In Ottawa, 500 workers, elders, and community members showed up with roaring energy to say “Enough is Enough” to the provincial government’s starvation of everyday people through low wages, rampant inflation, and cuts to critical public services. But this rally wasn’t always meant to be.
Just months before, the only plan for action on June 3rd was to rent buses to have a small group of the most dedicated protesters leave Ottawa and go to Toronto.
But many local unions imagined something bigger. They felt the Enough is Enough campaign could be an opportunity to raise the stakes, organize locally and draw new layers of activists into action. Meanwhile, community groups already organizing around housing, public health, and wage increases jumped at the opportunity to bring their fights to a province-wide action. However, many of the unions and community groups were not well connect. Everyone was hungry for local action that would build power here in Ottawa.
Building coalitions between unionized and non-unionized workers has never been more important as the Ford government strips away rights and services that affect all working class people. Community organizing (or building a union from the ground up) is all that’s accessible to the 71 percent of Ontario workers who are non-unionized. Even for those who can access a union, undertaking effective labour action requires immense practice and confidence-building efforts. The Enough is Enough campaign gives all workers an opportunity to take action into our own hands, to practice and hone our organizing power.
Growing a regular rhythm of action
Starting to organize a labour rally in Ottawa as a non-unionized community member was intimidating to say the least. While we have friends and family who are a part of unions it often felt like they were speaking an entirely different language, with whole dictionaries full of acronyms that we didn’t understand.
As community organizers, we knew the most important place to start: building a regular rhythm of action. In Justice for Workers Ottawa, we relied on a consistent routine of meetings, tabling and pickets as a basis for organizing with other community groups and unions. When our group found out there was no plan for an Ottawa rally as part of the Enough is Enough day of action on June 3 we started organizing to make it happen.
We had already been meeting and strategizing for weeks including large online coordination meetings with groups across eastern Ontario. When the labour council called a community consultation on the Enough is Enough rally we were able to pack the meeting with union and non-union voices, all ready to bring the fight to Ottawa.
This regular rhythm carried forward throughout our campaign with weekly petitioning where we gathered hundreds more sign-ups in support. Union members who wanted to get involved but didn’t have the capacity to host their own events spread the Justice for Workers events among their mailing lists or took their own sign-up sheets to their meetings, conferences and socials. Following signups, we also held weekly calling sessions to invite community members to next week’s events including pickets, art-builds and socials. But all this was only possibly through building strong new grassroots lines of communication.
Strong grassroots network of communication
In order to build widespread rank and file activity for the Enough is Enough June 3 rally we needed effective communication. In larger labour organizations the lines of communication are often one way, slow and bureaucratic. For a healthy labour movement we need to be able to exchange information as quickly and easily. The Enough is Enough Slack provided an easy democratic space for different groups to easily share upcoming events and information. Posting on the slack didn’t require an ‘OK’ from higher ups or time copy-editing perfectly worded drafts. It helped us connect many disparate members together.
People who were getting involved in the Justice for Workers brought their skills and interests to the campaign. Community members who were excited by our momentum jumped in and shared how the movement could be even more successful. After a month of consistent meetings, Meral, a community member who had developed skills with social media for the Ontario Health Coalition, asked if she could run our social media. She brought incredible insight outlining the tone, mood, ideas and frequency of content required, along with exceptional editing and curating skills. Rather than balking at the extra work or waiting for high up approval, we trusted her expertise and together were able to grow Justice 4 Workers Ottawa social media presence from nothing to thousands of views a week. Super charging our social media presence we were able to reach a broader audience and members who had never heard of ‘Enough is Enough’ showed up to volunteer at tabling, postering and more. While we couldn’t rely on social media alone, many of these volunteers became strong connections, showing up again and again.
Mapping and building our support
There are so many unions, advocacy groups and friend groups in any given community it can be hard to know where to start. In Ottawa, we planted lots of seeds reaching out over text or email to any groups we had pre-existing connections with, connecting our demands to theirs. To make new connections, we developed a spreadsheet of all the groups in Ottawa and the different ways we could contact them. Not all the seeds we planted came to fruition – some groups didn’t respond or some didn’t yet have the confidence to take that type of action. But many did respond and often in surprisingly enthusiastic ways.
Many climate organizing groups such as Decolonial Solidarity and Seniors for Climate Action Now showed up in support of Flyering Fridays in front of the Royal Bank of Canada to talk to community members about making the banks and corporations pay their fair share to ensure liveable conditions now and in the future. These groups then further mobilized their members to show up in support on June 3.
We were able to co-table the Great Glebe Garage Sale with Horizon Ottawa, a municipal advocacy group, and by the end of the day we were trained on each other’s petitions and ready to invite community groups into municipal and provincial level actions.
The Enough is Enough campaign created a unique opportunity to engage union activists in coalition-based activity. One member of Justice for Workers worked with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation and brought out members wearing matching Enough is Enough shirts.
We were also able to build new connections including with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers who built independent activity collecting signups and hosting phone banks for their own members. Coordinating with the Canadian Association of Professional Employees we were able to collect 40 signups at a local social event. These connections are only just beginning to be nurtured as we collaborate to practice important outreach and organizing skills, including tabling, calling or even rally marshalling.
Creating fertile soil for the coming year
The June 3 day of action in Ottawa was a roaring success in terms of new connections, newly honed skills and self activity. We had 10 first-time marshalls at the rally, and 10 more ‘outreach people’ and 1 first-timer speaking into the megaphone to lead our French chants. You can’t force people into self-activity or create a thriving labour movement with the snap of your fingers. But you can create a fertile environment full of leaders who are increasingly confident to take action.
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