general strikes in ontario

map of ontario

1997, october 17 - unions, community groups and social activists shut down windsor
standing on the corner of ouellette avenue and riverside drive overlooking the detroit skyline, we watched as thousands upon thousands of workers heading from east and west converged at dieppe park on the riverfront. banners, flags, and chants filled the air as many took to the streets in protest for the first time in their lives.

the action had begun at 11:00 p.m on thursday evening. most protesters stood on picket lines for 6 hour stretches, until relieved by their colleagues. 90% of workplaces were effectively shut down as people exercised their democratic right to protest against the harris government agenda of public sector cuts. workers from every sector then took to the streets to send a message to the ontario tories. thousands of teachers marched and stood on picket lines beside auto, postal, construction workers and teamsters, defying the employers' threats of financial penalties against themselves and their unions.

public transit was shut down, the municipal government was closed, guards from the local jail walked off their jobs, no mail was delivered, big 3 auto makers lost millions of dollars in production, and the windsor casino which is owned by the ontario government and generates 1.5 million in profit per day, was closed for 12 hrs. downtown windsor was desolate until the workers came marching in, reclaiming their community. the protesters chanted "ontario, yours to recover," adapting the government tourist bureau slogan "ontario, yours to discover."

when general motors (gm) of canada threatened to fine each worker $2,500 for their involvement in friday's protest, canadian auto workers (caw) president buzz hargrove stated that if gm wanted to play that game, they would have a picket line outside their plants every friday from now until christmas....

harold reaume owns windsor match plate, a caw tool shop in the city. reaume threatened to liquidate his assets if "his" workers did not decertify from the caw, as 8 busloads of supporters surrounded the plant and closed off the entire street access.

at friday's rally, speakers such as canadian labour congress president bob white, caw president buzz hargrove, judy d'arcy and syd ryan of the canadian union of public employees (cupe), and lhea cassleman from ontario public service employees union (opseu), spoke passionately against the harris agenda and committed their unions to fight back.

sam george, brother of slain first nations comrade dudley george who was shot and killed in september 1995 by ontario provincial police officers at ipperwash provincial park, told the crowd of close to 60,000 that his brother had been killed for exercising his right to protest and fighting for civil rights, just as they were fighting today.

labournet report by colette hooson, vice president caw local 240

1996, october 25 - canada's largest transit system shut down

tens of thousands of workers in canada's largest city, toronto, held a general strike to protest government budget cutbacks and anti-labor legislation. workers shut down the city's transit system and picketed over 300 work-places. the next day, 100,000 workers attended a demonstration in front of the provincial legislature. the general strike and demonstration were called to protest actions by the conservative government of the province of ontario, which has fired thousands of public employees, cut welfare, introduced workfare and rolled-back progressive labor legislation which was introduced by the previous government.

the a-infos news service has photos of the events available on-line.

1996, february 24 - 100,000 workers attend the largest labour-led protest rally in the history of ontario

they came. more came. they kept coming. the buses that brought some of them - 1500 in all - were backed up to the city limits. by 1:00pm there were well over 100,000 of them crammed into a cul-de-sac-like park on the bay, cold, standing in mud puddles, lined-up by the hundreds to use the portable 'johnny-on-the-spot' facilities, waving union placards, and wanting to get on with it.

they were ontario government employees, teachers from the province's five educational federations, auto workers, posties, steelworkers, students, anti-poverty activists and a range of other supporters, peoples of all colours and characters. for many this must have been their first political demonstration. ontario premier mike harris dismissed well over 100,000 people as "a few professional agitators" when commenting on the protest.

exerpted from an article in canadian dimension magazine.

1995, december 11 - ontario general strike wave builds

despite wind chill temperatures of minus 30 celsius, some 15,000 workers rallied in the streets of london, ontario in the first attempt at a city-wide general strike. the strike was called for by the ontario federation of labour as a weapon against the increasingly reactionary policies of the progressive (sic) conservative provincial government.

business in the city of london was brought down to a trickle as protesters marched in two rallies that converged at the city's fairgrounds. city bus services were cancelled as transit workers did not report for duty. picket lines went up the evening before at a general motors diesel plant, ford plant in talbotville and a car assembly plant in ingersoll and kept 9,000 workers off the job. production was also shut down at other plants including the canada post sorting plant. federal, provincial and municipal government offices functioned only with skeleton crews.

more coverage is available from the industrial worker, a publication of the industrial workers of the world.

1976, october 14 - over a million walk out, but union leadership backs down

after winning re-election on a platform that included opposition to conservative party wage controls, prime minister trudeau introduced compulsory wage controls which would roll back any wage increases won by unions that exceeded certain target levels. the canadian labor congress (clc) delayed action for months in hopes of a negotiated settlement, but relented to rank-and-file pressure once it became clear that the government would not negotiate.

the first (and only) day of the general strike held much promise for the unions as over a million workers walked off the job. however, in the face of government pressure, including court injunctions against picketing and back-to-work legislation, union leadership hastily called off the strike. lacking the commitment to stick to political and direct action, including defiance of unjust laws, union leadership not only lost this strike; they allowed the canadian government to initiate and continue a decades long legislative campaign against labor that would severely weaken canada's labor movement.

from the new socialist magazine (now offline)

the world : north america : canada : ontario