Hamilton

Hamilton woman leads 25-city 'general strike' against Ford government cuts

Dakota Lanktree, a documentary filmmaker from Hamilton, teamed up with a stranger in Toronto, Florence O'Connell, to organize strikes in the two cities. The number of planned walkouts has since grown to 25 cities across the province.

Initial plans called for walkouts in Hamilton and Toronto but have since expanded to 25 Ontario cities

Demonstrators gathered in Hamilton's Gore Park to protest Ford government cuts to public services, in what organizers called a "general strike." (Dakota Lanktree/Submitted)

People in 25 cities across Ontario, today at noon, planned to walk out of their workplaces in a "general strike" to protest the Ford government cuts to education, health and other programs.

It all started with one Hamilton woman's idea.

Dakota Lanktree, a documentary filmmaker, teamed up with a stranger in Toronto, Florence O'Connell, to organize strikes in the two cities. The number of planned walkouts grew to 25 cities.

Lanktree notes that a strike is usually carried out by a union, but neither she nor O'Connell are a part of one. Their idea was for the people of Ontario — from varying professions — to unite amid government cuts to public services.

"The people of Ontario are standing up to the government and saying they need to stop," she said. "I'm not arguing if they should make cuts, but they're doing it in dangerous ways without thinking about it."

Students gathered in front of Hamilton's city hall to protest education cuts and class size increases on April 1, 2019. (Justin Mowat/CBC)

Many of the funding cuts and policy changes were announced in the 2019 provincial budget, unveiled April 11 by Finance Minister Vic Fedeli. They include reduced funding for education, public health, libraries, conservation, and the arts.

Students set a leading example

Lanktree had the idea for a strike after observing tens-of-thousands of students from around 600 Ontario schools leave class last month to protest education cuts. Teachers face layoffs as a result of the changes.

It was revealed April 30 that Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board would be laying off 99 public school teachers, according to a statement from HWDSB chair Alex Johnstone.

"I saw lot of really good-hearted people respond in profoundly negative ways" to the cuts, Lanktree said. "They looked like they had no hope."

Dakota Lanktree had the idea for a province-wide walkout of Ontario workers after watching students protest against education cuts last month. (Dakota Lanktree/Facebook)

She spoke with "a bunch of folks in unions" to get their take on the idea of a public walkout, and amassed a good deal of support from them.

"Unions can't make a move until they can make a move together … so this citizen protest is showing them that the public's got their backs," she said.

Personal issues and collective action

Protesters were encouraged to leave work for one hour at noon and gather in public spaces to educate each other on the effects of the cuts and find strength in unity, Lanktree said.

The different ways the cuts can affect people personally is important to understand, she said. It resonates when "you see cuts that impact you."

The Southern Ontario Library Service's announcement that it's facing a 50 per cent budget cut from the province was what most resonated with Lanktree. As a result of the cut, readers in rural communities will have far fewer reading options through the interlibrary loan system.

When Lanktree was a child, she lived in a remote town on Manitoulin Island. The local library was a single room — the size of a small bachelor apartment — and it carried very few popular or current books.

The Southern Ontario Library Service (SOLS) announced it's facing a 50 per cent budget cut from the province and will be permanently ending its interlibrary loan service as of April 26, 2019. (Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

However, through the interlibrary loan system, Lanktree realized she "could get any book in the world in five days" and "could learn in ways never imagined without that service."

"That really deeply affected who I am as a person," she said.

But due to recent cuts to library services, that program will no longer be available to most small town readers.

Gathering over shared ideas

The strike taking place today is not a real strike, Lanktree acknowledged, but is more a protest and a show of support for people who live and work in Ontario.

In fact, she's trying to keep the protest devoid of any affiliation — political, business, or otherwise — due to the PC government's reaction to prior walkouts.

Doug Ford claimed last month's student walkouts were the result of teachers using students as "pawns." Education Minister Lisa Thompson described the protests as "union tactics."

"It was so disconcerting to see those young people and their voices written off," Lanktree said.

May 1 was chosen for the protest intentionally by Lanktree, who linked the day's history of fighting for workers' rights with bringing a collective of Ontario workers together.

Through simple "communication, social media and sharing ideas," the protest grew from two people into a province-wide movement, Lanktree said.

"We gain a great deal of power coming together," she said, "and maybe it doesn't end here, but begins here."

About the Author

Justin Mowat

Reporter/Editor

Justin Mowat is a journalist and a filmmaker interning at CBC Hamilton. He’s a multi-faceted storyteller with a passion for classic films, the environment, and the occasional slick guitar solo. If you’ve got a story to tell, he wants to hear it: justin.mowat@cbc.ca

with files from Laura Clementson and Dan Taekema

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