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May Day across Canada and Quebec

Bradley Hughes, Ritch Whyman, Shane Sadorski, Steve D'Arcy, Deborrah Murray

May 2, 2012

Vancouver (by Bradley Hughes)
In Vancouver hundreds came out to the May Day rally and march organized by The Vancouver and District Labour Council and The BC Federation of Labour and Occupy Vancouver. Activists from all three organizations addressed thee crowd on a range of issues including the history of May Day and challenges facing the workers’ movement today.
The rally started at the Vancouver Art Gallery—the former site of Occupy Vancouver before they were evicted by the Mayor and city council. The march went from there to the opening of the Mayworks festival at the W2 media centre.
Southern Ontario (by Ritch Whyman)
Across Sothern Ontario the spirit of May Day was alive and well. Inspired by the occupy movement, cities from Windsor to Hamilton had marches and rallies to celebrate May Day and denounce austerity and attacks on workers.
In Hamilton two marches happened. One rally and march was held in a downtown park and then marched through the downtown core occasionally stopping to dance and chant. Over the course of the event around 100 people came out. Marchers wore red squares in solidarity with Quebec students.
Another rally and march was held in the east end of Hamilton and led by Steelworkers local 1005. Close to 100 people gathered to hear speeches by members of CUPE, other USWA locals and migrant workers talk about the importance of fighting back and for workers to organize to resist austerity. The crowd then marched to the gates of National Steel Car, which is about to go into negotiations, and then passed the Hamilton offices of Arcelor Mittal (Dofasco), who just slashed retiree benefits and cut jobs to its workforce. Truck drivers and others routinely honked their support for the march.
In Windsor, racetrack workers from SEIU Local 2 joined in the May Day march there to protest the loss of jobs at the local racetrack after the provincial government shut down the slot machines at the track. Other demonstrations took place in London and Kitchener. In St. Catharines local punk bands are putting on a May Day concert.
London (by Steve D’Arcy)
In London, Ontario, about 150 protesters gathered for a spirited May Day rally in Victoria Park, the former site of the Occupy London encampment. The rally was followed by a militant march through the city’s downtown.
Speakers from several labour and community organizations addressed the crowd, raising a wide array of important issues, including the need for solidarity with Indigenous anti-colonial struggles, the importance of organizing around the rights of women workers, and the need for to raise the level of solidarity and militancy in the activist Left, in order to take on the austerity agenda—including its racist and sexist implications for the most vulnerable workers.
Among the speakers were activists from No One is Illegal, Occupy London, the London and District Labour Council, PSAC Local 610, the Amazon Collective, and the Indignants. After the rally, we proceeded to march through downtown, stopping for several minutes to block the city’s main intersection while chanting “This is what democracy looks like!” and “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Capitalism has got to go!”
From there we marched to City Hall, to join a second protest organized by the Council of Canadians, to demand that City Council declare that London would exempt itself from the terms of CETA (the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, now being negotiated between the Canadian State and the European Union). As it turned out, this campaign was successful and the Council adopted the main demand of the anti-CETA protest, which added to the upbeat mood of the protesters.
This May Day in Toronto, months of work on behalf of activists from Occupy Toronto, and other organizations came to fruition. Some really hard work was put in February and March to restructure the Occupy movement and make it more democratic, and better organized. At the same time, effort was made to reach out to, and coordinate with organizations on the radical left, as well as the broad left to work together on a single unified May 1st Day of Action. The Day of Action was also Toronto’s response to Occupy Wall street’s call for a mass walkout and resurgence.
Leading into the day, Occupy Toronto organized an Activist Training Weekend April 20-22. This was meant to increase mobilization as well as train people in direct action, media relations, anti-oppression and other vital activist skills. Also, direct actions were staged as a way to get media attention and build awareness for May Day. A banner drop over a highway was carried out the week before May Day, and a ”human chess game” pitting the 99% against the 1% was staged at City Hall the day of.
May Day itself consisted of a series of actions that were well planned and well attended. The 4pm march and Rally organized by No One Is Illegal, OccupyTO and M1M was a huge success. Two thousand people attended from a broad cross section of the left. There were speakers and marchers from organized labour, community groups, socialist and Marxist groups, groups supporting migrant labour and immigration, Indigenous groups, and many others. A tremendous achievement as May Day in Toronto has been somewhat fragmented for some years now.
The march led to Alexandra Park, for a music and culture festival organized by OPIRG, and a meal organized by Food not Bombs. Those who were still in the park at 9pm rallied for another march to a 24 hour reoccupation of a location that had been kept secret up until this point. Despite the late hour, general exhaustion and intimidation tactics used by the police as they had been aggressively walking through the crowd in small gangs as a way to scare people into dispersing, some 500 people still took the final march.
