By Gerard Di Trolio
About 400 people braved the cold weather in Toronto to rally and march for a $14 per hour minimum wage in Ontario. The Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage and the Ontario Federation of Labour helped organize the event. Participants met at Dundas square in the heart of Toronto’s downtown.
The first speaker, Pinky Paglingayen, a minimum wage earning single mother, explained the reality of working for minimum wage in a city like Toronto. Her and her child have no choice but to rent a bachelor apartment for $750 per month and sometimes Paglingayen has to walk to her two jobs because she can’t afford a transit pass. She also explained the challenges of healthy eating while earning the minimum wage.
Unifor spokesperson Jenny Ahn told the crowd that Unifor stands in solidarity with non-unionized minimum wage workers, echoing the new union’s promise to represent more than just its members.
Another popular target for speakers and the activists there was their criticism of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s decision to raise the minimum wage to $11 per hour. Both Toronto and York Region Labour Council Vice-President Andria Babbington and OFL President Sid Ryan attacked Wynne’s raise for being not enough and keeping workers in poverty.
Ryan vowed that the labour movement would make the minimum wage an election issue with the chance of an election in Ontario this spring being high. He expressed his disappointment with his political party – the Ontario NDP. He said it was “unacceptable” for Andrea Horwath not to support a living wage. Ryan described the NDP as a workers party.
He also took shots at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and their opposition to progressive legislation. He noted that most minimum wage workers were employed by large corporations like Wal-Mart who can definitely afford to pay higher wages.
After the speakers were done the march began down Yonge Street, moving south. The march then entered the Eaton Centre and began a rally in the middle of his with flags waving and chants calling for a higher minimum wage. The rally caught the attention of many shoppers who took leaflets from the organizers and seemed interested in what was going on.
“I work a minimum wage job, so yeah it’s great they’re doing this,” said Amir Khalek who was in the Eaton Centre when the march entered it.
“I liked the creative element of coming in here (the Eaton Centre),” said Tim Heffernan of the Rank-and-File Education Workers of Toronto (REWT).
However REWT members were concerned that the coalition to raise the minimum wage wasn’t broad enough. They were critical of their union, the OSSTF for its inactivity.
“They haven’t mobilzed enough. I think there should be a concerted effort to mobilize their membership,” said Zain Ghadially of REWT.
Heffernan said you could count the number of OSSTF members at the rally on two hands out of 6000 members in Toronto, and that only one member from Toronto’s OSSTF District 12’s executive of 11 people were in attendance.
“And frankly that’s pitiful,” said Heffernan.
“Our (REWT’s) position is that if you teach social justice at school and in curriculum and so forth, and it is in there, this should be an extension. It should not just remain at the classroom level. And so we’re disappointed in that respect,” said Ghadially.
On the Ontario NDP’s silence Heffernan said “shameful, scandalous, and oh so predictable.”
“That’s middle of the road politics for you,” said Ghadially.