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Union activists confront Islamophobia

Carolyn Egan

October 25, 2014

The recent municipal election in Toronto had a lot of low points with Olivia Chow being told to go back to China, along with other racist and sexist comments. But a high point took place when the labour movement rallied to the defence of Ausma Malik, a candidate for school trustee in Ward 10, Trinity-Spadina.
Ausma Malik
Ausma wears hijab, and works at the Stephen Lewis Foundation. She was instrumental in the publication of a pamphlet against Islamophobia put out by the Canadian Federation of Students and has spoken at anti-war rallies in the past.
As she said at a recent Activist Assembly, “I was a student during the Mike Harris years. I remember joining my teachers on the picket line, and like so many of you I know first hand the chaos that comes with regressive policies, brutal cuts and vicious attempts to devalue the contributions of working people. I also know that progressives didn’t back down.”
At an all candidates meeting on October 22 supporters of the policies of the state of Israel viciously attacked her. They called her an anti-Semite and a supporter of terrorists. Literature saying the same thing has been distributed door to door in the ward. There was a clear hate campaign being directed against her.
Another debate was scheduled for the evening of Thursday, October 23 at Trinity St. Paul’s Centre in the heart of the ward. The Toronto and York Region Labour Council, which had endorsed her candidacy, put out a call for members to come out to show their support. When I arrived the hall was packed.
As the evening progressed people who were said to have been organized by the “Jewish Defense League” started going to the mikes raising issues about her support of terrorism and other outlandish charges. The meeting was very welled chaired and most of the comments were contained in a very democratic manner. One speaker was escorted out by the police. The meeting ended with strong support from the audience.
Labour solidarity
The call to labour activists brought out members from numerous unions. CUPE 416, the outside municipal workers local, provided personal protection for Ausma as she entered and left the hall. The Ontario Public Service Employees Union, ACTRA, the Amalgamated Transit Workers, the United Steelworkers, CUPE 4400, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario and others all mobilized members. The president of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, the president of the Amalgamated Transit Union and other elected officers attended as well. 
The show of labour solidarity againt Islamaphobia, particularly in light of Canada’s role in the bombing of Iraq and the recent events in Ottawa, was excellent. Ausma Malik is an strong candidate for the school board and the willingness of trade union members to unite against racism of this sort was inspiring.
We noticed that a group of those attacking her in the meeting had gathered outside the exit to the hall. A labour phalanx of about 20 surrounded Ausma with the 416 members in the lead. As one member said, they had come in their rumble clothes, but because of the large numbers nothing happened. She was surrounded by union supporters until she was able to safely drive away.
It is important that labour continue its opposition to Islamaphobia and racism in all its manifestations. The federal government is calling for greater restrictions on civil liberties and we know who that will most likely affect. These are difficult times and labour has to be front and centre against the war and in support of the rights of all.

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