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Labour and the Peoples' Social Forum

Carolyn Egan

July 29, 2014

The Peoples’ Social Forum is taking place in Ottawa August 21-24, and 10,000 are expected to attend. The trade union movement in Quebec has put a lot of resources into the organizing: both the FTQ and CSN are sponsoring workshops, and have been working with indigenous groups to make it a success. A local committee is planning the programme and logistics and is open to anyone who wants to be involved.
Something of this nature has not happened in Canada for a number of years and the vision is to create a space where social movements, labour and indigenous communities can come together and forge a way forward. The austerity agenda has been harsh in both Canada and Quebec. Services and public sector jobs have been cut along with closures and layoffs in the private sector. Over the last number of years we have seen Occupy, Idle No More and the Quebec student strike bringing hundreds of thousands into the streets demanding a better world.
This is an opportunity to meet, exchange ideas and hopefully reinvigorate a movement for change that will have reverberations both provincially and federally. The federal government’s unconscionable ignoring of the plight of the missing and murdered indigenous women has sparked outrage around the world. The cuts to unemployment insurance have been devastating to those facing job losses and shutdowns. The attacks on the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, with the plans to do away with home delivery and the loss of up to 8,000 jobs is one more example of the Harper government’s intent to impose the neo-liberal agenda.
The event will start with a keynote address by Naomi Klein followed by a march through the city of Ottawa. The coming together of the two is meant to inspire people to action and the take their messages to the streets. The idea that rallies and marches are things of the past has been put to rest with the mass demonstrations and general strikes in Greece, India, Portugal and other countries around the world against the austerity agenda.
People are hurting in this country. Students coming out of high school and university can not find work. Social services and health care have been cut to the bone. Public sector jobs have been privatised in the attempt to downsize governments. This attempt to make working people and the poor pay while the rich get richer has sparked the fight backs that I mentioned above.
Although they have not always been able to maintain, the anger from below is still there and when people are given a lead they will respond. Hopefully the events in Ottawa will once again allow students, workers, indigenous communities and the poor to be inspired, to learn and grow from each others experiences and be able to work together to build this new movement.
It is critical that trade unionists from Ontario respond to this call in the same way that their brothers and sisters in Quebec have done. The Steelworkers Toronto Area Council is bringing a bus of workers to the event. Good Jobs For All, a Toronto coalition of unions, racialized communities and environmentalists is mobilizing as well. They are joining with Quebec activists in Ottawa to continue the work of creating a cross country campaign to fight against the cuts to Unemployment Insurance.
Building a diverse movement of indigenous communities, trade unions and social activists is critical to continuing the fight against the neo-liberal agenda. We are many and they are few, and we must seize this opportunity to forge new alliances that will have the strength to push back hard against the attacks.
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