Canadian Labour Puts Muscle into Protests

Sid Ryan, Ontario President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, says the unions have agreed to form flying squads to invade workplaces they deem
unsafe. “Each union’s going to contribute 10 to 20 members,” Ryan says. “We’re going to hit four or five places before the end of this month – unannounced – and shut them down.

When anti-poverty protesters invaded Ontario Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s Whitby constituency office and threw his furniture out the door last week, most reaction was predictably negative.

“Outrageous,” said Education Minister Janet Ecker. “Nothing short of anarchy,” fumed Labour Minister Chris Stockwell.

“We call it pillaging,” thundered the National Post, which demanded maximum jail sentences for those arrested.

The Star’s editorial board, while sympathizing with the protesters’ aims (the action was designed to draw attention to Toronto’s alarming eviction rate), denounced what it called a “display of orchestrated violence” and suggested that, in the future, critics of Premier Mike Harris’ government confine themselves to passing out leaflets.

Indeed, for many, the notion of a busload of protesters invading a quiet suburban constituency office struck uncomfortably close to the bone.
Canadians are familiar with protesters heckling politicians at Queen’s Park. But to confront a minister’s staff in his home riding when he’s not
even there seems another thing altogether. And in Whitby?

Well, get used to it.

Because, according to labour leaders as well as social activists, there’s more on the way.

Direct action – civil disobedience backed by muscle – is becoming more respectable in Ontario, particularly among those who feel squeezed by right-of-centre governments.

The executive of the Ontario Federation of Labour has just voted unanimously to endorse “direct action” to fight legislation it says would harm worker health and safety.

“We’re going to be more active in how we express our opposition,” says OFL
vice-president Irene Harris (no relation to the Premier). “There’s a real sense of anger out there and people want to express their anger. Everything is on the table.”

Sid Ryan, Ontario President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, says the unions have agreed to form flying squads to invade workplaces they deem
unsafe. “Each union’s going to contribute 10 to 20 members,” Ryan says. “We’re going to hit four or five places before the end of this month – unannounced – and shut them down.

“We’re fed up with just handing out leaflets. We’ve done that. It’s pointless. We protest in front of Queen’s Park and the building is empty. Mike Harris doesn’t even show up there any more.

Author: Thomas Walkom

News Service: The Toronto Star: June 17, 2001

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