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In the fight against the proposed network of pipelines set to extend from Alberta’s Tar Sands, yesterday, the 19th, was chosen as a day of action against the Keystone XL pipeline by blockaders in Texas, occupying its path and disrupting construction for almost two months now (a Texas record, to be sure). It didn’t disappoint. Solidarity actions took place across the nation and beyond, and blockaders in Texas faced an ugly showdowns with police.

Tarsandsblockade.org

Actions in Texas began yesterday morning when blockaders established a second “tree blockade” along the proposed Keystone XL route, taking up positions by the Angelina river. In Nacogdoches, at least forty people stormed a construction site, chaining themselves to equipment with many more blocking access by forming human chains. Police soon arrived at both locations and ordered demonstrators to leave, then stepped in to make arrests when they didn’t. Pepper spray, cherry pickers and pain compliance holds were used to pry activists apart and away from equipment. Protesters remained nonviolent throughout. At least 11 arrests were made, including four ‘locked down’ to machinery and three tree climbers.

Solidarity actions with the blockaders and others against the Tar Sands and associated pipelines took place across the continent and today even reached London, England. Sunday in Washington, around three thousand protesters converged on the White House to send a message to newly reelected President Obama regarding the Keystone XL pipeline, soon set to be reconsidered at the federal level. Yesterday at least 20 towns and cities held actions. Protesters in Houston, Texas held a teach-in outside the Valero oil refinery, which already processes (Venezuelan) bitumen. The Canadian embassy in Washington was stormed with a banner hung by Chesapeake Earth First, and our Consulate in San Francisco also saw a crowd of protesters. Other actions, ranging from rallies to banner drops and protests outside banks and gas stations took place in Bridgeport, Eugene, Seattle, Bloomington, Portland, Salt Lake City, St. Louis, Austin, Burlington (Vermont), Swathmore, Fairfax, Santa Clarita, Minneapolis, Palm Beach (with arrests) and others. In Canada, solidarity rallies took place at the Unis’tot’en blockade in British Columbia and Waterloo Ontario, and an anti-pipeline banner was hung in Coburg, Ontario.

Here in Ontario, where resistance is focused on Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline, activists from around the province met Saturday in Toronto to plan coordinated opposition. Judging from the number of forwards I’m now receiving, it seems safe to say that Hamilton is now far from alone in this fight. Tomorrow, our own council reconvenes on the issue with both sides sending delegations.

While many of these actions were small, the fact that so many places were able to take part shows how widespread and coordinated opposition to the Tar Sands and these pipelines is becoming. People are now protesting Canada across the English-speaking world. Americans are storming our embassies, and Texan landowners are beginning to embrace tactics of West-coast forest defence. These actions, in turn, are only a some of the 40 cities which have seen climate-change protests in the past week or so alone. This is no longer just an issue for northern Albertans – this gigaproject has consequences literally which span the continent. Stopping it will require a grassroots network just as broad, something that’s now starting to come together.

Solidarity to the blockaders and prisoners in Texas, Unis’tot’en, and everywhere else people are organizing and demonstrating against this ghastly gigaproject. Every community put at risk by these pipelines is another opportunity to shut them down – all we need to do is work together.

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Last night’s Cassarole action downtown got a little tense at points. Not with the police, not with the black bloc, communists or even bystanders, but with a group who showed up to ‘crash the party’, sporting their own megaphone. To the horror of other participants, who’d come again to show support for striking students in Quebec, they began a long monologue about topics like the United Nations, global warming and the Bank of Canada. From the outside, it started to look a little like we were marching over conspiracy theories, given our lower turnout in the bad weather, and people started getting a little annoyed. They avidly filmed those who asked (then demanded) they stop, and the crowd, in turn, started to drown them out by banging pots and chanting (our original plan for the evening). Eventually tempers flared and people started chanting “SHUT UP” in unison, and the march dispersed shortly thereafter.

For those not familiar with them, these guys are associated with the “Canadian Awareness Network”, a notorious group of local conspiracy theorists, in the vein of Alex Jones or the movie Zietgeist. I met them through the Occupy movement, and despite some fairly conflicting views, there’d never been much of a problem before. Two weeks ago they started a weekly news show for Youtube, and given recent articles like “Return of the Black Bloc Stooges and how many times they claimed “the green movement is the new red (communist) movement”, it’s pretty clear they were looking for a confrontation and a spectacle.

It feels a little weird, as an anarchist, to be complaining about such things. More often than not, we’re the ones accused of “co-opting” other people’s events. These “Cassaroles” put this in a little better perspective. What little organizing has happened for them and other student solidarity demonstrations in town has been shared by anarchists, communists, union members and students (and a few who fit into all of the above catagories). There’s differences, to be sure, but we work together in the spirit of solidarity, because that’s a hell of a lot more productive than bickering. For the record, I haven’t worked with this many communists in ages, and it’s been downright enjoyable. I cannot say the same for certain others…

While protests, by their very nature are chaotic, there are still rules. Protest culture is built upon decades of tradition across dozens of movements. If “the left” seems like a conspiracy, it’s because these issues are connected in very real ways, and the struggles that made it into the history books were those which successfully linked them. Solidarity is more than a slogan, it’s a tradition of backing each other up, even when we don’t have to, so that someday, when we need it, someone else will have our backs. That’s how you build movements. In the spirit of solidarity, a huge number of very different groups all mangage to coexist (mostly) peacefully in some very stressful atmospheres, and even occasionally manage to win.

