lead and organize mass work refusals.

Meeting shows burning anger among workers in Ontario

After the three plenary speakers, the room was open to a vibrant discussion. Members from a number of union locals spoke, including ATU 113, CUPE 3906, Waterloo Catholic Teachers, Workers United, and others who spoke in favour of the need for mass work refusals. The event also featured members from dozens of NDP riding associations, as the letter itself has been signed by executives of at least a few dozen riding associations. This support was mustered in just a week of organizing and it shows that there is a real hunger for action against the Ford government.

This meeting is a concrete expression of the burning anger in the province searching for an outlet. It is a signal to the labour leadership that the anger of front line workers cannot be ignored, and that they must act now to avert disaster and deal with this emergency.

The campaign for mass work refusals is still on-going. You can sign on to support the movement here and if you agree with what you have read, help us organize! Fightback is a part of the Ontario Coalition Against Ford, so get involved today!

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