Source: ATU 113

After years of cuts and attacks, Toronto Transit workers in Amalgamated Transit Union local 113 have overwhelmingly voted to strike. With a turnout of over 75 per cent, 98 per cent voted in favour of strike action!

The service’s 11,500 operators, collectors, maintenance workers, stations staff, and other frontline employees are now in a position to walk off the job on June 7.

On the surface, the workers are fighting for a wage increase of 21 per cent over three years, to match rising inflation, and for protection against contracting out. But the overwhelming mandate to strike reflects a burning desire to fight.

As one ATU 113 member put it: “It’s not about wages, benefits, or pensions. It’s about revenge.”

The TTC’s unionized workforce has faced a coordinated offensive by management, especially since the workers were deemed “essential workers” in 2011. Under this “Essential Service Legislation”, the TTC workers’ democratic right to strike was taken from them.

Management has taken full advantage of this new leverage over the last 14 years. They ramped up reprisals, arbitrary suspensions, and overwork. Arbitrations climbed 120 per cent under this legislation—a shocking rise in grievances.

ATU 113 President Marvin Alfred, in an interview with CP24, summarized the union’s relationship with TTC management under essential service legislation similarly:

“The employer has been taking advantage of this legislation and not authentically dealing with us. We’ve just about had to negotiate our right to oxygen and sunshine when anytime we are dealing with the employer they know they always had this in their pocket, that they knew they could always mistreat us based on this legislation.”

This was even clearer to see during the pandemic. They refused to allow workers to wear masks or to block off the areas surrounding their work space, and they laid off unionized staff.

This is also why ATU 113 workers have a motto: “30 days to train you. 30 years to fire you!”

The message to workers was: Management has the freedom to attack and endanger the workers, but the workers are expected to remain at work at all times. 

Moreover, the grievance system offers no protection. As one ATU 113 member quipped: “I grieve every day on my way to work. I’m sick of grieving.” 

Last year, the “essential services” provisions were struck down by the courts, as they were deemed a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Now, the workers are looking to win back what they lost.

According to the local leadership, the ranks have their office “buzzing.” Our union has broken all participation records. Over 8,000 workers have volunteered for picket duty. As Alfred explained, this will be an all-out strike: “We are serious, and yes, it would be all of us participating in job action.”

Our union leadership has ruled out accepting arbitration. This is correct! Arbitrators and Labour Boards have shown themselves to be tools of management and we cannot trust them.

But we should expect that the Ford government will at some point intervene to break the strike through back-to-work legislation. This is what happened after our last strike in 2008, after only two days. If we want to win, our leadership needs to be prepared for this.

Naturally, the government and management will complain about the transit system being paralyzed by the strike. This is beyond parody. They have shown again and again that they have no concern for the needs of transit users. Their attacks on our union have only been matched by cuts to the service itself, leaving large parts of the system held together by burned-out staff and duct tape. If they cared so much about transit, they would make it free and fully public. But that is not on offer under capitalism.

Doug Ford has shown many times that he is willing to introduce legislation to take away our rights. But in 2022, the Ontario education workers showed that these attacks can be beaten back  when they defied a draconian back-to-work legislation by going on an illegal strike, and threatening to broaden the struggle. Within days, Ford had to retreat. This can be done again. 

Our union has its own rich history of defying anti-union laws. Notably, in 1974, the union defied back-to-work legislation introduced by the Bill Davis Tories, going so far as to burn the legislation outside their union hall.

A victory against the TTC’s appointed managers and the Ford government would echo widely in the working class of Ontario and beyond. The workers in the ranks are ready. Let’s strike to win!