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"We got the guillotine, you better run"

The Coup perform their song The Guillotine
the Sans Culottes Collective

May 7, 2019

Doug Ford called the cops on people who brought a prop guillotine to the Mayday general strike rally at Toronto’s Queens Park. Obviously the symbolism of the French Revolution is threatening to him; that’s a good thing.

The hypocrisy from Ford and his supporters is astounding. We don’t recall them denouncing far-right protesters burning effigies of Trudeau. Heads may not roll, but eyes certainly do.

The real violence in Ontario is not coming from cartoon guillotines; it’s coming from Doug Ford’s austerity cuts to programs and services that affect children, that affect seniors, that affect teachers and students, that affect patients in Ontario’s health care system.

As Joe Cressy, city councilor and chair of the Council Public Health Committee said, these cuts mean that people in Ontario will die.  “I say this without an ounce of exaggeration. Because of today’s cuts people will die.”

In England Frederick Engels, studying how government actions and neglect resulted in poverty, disease, suffering and premature death, coined the term “social murder”. In France in 1789 the “sans culottes” in the streets of Paris rose in opposition to a system that could not even feed the people. Marie Antoinette and Doug Ford have much in common: she said “Let them eat cake” and he says “Let them wash it down with a buck-a-beer”.

People are being fired and are losing homes and livelihood because of Ford’s cuts. The anger at having their lives upturned is finding expression in demonstrations like the May 1 rally in Toronto.

In addition to the effects that these cuts will have on the users of public services they will also mean job loss on a large scale for the workers who provide these services. For example, over half the teachers in North Bay will lose their jobs because of the cuts.

And it doesn’t end there. The cancellation of the minimum wage increase will have further detrimental effects on working people. A recent UC Berkeley study found that suicide rates are closely tied to poverty. If the wage rises, suicides decline.

Through history we’ve seen that peaceful, mass civil disobedience on our side that threatens the power of the elite is met with brutal, violent repression. This is the 100th anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike, an uprising for greater equality and against exploitation of workers. It was crushed by the Canadian state on “Bloody Sunday”, when mounted RCMP thugs rode through a crowd firing, and using swords and clubs to beat demonstrators. Anyone who thinks “It can’t happen here” doesn’t know their history.

In the mood to fight

The apparently thin skinned Ford called the OPP to investigate those who brought the guillotine prop. It was an all-out effort to distract people from the massive, murderous cuts in his budget. The Toronto Sun (which has become the house organ for the Tory government) declared that the communists were after the Premier’s head.

We would expect the right wing to lose their cool but the response from some leaders of the NDP was also shameful. 

NDP MP Charlie Angus denounced the prop: “There is no place for this kind of politics in Canada. We can disagree with our political opponents but threats of mob violence are disgraceful. This wasn't an attack on the premier, it was an attack on civil society. No excuse. Not now. Not ever.”

A tongue in cheek nod to a symbol of popular retribution is too much for Charlie. No doubt ONDP leader Andrea Horwath would agree. Witness her groveling apology for simply standing next to a protester with a home-made placard saying “Fuck Ford”.

Happily, they don’t speak for the base of the NDP. Thousands of people in the party are justifiably angry and really want to fight back. People like Jessa McLean, an NDP candidate in York Simcoe, reflected the mood of Ontarians who are bubbling with anger at the brutality of Ford’s government. McLean responded to Angus this way: “Before we hear any more about a prop guillotine, let’s talk candidly about Social Murder. It isn’t posturing when we say these cuts will devastate our communities. They will literally kill some of us. It’s why we fight.”

We are up against a regime that literally does not care if lack public services result in the deaths of Ontario’s most vulnerable people. To stop them we have to fight like we mean it, we have to fight to win.

The sight of a cartoon guillotine makes Doug Ford nervous – great. Let it be the emblem of our fight against Ford, and Boots Riley’s “We Got the Guillotine” our anthem.


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Embedded Video: 
The Coup – The Guillotine

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