July 2, 2015

80 years since the "On to Ottawa Trek"

Special to Rebel Youth

This spring and summer marked the 80th anniversary of the On to Ottawa Trek. Rebel Youth celebrates this militant struggle and ongoing struggles for work and wages. 80 years later capitalist crisis has again been used by a Tory government to attack the working class. Youth unemployment is reaching almost 20% in several major Canadian cities, and the majority of workers (a larger majority for youth and women) are not covered by Employment Insurance. With this in mind, we look back to past victories for inspiration today!

The following is an excerpt from a June statement from the Communist Party of Canada's Central Committee:

"July 1 will mark the 80th anniversary of the brutal police attack against the On to Ottawa Trek. On that date in 1935, the citizens of Regina and Trek participants were holding a peaceful mass rally in that city’s Market Square. Suddenly, at 8:17 pm, RCMP officers emerged from vans parked at the square with batons and tear gas to break up the rally, injuring hundreds and sparking the infamous “Regina Police Riot”.

The On to Ottawa Trek was organized by the Relief Camp Workers Union, and led by Arthur “Slim” Evans, one of the most popular trade union and Communist leaders of the “Dirty Thirties” Depression era. In the spring of 1935, after weeks of political organizing in Vancouver to demand “Work and Wages”, hundreds of RCWU members and other unemployed workers boarded freight trains, intending to take their struggle directly to the federal government in Ottawa.

The Trekkers halted in Regina while Evans and other RCWU representatives went to Ottawa in an unsuccessful attempt to negotiate with Conservative Prime Minister R.B. “Iron Heel” Bennett over the demands of the unemployed. The July 1 police attack and state repression stopped the Trek at Regina, but hundreds of workers from southern Ontario did get to Ottawa to press the federal government for job creation, unemployment insurance, and other reforms. A few months later, the Conservatives were soundly defeated in a federal election, opening the way to several decades of powerful labour and peoples’ struggles which gained many of the demands raised by the Trekkers. Today, these victories are increasingly being undermined and attacked by the pro-corporate austerity policies of governments, especially Stephen Harper’s Tories."

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