May Day 2023: Powerful Workers’ Movement in Windsor-Essex Stands as One

May Day 2023: Powerful Workers’ Movement in Windsor-Essex Stands as One

From April 28 to May 1, workers in Windsor-Essex, Ontario participated alongside workers across the country and throughout the world, organizing events to speak for themselves and express their demands for a society in which their rights are affirmed second to none.

The events upheld the tradition of May Day first established in 1889 at the Second Meeting of the International Workingmen’s Association to give impetus to the demand for the eight-hour workday. In this way May Day inscribed on its banner the workers’ program to unite the power of the working class around the world to assert a political demand which served them and society itself. May 1 was chosen as the day to honour those workers who had been killed and suppressed in 1886 in Chicago in what is known as the Haymarket Massacre in which four workers were killed after state agents exploded a bomb at a labour demonstration with the aim of destroying the growing movement of U.S. workers for their rights.

This year’s events brought together the labour movement of the area to bring particular attention and support to the workers on strike at Windsor Salt who are standing up for the labour movement across North America by refusing to be bullied by the U.S. holding company that is trying to break their union using dirty tricks.

April 28 – Day of Mourning for Workers Injured or Killed on the Job

The Windsor and District Labour Council (WDLC) hosted the local Day of Mourning where workers from the public and private sector, unionized and non-unionized, as well as students, retirees, injured workers and families who have lost a loved one due to a workplace injury or illness gathered to commemorate those killed on the job and to raise how they’re fighting in the present for the conditions all workers require to do their jobs safely.

Those gathered at the Injured Workers’ Monument in Windsor heard from a family who lost their husband and father when he was killed on the job, emphasizing the importance of the fight for conditions to ensure that everyone who goes to work returns home at the end of the day. A worker and father spoke about the loss of his son and the necessity for young people to be properly trained in health and safety, and the work he has been doing at his own workplace to improve the health and safety conditions there.

A representative of the firefighters’ union spoke about their fight to get companies to remove the toxic chemicals in their clothing and equipment, which has been linked to increased rates of cancer among firefighters, over and above their increased risk of cancer due to smoke inhalation. This April 28 also took on an international character for workers in Windsor-Essex as workers from the American Federation of Labour in Detroit, Michigan, on the other side of the Detroit River, were to participate in a joint floral tribute to workers injured or killed on the job, with participants in ceremonies on both sides dropping carnations into the water.

Mural Dedicated to Striking Salt Workers Unveiled

Artists played a significant role in the activities over the weekend. On Saturday, April 29, Dennis and Dylan White unveiled a beautiful mural they painted, dedicated to the striking workers at Windsor Salt. The event was attended by many salt workers and their families, teachers, students, retirees and community members, as well as workers who traveled from as far away as Oshawa and Scarborough to stand with their fellow Unifor members at Windsor Salt and sign the mural. Many participants emphasized the importance of supporting the salt workers as they continue to fight against the union-busting and dirty tricks Stone Canyon Industries Holdings Inc. is using to try to get them to submit. Everyone is being encouraged to come to the line and sign [1] the mural as an expression of solidarity with the workers and as a demonstration of the unity of the entire community behind them.

Workers’ Roundtable

The annual May Day Workers’ Roundtable took place on April 30, hosted by Empower Yourself Now. Representatives from the Canadian Union of Public Employees-Ontario School Board Council of Unions (CUPE-OSBCU), Education is a Right and Windsor Speakeasy Podcasts, Empower Yourself Now, the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada, Ontario Network of Injured Workers’ Groups (ONIWG) and Windsor Injured Workers, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), Unifor, and the Windsor Peace Coalition presented on various matters of concern to the labour movement and society as a whole.

Chairperson Laura Chesnik of Empower Yourself Now welcomed all, stating: “Our aim in establishing and organizing this annual forum is to provide a space where the working people can share their own views and exchange experiences of how we are approaching problems, providing them with solutions, and the challenges we face, and that we think the workers will be facing in the coming year.”

In his opening remarks, Enver Villamizar also of Empower Yourself Now, stated: “The work we’re doing to create public opinion for our struggles by speaking for ourselves and what we call mass mobilization is very significant. It’s not an issue of just the numbers of people, it’s a matter of the quality of mass, which stands for something different, something we ourselves establish. Not of a reordering or making more fair a political and economic system which profits from the destruction of the natural and social environment, and has no interest or ability to create a world fit for human beings. This roundtable is all about educating ourselves, so that we can bring in that kind of quality — something we need that we create — so that we can educate others who can educate others and so on.”

The first panel discussion included workers who represent PSAC – Canada Employment and Immigration Union (CEIU) Local 576, UFCW local 175, Unifor Local 200, and the Windsor Injured Workers Group. It began with the video of the unveiling of the mural dedicated to the striking Windsor Salt workers from the day before.