There were many anarchists at the Casserole, but we left our black flags and masks at home. There were communists – they left their red flags at home. There is a time and a place for such things, but in a smaller crowd it risks distorting the message. Tuesday night in Toronto was a much larger crowd, where our flags fit in as a few out of many, rather than an overpowering presence. Everyone who spoke to me about mine seemed pretty happy it was there. Even for the black bloc, there are generally accepted protocols, such as not rioting around children and vulnerable crowds, which is why breakaway marches are so often involved. We go to demonstrations to show what we have in common, publicly denouncing each other kinda defeats the purpose.

If anybody wants to engage in a constructive discussion about “Agenda 21”, the Bank of Canada or any such topic, I’ll be glad to, but that was not the point of the Casserole yesterday evening. Talking over everyone else with a megaphone at the precise time, and in the precise place they’re trying to send a message to the public isn’t “free speech”, it’s an act of disruption aimed at the free expression of others. Neither I nor many of the other marchers feel that global warming is a conspiracy, and don’t take kindly to red-baiting. Those evil socialists you’re talking about? That’s us – and believe me, we’re not getting paid for this.

This is why nobody wants to be associated with conspiracy theorists.

Early yesterday afternoon around thirty students walked out of class at Westmount High School, in an act of solidarity with student strikers in Quebec. This marks the third straight day of local actions supporting the now infamous movement, and a very impressive showing for Steeltown.

This past Wednesday night is now being referred to as “Cassarole Night in Canada”. Along with Hamilton, large crowds took to the streets with pots and pans in Kitchener, Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and others. More actions are planned for next week, with many heading to Toronto next Tuesday night for a march between schools.

In Quebec itself, talks broke down again, prompting at least ten thousand at the 38th consecutive nightly Cassarole march in Montreal. As has now become ritual, the march was declared illegal by police, but continued undeterred, with only a handul of arrests in Montreal and Quebec. Today we can expect further talks as well as more from the court challenge of Bill 78.

At 8pm tonight you are cordially invited to the corners of King and James downtown to participate in Steeltown’s first “Casserole” demonstration. For those who haven’t been following recent protests in Quebec, these loud and spontaneous marches have become a nightly tradition in the ongoing struggle with their provincial government. The recipe is simple: bring pots, pans and people, then make noise.

This tactic is drawn from Chilean protests against the brutal Pinochet dictatorship during the 1980s. It began a couple of weeks ago in Quebec as a way of calling people out into the streets for massive nightly marches and quickly exploded in popularity. As the focus of the struggle shifted from tuition increases to repression of protests, these marches have grown into the hundreds of thousands, undeterred by record-setting mass arrests.

Solidarity for the Quebec strike has been spreading lie wildfire, even here in Steeltown. Hamilton also saw another mid-afternoon demo yesterday, much like last week (and likely next week), distributing around a thousand handouts and hanging out workers from the USW 1005, also in the midst of their weekly picketing. Tomorrow there’s a walkout planned at Westmount Secondary. Elsewhere, Calgary is also planning a Casserole tonight and another large solidarity demo is planned next Tuesday in Toronto. In Quebec today, the court challenge of Bill 78 begins today, and negotiations continue between the student associations and the provincial government.

See ya tonight?

Update, 11pm

The Cassarole was a roaring success, with over a hundred people banging pots, pans, cans, buckets and lids. The crowd was huge, with teachers and students, children, retirees, long-time activists and many who I’d never seen at a march before. The cacaphony of noise echoed around downtown for well over an hour as the crowd gathered in Gore Park and marched around the core. We stopped for brief speeches outside the School board headquarters, which was lambasted for closing schools, returned to Gore Park then decided collectively to march once more and eventually dispersed at the Armoury on James North. A number of bike cops followed intently, but there were no confrontations.

Spec Coverage

What was so remarkable about this demonstration was how it sprung up. Everyone came together following a facebook post a few days ago, by one Mac student, which quickly “went viral” across the city. There was an explicit lack of any planning – the crowd assembled, marched and dispersed organically, with people stepping up to fill whatever roles were required (martialing, flyering etc) as the need arose. The brilliance of spontaneous actions like the Cassarole is that they require very little organizational work for impact they create, and how quickly they can erupt in response to rising discontent.

Happy 100th Day!

