As Toronto Mayor Rob Ford confronts a second wave of deputations against the cuts, cracks are emerging in his austerity agenda. He has been forced to reduce and delay some cuts, while members of his executive are speaking out against others. This is a result of months of growing opposition, and the Rally for Toronto on September 26 can magnify the resistance for the weeks and months to come.
The process of resistance
Stopping the cuts is not an event but a process, which has been building since Ford took office. As I wrote in April:
On his inauguration on a cold December day, 150 people protested. On his first council meeting, a temper tantrum about "left-wing pinkos" by his invited guest Don Cherry sparked protest by councillors, while thousands of people across the city got "left-wing pinko" buttons that they continue to wear with pride. In March organizers of International Women's Day confronted Rob Ford about his cuts to public services, and that weekend thousands marched for public services and jobs…On April 9 unions joined with student and community groups to bring 10,000 people into the streets of Toronto, transforming Ford's motto "respect for taxpayers" into "respect for communities, public services and good jobs."
Many people saw the election of Ford as a sign of a right-wing surge across the city that could not be stopped. But by bringing thousands of people into the streets just a few months into his mandate, the April 9 demonstration showed there was mass opposition to austerity and division, and this mood has continued to grow.
Instead of dividing the city, Ford's boycott of Pride in June backfired and isolated him. In July a petition by Toronto Public Library Workers Union became a lightning rod when Margaret Atwood called on her supporters to sign. On July 28, the first marathon deputations spoke overwhelmingly against cuts revealing that the so-called "Ford Nation" of citizens demanding austerity was non-existent. Instead August revealed a "Jack Nation" as thousands of Torontonians covered City Hall in a rainbow of progressive messages to honour the life of Jack Layton and pledge to continue the fight for a better world. In September, hundreds gathered at local organizing meetings -- the Stop the Cuts meeting in the west, and a town hall meeting in the east -- to discuss the cuts and organize against them.
Left councillors have reflected the growing anti-austerity sentiment -- like Adam Vaughn's critique of KPMG -- while Ford's inner circle has started to crack, from Karen Stintz opposing library cuts to Jay Robinson opposing arts cuts.
Build September 26
The specter of mass cuts, and the months of activity building against it, has produced a clear opposition to cuts in every ward, while Ford's popularity is plummeting. Ford is responding in two ways. Firstly by backing off or delaying some cuts, hooping the anti-austerity momentum will dissipate or turn on itself before the November budget process begins. But the deputations made clear that there is a tremendous mood of unity. As Roy Mitchell said in his deputation, after presenting Ford with the "unity award":
"Your work in unifying us ensure that we will not fight amongst ourselves. Library supporters see the value in day care, people who support livable wages also support the arts. Affordable housing is no less important than children getting healthy food at school. We have learned that the only way to make our city work is to safeguard these services and support each other in saving them."
Ford's other strategy -- and central pillar of austerity in addition to attacking communities and services -- is to attack workers and blame them for the recession. As Ford claimed recently, "the gravy is the number of employees we have at city hall." It was the attack on striking city workers that Ford rode to office, and his early actions included contracting out garbage workers and taking away transit workers right to strike. These attacks on jobs is part of the attacks on services.
On Monday September 26 at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall, there will be a mass rally for Toronto -- to save city services and defend good jobs. This is an important event in the growing process of resistance on both fronts -- to reinforce the united anti-cuts opposition that will need to continue to build towards the November budget process, and to defend the jobs of working people who provide the services Torontonians care so much about. The bigger September 26 the more united and confident people will be to build all the campaigns against the cuts that will be necessary in the weeks and months to come. Posters can be downloaded from labourcouncil.ca, a promotional video has gone viral and momentum is building.
See you in the streets!