Prime Minister Trudeau was met with protests and chants against his government at the beginning of the Labour Day parade in Hamilton. Trudeau was invited by LiUNA, and was not given microphones and a stage to speak. Trudeau’s SUVs, police and security detail arrived before the march began as he took selfies among the crowd.
Shortly after the parade began a large group of people led by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) marched downhill to meet Trudeau’s crowd. “Hey Justin, we know you, your daddy hated workers too!” some chanted. Many were carrying water protector signs demanding “justice for Grassy Narrows!” Police set up a yellow rope several meters in front of Trudeau as he continued to take selfies with the large orange-clad crowd at the bottom of the hill.
CUPW, water protectors, Hamilton’s Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and other allies successfully stopped Trudeau from continuing to go up to join the march. “Tool of the bosses, with that porcelain smile,” said one of the marchers up front.
Standing on the side of the dividing line between the two groups, two Hamilton Police Officers joked about trampling through the line. “This is where we need the horses, push them back” one said as the other laughed. “Funny, the one thing they’re useful for,” the second officer added. “And photo ops.” One officer, Young 1119, openly wore a “thin blue line” patch on his uniform.
“Hold the line! No scabbing!” one of the organizers of the protest said at the line as it seemed to waver. “Justice for Grassy Narrows!” The line did not move, and after exactly five minutes of photos, the Prime Minister turned around and walked back to his SUV motorcade. The march continued as planned as the black SUVs turned around and left. A few minutes later up the street, one of the young women holding a water protector sign yelled over at a CUPW member. “Thanks so much for that, you were awesome!” Trudeau later reportedly joined the march closer to the rear, and visited Bayridge Park where the march ended.
Labour council opposed Trudeau
The confrontation was anticipated. Trudeau was invited by LiUNA, an invitation that was derided by many labour activists in Hamilton. Hamilton District Labour Council (HDLC) did not extend the invitation nor endorse the move by LiUNA. HDLC president Anthony Marco only got a call from the Prime Minister’s Office on Wednesday, five days before Labour Day.
“It wasn’t a political thing, it was a democratic thing,” Marco said. There was no council meeting within that time – no way to have labour vote on his appearance. “The Labour Council was chartered by the CLC [Canadian Labour Congress], and the CLC was one of the two founding partners of the NDP…[T]o ask another party’s leader to come in and speak, I want the backing of my council to come and do that.”
Further, Marco is not convinced by Trudeau’s recent moves to raise the minimum wage for federal workers and the increase in pension contributions (labour campaigned for a doubling, and got 30 per cent). “I’m not saying that he hasn’t made a couple of steps here and there, but nowhere near the amount he said he was gonna do.” When asked about the strike-breaking legislation Trudeau’s government passed against CUPW last fall, Marco said, “from what I hear, the postal workers had something to say about it today.”
Postal workers send Trudeau a message
“We don’t like it at all,” said David Rennie, a postal worker who recently retired, when asked about Trudeau’s presence at Hamilton Labour Day. “It divides the labour movement. It shows class collaboration, a lack of consciousness from some of the leadership of some of the unions.”
Rennie also had his eyes to the rest of the world. “We need to make a united loud voice against Trudeau and his neoliberal agenda, and oppose his interventionism…If they can take out progressive movements in the global south, it only strengthens them in dealing with us as well.”
Rennie says Labour Day needs to be re-politicized. He is most upset about the back-to-work legislation Trudeau used against CUPW in 2018. Trudeau also did not restore door-to-door delivery, a promise in the 2015 election. Despite suggestions to the contrary, Canada Post remains the a very profitable crown corporation.
Public sector workers burnt by Phoenix
Trudeau has also upset the membership of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC). “If you can imagine, 140,000 members [in Ontario] waiting to be paid accurately and on time…extremely frustrating,” said Sharon DeSousa, Regional Executive Vice President of PSAC Ontario. This is due to the 2016 Phoenix pay system, which has proven to be unmanageable. The Trudeau government has since offered federal workers with PSAC a 1.5 per cent wage increase per year for four years. This is effectively a wage cut, as it lags 0.5 percent behind the rate of inflation. Among 270,000 federal workers, there are over 240,000 ongoing cases of incorrect pay, and over 100,000 workers who have not had their collective agreements put in place at work.
Justice for Grassy Narrows
Signs and banners supporting sex workers, migrant workers, and Indigenous reconciliation were visible around the parade alongside the traditional union flags. Maggie McCormick, one of the demonstrators with the Justice for Grassy Narrows group, pointed to this year’s theme of “Unite Against Racism” as a call for allies to bring attention to this community.
“Trudeau has committed money to Grassy Narrows for a mercury (care) home, which is essentially a treatment facility for poisoning they experienced over 60 years ago, that continues to plague the community.” Then-Minister of Indigenous Services Jane Philpott set aside $88 million for Grassy Narrows in 2017. Grassy Narrows leaders say they have received one per cent of this funding. Trudeau infamously thanked a Grassy Narrows protester for their donation while kicking them out of a Liberal fundraiser this March.
The federal election is nearing, and Trudeau’s poll numbers seem to be recovering from the SNC-Lavalin affair. Once the election is in full swing, we can expect Trudeau’s opponents and concerned communities to question his record further, including Liberal support for far-right governments in Latin America and the broken UNDRIP implementation promise. “They’re wondering where they’re going to cast their vote, because the Liberals, the Liberals are not doing well in their books,” DeSousa said about her union’s members. “Broken promises do not make government.”