With a majority of 23-21, an amended budget passed at City Hall last night revoked millions in planned cuts to Toronto public services — from pools to daycare spaces to shelter. This is the result of a year of mass organizing, which now needs to protect the jobs on which further public services depend.
Timeline of resistance
The change in council was the result of a year of mass campaigns uniting labour and community groups. As I wrote before:
“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 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.”
In September a poll found a majority of Torontonians in all wards were against the cuts and that Ford’s popularity was plummeting. Ford announced a delay of some cuts, hoping the opposition would dissipate, but on September 26 a second labour/community rally organized by Respect Toronto brought thousands more to protest outside City Hall.
In October and November, Occupy Toronto organized a series of marches to City Hall — hearing from library workers, social housing advocates and others against the Ford agenda — and on December 3 hundreds of labour and community activists held a mass meeting in Scarborough to protect jobs and services. This year of organizing by labour and community groups won a majority on council to revoke millions of cuts, as a third mass protest occurred outside City Hall.
Protect services to protect jobs
While Ford has been attacking city services directly through budget cuts, he is attacking them indirectly through job cuts. 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. As Ford has faced increased opposition to cuts to services, he has began scapegoating workers — claiming that, “the gravy is the number of employees we have at City Hall.” While some services were saved through the budget, there is an escalating campaign against the jobs on which services depend — from York transit workers, to library workers, to city workers. To save the Toronto services on which we all depend, we need to protect the jobs that provide them.