A lot can happen in 754 days: a college diploma can be earned, a house can be built and a couple can go from “Want to catch a movie?” to “Will you marry me?” But for the striking workers at Engineered Coated Productions, the last 754 days have been mostly held at a standstill.
On September 17 in Victoria Park, day two of a three-day labour rally, union members from across Ontario joined ECP strikers to call for legislation banning replacement workers. A stretch of road between Market and George was blocked off for hours as strikers and union supporters set up a stage, food table and several picketing areas, right by city hall.
The protest, though energetic, was only a snapshot in time, and doesn’t come close to representing the hardships endured by striking workers for over two years.
“People are telling us to get a job, we’re fighting for a job,” says Earl Smith, a chair and spokesperson for the workers. He spoke candidly about the abuse people receive on the picket line from just pedestrians alone.
The peaceful protesting was interrupted by a tense standoff on Thursday night at approximately 9:30 p.m. when a bus tried to cross the picket line. Community members Shawn MacKeigan, Andrew Dukeshire and Christopher Baldrey faced down the bus, which is something that should not have happened, according to the agreement with ECP. For ten minutes, the trio held the line alone until reinforcement in the form of Carolyn Eagan, the President of Toronto United Steel Workers, and other supporters. The police eventually advised the bus to leave.
Others have talked openly about company intimidation. Garry MacNeil, an ECP worker, has been charged with contempt of court for apparently crossing the picket line and taking pictures of temporary replacement workers commonly referred to as “scabs.” Charges were pressed against MacNeil by the company, though lawyers from both sides were able to agree to a lesser sentence. MacNeil’s original punishment, which was suggested as 10 days in prison and a $500 fine, was reduced to 45 days away from the picket line.
“When you leave that line, you’re still thinking about that line,” says MacNeil.
Monetary difficulties are also a painful reality for these workers.
“Two families haven’t bought new shoes or clothing in two years for their children,” says Sid Ryan, Ontario Federation of Labour president. He described the situation as creating, “a massive amount of hardships.”
The rally was a profound example of camaraderie. Even under these difficult circumstances, it was impossible to look in any direction without seeing a huge smile. It seems that these workers, who are about to enter their third year of striking, still remain optimistic their demands of anti-scab legislation and reasonable pay are not too much to hope for. Workers like Earl Smith remain confused as to how, after 754 days, issues regarding basic human rights still remain in conflict.
“How do you raise a family on 10 dollars an hour?”