Anarchists and Wobblies Support Striking Refuelers at Toronto Island Airport
By Paul M
The IWW and members of Common Cause Toronto have been hitting the picket lines in support of striking refuelers employed by Porter Fixed Base Operations (FBO) at the Toronto Island airport. The strike has been bravely fought by a mere 22 workers fed up with unsafe working conditions and low wages. Injuries due to poor training and heavy turnover have not been uncommon, and the workers currently earn an abysmally low 12 dollars an hour. As the workers continue their fight against their bosses at Porter, anarchists must keep up the support until the dispute is won.
Working with COPE (Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union), a largely white collar union, refuelers have shown tremendous initiative in escalating disruption at the airport in their fight to win a first contract. The initiative shown by these workers has been a refreshing change from other recent labour disputes. Disruptive action has been consistently hobbled in recent labour disputes in Ontario. Teachers, librarians, postal workers, and many others have been hemmed in by a bureaucratic union machinery adhering to a rigid set of passive tactics in a failing strategy to broker labour peace. Unlike in these larger disputes, the recently unionized Porter workers have shown a willingness to escalate tactics and to collaborate closely with other militant workers, including anarchists.
The Porter dispute has presented a unique opportunity for the IWW and Common Cause to build real relationships with a large number of workers on the ground, and to have a voice in the direction of the strike and its tactics. A recent 4:30am picket on Tuesday, January 22 saw around a dozen IWW and Common Cause members come down to the lines in the bitter -18 degree cold. While at the lines, some Wobblies there for the third time, we witnessed workers stopping some cars going into staff parking lots for over 10 minutes with very little encouragement from our group. This type of delay is rare on picket lines today, with standard delays being a mere 2 to 3 minutes. Even still, these exceptional tactics did not satisfy the confrontational attitude of some workers. As we exchanged names and numbers we felt heartened that we could collectively develop new strategies for increased disruption.
On Saturday, January 26, after the sluggish and demoralizing labour parade organized by the OFL to the Liberal leadership convention, a large number of Wobblies, anarchists and other unionists headed to the Island Airport with the help of the CUPE 966 flying squad bus. This time, with encouragement from the Porter workers, we fully blocked the only road into the airport causing serious disruption. The picket line was mostly anarchist and other militants, with workers wishing to avoid the legal ramification they might face, but cheering us on from the sidelines, many itching to join us. We were able to hold the line for nearly an hour until cops finally removed us without arrests. Though this one off event was clearly effective in slowing things down at the airport it was still a far cry from what's necessary to bring Porter to the table.
It remains to be seen if or when Porter will come to the table but what is clear is that when they do the IWW and Common Cause will have a real voice with the workers to help ensure that a strong contract is demanded. Our concrete and ongoing support of workers struggle at the point of production is crucial to developing militant class consciousness, and what we've seen at Porter is that this type of militancy is often latent in some sectors of the embattled working class. It is now up to us to tap the latent desires of the workers to hobble the smooth working of the airport. Our goal is to use a strategy that wins refusing to be cowed by a labour movement too sheepish to be remotely effective, and what we've seen at the airport is a strong mandate from working people to do just that. After this fight we hope the connections we've built with the workers, can carry forward into ongoing work, but it is up to us to make the space in our organizations necessary to carry the memory of past fights into new ones. If this is accomplished, and we don't lose the connections built in the Porter dispute, this could be a precedent setting struggle for Toronto Wobblies and Common Cause.