Demonstrators pack up banners after Quebec solidarity demo at King & James

A small but determined group of demonstrators gathered at King and James this afternoon to show solidarity with Quebec’s student strike, currently celebrating their hundredth day. The dozen or so union members, many responding on less than a day’s notice waved banners, union flags and handed out information about the student struggle and Bill-78. Solidarity rallies were also scheduled today for New York, Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Paris, France. In Montreal, a massive demonstration against the new anti-protest law is taking place, though little is online yet (unofficially, I just heard “half a million in the streets of Montreal”)

This past weekend in Quebec witnessed a severe escalation of the struggle. Premier Charest passed legislation (Bill 78) targeting the student movement, imposing enormous fines, requiring official notice before any demonstration and ending the semester at affected schools. At least one of the student organizations, CLASSE, has voted to disobey. Conflicts in the streets also escalated, with hundreds of arrests, and fiery street-fighting. Today also marks the date Premier Charest has (finally) declared an inquiry into corruption, as the now-breaking scandal involving Mafia and prominent construction firms threatens to bring down both the Quebec Liberals and Montreal’s municipal government.

More local solidarity actions are being planned, as well as proposals for strike votes across the rest of the country and beyond, where tuition fees are already much higher. The exploding international attention now being focused on Quebec, as well as the continued resolve of the students have rendered Charest’s new law shows just how serious a social force students are. Elsewhere, Chile is gripped by similar student unrest, and the deadly suppression of protests at a Syrian university in Allepo have galvanised yet more opponent’s of Assad’s regime. Cracking down on protests doesn’t work, and that’s especially true with students.

This is why Quebec has the country’s lowest tuition.

Earlier today thousands of workers, retirees and activists descended on downtown Hamilton to show solidarity with locked-out workers at US Steel Hamilton. Though nobody could offer an accurate headcount, numbers may well have been double the <a href=”http://www.thespec.com/news/business/article/477919–thousands-expected-at-rallypredicted 3000.

City Hall

Despite the cold, slush and snow, there was an atmosphere of amazement and enthusiasm that I haven’t seen at a Hamilton rally in years. The crowd was so large one could stand in the middle and have no idea where the edges were, with flags, signs, drums and a speaker system energizing the march. When we arrived at one, speeches were being held outside city hall with a roaring crowd which already stretched nearly all of the way from Bay St. to the Family Courthouse. A short march began, circling around Gore Park and over to Bay before returning to City Hall, stretching farther than anyone could see along King St before returning to Main and Bay to disperse.

King and James

King and James

Background

Workers at US Steel, formerly Stelco, have been locked out since Nov. 7th when collective bargaining broke down over the issues of pensions. Under US Steel’s proposed plans, pensioners would no longer see their pension payments indexed and would risk losing a large chunk to inflation over the years. “Defined Contribution” pension plans would replace current “Defined Benefit” plans. This means that rather than receiving a fixed percentage of their final salary (also taking into consideration the number of years worked) for the remainder of their retired years, pensioners would instead receive payments from money they had invested in an investment account. Were the retired Steelworkers to accept the Defined Contribution plan, their pensions would rely on market performance and would not offer the same security as the Defined Benefit Plan.

This lockout comes on the heels of a very similar lockout at US Steel’s Nanticoke plant on Lake Erie, where workers eventually caved, as well as a total shutdown of the Hamilton and Erie plants for a good chunk of last year. The Government of Canada is currently involved in a lawsuit against US Steel violating promises it made during it’s 2007 takeover of Stelco.

Police Presence.

Banner

"Evil anarchists" supporting pensioners

From the moment we arrived downtown, the enormous number of police were obvious. Everything from horses and bikes to cruisers and a portable command station. Given the expected numbers, that’s not unexpected. But getting closer to the rally, it became clear that many of the police were simply “hovering” around any part of the crowd that looked young, or radical. As soon as the march began a pair of police officers began circling a group of anarchists holding a banner, taking videotape and photos from a few feet away. Despite this, there was no violence, destruction or arrests – only more flags, banners and chants, from the anarchists as well as others.

Beware the Cop-arrazzi

Officer 621 and friends, some of the many cops stationed to watch anti-capitalist demonstrators

This sort of intimidation and profiling is not uncommon at large protests. Over the past year, anarchists and other radicals in Ontario and elsewhere have seen a large rise in this kind of surveillance. Not only does it serve an important role of scaring away newcomers from voicing their opinions, but it allows police to assemble complex dossiers and profiles of well-known activists, for the purposes of launching frivolous and fabricated charges on the basis of people’s stated political opinions. As was shown at the G20 (as well as many times over in American and Britian lately), those who hold radical views aren’t just “guilty until proven innocent” – we’re guilty long before a “crime” has even been committed.

The Pony Police

Conclusion

Stelco is only the last in a long string of major Hamilton employers to see these kinds of shutdowns, lockouts and layoffs. As a factory and industry which once defined Hamilton, Stelco’s decline, now, seems just as symbolic. What we witnessed downtown today, though, was a rejection of the cynical and defeatist attitudes which we’ve come to associate with these issues. And while one rally may not change everything – it can send a powerful message. Hamilton’s steelworkers have friends – young, old, rich, poor, and from cities all around us – and none of us are willing to back down.

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