Canada: United We Eat, Divided We Starve
April 11 2011 @ 05:48 AM UTC
On April 1,
members of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), people on social assistance and their allies took to the streets
of downtown Toronto to protest the slashing of the Special Diet Allowance supplement to Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario
Disability Support Program (ODSP).
United We Eat, Divided
By Claire Voltarin
On April 1, members
of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), people on social assistance and their allies took to the streets of downtown
Toronto to protest the slashing of the Special Diet Allowance supplement to Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability
Support Program (ODSP).
on Nathan Phillip’s Square to mingle and enjoy a free meal before crossing the street to rally outside the Sheraton
Hotel, where Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan was speaking at a $90-a-seat luncheon. The inherent hypocrisy between
cutting vital financial support required for poor people to eat, while on the same day hosting an expensive fundraising lunch,
was pointed out by OCAP organizer John Clarke as he addressed the crowd under a large banner emblazoned with the 1930’s-era
workers’ slogan: United we eat, divided we starve.
then treated to a theatrical presentation put on by students from a grade seven/eight math class, which demonstrated the economic
polarization that has resulted from decades of neoliberal policies. The demonstration then marched up University Ave, and
across Wellesley to the Ministry of Community and Social Services, where additional speakers from OCAP, the Canadian Union
of Public Employees (CUPE) and Ottawa’s Under Pressure spoke to the devastating effects of the Special Diet cuts and
the importance of defending the supplement.
Special Diet Allowance was rolled out on April 1, and all recipients of the “old” Special Diet will be cut off
on July 31. For many individuals and families living on social assistance, this change will mean a drastic loss of income.
For some, it will mean once again encountering some of the serious risks associated with the extreme poverty that people on
social assistance often face: illness, hunger and homelessness among them.
The cuts to the
Special Diet, and social assistance rates as a whole, do not only affect those on OW/ODSP. Rather, they are clearly connected
to austerity measures and other issues that affect the entire working class.
Placing the cuts
within the context of this international attack on the poor, Clarke noted that “the Special Diet is in the way as far
as the [provincial] Liberal government is concerned. It has partly undermined their efforts to drive people on assistance
into deeper poverty and, thereby, force them into the lowest paying jobs on offer. One worker in six in Ontario is now working
at or close to the minimum wage and the immense losses in income for the poor on social assistance have been vital in this
process. If the Special Diet can be gutted successfully, the low wage sector can be supplied with even more workers.”
Speaking on the
prospects of successfully fighting these cuts - and the larger offensive of which they are a part - Clarke affirmed that “an
upsurge based on the mountains of anger in workplaces and communities is possible and even inevitable but it will require
a fight for fundamentally different approaches. Our movements will need to be as committed to the class struggle as those
on the other side… and we have our work cut out to revitalize them on that basis.”
are clear: Restore the Special Diet Allowance and raise OW and ODSP rates by 55% - bringing them back to the level they were
at before the Harris government cuts. These demands should be supported by the entire working class, and just as important,
they must be connected to the broader struggles against austerity measures and against a system that attacks us all. Whether
we are unionized or non-unionized workers, unwaged or on OW/ODSP this is our struggle to fight – and our fight to win.