It was a bumpy flight into Toronto with gray skies and rain everywhere, clearing occasionally so the changing leaves could plop down. The weather was, well, Canadian!
Somehow we made it on time to our annual “check-in” meeting with the national staff of the Canadian district of the Steelworkers. It was sad to learn that our buddy, Ken Delaney, was retiring, but good to meet the new crew, and especially good to hear them report on the progress of their support for creating alternative labor formations which they have done successfully with taxi drivers now in Hamilton and Toronto. We were reaching out to share the news of support for our labor-community pilot for next year from the Atkinson Foundation, so it was an upbeat session. Brother Delaney and I have spent hours over the years on the probing and debating the ways and means of creating new organizing models for workers that would break the legal logjams and turn back the erosion of membership strength for labor in North America. I’ll miss him but his has been a great partnership so it felt good to build the bridge to the future and exciting to see the prospects for solid experiments gaining traction.
Hustling across the city in the rain to George Brown College, it turned out we were only a spit away from Occupy Tornoto, which was standing straight and strong – and colorful with scores of tents – in a park on Queen Street almost next door to the college. John Anderson, our western Canada colleague, told us in no uncertain terms that Occupy Vancouver was without a doubt the largest in the country, but Occupy Toronto was no slouch. Unfortunately, we could see a half-dozen burly bicycle cops at the edge of the tents holding a guy down in the rain. It seemed random, but Judy Duncan and I could easily see that the police were more the downer than the rain this afternoon.
George Brown College and its community service placement program is simply the best in the world and their support for ACORN International has been unparalleled. Professor Bill Fallis, Pramila Aggarwal, and other old friends came by and 20 students showed up on their own to hear Judy talk about her experience in Nairobi organizing in Korogocho with ACORN Kenya last spring and me talk about progress on our Remittance Justice Campaign which GBC interns helped research extensively on the first report. As always, I learned as much as I offered from the diverse student body. The hawala system was made categorically illegal after 9/11 in Afghanistan according to a student from there. Prior to 9/11 remittances from his family to the country cost 3% using hawala. Those days are over (see the hawala report on www.acorninternatinal.org). A similar story was told by other students on charges to the Ukraine and Uganda. In each case I couldn’t help enlisting the students to help us compile the best information on the rates between these countries and Canada to continue to help us document these predatory transfers in the remittance channels between so many countries. The sun my not have been shining on a bleak fall day in Toronto, but I was seeing real interest in more GBC students joining the ACORN Intern Army, so we were radiating smiles on our face as we hit the streets in early evening.