Postal workers occupy TD Bank on Bay Street

Nine hundred union and community protesters occupied the intersection of King and Bay streets in the heart of Toronto's financial district on Thursday in support of the Occupy movement. Photo: Jesse McLaren

An estimated 900 union and community protesters occupied the intersection of King and Bay streets in the heart of Toronto's financial district Thursday afternoon.

Carrying a banner stating, "Capitalism doesn't work for workers. CUPW-STTP" and signs reading "Postal workers are part of the 99%," protesters marched up Bay Street from the Westin Harbour Castle hotel where postal workers from across the country are attending their union's national convention.

Denis Lemelin, national president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) said, "That's why we're all here today, we came with a message for the one per cent. Regarding the centre of power in the financial district, we came with a message and we say it loud, 'You are wrong!'"

A group of five postal workers staged an impromptu occupation inside the TD Bank where the Occupy Toronto protest started on Oct. 15.

"There's some postal workers occupying the Toronto Dominion Bank because they're so pissed off at the banks they couldn't help themselves," CUPW national union representative Dave Bleakney announced to the crowd.

"No one, no politician, no police, and no capitalist pig in an ivory tower will ever deny us what is ours. We're here to say if you don't give it to us, we shall take it and this rotten system will be no more!" said Bleakney as workers chanted, "So-So-So-Solidarity!" outside to support the sit-down protesters.

After being escorted out of the bank by police one of the sit-down protesters, who only gave his first name -- Darcy -- related how people inside the bank reacted, "We had people telling us that they understood exactly why we were there. They actually gave us new targets, they told us we should go talk to the Hydro companies because their charges are ridiculous. They told us we should go talk to the government about what's been happening. I think ordinary Canadians are fed up."

When asked the reason for the sit-in Darcy said, "We just wanted to make sure that people realize that the Occupy movement is alive and well here in Canada and that it's continuing to grow."

Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, took on reports that the Mayor of Toronto wants to evict Occupy Toronto:

"Rob Ford you've said that you're going to go in and dismantle the occupation in St James park. Let me tell you Rob Ford, you've got a fight with the labour movement in Ontario if you do."

After waiting for the cheering crowd to subside Ryan continued, "If you move against the occupation. If you try to destroy the ability of the citizens of this community to voice their opinions against the banks, against the financial sector and against the greedy one per cent. Then you've got a major fight on your hands with the labour movement and with Occupy Toronto."

The crowd answered Ryan's remarks with loud chants of "General strike! General strike!" referring to a strike by all workers in a city, province or country that echoes a call for a general strike in Oakland, California in the wake of the violent eviction of Occupy Oakland by police on Wednesday.

Steelworker Fernando Silva, a worker at Infinity Rubber who has been on strike for 23 months, spoke passionately in Spanish through a translator, "We have been on strike for almost two years. You know why we're [still] in a strike? Because the government is allowing agency workers, scabs, to replace us. What the strike means to us is brothers have had to sell their houses and return their cars. People like me are in court because we cannot pay what we have to pay. I am really proud to be here and I look at all of you and I know our fight will be successful."

Across the street from Silva stood the flagship branch of the Bank of Montreal, which granted a $7.5 million loan to Infinity Rubber at five per cent interest to replace an 18 per cent interest loan from another lender. Union members point to this loan as a key reason their strike has dragged on to become one of the longest in the history of Toronto.

Liisa Schofield from the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty took aim at the provincial government lack of responsibility:

"Last year, under Dalton McGuinty's provincial Liberal government, we saw the gutting of the special diet allowance. That's a food benefit for people on social assistance rates that are despicably low. A single person on welfare in Ontario is trying to survive on just $592 bucks a month. At the same time that this government cut the special diet and gutted that program they gave a $4.5 billion tax break to corporations over the next three years."

Mick Sweetman is the news intern at Follow him on Twitter here.

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