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Have a Heart

Hundreds of ATU strikers and allies walk from Dartmouth to Halifax, as union seeks binding arbitration

by Miles Howe

Asking for Arbitration. Photo: Miles Howe
Asking for Arbitration. Photo: Miles Howe

HALIFAX-DARTMOUTH — At the Dartmouth Sportsplex, members of ATU local 508, out on strike since Feb. 2, voted, almost to a person, to seek out binding arbitration as a means to end their stalemate with the city.

The Sportsplex hall, packed to capacity, appeared at the outset to house almost all of the 700-person membership.

Allies from other unions were also in attendance and before the crowd donned red shirts, placards and helium-filled heart balloons to walk from Dartmouth to Halifax, there were some impassioned speeches from local union stalwarts.

Joan Jessome, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU), recalled an NSGEU picket of over a decade ago, where bus drivers, even when invited to, would not cross an impromptu picket line that her membership had set up on Spring Garden Road. She noted that it was at times an embarrassment to reside in the HRM, referring to council's handling of this strike and urging those in attendance not to forget council's actions come election season this October.

When Rick Clarke, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, took to the stage, he had his sights set on a recent diatribe from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF). The CTF, which appears to seek out every opportunity available to align itself against popular or worker-based movements, has recently suggested that the provincial government should step into the current strike situation and legislate the ATU back to work. Clarke questioned the choice of the CTF's moniker, seeing as how he, and by the reception he received, the rest of those present, were certainly not represented by their views.

Robin West, former president of ATU 508, summoned the memory of the 1998 transit strike, which he presided over. He noted that when the employer attacks, they attack full-force, but that they backed down because in 1998 the union stood together and stayed as a group. He urged the members to decide as a group, and stick together.

Ken Wilson, now president of ATU 508, then took the stage. He noted that the strike had now entered "Phase Two." Making mention of the city's deep pockets, at least when it comes to anti-ATU propaganda purchased in the local newspaper, Wilson noted that the union would never be able to out-price the employer.

On the other hand, the ATU 508 had "heart," which was certainly a fitting segue on this Valentine's Day. As hundreds of union members walked across the bridge to Halifax, ensuring that they did not block traffic any more than the police escort allowed, they were greeted by honks, cheers and claps from those locked in gridlock. It would appear, even in rush-hour, that this masterful step and visually captivating effort, has captured Haligonians' hearts and minds.

The same cannot be said for embattled mayor Peter Kelly, who, if his social media site is any indication, somehow manages to spend his time rushing from retirement home to retirement home for awkward photo opportunities. In the span of a year, the mayor has managed to boondoggle a concert scandal, lie to veterans and evict the Occupy movement on Remembrance Day, and willfully choose to ignore policy and sell off what might have become a vibrant community centre in a marginalized neighbourhood. Numerous witnesses attest to the fact that the mayor now seldom strays from a certain grocery store in Bedford, where he feigns shopping, picking out items and then replacing them on the shelf, in some strange and twisted attempt at communicating with what might remain of his constituency.

When the procession of strikers arrived at Grand Parade Square facing city hall, the mayor and council were nowhere to be seen. This despite the fact that catcalls of "Peter come out and play" echoed through the downtown core. The chant of the afternoon was most certainly "We want Peter's butt!", in reference to Kelly's new chief lackey, who, it was recently revealed, flies in and out of Halifax on a weekly basis and doesn't even live in the city.

Please enjoy the following audio from the day's march.

Also, check out some photos.

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