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Toronto and the G20: Two worlds, two realities

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Toronto -- In the aftermath of the G20 weekend I am reflecting on the slogan of the global social movements, "another world is possible." It seems today that it is more than possible, because we already live in separate worlds from the Harperites, divided from them not just by values but also by information and perceptions of reality.

Monday's headlines gushed out praise for Harper and the summit. "Historic step towards a new world balance," said the Globe. And this incredible headline, "fears of another crisis spurs nations to promise cuts."

What world do Globe and Mail headline writers live in? Needless to say, the view of global labour was not to be found anywhere in our national paper. But you should know it, anyway:

"Unacceptable complacency in the face of a worsening jobs crisis, at a time when unemployment risks surging again as a result of premature deficit reduction measures," said the newly elected leader of the world trade union movement, Sharon Burrow. [...] On financial regulation, unions are angered at continued 'best-endeavour' principles in place of action, and at the lack of progress towards a financial transactions tax.

…working people around the world are getting angry at the assumption that they will meekly pay the price for the crisis.  n the streets and through the ballot boxes, politicians can expect them to make their feelings known.

The Toronto and national media coverage of the G20 was about another world from the Toronto where I was. On television, I saw a hologram-like mirage of smoke, mirrors, and lapdog-reporting of police chiefs and conservative ministers, offered up without a comment from labour organizations (who brought tens of thousands of members), environmentalists or civil liberties organizations.   

It has been well said already by Rabble reports that unless you were there, or unless you get your news from alternative sources, you could not be expected to know that 25,000 people joined the march organized by the Canadian Labour Congress, Council of Canadians, Greenpeace, Oxfam and Canadian Federation of Students. 

I don't buy for a moment the argument that media will always take the most dramatic image and that the lack of focus on what actually happened is the fault of a few violent anarchists who discredited the many. Nonsense. A far more compelling image was the sight of many hundreds of young Greenpeace members wearing green hardhats with labels calling for good green jobs. It was truly a stunning image, more interesting than the one we saw over and again of a lone person smashing a window. No, this is not about a hierarchy of images. Choices are made.

There was vandalism, mostly the breaking of windows. The centre piece of the media sensationalized--vandalism, however, was the smashing up and torching of police vehicles -- a very strange occurrence in a city that has been an armed camp of 12,000 police for days.

This first hand account, from my colleague Leo Broderick, vice-chair of the Council of Canadians, indicates what was really going on: 

I returned from viewing the burning of police cars on Bay street and the latest on Queen Street. I am convinced this is a police set up. My first clue of a pending entrapment was on leaving Queen's Park and we were confronted with an empty police car blocking our way. Very peculiar. We all walked around it.... This evening on Queen Street a police car was simply left there. Supposedly broken down. I saw the car there abandoned, and was puzzled. No police around. Earlier when I was there the police were everywhere. But they were not there when this car was torched.

The suggestion that the police lost control of Toronto streets is barely short of ridiculous. Needless to say, none of the action on Toronto's streets came within sight of the $5 million chain link fence. As the peaceful march turned down Queen Street, it was separated from the fence by four lines of police and a fifth line of mounted police on horses. Not even the boldest of the Black Block considered trying to get past the phalanxes of riot police. The police strategy was to ensure that not a finger could be laid on a chain link fence, while a couple of their cars and windows at Yonge and College were fair game and exactly the images they wanted to get out. 

Without doubt the vandalism here crossed a line that labour and social movements must confront and deal with. I have to say that those in the community mobilization group who refuse to criticize the vandalism also live in a different world from me. The vandals have been compared to the groups that maraud through the streets after some hockey games. If they have a political point to make, I haven't seen it.

My union brought a good number of members and staff to Toronto for the G20 week, and they heard and saw an entirely different world than what has presented on national television. They met trade unionists from 50 countries who came to Toronto to debate the "triple crisis of sustainability" and link the need for dealing with environmental crisis and regulation and democratization of the financial sector.

A historic meeting took place last week when almost the entire leadership of the independent and democratic trade union movement of Mexico came to Toronto to expose the state assault on labour rights by the G20 and NAFTA government of Felipe Calderon. 

Our members were part of 3,000 people who were inspired and mobilized in Massey Hall, as the G20 opened, and they are still talking about the power and wisdom of Vandana Shiva, Naomi Klein, Pablo Solon, Leo Gerard and Maude Barlow. Many of them then walked with Naomi Klein in a peaceful night walk to Allan Gardens to show solidarity with the tent city established by the anti-poverty movement of Toronto.

And then we marched peacefully with 25,000 others in the first large labour and civil society demonstration against corporate globalization to take place in Canada since the FTAA actions in Québec City almost a decade ago.

We saw a glimpse of the other world we say is possible.   

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