Porter strike


From the Desk of Donald Swartz

Scabs fill your jets at Porter Airlines as 'fuelers' strike over $12 pay

Toronto Island Porter employees paid $1.75 over minimum wage

By Sean Smith
The Socialist Project

Sean Smith is a community based organizer and a member of the Greater Toronto Workers' Assembly.

On 17 January 2013, 22 ‘fuelers’ at Porter Airlines went on strike for a first Collective Agreement. In an airline industry infamous for implementing a race to the bottom, these are the lowest paid. No one could accept Porter's offer of 25 cents for those making $12 an hour and no raise for those making $14. Another key demand is for management to address their serious Health and Safety concerns.

These Health and Safety problems have only intensified since Porter replaced the striking workers with scabs, many of whom have no previous experience or qualifications, in the crucial job of fueling all aircraft at Toronto Island Airport. Unlike at Air Canada where Canada's Minister of Labour, Lisa Raitt, imposed four different laws to suppress workers' bargaining rights there has been complete indifference from Ottawa when the workers' union, COPE Local 343, contacted her office to explain the serious safety concerns at Porter.

With the union movement's energy focused on the Teachers' struggle, it was the smaller solidarity Flying Squads that first mobilized support. As with Ming Pao and York, small groups can make a big impact when mobilizing for these smaller struggles.

IWW activists in particular are almost daily on the lines with the workers and engaging in joint actions. This is no easy task as Porter, the Toronto Port Authority (TPA) and their private security officers have engaged in an extremely aggressive campaign against these workers. This show of true solidarity has had a profound effect in maintaining worker morale and numbers.

Making the Connections

The Porter strike is a critical strike on so many levels. It is the first airline strike without open government interference for more than a decade. The only way to end the race to the bottom in the sector is by raising the floor. Porter's serious Health and Safety problems, which have intensified since the strike, impact not only the workers but also the travelling public and the neighbouring community. The TPA is pretending it isn't a public agency and is asserting extreme property rights including banning all picketing and information leafleting on ‘their property.’ This assertion not only takes away all Canadian's Charter Right to peacefully engage in information campaigns at Canadian Airports, it is trying to assert private property rights on public land.

The TPA and Porter are important bases for Toronto's Conservative elites. Prior to becoming an MP, Lisa Raitt was the TPA's CEO. As with the TPA, Porter's Board is also stacked with well connected Conservatives including Pamela Wallin. These elites have used the TPA to consistently override the democratic wishes of the people of Toronto even when they elected David Miller as Mayor who campaigned against the power of this undemocratic public agency.

Not satisfied with trying to assert private property rights, the TPA is now pushing for its own privatized and armed police force. This is an extremely dangerous precedent of allowing an agency with no regard for community or workers' rights to assert the law with their own armed paramilitaries. Ottawa is using the TPA as its hammer against the striking workers. Their aggressive actions are designed to block effective picket lines and any economic impact on Porter. Porter's arrogance is evidenced by their decision to take Transport Canada to Federal Court to prevent them from releasing a safety inspection report.

Mobilizing to Win

Making a list of what's at stake is a critical exercise in mobilizing community solidarity. As with Ming Pao and York, once the issues are clearly identified, it is easy to see how all struggles are connected. It is no coincidence that the first solidarity groups that mobilized support for the Porter strike included those workers on the front lines of the ‘austerity agenda’ in the Public Sector and airline industry.

At the same time conversations (including a community video) started with other groups dealing for years with their own issues with the Port Authority. These discussions turned to action when community groups and workers hosted a joint BBQ-action on 10 February. Entirely new connections were also made when COPE Local 343 declared that the ‘BBQ’ would be an entirely vegan affair with all food supplied by a local animal rights, pro-worker, activist group called Toronto Pig Save.

This solidarity continues to deepen as the Greater Toronto Workers' Assembly (GTWA) hosted a Community Town Hall on March 1st with presentations from the union and workers, community groups and the academic community discussing the commonality of their struggles.

The actions on the lines and in the community are raising the profile of this small strike. The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) mobilized in support of these workers starting with a rally on the February 28th.

Although no one can predict the strike's outcome, the support needed to win continues to grow for this important fight. This is the type of community based solidarity that must be developed in all our working-class struggles. Sometimes it is the smallest struggles that matter the most. It just takes the right spark to get them started.