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We can strike, we can win

NOVEMBER 14, 1995 – The Ontario Federation of Labour executive has called for a one-day general strike in London Ont., December 11, to protest the Tories’ anti-worker policies.[1]

The Tories were quick to turn to threats and intimidation. Harris warned workers to “think long and hard” before participating in such an action.[2] In fact, workers have for months now been thinking “long and hard” about the scale of the Tory attacks.

It is the responsibility of every unionist, every community activist, every student to throw themselves into making the one-day strike a success.

But our leaders must commit the resources, money and organizers necessary to shut down London Dec. 11. This can be the first step in building for a general strike to defeat the Tories.

Oshawa strike date inspired thousands

Pressure for strike action has been building for weeks. Last week, a shock of excitement went through the province, when word went out that the Canadian Autoworkers (CAW) planned to shut the massive Autoplex in Oshawa to protest attacks from General Motors and attacks from the provincial Tories.

The walkout would have been illegal. There are severe restrictions on what strike activity is allowed between collective agreements.

But there is such anger against the Tories that there is no question the walkout could have been successful and would have inspired the fightback across the province.

The leadership of the local, CAW 222, backed the call and threw themselves into organizing it. The Social Action Committee of the CAW was enthusiastically organizing to bring in activists from other trade unions and social movements.

The strategy was to call on the day shift to stay away from work and reinforce this call with picket lines before the day shift at 6 am Nov. 14, a picket line staffed by other trade unionists, anti-poverty activists and others who hate the Tories.[3]

Word of the walkout spread like wildfire through the workers’ and anti-cuts movements. From Toronto to Kingston, plans were afoot for buses of activists to go to Oshawa to support the stay-away.

What an inspiration. For students, anti-poverty activists and trade unionists from the public sector to stand side by side on picket lines with one of the country’s strongest private sector unions would have massively built the solidarity necessary in the fight against the Tories.

But after setting the wheels in motion for the stay-away, the plug was pulled on Nov. 9. The phones rang across the province to tell people the strike was off.[4]

Union leaders – stop blaming the rank and file

CAW officials have not been forthcoming with the reasons for calling off the November 14 stay-away.

Apparently, there was fear at the highest levels that the rank and file of local 222, many of whom voted for the Tories in the provincial election and for the Reform Party in the last federal election, would not respond to the call for a stay-away.

But is this true? Reform Party arguments do have a hearing in a section of local 222. In 1993, right-wing Reform Party types did lead a call for the local to disaffiliate from the NDP.[5] The Reform Party bases its politics on, amongst other things, welfare-bashing.

But just last month, anti-poverty activists from the Ontario Coalition against Poverty met with 200 stewards from local 222. At the meeting was a single mother on welfare who explained her plight to the stewards.

There was an absolutely enthusiastic response from the stewards at the meeting. John Clarke, provincial organizer of OCAP put it clearly.

“In the course of our work, we’ve had dealings with local leadership and with rank and file members of 222, and have always found that if the issues were presented from the standpoint of working class unity, we have got nothing but a warm reaction.”

London, December 11 – make this the beginning

The Tories have been in office for six months. They have driven poor people out of public housing and onto the streets. They have forced people on welfare to live on close to starvation diets. They have killed Bill 40, the NDP’s anti-scab law.

There is a mood of anger and a willingness to fight. The call to shut down London is a fantastic opportunity to give a focus to that anger.

Student groups should rush motions of support for the action. Community organizations, anti-cuts organizations – all who are affected by the Tory attacks – should pass motions of support, and begin planning to travel to London Dec. 11 to support the picket lines. Workers and activists in other provinces should also send messages of support.

The workers’ movement has the power to close down London for a day. That can build the confidence to shut down the entire province.

That type of workers’ power can stop the Tories in their tracks and inspire workers across the country to do the same. If Harris is stopped in Ontario, it can be the first step to stopping Klein in Alberta, Harcourt and his cuts in B.C. and Chrétien and Axworthy in Ottawa.

But our union leaders must now make up for lost time. There has been very little organizing done on the ground to prepare for this battle. We must demand that the strike be organized seriously, with organizers, money and resources.

London December 11 can be a beginning to build the strike action which can stop the Tories in their tracks.

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


[1] CP, “London Is Target of One-Day Protest Strike,” Canadian Press NewsWire (Toronto, November 13, 1995), accessed February 27, 2020,

[2] Quoted in James Rusk, “Ontario Unions Target London for Shutdown,” The Globe and Mail, November 14, 1995.

[3] An anticipation of the “cross-picketing” which would play a prominent role in the Days of Action from 1995 until 1998.

[4] This account of events in November 1995 was written in the moment, on the basis of multiple phone calls and reports which flooded into our newspaper office. Very little of this intense activity has been captured in any subsequent press accounts. The closest I could find was a cryptic reference in a Toronto Star article a few days later. Theresa Boyle reported that “plans to protest” the anti-labour Bill 7 “before it was passed were scuttled because of the Tories’ haste in pushing it through.” Boyle quoted Dean Lindsay, then recording secretary for CAW Local 222 in Oshawa saying: “Labor was starting to organize but the government had to make sure to cut the legs out from under us” (Theresa Boyle, “Labor Vows Storm over Bill 7,” Toronto Star, November 17, 1995.)

[5] Don Lajoie and Star Wire Services, “Disgruntled Members Urge CAW to Break Ties to NDP,” The Windsor Star, February 6, 1993; CP, “Manning Woos Local That Dumped NDP,” The Windsor Star, May 28, 1993.

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