20 Days Remaining

Wednesday 7th
posted by Morning Star in Features

I’M AN organiser with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) in Toronto, Canada, and I’ve come over to Britain to be part of the Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) week of action that is now under way.
As someone who grew up in this country, I’ve watched as governments here have implemented an intensifying and increasingly destructive agenda of austerity.
Over in Toronto, I’ve been involved in mobilising against the very same kind of attacks.
Internationally, the war on the poor has served to create hardship and a scramble for the lowest-paying jobs on offer, so as to weaken unions and drive down wages.
The guardians of the Victorian Poor Laws divided the poor into “deserving” and “undeserving.”
The architects of today’s austerity have no time for such sentimental distinctions.
The full weight of ruthless abandonment has been imposed on disabled people.
The Work Capability Assessment in Britain is a mode=l of social regression and cruelty that is being looked at by other austerity-minded governments.
In the province of Ontario, where I live, a Liberal government is in power that has worked relentlessly to push unemployed and disabled people living on grossly inadequate social assistance benefits even deeper into poverty.
This year, a 1.5 per cent increase in benefits was given, while vegetable prices alone shot up by some 18 per cent.
Foodbanks are being overwhelmed and people are being evicted from their homes because they can’t afford to pay the rent.
Supplementary benefits are being cut so that in Toronto blind people on the verge of homelessness who apply for emergency funds have the amount they receive in guide dog allowance deducted.
OCAP has united with other anti-poverty organisations and trade unions to demand an increase in benefit levels and to resist cutbacks.
We organised “hunger clinics” to sign people up on a huge scale for a benefit known as the Special Diet.
Hundreds of millions of dollars were won this way. When the Liberals cut an emergency housing fund, we forced them to restore $42 million in funding. Sadly, austerity has gained ground, but it’s being challenged and resisted.
Toronto winters can be brutally cold, yet those in power won’t even permit an adequate number of homeless shelters.
When four men died on the streets in the space of a few days two winters ago, actions we took led to the opening of warming centres.
These have saved lives but City Hall has simply crammed people into them under conditions that are appalling.
They are operating facilities where there is so little space that people must sleep propped up against the walls. We are braced for a severe and lethal winter.
OCAP has the greatest respect for the work of DPAC. Two years ago, with the support of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario Division, we were able to organise a speaking tour here with DPAC’s Ellen Clifford. I’ve come over to Britain to take the building of solidarity across borders a step further.
Those who attack us have their international gatherings and compare notes. So we very much need to do the same and develop our strategies to deliver a co-ordinated fightback against austerity.
In Canada, as in Britain, there is a deep-seated sense of anger at the impact of social cutbacks. People are looking for some means to effectively resist and fight for a meaningful alternative.
The fact that support for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party has become a sweeping social movement is a strong indication of this.
That sense of possibility and a readiness of act upon it must be encouraged and developed to the full. In OCAP, we have taken up the slogan “Fight to Win.” For us, it embodies the notion that we must get beyond the notion of “protest” as a form of moral appeal to those in power and embrace forms of social resistance that can disrupt and defeat the agenda being thrown against us.
I hope that some of the lessons that can learned from OCAP’s struggles will be of use to movements in Britain and I know that I’ll be taking back with me to Toronto that which I learn from the fight taken up by DPAC and others on the front lines of social resistance.