Canada: Toronto municipal workers’ against privatisation

Over 45,000 municipal workers from two of the largest locals of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) are on strike.

The city’s approximately 25,000 outside workers went out strike on 26 June and were joined by the ‘inside workers’ on 3 July. The key issues at stake are the privatisation of public services such as municipal water works, garbage collection, ambulance services etc., and job security. Since 1995 the provincial government has downloaded the cost of providing and maintaining many public services onto the municipalities. City councillors have refused to use their resources to mount and offensive against these cuts. Instead they have taken the position that "there is no alternative" and consistently laid-off municipal workers and contracted out public services to the private sector – or in their words to "alternative delivery services."

In typically very hot summer weather in Toronto, the parks are piled high with garbage. Parents are without public day care for their children and public swimming pools and summer camps are closed. City hostels for the city’s huge numbers of homeless are closed or being staffed by managers. Ordinary working people are the most effected by the City’s refusal to negotiate a fair contract for the workers. The rich can afford private day care, summer camps for their children and have pools in their back yards. Wealthy neighbourhoods have no difficulty paying big sums for private garbage collection.

Tough stance

Toronto city council has appealed to the provincial MP’s to return from summer holiday, to convene parliament, and to rapidly introduce ’back to work’ legislation. Even a popular NDP MP from Toronto will not commit to fight legislation, forcing workers back on the job. While union leaders maintain a tough stance particularly on job security, today after a large rally on support of municipal workers the city, in a typically provocative manner threatened to take job security off the table completely.

A right wing leadership dominates the union Local 79, which includes many of the workers taking action. For years the more militant workers have been unable to take control of the leadership. It is likely that the city will try to drive a wedge between the leadership of the two locals and effectively weaken the impact of the strike.

Today’s rally had the usual line-up of union leaders calling for solidarity with the striking workers. It is not the first time the city has brought in alternative delivery services. In the southwest suburb of Etobicoke, garbage collection has already been privatised. In other parts of Toronto, the private sector does pick-up for businesses. Union leaders have already accepted forms of privatisation.

Clearly this strike represents a strong desire on the part of the union membership for job security. Most likely union leaders will capitulate and accept some privatisation and some lay-offs.

Socialist Alternative will campaign for solidarity action by other public and private sector trade unions and support mass rallies and direct action. We will raise the possibility of a 24-hour general city-wide general strike in support of CUPE and workers in general.

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July 2002