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Hamilton Days of Action – One hundred thousand strong

MARCH 4, 1996 –If day one of the Hamilton Days of Action was a smash success, day two, Saturday February 24, was awe-inspiring.

Organizers anticipated an anti-Tory demonstration of between 50,000 and 70,000.[1] Either figure would have made it the largest ever anti-Harris demonstration in Ontario. Wayne Marston, president of the Hamilton and District Labour Council, wouldn’t predict a number, except to say that it would be “broader” than the events in London.[2]

By the end of the day, somewhere between 100,000 and 120,000 had tramped through the mud and streets of an eerily quiet downtown Hamilton to vent their rage against the Tories.[3] Half arrived in a convoy of 1,200 buses.[4] But impressively, at least half came from Hamilton and area. This was the largest-ever labour mobilization in Ontario.

We have had eight months of Tory rule. Eight months of daycares under siege, hospitals facing closure, welfare recipients having their benefits slashed, hostels filled to overflowing, homeless men freezing to death in the richest city in the richest country in the world (Toronto, Canada, for those keeping track), one (Eugene Upper) with his hands frozen so solidly to his face that the police had to wait days to make a positive identification.[5] We have had eight months, in other words, of a war on the poor. The Tories have been, literally, getting away with murder.

But this day, the working class was announcing with its presence and disciplined organization that it was a force to be reckoned with in Ontario politics.

January 13 in Toronto, as many as 37,000 teachers had marched through the snow in what was, for many, their first ever demonstration. Many were surprised at the sight of the picket signs in their hands, hands which had been trained for education not protest. They returned, rank upon rank of them this day to protest the cuts that are devastating the quality of education in our schools. A little of the surprise was still there. But now there was a new, grim determination. The Tories could be fought.

The poor and the working class were standing up saying “enough is enough.” The sense of solidarity – steelworker with teacher, auto worker with social worker, childcare professional with homeless men – was indeed elating.

By 11 am, the park where the march was mobilizing had long since filled up, and had overflowed into the grass and mud. And still they came, banners flying, signs blowing in the wind.

One hundred and twenty thousand let the 1,000 Tories huddled in their convention centre, behind serried ranks of grim police officers, that they were rapidly losing the support of ordinary working folk.

And the problem for the Tories, is that “ordinary working folk” are the vast majority of this and every society in the world.

The Tories have an agenda and are determined to stay the course. But Hamilton on February 24 was a signal that they would face opposition from tens of thousands, that their agenda would not be put in place without a fight.

© 1996 Paul Kellogg. This work is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 license.


[1] Rob Andrus, “Hamilton Prepares for Labor Shutdown,” Toronto Star, February 22, 1996; Gary Rennie, “25,000 Take Message to ‘Harris Dinosaurs,’” The Windsor Star, February 24, 1996.

[2] Canadian Press, “Hamilton Prepares for General Strike,” Canadian Press Newswire, January 18, 1996,

[3] Canadian Press, “Protest against Ontario Tories Draws Estimated 100,000 (Hamilton),” Canadian Press NewsWire, February 24, 1996, The latter figure, 120,000, was mooted by then CLC president Bob White. He pointed out that such a turnout would mean that one out of every 73 residents of Ontario were assembled outside the Tory convention that day (Bob White, “The Strike,” The Globe and Mail, March 1, 1996.)

[4] The figure 1,200 was one circulating on the day – 300 more than were anticipated the week prior to the Days of Action (Rennie, “25,000 Take Message to `Harris Dinosaurs’.”)

[5] Moira Welsh, “Death on Our Streets Patrol Finds Body of Homeless Man under Gardiner,” Toronto Star, February 2, 1996.

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