Letter to my friends in Labour
I was a Labour activist for 25 years. In 1997 the Harris cabinet removed me from the Workers Compensation Appeals Tribunal where I represented the OFL. In 1999 when I was in a deep crisis labour activists across Toronto intervened and saved my life. But today it is no longer possible to ignore that across Canada from the CLC, through the Provincial Federations to many local Labour Councils Labour is not participating in confronting the housing crisis and the growth of homelessness.
Up until about the 1980's across Canada the Labour movement was actively involved in organizing and campaigning on housing issues; particularly around the creation of coop housing. Coops across Canada are named for labour activists. In 1998 the Toronto Disaster Relief committee launched its State of Emergency Declaration declaring homelessness a national disaster. However today neither the CLC, OFL or the Metro Toronto Labour Council websites mention the housing crisis that pushes both house and rent prices out of reach of most working people and creates the mass homelessness for the first time in Canada's history. Many people have been very poor throughout Canadian history. But mass homelessness with tens of thousands of people living, and dying, in absolute poverty on our citys' streets is new.
At Labour conventions across the country participants collect hotel room soaps and shampoos as donations for womens shelters and local labour councils will conduct food drives for food banks but this has become an act of solidarity. Housing issues and homelessness are rarely or never referred to as a Labour issue like the demand for Pharmacare. Babble does not have a forum on housing or homelessness. What the hell happened?
You do not have to be a radical lefty to observe that growing numbers of working people who need several roommates to pay the rent and the growing battalions of absolutely poor people make many union members more afraid to take on their employers. If Unions do not actively campaign to protect working people from rents they can't afford or from the stark reality that people are dying on Canadian streets how can they protect bargining rights?
At a bare minimum the CLC should be hoarse from vocal demands for a National Housing Strategy. Provincial Federations should be demanding Provincial legislation to better protect tenants and extend rent control and at a minimum Local union and Council memebers should show up at homeless memorials and housing demonstrations. Ignoring either the housing crisis or the emergence of mass homelessness and absolutle poverty results in all Labour organization being threatened by the growing number of brigades in the reserve army of labour.