As an organization that has spent decades organizing against the agenda of austerity and the war on the poor in Ontario, OCAP is now trying to take stock of the incredible changes that have been set in motion by the pandemic and the unfolding economic slump it has set off.
This may only be the first wave of the coronavirus and there may be more lockdowns ahead of us. Huge numbers of people have been thrown out of work during the present lockdown but it is clear that many will not go back to work and that a period of mass unemployment is now underway. After the lockdown, hundreds of thousands of tenants will face the threat of eviction, the food banks will not be able to cope with the levels of hunger and the homeless crisis will intensify greatly.
We can also expect to see a huge assault on workers rights, an austerity driven attack on public services and an intensification of the threat of xenophobia and racism, both in the form of government policies and from the far right. Already we are seeing resistance on this front, as migrant sex workers organize against increased police powers, and migrants fight for access health care and benefits. Clearly, the pandemic has opened the door to an economic crisis of capitalism and to political attacks on a scale that can be compared to the Great Depression.
Even before the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis ignited an uprising in the US, along with a ‘defund the police’ movment, that has now spread to Canada, there was already resistance in the face of the pandemic. ‘Essential’ workers on the front lines have challenged unsafe conditions,with hundreds of work refusals in Ontario. Tenants have organized rent strikes and other actions. There has been determined community action to challenge the abandonment of homeless people as the coronavirus
spreads among them. However, it’s clear that we are up against a completely changed situation and that small scale and limited resistance will not be enough. A recent EKOS poll in Canada had 73% of those surveyed saying that they wanted to see “broad transformation of our society” and major social reforms that prioritize “health and well-being”after the pandemic lockdown. The failings of the austerity damaged healthcare system, the unforgivable loss of life in for profit care homes, the obviously disproportionate degree to which poor and racialized people have been impacted by COVID-19 have produced a widespread sense that things must change. After the lockdown ends and, in conditions of economic crisis, governments try to impose the burden on working class people, the possibility of mass social resistance will be very great. In OCAP, we think we need to start preparing for that changed situation now.
If the kind of fightback the unfolding situation requires is to emerge, it is going to have to come from the base in society. Workers and communities under attack are going to have to give the lead. The struggles for survival will require a deeply rooted level of solidarity and a high level of organization. How can we work to lay the foundations and begin to take the actions that can give a lead in this?
OCAP is interested in hearing from organizations and community members that share our sense that we need to prepare for huge struggles in the coming months. We would like to begin the discussions and create the spaces where we can take forward the task of organizing in the face of this unprecedented crisis. Please let us know if you are interested in being part of this.