In temperatures that barely rose above -10 C, except when the wind dropped, up to 15,000 supporters, students, residents and workers, unionized and non-unionized, public and private sector, employed and unemployed, gathered to show their support for the 421 workers of Canadian Auto Workers Union (CAW) Local 27.
More than 3,000,000 workers were there 'in spirit', Ken Georgetti, President of the Canadian Labour Congress, told the protestors.
For the first time in a long while, such a statement didn't seem like a ritualistic phrase. It certainly resonated with everyone in the crowd around me, who responded with cheers. 'Solidarity' no longer feels like just another word.
Even before the advent of the occupy movement this past autumn, there has been a growing and pervasive sense that the system is 'rigged' against ordinary, hard-working people. Contrary to Conservative and neo(L)iberal ideologues, ordinary Canadians are not choosing to "lock themselves out" or "be unemployed", but see that they are being screwed by big business and the Conservative and Liberal political parties at both provincial and federal level that act as the servants of large corporations (many of which don't even pay taxes despite millions and billions in profits).
It's not just the Harper government legislating workers back to work, like the postal workers and the Air Canada ticket agents, but that they are actively passing laws to help them and giving taxpayers' money to these corporations, like Caterpillar, who then just move out when they have what they want. (David Lewis, of the federal New Democratic Party, called these corporations back in the 1970s, "corporate welfare bums". They should be cut off or forced to forfeit their equipment and plant to the workers.)
Harper and the Conservatives are surely encouraging the irresponsibility of these corporations: where is the commitment to the women and men who make the goods and the communities that host these factories (and their environmental legacies)? Who pays for the roads and services that these factories require in order to operate? Who pays for their maintenance?
For example, governments, such as Harper's, have failed to even protect private sector pensions and have supported corporate managements to 'rob' pension funds through various legal mechanisms or laws that have been passed (where executives still get paid bonuses even when the company is under 'bankruptcy protection' in the courts: e.g. Nortel).
It's not just happening in Canada, but throughout the developed world and especially in the English-speaking world (hence the name, 'Anglo-Saxon model', on the continent of Europe). Canada, like the UK and the USA, has had 30 years of (almost) systematic policies of tax cuts, deregulation, privatization, de-certification of unions and the out-sourcing and off-shoring of good jobs with decent and fair benefits.
We've got the results. Greatest level of inequality since the 1920s and the middle class squeezed and shrinking rapidly.
The growing inequality that both the Wisconsin recall movement and the occupy movement have highlighted, also explains why both movements have been so popular in Wisconsin and throughout the United States, where inequality is probably the worst in the developed world, and where the tattered social safety net barely exists in many places.
The workers were locked out on New Year's Day, nearly three weeks ago, by Electro-Motive Diesel plant in London, Ontario, which is owned by Caterpillar, Inc. The employer essentially wants to cut their pay and benefits by more than 50% in spite of billions in profits and increased productivity.
Why do people think this form of capitalism, also known as 'neoliberalism', can be fair or just? When the people who do the work get screwed.
You dedicate your a fair part of your life working hard for a particular company, follow the rules, and they can just discard you like yesterday's newspaper? I was taught that capitalism taught people the value of hard-work and fair play. Boy, were my teachers misled!
No wonder the Occupy Wall Street movement has caught on like a prairie wildfire! The 1% have bought and paid for the politicians running our provincial and federal governments. The federal Conservative Party of Canada, led by Stephen Harper, have been quick to force
Among the thousands of workers there, there were United Electrical Workers (UEW) from a competitor plant (GE) in Erie, Pennsylvania, USA, and from another Caterpillar plant in Illinois, USA, were there to support the CAW 27 workers.
Solidarity is a principle that is key to all forms of social, environmental and economic justice movements, including the labour movement. It is a principle that has been absolutely vital to its success and the achievements over decades and even centuries. Ever since the arrival of sweatshops and the factory system, the solitary individual has had little recourse to challenge owners, managers and supervisors, and have had to rely on the group coming together and standing by each other to fight for what was right.
Under the last 30 years of neoliberalism, there has been the attempt to persuade workers of all kinds, including professional ones, that it is better if they "go it alone". That is, act as an individual 'entrepreneur'. This has only given management the upper hand. Hence the growing inequality and the realization that one cannot go it alone against corporate power and the politicians that do their bidding.
Solidarity is the essence of unions, especially when members get involved via shop-floor democracy and/or by being actively involved in running their locals. It is the essence of democracy itself, of all that is great about humanity.
It is why I spent my Saturday travelling down to London, Ontario, to show my solidarity with the CAW 27 workers who are fighting for good jobs, fair wages, decent benefits.
(First posted to my blog on Saturday 21 January 2012: http://herbertpimlott.wordpress.com/)
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