On Saturday, September 15 workers across the province took part in a day of action marking 15-weeks until January 1, 2019, the scheduled date for the $15 minimum wage increase. These 23 actions, coordinated by the Fight for 15 and Fairness campaign and Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) aim to pressure the Ford government to backdown from attacking the gains in Bill 148.
The 23 actions, 14 of which occurred outside the GTA, focused on petitioning, postering, and community outreach in Conservative Party MPPs ridings. Posters stating “Help is on the way, a $15 minimum wage is coming Jan. 1, 2019” were put up by workers in Tory ridings and activists delivered huge banners, signed by community members, to Conservative MPP offices calling on Doug Ford to protect the $15 minimum wage.
The big business lobby has ramped up their efforts to roll back the changes won under Bill 148. The provincial day of action was organized as a response to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s call for the Conservative government to fully repeal the Bill 148. The bill, the most comprehensive set of labour reforms for workers in a generation, is “transferring wealth out of corporate profits into workers pockets” said Pam Frache, Coordinator with the Fight for $15 and Fairness.
Frache said, “we want the government to stand with the people. That’s what this government campaigned on, to ‘stand up for the little guy’ and that’s what our message is: We don’t want our new government to surrender to the corporate elite.”
Despite the fact that 40% of PC voters support the $15 minimum wage, Premier Ford said he will freeze the much needed increase. The OFL has partnered with the Fight for $15 and Fairness to amplify the voices of the 66% of Ontarians who support the agenda for decent work.
“The PC government is vulnerable to their base in the 905 and in swing ridings. We’re going to make sure we’re organizing that base to know what’s going on and understand the impacts of Ford’s neoliberal agenda,” said Melisa Bayon, Director of Political Action and Outreach at the OFL. “In these ridings, many people voted for Doug Ford, but actually support the $15 minimum wage. It’s really important that we do everything we can to communicate this, and let their elected officials know their ridings support the increase and the decent work legislation.”
Hands Off Hamilton
As part of their provincial day of action, Fight for $15 and Fairness activists participated in Saturday’s ‘Hands off Hamilton’ solidarity rally, hosted by the Hamilton and District Labour Council (HDLC). Over 100 people came out to Hamilton City Hall in a show of defiance towards the new Premier’s agenda. Local organizers and activists spoke against Ford’s agenda on the issues of poverty, healthcare, education, environmental issues, municipal governance, housing and labour rights.
Anthony Marco, president of the HDLC, was clear that if Ford is going to attack workers then the labour movement will have escalate its pressure.
“If he’s willing to take the most extreme steps that the provincial government has ever taken within his first 100 days, with his two words, “notwithstanding clause”, then we’re going to start talking about our two words: general strike,” said Marco. “It’s going to take a lot of build up to get there, and we’re not there yet. But if he’s going to go to extremes, we’re going to go to extremes, and we’ll shut the province down.”
“I used to live off of $200 a month living on ODSP. I live poverty. I’m struggling with trying to get a job, I feel like I’m going to get kicked out of my apartment because I’m unemployed,” said Marie-Snyder. “I feel like I have to be at these events, I just couldn’t ignore them. I’m out here because I support the movement.”
Gentrification and the lack of affordable housing have come to be one of Hamilton’s major issues within recent years. Sarah Wahab, organizer with the East Hamilton Rent Strike comments on how the Conservative agenda is affecting tenants. She noted that Ford is rumoured to go after affordable housing and rent control.
“At a time like this, working class people have to come together, show up for each other and fight together. No individual politician is going to rescue the working class. Working class people are going to do it for ourselves,” said Wahab.
The rally in Hamilton was only one example of the 23 actions actions in the province-wide mobilization . Hundreds of activists and workers took the fight for decent work to Conservative MPPs from North Bay to Ottawa, with organizers sending a clear message that the majority of Ontarians want $15 and Fairness.
The Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign will be holding another Day of Action on October 15, this time focusing on workplace actions.
“We’re seeing in city after city, what’s considered to be a living wage is 17 to 19 dollars an hour. $15 still isn’t enough. More and more people are earning poverty wages, and having to work multiple jobs to make ends meet,” said Chris Grawey a, Hamilton Fight for $15 organizer . “The Conservative government isn’t only going to go after the minimum wage, but the other provisions contained in Bill 148 – that’s why we have to organize and mobilize.”
For OFL affiliates, organizing inside workplaces to push back against the repeal is crucial. Since the new work legislation, unions have been attempting to standardize the gains made within their collective agreements. Building capacity within the campaign means increasing outreach blitzes across Ontario directly in the workplace.
“Ford has said Ontario is open for business. we need to close businesses – the exact opposite. It takes time, but we will build for that. Labour has the power to really shut things down, said Bayon. “To do that, we need to align labour with campaigns like the Fight for $15. Making demands as a working class together, that’s how we’re going to win.”
Labour organizers recognize that the concept of a general strike doesn’t occur overnight. That’s why the campaign is focused on building a multi-racial working class movement that has the ability to challenge power through organizing workers. Connecting these struggles, and growing the unity emerging in the campaign is key.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that the government is going to be throwing everything they can at us to try and divide our movement. There will be a push to divide us on the basis as our status as newcomers, our racialization, sexuality, or gender identity,” said Frache. “We have to take on educational and ideological work, and build a movement of working class people, that’s why our campaign is so important. There’s no shortcuts.”