On May 7, CUPE 5089 announced its endorsement of former Toronto Police Service (TPS) chief Mark Saunders for mayor of Toronto. I consider this an act of working class betrayal, and I write this as a former longtime CUPE member—including CUPE 3903 in Toronto, CUPE 4600 in Ottawa, and delegate to the CUPE-Ontario convention.
CUPE 5089 is a union that “proudly represents the Special Constables, Fare Inspectors and Protective Services Guards of the Toronto Transit Commission,” and announced their mayoral endorsement from a Twitter account boasting a thin blue line no less. While cops (even wannabe ones) supporting a cop is not surprising on its own, this raises some bigger questions about the state of labour in the country—and its disturbing carceral manifestations.
The Saunders endorsement
CUPE 5089’s statement referred to Saunders’ “no-nonsense approach to tackle disorder” and said his “extensive career with Toronto Police will allow him to bring a unique perspective.” They then descend into copaganda, saying “Mark has a proven track record of implementing large scale positive change during his tenure at the Toronto Police service [sic]” and “welcome his leadership as Mayor to help implement more of the same at the TTC.”
The endorsement comes only weeks after Saunders released his transit policing plan, which is unsurprisingly about more police violence. Saunders plans to increase the number of special constables to at least 200. He also suggests moving them “out from behind the desk and on patrol” making them visible on subway platforms. Notably, Saunders wants to make special constables integrated adjuncts of the TPS, saying he would transfer responsibility for them away from the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) to achieve “better coordination.” Under Saunders, special constables would be equipped with body-worn cameras, so even more money for policing.
The response from other union members was appropriately swift and excoriating. CUPE 5089 then promptly leveled some snarky responses at other CUPE members who called them out, claiming university workers would depend on special constables if something happened at their campus. Numerous responders pointed out the greater likelihood that the carceral CUPE members would be the ones busting picket lines during a strike—which gets at the dangers of cops being in the labour movement.
Despite what CUPE 5089 might dream up about Mark Saunders’ track record, many in Toronto who have borne the brunt of police violence under his leadership know the truth: support for racial profiling, attacks on protesters including Black Lives Matter, complete botching of the investigation into the serial killer Bruce McArthur who terrorized the gay community. More recently, Saunders has used social media to promote fear of drug users and push a drug war candidacy.
Even without this record, Saunder is a cop – which makes him an enemy of the working class, and particularly organized workers.
Carceral transit unionism
As I have detailed previously, carceral unionism seems to have taken root in transit-based locals. And it is not only within transit cop or “special constable“ locals. Unifor locals representing drivers were behind calls for more policing of transit hubs in Alberta.
Less than a month ago, Gavin McGarrigle, the western regional director for Unifor, claimed there is “lawlessness” on transit and called for a “culture shift” in transit policing. He expanded on this in an interview saying that “the culture shift would require a more visible, consistent presence of transit police and security personnel on board buses, not just at hubs.” McGarrigle took his request right to the BC’s Transportation Minister.
Unifor 111 President Balbir Mann echoed these sentiments, saying he wants more police officers and security personnel deployed at major transit hubs. According to Mann: “We are going to sit with the employer and discuss more safety measures and raise our concerns with the employer. I know they can’t be present everywhere in all the buses, but we need [that]. That’s what the discussions are that we’re going to have with the employer, so we can deploy more resources out there to make sure our members are safe out there.”
Some of this is of course simply self-serving. Transit cops and security have benefited immensely from crime panics and fear politics recently. This includes in cities like Toronto where policing transit has become favoured right-wing fare and has resulted in the hiring of more special constables. In January, TTC CEO Rick Leary, then-Toronto Mayor John Tory, TTC Chair Jon Burnside and Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw, met with CUPE 5089 President Dariusz Nowotny, with TTC deploying additional “public safety” staff across the system–around 80 a day.
We need to be clear: the police do not protect the public; they are a threat to the public. Police unleash violence against the poorest, most deprived working-class people. Police violence disproportionately impacts Indigenous and racialized working-class people, given the colonial structuring of poverty and homelessness in Canada. Police violence targets people experiencing mental health crisis. This is class, racism, and ableism intersecting. It is bad enough when these calls come from capital and the far Right. But when they come from organized workers they are acts of class betrayal.
Cops out of CUPE (and all unions)
The CUPE 5089 situation is deeply disturbing and represents a clear reversal for working class organizing in Canada. In 2019 a coalition of CUPE members brought a resolution to the floor at the CUPE Ontario convention. Cops Out of CUPE called on CUPE Ontario to:
“Reject the inclusion of State Security Forces—both civilian and non-civilian—in the Canadian Labour Movement, including but not limited to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; Discontinue any current or future allocation of resources towards the unionization of State Security Forces; Work to deepen the trust in CUPE Ontario by supporting individuals affected by and movements created to address police/state violence; Sponsor a National resolution supporting the above and support efforts at the OFL and CLC for the same; Release a letter outlining this position as an important value to CUPE Ontario and the Labour Movement.”
They argued that allowing any variety of cops into the union movement represented “a direct threat to the health and safety of many and potentially all CUPE members.” They pointed out that these are the very forces that “have surveilled and repressed worker and justice movements including but not limited to current and previous members of CUPE.” In addition these are the forces that “repress other social movements that CUPE Ontario otherwise supports through criminalization and violence, such as the Movement for Black Lives and during Toronto’s 2010 G20 Summit.” Allowing cops in CUPE also violates the union’s stated solidarity with Indigenous nations.
All of this is true, and it appears union members will need a renewed fight over the future of our unions and the labour movement. Cops, of any type, are not workers. No cops should be anywhere near unions or the labour movement.
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