Under the shadows of Bay Street’s bank towers, at half past five today about a thousand protestors gathered in Toronto’s Nathan Philips square to observe International Labour Day. There was a carnival atmosphere in the air as a percussion band performed tightly executed rhythms to raise morale for the march. The sense of carnival was further heightened by the menagerie of groups that had arrived for to mark this traditional day of protest. Naturally red flags were brandished as the crowds loitered around the parkette that runs between the Queen St. sideway and Nathan Philips Square. Alongside the red banners were the representations of numerous other groups. Notable was the stylized geometric fist of “No One Is Illegal” the organizers of the event. There were also the purple and yellow flags of the “Idle No More” movement that had marched down from Queens Park to join the event. Other notable devices included the long banners of the fairplay for Tamil League, & the IWW who carried placards with the slogan “Let’s Build A Solidarity City”. There was also the green flags of the radical environmental movement, as well as the national flag of Venezuela that was no unaccompanied by at least one large cardboard photo of the Hugo Chavez. These were the Bolivarians, possibly in league with “No One Is Illegal”.
Lurking somewhere in the shadows were the Black Bloc representatives, with their red and black banner diagonally divided and tended by black veiled toughs. There were various Communist Parties: the bona fide Communist Party of Canada and the Marxist Leninists. There were also people from something called the Bolshevik Tendency with magic markered white signs that displayed ambiguous messages about 30 hours of work for 40 hours of pay. The Iranian Communist Party was out in surprising numbers, given the proximity to Tehran. There were Sparticists, Black Muslims and even a gentleman with a cone on his head & a bull horn. Also present was the purple bus of the CUPE task force, parked in the space normally reserved for tour buses to city hall.
In short it was a good cross section of the Left today, stratified into a multivarious blend of committees, parties, tendencies, sects, tribes, squads, and cabals. It was hard to decide if the diversity displayed weakness or force. The police were well organized, however. Presumably also well organized were the bank employees who might have been looking down on the gathering that late afternoon.
The speeches started after six o’clock. A representative from a first nations group in a traditional head dress addressed the crowd. He looked forward to a better future when mother nature was respected and when such diverse groups as this, gathered with “a good mind” might come to be typical of Canadian society generally. All this was met with appreciation by those gathered. The only badly received part was the closing comment “Go Leafs Go” to which some anarchist or other radical leftist (who was critical of the patriarchy & evil consumerism in professional sports) let out a boo. (This incidentally is a hint of just the extent of the disconnect between the working class and the leftist intellectuals that actually exists most developed societies.)
Speeches from representatives from “No One Is Illegal” were what followed. There was surprisingly nothing radical, let alone incendiary about anything in what was said. Whether the speakers or crowd realized it or not, the speeches contained nothing that is not to be found in the officially enshrined multi-cultural act. So what effectively was happening was that radicals had gathered that afternoon to reaffirm the ideology of the state: people from different ethnic and social and sexual backgrounds all ought to get along and celebrate each others’ diversity. The slogan to this effect was “not nation but nations”. One could almost hear Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek saying, “My God aren’t you people aware…” If the protestors today had been confronted with this news, they might have replied that they were the ones who really meant multiculturalism. The government just pretends to. Following the first speech a kind of spoken word performance was offered. This speech brought together the all of the mother nature imagery of the first speech and knitted it together with the calls for a more tolerant society.
The march began to push its way to the west, along the now dismally gentrified Queen Street. It was as good as marching through the obscenity of Yorkville. The fashionable set gaped as the men Iranian men with thick accents hollared through bull horns for the end of capitalism, to inception of socialism and the dawn of the brotherhood of man. The percussion band played and to complete the cacophony were songs about Che Guevarra being broadcast from the trailer being hauled like a Bolivarian float by a slow moving pick-up truck.
There were many brief stops along the way to our destination. The first was saliently the place at Queen and Spadina that had been the scene of the brutal police kettling and mass arrest during the G-20 summit. Indeed, it might have been the censorship the police had suffered as an aftermath of that fiasco that accounted for their distance today. They were there, to be sure, a black helicopter even prowled the skies, and a mounted division even could be seen up some on the streets that ran perpendicular to Queen, but the cops remained at a distance.
Once passed Bathurst, the parade reached a Loblaws which contained a store that distributed clothing made by the factory that had recently collapsed in Bangladesh. 400 workers were killed. If you hadn’t caught anything about this event on the news, it isn’t surprising because any news related to the deaths of 3 people in America get far more media coverage. Here is a terse but effective account of the tragedy:
“In Savar, Bangladesh, the eight-story Rana Plaza building collapsed, killing at least 381 of an estimated 3,000 workers, most of them young women, and leaving hundreds more missing. One day earlier, police had ordered the evacuation of the building, which houses five factories that make clothing for Western markets, because of cracks discovered in its foundation, but at least one manager told his employees they could work nevertheless. “We want to live, brother,” said one trapped survivor to rescue workers. “It’s hard to remain alive here. It would have been better to die than endure such pain.” Two women who gave birth in the rubble were rescued along with their newborns; several thousand protesters vandalized cars and set fire to furniture from a police control room; and the building’s owner, Mohammed Sohel Rana, was apprehended near the Indian border by Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion. “People are asking for his head,” said an adviser to the prime minister, “which is quite natural.” ” – Harper’s Weekly
Here in Toronto representatives of the Bangladeshi community were on hand to bear witness. They had on their heads bands of morning that held single red spots on a background of green. Their contribution was the only heavy and moving part of the march. In a heartfelt speech, a number of demands were made that sounded small compared to the gravity of what the people of Bangladesh suffer at the hands of global capitalism. Finally, a representative Bangladeshi worker when forward to the heavily guarded entry to the grocery store and presented a letter to be taken to the manager of the clothing company lurking within. (See the photo below.)
There was a tense moment just then when it a black bloc agitator started shouting “fuck the police” but she seemed to get censored pretty quickly by a native protestor. It could very well be that the organizers of this event were ready for this kind of stunt, which effectively amounted to the quelling the actions of an agent provocateur.
For all that might seem wild or unreal, chaotic, inchoate and ineffectual about the protest, at least the martyrdom at the Chicago Haymarket had been commemorated. And at least in a small way the flame of proletarian resistance was being nourished.