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Make London a Beginning

DECEMBER 5, 1995 – The speed with which support for the December 11 shutdown of London built has been fantastic.

The Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) say that they have 25 to 30 buses to carry workers from plants in the area into London itself on the day.

Another 25 to 30 busloads of supporters are being organized through the Labour Council of Metropolitan Toronto and York Region.

Contingents are being mobilized from Oshawa, Hamilton, Kingston and Ottawa. Students are organizing in solidarity at York, University of Toronto and Ryerson in Toronto, from the University of Guelph and of course from Western and Fanshawe College in London itself. The Alma Mater Society of “conservative” Queen’s University has endorsed the general strike.[1]

The action plan endorsing the general strike passed quickly and overwhelmingly on Monday, November 20 at the Ontario Federation of Labour bi-annual convention.[2]

In the run-up to the vote, many union leaders were pre-occupied with the issue of the NDP and an extraordinarily uninspiring executive election, rather than on the general strike call.

But the 2,000 delegates, much closer to the shop floor anger than the full-timers at the top, pushed these disputes aside to massively endorse the action plan.

They understood clearly that the key component of the action plan was endorsing the call for a one-day general strike in London, that such a strike can be a huge boost to the fight against the Tories, but to build it requires solidarity and militancy.

Many pessimists said that a general strike call in London would not work. They underestimated the tremendous anger against the Tories that has been accumulating in this province.

Oshawa, Windsor, Toronto or London – there is fury amongst the poor and working class against Harris.

The Tories have been on a war-footing for months against the poor, against workers, against students, against women, against the disabled, against social services. London shows that we can fight fire with fire.

It also shows that the plan to use this as the stepping-stone for a series of rotating strikes is much too conservative.

We need a call from the union leaders immediately for a province-wide general strike to stop the cuts.

Such a call would build on the massive enthusiasm that exists in the unions, amongst students and in poor peoples’ organizations for the shut-down of London.

The union leadership could link this call to upcoming anti-Tory actions.

The possibilities are many.

  • February 7 the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) is calling for a day of action against the federal cuts.
  • At the beginning of March is International Women’s Day, which promises in Toronto to be a massive anti-Tory mobilization.
  • The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) is already on strike alert in the face of massive layoffs.
  • And at the end of March, the contracts of some 900,000 public and para-public workers, frozen under the NDP’s Social Contract, come to an end.

We need to demand that our leaders use these dates to come up with an action plan including a date and the resources to build a province-wide shutdown.

To get that, we will have to keep up the pressure from below. We will need to stay mobilized in the ranks, get resolutions passed demanding action, and build solidarity locally for every anti-Tory action.

Remember, that a key part of the momentum towards December 11 was the 10,000 strong demonstration against the Tories on September 27. The Labour Council of Metro Toronto and York Region threw its weight behind that demonstration, and without that demonstration of anger and militancy, who knows if December 11 would have been called.

Remember that there was almost a general strike call for Oshawa, almost one for Windsor, almost one to coincide with an anti-cuts demonstration early in November, but it wasn’t until 600 local presidents of CAW came together and unanimously voted to shut-down one city before the end of the year, that our leaders finally got it together to come up with a date and a place.

We need to keep up the pressure. Don’t wait for permission from the top. Form action committees to build for a province-wide general strike in every workplace.

Don’t rely on a lead coming from the top. We have only made progress when rank and file and local leaders have gotten together to hammer out strategy.

We need to demand the resources now to send organizers to every city in the province to prepare for a shutdown.

Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) president, Gord Wilson, said November 22 that he wanted to shut down London because the Tories were refusing to sit down and negotiate. But the point of these strikes is not to win negotiating time with the Tories, but to stop the cuts.

The time for talk is past. The Tories only understand fear. And a mass strike will make them deathly afraid.

If we can keep the pressure up on our top leaders, we can use London as a stepping stone for a province-wide shutdown that will last until the Tories surrender.

© 1995 Paul Kellogg. This work is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 license.


[1] Discontent with the Harris government reached as far as the religious community. While not going so far as to endorse the December 11 protest (as at first erroneously reported), leaders of London’s “United, Anglican and Roman Catholic churches joined with the Jewish community and Ontario Federation of Labor to sign a document … that criticizes Mike Harris’s Tory government. The document says all citizens have the right to education, health and other social services” (“London Churches Support Dec. 11 Strike against Tory Cuts,” The Hamilton Spectator, December 4, 1995.)

[2] CAW / TCA, “OFL Convention Delegates Support London Protest,” Contact 25 No. 41 (November 26, 1995); Jim Wilkes, “Labor Plans to Fight Tories,” Toronto Star, November 21, 1995.

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