Following the video, Barry Lamont, local president of PSAC CEIU Local 576 discussed the work that he and his members do as those who are on the frontlines of Canada’s federal public service, and their experience during their strike. Scott Jackson, Chief Steward of UFCW Local 175 discussed the experience of his members during the recent strike at Highbury Canco in Leamington and the importance of having media that lets workers speak for themselves so that they can get their own views out. He also spoke of the importance of raising their issues in the Legislature. Dave Lopez, Vice-President of Unifor local 200, discussed the effects of international trade deals on auto workers over the years as well as the effects that subcontracting has on creating harmful divisions within the workforce. Liz Garant, President of the Windsor Injured Workers Group and Vice-President for Southwestern Ontario for ONIWG also spoke of the importance of injured workers speaking for themselves, addressing their conditions and being organized in the face of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) and governments that make sure employers are paid off the backs of injured workers through deeming them to have phantom jobs in order to reduce their benefits, and other schemes that turn injured workers into mere numbers, dismissing their quality as human beings with rights.

The second panel represented teachers and education workers and the fights they are waging to have a say over their wages and working conditions, including where their pension funds are invested. CUPE-OSBCU Local 1358 president Darlene Sawchuck reviewed the fight of education workers in Ontario for a contract that addressed their wages and working conditions, and their defiance of Bill 28, the law that imposed a contract and used the notwithstanding clause of the Constitution to try and shield the government from any challenge to its dictate. She talked about her experience with how important it was for their organizing to talk to members in person, and to keep them informed at all times in preparation for action they might have to take to back up their demands.

MLPC representative, maintenance worker and Unifor union steward, Dusty Anderson, talked about the work of school custodial and maintenance staff and how their work has changed with the experience of the pandemic. He stressed the importance of having full time custodial staff so as to be able to address all the work that is required. Education is a Right Podcast representative and Catholic high school teacher, Ezio Colicchia, explained that although the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP) follows what is called an ESG (environmental, social and governance) model — where companies in which it invests should pass certain tests on whether or not they represent the social values of the teachers and others who are stakeholders in the fund — there are a great number of companies the OTPP invests in that do not represent the social values of OTPP members. The most known at the moment being the U.S. -based global firm, Stone Canyon Industries Holdings Inc. He stated that Education is a Right will be doing what it can to bring out information on such investments.

The third panel included representatives from the community. Musician Bilal Nasser and photographer Kamryn Cusumano, representing the Windsor Speakeasy Podcast, discussed their experiences holding Windsor’s city council to account for their decision to open a consumption and treatment services (CTS) site in Windsor. They discussed how they went into action on short notice, using social media as an educational tool to bring the CTS issue to everyone and to argue publicly the necessity for this type of healthcare facility in the community at a time City Council seemed poised to rescind its decision, making this everyone’s concern. They also discussed the barriers and challenges they faced and how they overcame them, leading the council to proceed with implementing the decision it had originally passed. Anti-war activist Margaret Villamizar, on behalf of the Windsor Peace Coalition discussed how Canada is being positioned as a reliable supplier of critical minerals to the United States, which is deepening Canada’s integration into the U.S. war economy. She expressed concern over the position that some leaders are giving that submitting to the dictate of the U.S. is what results in “good unionized jobs”.

May Day

This year in Windsor-Essex, the International Day of Working Class Unity and Struggle was celebrated at Windsor Salt’s picket line at the rock salt mine where workers have been on strike since February 17. The Windsor and District Labour Council decided to host the event at the picket line as a strong show of unity and support for the salt workers’ strike against union-busting Stone Canyon Industries Holdings Inc. The rally was attended by workers and their families who work in various sectors such as education and other public services, auto, and arts and culture. Mario Spagnuolo, interim president of the Windsor and District Labour Council welcomed participants with opening remarks and MC’d the event. Margaret Villamizar spoke next, stating that the demands, concerns, and solutions the workers are advancing must be heard. She explained that May Day was established to give impetus to the demands for the eight-hour workday, to unite the power of the working class around the world to assert its political demands, which served them and society itself. She added that the impetus for the rally this May 1st was to bring the support of the community to the workers. Barry Lamont, representing the Public Service Alliance of Canada highlighted the tentative agreement the union had reached with the Treasury Board in the very early hours of May 1 and expressed their deep gratitude to the Windsor Salt workers’ leadership, which was a great assistance to local PSAC members during their strike. Other speakers included the regional representative of the Canadian Labour Congress and Windsor West NDP Member of Provincial Parliament Lisa Gretzky, all of whom brought support for the workers on strike at Windsor Salt. Representatives from Unifor 1959 and 240 spoke to their fight and expressed appreciation for the support and unity they have felt throughout their strike on their picket lines from the community. Powerful poems dedicated to the striving of the working class for its empowerment were presented between speakers expressing the solidarity of local artists and students with the workers’ struggles.

May Day Poems

Windsor’s Multicultural Community Storyteller Teajai Travis
Poet and University of Windsor graduate student Bunmi Africa


[1] The mural is currently located at 30 Prospect Ave in Windsor, Ontario N9C 3G3. Everyone is encouraged to “Come to the Line and Sign!”