Thursday, February 9, 2012

Thank The Occupy Movement For Mayor Ford's Transit Defeat

I'm mad! Muley, mean mad.
Of course I know that it was a revolt by city councillors against the hare-brained, disastrous transit "policy" of Toronto Mayor Rob "I love gridlock" Ford. And it was the sweetest of sweet defeats against the Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum who like to think that they run the show like little Mubaraks. Here was Ford's handpicked chair of the TTC sticking the mandate he gave her right back up his honour's rump. It rarely gets better than that. And Ford's attempt at anti-democratic bravado - that the decision of the democratically elected council was irrelevant - looked pathetic and dumb. Even one of his biggest allies on council on this issue, Denzil Minnan-Wong, called him out on it.

But let's be honest, City Councillor got the unity and the spine to take on Rob Ford because of the Occupy movement. Since even before the election the councillors have been on the defensive in the face of the right wing on city council. The "left" voted in favour of Giorgio Mamollitti's motion in support of the most expensive and disastrous police clampdown in the history of the city after the G20. Even though there were already widespread reports of police kettling and arresting innocent people in a roundup that put the October Crisis to shame; of bursting into the homes of innocent people in the middle of the night; of press conference with so-called weapons (like the guy whose role playing, foam arrows were confiscated) that were supposedly confiscated, etc etc ad nauseam.

And after the election of the dynamic duo Ford Brothers it was even worse. Everybody thought they were Skeletor to the left's Wimpy. The left did nothing to stop garbage privatization. Nothing. Oh, they got an impact review that is meaningless because it will be too late to do anything by then.

What happened to change this around? What stiffened spines and made middle ground types - like TTC Chair Karen Stinz - align with the left on council? A small thing: Egypt had a revolution and the Middle East from end to end exploded into open revolt. That victory had the knock-on effect of inspiring movements in other parts of the world - like the Greek general strikes and the Indignados who occupied city squares in Spain. Here in North America, and in Britain, it was the Occupy Movement that was the manifestation of the inspiration generated by Egypt. Occupy Toronto's consistent mobilizations and ability to keep an occupation in a downtown park going for weeks and weeks, building the idea of the need to fight for the 99% on the agenda, had an impact on the political culture of Toronto - and of the continent. It's no accident that Obama started talking out of the populist side of his mouth, using language appropriated from the movement.

And so councillors began to take on Ford, challenging him. Then there was the very successful campaign by the library workers union and the outpouring of opposition to Ford's cuts agenda. And even if the city workers settled for a deal that included significant concessions, in particular for young workers, Ford felt less confident to really go after core union rights. There was also a sense with the Ford brothers' bungling of the waterfront redevelopment project that they were a problem for even the business community, cost them allies amongst the Toronto ruling class.

All of this has fed a cycle of ever larger gaffes and ever larger defeats on the part of Ford. And that has increased the confidence of the opposition on council to take Ford on. It helps that Ford has all the political acumen of a punch drunk bar brawler. When his punches are connecting they do a lot of damage and he can win the support of people who love to see a born loser win. But it doesn't take much for his swings to turn wild and do nothing but hit air and throw him off balance. Then, like now, he just looks like a pathetic bully.

My prediction is that Ford is never going to win a second term. He's used up his political capital and his allies - most of them toadying opportunists or freakshows like Mamollitti - are going to start jumping ship in a Stinz-like fashion. What is needed is for his negative momentum to be maintained by an emboldened council, which can start to dismantle his entire agenda, delicious piece by delicious piece. Given their, shall we say, weak past that's not guaranteed. To keep spines stiff on city council we need more revolution in Egypt and more Occupy, under whatever name they want to use, at home. Struggle can finish off this staggering bully once and for all.

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