A Start, but Far from Enough: On the Solidarity Rally with Locked-Out Workers in London, Ontario

By David McNally

It was heartening to be part of a roughly 5000-strong trade union mobilization on Saturday (January 21) in solidarity with the locked-out workers at Electro-Motive in London. The 450 workers, members of Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) Local 27, were locked out on New Year’s Day, when management insisted on slashing wages and benefits by a shocking 50 per cent.

A loud and public demonstration of labour support for these workers was certainly needed. It was encouraging, therefore, to see teachers, postal workers, steelworkers and many more turning out. But it has to be acknowledged that up to three-quarters participating in the event were CAW members. Attendance from members of other unions was far from overwhelming. If this struggle is to build, however, much more support and mobilization from workers in other unions will be absolutely vital.

On top of this, the rally itself was often de-energizing. An utterly inadequate sound system meant that the majority attending couldn’t even hear the speeches, provoking impromptu chants of “Louder, louder,” and “I can’t hear!” And when the speeches began, the boring routine of mentioning every major union leader and politician in attendance (including Liberals) dragged on and on. The presence of hundreds of Canadian flags was also disappointing. It’s true that Electro-Motive is owned by the US-based corporate giant, Caterpillar. But there is nothing uniquely American about corporations that slash wages, bust unions, and violate workers’ rights. Just ask the thousands of workers and peasants fighting Canadian mining and energy firms in Central and South America or parts of Africa.  Or ask workers at Magna International across Ontario or city workers in Toronto. We’re talking about capitalism here, folks, not some US aberration.

Without a doubt, the most encouraging thing about the rally was the enthusiasm people expressed for the Occupy Movement. Every mention of the movement brought loud cheers.  On the local scene, Occupy London, Ontario has been doing inspired solidarity work around the lock-out, helping to chart a course for the next stage of their movement. And the Occupy London speaker was far and away the best at the rally — calling for civil disobedience, direct action and the taking over of workplaces. In its more militant days, occupations were a central tactic of the workers’ movement in its fight for union rights and gains for workers. It is now clear that organized labour will need to recover the Occupy spirit if it hopes to seriously resist lockouts and austerity and to defend the interests of working-class people.

David McNally is a member of Toronto New Socialists and the author of Global Slump: The Economics and Politics of Crisis and Resistance.