Thousands rally for locked-out Steelworkers in Hamilton
by Tyler Mackinnon
HAMILTON, Ont.—On Jan. 29, up to 10,000 union members and supporters from across Ontario and Quebec gathered in front of Hamilton’s City Hall in solidarity with the workers of U.S. Steel. The company locked out the already greatly reduced workforce of 900 on Nov. 7, 2010.
United States Steel Corporation, following its purchase of Stelco in 2007 for $1 billion, reneged on its promise to retain jobs and benefit the local economy. Instead, workers have been treated to a vicious attack on their pensions, plus staff cuts. The bosses at U.S. Steel demand elimination of pension indexing (the provision that keeps pensions in pace with inflation) and insist that the existing pension plan be closed to new hires.
As in Sudbury, where Valle Inco forced nickel miners to strike for over a year against the company demand to turn pensions into a market investment rather than a guaranteed benefit, the corporate excuse for greed in Hamilton is the same: the Great Recession. Indeed, the attack on workers’ pensions, including the federal government’s refusal to enhance the grossly inadequate Canada Pension Plan for seniors, is a major element of the current capitalist austerity agenda.
This is a major issue for all workers. That is why thousands of autoworkers from Oshawa and Windsor, textile, construction, postal and mine workers, teachers and many others went to Hamilton to march on a very cold day in late January.
A number of community and socialist groups, including Socialist Action and Youth for Socialist Action, participated. Despite frigid temperatures and heavy snowfall, the atmosphere was electrifying. Thousands of people, in a sea of colourful flags and banners, came together to say to U.S. Steel that “you cannot take away workers’ rights, you cannot lie, cheat and steal from steel workers and expect to get away with it.”
The solidarity rally exceeded the capacity of the sound system; it was impossible to hear what the many speakers said. They included USW International President Leo Gerard, USW Local 1005 President Rolf Gerstenberger, Canadian Labour Congress President Ken Georgetti, local NDP MP Chris Charlton (Hamilton Mountain), NDP federal leader Jack Layton, Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath, Ontario Federation of Labour President Sid Ryan, and Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina.
Many demonstrators carried picket signs that read, “Public Right Yes, Monopoly Right No” and “Hands Off our Pensions.” As the mass of unionists and supporters marched through downtown Hamilton, the powerful chant, “When they say cut back, we say fightback,” could be heard like the percussion section of an orchestra across the city.
Though the demonstration was a success, the battle is far from over. As the lock-out continues, Socialist Action will continue to rally support for the steelworkers, who have stood up to years of company threats and blackmail, including an earlier Stelco demand for a 20 per cent pay cut.
Steel making is essential to a modern economy, and it should serve the public interest. Ottawa has let that slide, not only when it gave Stelco $100 million in 2005 for “re-structuring” but when it approved the U.S. Steel purchase of Stelco in 2007.
Enough is enough. Socialist Action campaigns for public ownership, under workers’ and community control, of the steel industry. So, let’s stand with the steelworkers, and show U.S. Steal where to go.
Gains and challenges for Queer Rights
by John Wilson
TORONTO—Feb. 10 marked a signal victory for transgender rights when Bill C389 (barring discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression) passed third reading in the House of Commons. It next goes to the Senate. The bill, which amends the Canadian Human Rights Act, was sponsored by New Democratic Party Vancouver MP Bill Siksay.
Grassroots campaigning will be necessary to move the bill through the Senate before a federal election call, which could occur in March. Otherwise, dissolution of Parliament for an election would make it necessary to start the whole process again.
This victory may reinforce the impression that Canada is a kind of mecca for queer people in light of the many victories won in struggles over the years. But nothing could be further from the truth.
On the same day, a community meeting about numerous recent incidents of gay-bashing in Toronto’s Church-Wellesley area, known locally as the Gay Village, drew upwards of 80 people to the 519 Church St. Community Centre. Testimonials of those present made clear that gay-bashing is far more common than most people may think.
Also clear is the fact that, despite anti-homophobia education efforts by the Toronto District School Board, homophobia is rampant in the school system. Young people at the meeting argued that educational efforts should start in elementary school, not just at the high school level. Just a short time ago, the Ontario Liberal (provincial) government retreated abjectly and totally from a proposed more progressive sex-education curriculum as soon as Christian fundamentalists and bigoted parents made noise, amplified of course by the corporate media.
In January, an 18-year-old Mexican high school student was deported, despite an impressive demonstration held on the day of the immigration board hearing. The protest included many of his fellow students and an official of the Toronto District School Board. His sister, a lesbian, had been deported earlier. She is his care-giver. Her partner was murdered in Mexico in her younger brother’s presence. Federal immigration department honchos refused them refugee status, despite the fact that their lives are in obvious danger in Mexico.
Also in January, an uproar developed when the Halton District Catholic School Board refused to allow the formation of a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) in its schools. Displaying the mentality of the board, Board Director Alice Anne Lemay stated at the time that “we don`t have Nazi groups either.” She emphasized that GSAs are contrary to church dogma.
Although the Catholic board did eventually rescind its decision, it is far from certain that a GSA actually will be allowed to form, despite impressive support organized by local students and their allies.
Casey Oraa, chair of Queer Ontario`s Political Action Committee, pointed out that GSAs are encouraged, officially, by the Ministry of Education. He demanded that the ministry enforce its policy. “Denominational rights end where Human Rights begin. Period,” Oraa wrote in a letter to the HDCSB.
Not surprisingly, the continuing public tax-dollar funding of Catholic Separate schools, given their opposition to the rights of queer students, is increasingly questioned and opposed by LGBT people. This is also the case inside the labour-based Ontario NDP. Ongoing efforts to change party policy in the direction of putting an end to public funding for any religious or private schools is spearheaded by the NDP Socialist Caucus.
So, while the victories gained for LGBT rights in Canada are impressive, enormous problems persist, and the struggle continues. Increasingly, people will begin to realize that the achievement of real liberation is organically incompatible with the present capitalist order, which perpetuates its outmoded rule by use of the old tactic “divide and conquer.”
> This article was originally published in the March 2011 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.