Unions flex muscles as strikes hit Toronto

Hugh Winsor in Ottawa reports on the mass protest against public sector cuts

Most public services in Canada's largest city were closed down yesterday as members of the Ontario Federation of Labour organized a mass protest against cuts by the province's Conservative government, led by Premier Mike Harris.

Officials of the OFL, which represents more than one million workers, claimed the pro- test will be the largest in Canadian history and the first time organized labour has attempted a general strike since the 1930s.

Picket lines brought public transit services to a halt, most schools were closed, and postal services were suspended. Many employees of private companies took a day of annual leave rather than attempt to travel into the centre of the Toronto urban area, whose total population now exceeds 3.5 million people.

Every hotel room was booked and some employees of stock broker firms and banks slept in their offices on Thursday evening to avoid the congestion. As a result, the Toronto Stock Exchange, Canada's largest, opened on schedule and banks were open.

The strike has been more successful in closing down public services than private firms, most of which have remained open for business, if on a reduced level. Many companies have ad- opted innovative ways to get their employees to work.

The Globe and Mail newspaper, for example, chartered a cruise ship which normally takes sightseers around Toronto harbour, and used it to ferry employees living in suburban communities along the shore of Lake Ontario to Toronto in order to ensure production of its large weekend paper went ahead without disruption.

Labour is protesting against the Conservatives' plans to cut $9 billion (pounds 3.73bn) in services, almost 20 per cent of the total provincial budget, in order to keep an election promise for an across-the-board income tax cut.

The Conservatives won an upset election victory in June 1995, promising a "commonsense revolution." Many of the cuts in public services are only now being implemented, but the timing of the protest was geared to the first anniversary of the implementation of a 23 per cent cut in the level of social assistance (welfare) payments.

Labour is arguing that the tax cuts benefit those in higher incomes the most, while it is the poor who are hit hardest by the cutbacks.

The Conservatives have ended support for any new public housing, reduced subsidies for day-care for the children of working parents, and made major reductions in funding for the correctional service, meaning that parole and half-way services have been reduced in favour of incarceration.

The protest, which will continue today while the Conservatives are holding their annual convention, is intended as a show of strength for organized labour whose proportion of the total labour force has been declining.

The Conservative government has been targeting the unions representing civil servants and other public services, and recently broke a strike by jail guards.

The unions selected 300 sites around the city, a mixture of private businesses and government buildings and transit depots, for picketing.

But the provincial government was successful in obtaining a court injunction pre- venting the unions from blocking access to Pearson International Airport on the outskirts of Toronto.

As a result, the airport - which operates as the hub for 40 per cent of all of the flights in Canada - was operating normally but with reduced passenger loads because many travellers decided to delay or advance their travel plans rather than take the risk of being grounded.

While Friday's labour activities were spread around the city, today the unions plan to surround the provincial parliament buildings and the convention centre, where the Con- servatives are meeting with a crowd of 250,000 protesters. If successful, it will be the largest demonstration in the country's history.

Premier Harris has already announced that the protest will have no influence on his policies, and his government is determined to push ahead with cuts which could include the closing of one in every five hospitals around the province.

The provincial government is already in a fight with doctors over fee schedules applying to the publicly financed healthcare system. The government has also said it will limit the number of new doctors permitted to register in the system.

The premier also advised delegates to the Conservative conference not to be intimidated by the protesters and promised that police will escort them through picket lines if necessary.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'