On October 15, actions across the province mobilized to defend $15 and Fairness for Ontario workers. Doug Ford’s Conservative government has suggested they will roll back the gains made last year in Bill 148. A $15 minimum wage, equal pay for equal work, an end to on-call scheduling, and 10 personal emergency leave days are all at risk. In response, more than 50 actions, organized by the $15 and Fairness campaign and the Ontario Federation of Labour, called on the Premier to keep his hands off the new workplace laws that make work better for millions of people in Ontario.
Taking on the big business lobby
The actions come as big business lobby groups like the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and the Retail Council of Canada loudly lobby the Ford government to freeze the minimum wage and repeal Bill 148. Labour Minister Laurie Scott announced that the provincial government plans to follow the advice of these corporate lobbyists and freeze the wage, while “continuing to review Bill 148.” They have tabled no legislation, yet, but they continue to test the waters for proposed anti-worker rollbacks.
In this context, the October 15 day of action and the defence of Bill 148 is important for a number of reasons. The Fight for $15 and Fairness has been the most dynamic and popular labour-based campaign in a long while. Its consistent campaigning and grassroots methods have mobilized union and non-union workers across the province, making the demand for a $15 minimum wage an achievable reality, when only two years ago many in government and labour dismissed it as impossible. If we want to stop Ford from slashing public sector jobs and privatizing public services, we need to be able to defend these gains we’ve made on an issue that connects very widely with workers across Ontario.
Two thirds of Ontarians, 62% of small business owners and 42% of Conservative voters support a $15 minimum wage, which makes it a powerful weapon to take on Doug Ford and expose his big-business agenda. October 15 showed the support there is for a decent work agenda and the depth of opposition to Ford’s proposed cuts.
All out for October 15
Brewery workers wore $15 and Fairness t-shirts, grocery workers wore $15 and Fairness pins on the job at Loblaws, college workers held actions for equal pay on campuses, teachers in Toronto and Aurora held information pickets letting people know what is at stake if Ford attacks Bill 148. In Ajax, London, Coburg, Peterborough, Oakville, Newmarket, Brampton, Hamilton, London, Alliston, Waterloo, Kingston, North Bay, Guelph and many more locations, workers active in the campaign for $15 and Fairness visited MPPs, held canvasses and workplace meetings to protect the new labour laws.
In Ottawa, more than 50 campaigners from the Fight for $15 & Fairness, the labour movement, and local community groups held an info picket and rally for two hours during the evening rush hour outside Loblaws on Rideau Street in downtown Ottawa. Loblaws was chosen because Loblaw CEO Galen Weston, he of the roughly $3,400/hour pay packet, has been a prominent voice opposed to an increased minimum wage and decent labour laws. Members of UNIFOR, CUPW, PSAC and OPSEU participated, as did the President of the Ottawa & District Labour Council. More than a hundred passersby signed petitions telling Ford to keep his hands off BIll 148, and tv crews from CBC and CTV covered the protest for local news broadcasts.
In Toronto, hundreds of union members and other supporters of $15 and Fairness rallied loudly outside the office of the Minister of Labour. Spilling out on to busy University Avenue, union members proudly hoisted their banners, from CUPE, IATSE, Steelworkers, teachers, OECTA, OPSEU, and others. They know that the Fight for $15 and Fairness is a crucial test of the new Ford government, and a defeat for workers on this front will only mean more attacks on unions and workers later on. Speakers from labour, like Carolyn Egan (Steelworker, attending the north American “Women of Steel” conference) insisted workers would not back down after having won a higher minimum wage and important new benefits like paid sick days, the first in North America.
Nigel Barriffe, with the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, is also a teacher and told the rally that students are asking what adults are doing to protect these important gains for workers, a reminder that we have to keep up the fight. Deena Ladd, from the Workers Action Centre emphasized that the rally was part of many dozens of actions happening across Ontario today, to tell Doug Ford, “Hands off $15 and Fairness.”
Toronto area education workers and students organized outreach actions in defence of $15 minimum wage and the decent work reforms in Bill 148. Twenty teachers gathered at the Lawrence West subway station, in the Conservative held riding of Eglinton-Lawrence, to talk to community members about the need to support a $15 minimum wage, paid sick days and equal pay for equal work. The action was spearheaded by teachers from the nearby John Polanyi Collegiate Institute, who have been hearing from students and their families about the need to have decent wages and strong workplace rights in order to make ends meet. In Parkdale, local teachers also organized a community outreach in defence of Bill 148. At Western Technical-Commercial School, students organized an outreach canvass in defence of a $15 minimum wage.
Workers and students at college and universities were also busy, with actions happening at dozens of campuses across the province including, York University, Humber College, Mohawk College, the University of Toronto, Nippissing, Guelph University and Brock University.
Building the fightback against the Ford agenda
As we countdown to the scheduled wage increase to $15/hour on January 1 and wait for the Ford government to show it’s hand, the Fight for $15 and Fairness remains the crucial weapon to fight Ford and his anti-worker agenda. We know the Tories have a vision for deep cuts to all aspects of the public sector, including potential anti-union legislation. If we want to be able to take him on we need to be able to knit together a network of union and non-union workers across Ontario who are able take decisive workplace action when necessary. The Fight for $15 and Fairness is helping to organize these workers and equip them to lead a fight in their workplaces, neighbourhoods, schools and communities. October 15 shows how far we’ve come. We need everyone who wants to fight and beat Ford to help expand and grow these networks of resistance.
This was first published by socialist.ca