After a winding night-time march through the city, the crowd reached Simcoe park across the street of the Metro Convention Center for a reoccupation targeted at Barrick Gold’s annual shareholder meeting and it’s involvement in imperialist practices.
All in all, this was a major step forward for May Day in Toronto. It was well executed, well attended, and peaceful. The greatest success on May 1st this year was the brining together of multiple groups, movements and organizations in a single broad and unified Day of Action leaving us stronger and better able to carry on the struggle. For video coverage go here.
Ottawa-Gatineau (by Shane Sadorski)
On May 1, 2012 the Ottawa-Gatineau region witnessed the largest and most militant International Workers’ Day in over 10 years, with 3000 participating.
Beginning at noon, approximately 1000 people descended on the Prime Minister’s Office located across from Parliament Hill for a loud street-rally against public sector austerity; a rally with a decidedly anti-capitalist and “Occupy” flavour. To the sounds of The Internationale and other militant working class songs, local workers and community activists linked up with hundreds of Public Service Alliance of Canada members meeting in convention in Ottawa to loudly condemn Harper, McGuinty, Charest and the politics of neoliberal austerity.
PSAC President John Gordon and PSAC Executive Vice President for the National Capital Region, Larry Rousseau, kicked off a series of powerful speeches from labour, student, women, indigenous, environmental and other activists. Labour was out in full force, with a wide spectrum of public and private sector unions in attendance. A spoken word artist performed radical poetry in front of a very appreciative crowd.
At mid-point in the rally, the crowd was informed that a contingent of students in Gatineau on strike against provincial tuition hikes were prevented by police from crossing a bridge into Ottawa to link up with the rally at the PMO. News of that repressive action did not go over well with the crowd and a spontaneous decision was made to have anyone willing remain after the rally for a march into Gatineau in solidarity with Québec students and workers. The some of the sting of the news was also taken out when a spokesperson with CLASSE, the largest bloc of students on strike in Québec, addressed the crowd to wild cheers.
At the close of the rally, hundreds of protestors marched from the PMO into Quebec, stopping outside the Palais de justice to condemn police repression against Gatineau striking students. Though at one point it appeared the crowd might become “kettled” by police, protestors quickly resumed marching back to Ottawa and avoided any major confrontation. Later in the day, a number of Quebec students did make their way individually into Ottawa to participate in some of the other events.
In the afternoon, participants attended two teach-in sessions: the “Meaning of Austerity” with Greg Albo of York University, Janet Fraser of the Ontario Elementary Teachers Federation, and federal government worker Brian McDougall; followed by “Fighting Back” with Morna Ballantyne of Solidarity Against Austerity, Jack Bogart of ACORN, an Clayton Thomas-Muller of the Indigenous Environmental Network.
At around 4 p.m., May Day participants at the central venue in downtown Ottawa were informed to loud cheers that up to 1000 Ottawa-area teachers had descended on Premier McGuinty’s Ottawa South constituency office to denounce the Ontario government’s plan to impose a wage-and-benefit freeze on teachers’ salaries. The militancy of the teachers surprised many political observers, noting that an era of relative labour peace with the McGuinty government has been effectively ended by the Liberal’s attack on the province’s teachers.
Montreal (by Deborah Murray)
This May Day, Montreal was under the influence of its inspirational 12-week long student strike denouncing the Liberal government’s plan to raise fees by 75 per cent over five years.
Unions had asked workers to “stand” outside workplaces during lunch wearing the now iconic red square prominent everywhere in the city. Union members also rallied outside the main FTQ offices in solidarity with students. At noon, hundreds of striking students drew attention as they symbolically planted a Liberty tree, a red maple tree, outside Charest`s office.
Quebec’s artists, responding to the social crisis that the students’ struggle has exposed, chose May Day for a press conference to present a letter declaring, “Nous sommes avec les étudiants. Nous sommes ensemble” (“we are with the students, we are together”).
Late afternoon, CLAC, an anarchist based network, mobilized several thousand including striking students and a contingent of professors against tuition fees. But the police declared the march illegal as they scuffled with a black bloc contingent. Police lines split demonstrators into smaller marches which regrouped from time to time as they attempted to regain control of their march. Most of the 107 people arrested in the day’s actions were arrested out of this demonstration.
The evening saw several thousand join the Coalition du 1er mai march under the theme “Nous! voulons être entendus” (We! will be heard). Hundreds of students from FEUQ/FECQ and La CLASSE led the traditionally union-led march. Professors from UQAM and l’Université de Montréal also attended. Young Couche-Tard convenience store workers, newly unionized, joined the ranks of nurses, public sector, daycare, construction and other trades workers along with community, women’s and church groups. Demonstrators chanted slogans against the government’s austerity measures, for a freeze on tuition fees and the resignation of the Premier and Education Minister.
May Day wrapped up with the 8th Nuit Nocturne in Place Emille Gamlin. These marches, organized nightly by La CLASSE, normally draw out thousands of striking students vowing to keep up the pressure.

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