(By Orlando Buonastella, IWC community legal worker and long-time fellow advocate)
Many injured workers in the Greater Toronto Area and beyond have come to know Tony Mauro. He passed away and he will be remembered with pride. (Visitation for family and friends (after private cremation a day earlier) is Sunday October 16, 2-6 pm at Holy Cross Funeral Home, 211 Langstaff Rd. East, Thornhill Ontario. A link will be posted at www.catholic-cemeteries.ca in the obituaries section – for those unable to be there.)
Tony was dignity. He’d routinely introduce himself as: “My name is Tony, injured worker – NOT a criminal.” That introduction resonated each time. It summed up all the pride and dignity of injured workers feeling that the system had cast them as the enemy, as the “criminal”.
Tony showed us that the law can be changed, even if led by an injured worker who is weakened by injury and does not have a computer. He led a 20 year battle to reverse the WSIB claw back of Old Age Security benefits. He was supported by ONIWG and IWC in this long fight that eventually changed the law and eliminated the claw back. A key turning point was when he showed up, unannounced, at the Toronto Star building, walking gingerly with a cane, barely making it through the doors, but asking for an interview. No prior call, no press release. This caught the attention of the Star, which eventually ran a story that raised the profile of the issue. MPP Laura Albanese proposed several private members’ bills to resolve the issue, to no avail, but pushed on. Injured worker and Italian community pressure continued. Finally, the Wynne government eliminated the claw back in its dying days, returning all the “stolen money” to Tony and many other injured workers in the same situation. We all celebrated the achievement, and realized, once again, that “fighting works” even when times seem dark.
Tony comes from a long tradition of worker activism. His original injury was in 1966 (yes,1966!) when he “broke his back” working in construction. He was part of the great upsurge of injured worker activism among construction workers in the GTA, many of whom spoke Italian, who built homes, office towers and paved streets. When injured workers assembled in mass at Queen’s Park on June 1, 1983, he read a poem that summed up all the frustration, loss and aspiration of these workers. Here it is:
The Injured Workers / by Antonio Mauro
O Canada, we gave you the very best
This we say with pride
We gave you nothing but the best
We gave you our blood, our bones, our flesh
We made you the most beautiful
We made Toronto the queen of cities
We built office towers and homes
O Canada, you are the envy of all
O Canada, we built you up
Our blood is mixed into your cement
We are but innocent victims
Of a progress we paid dearly for
Mothers destroyed by pain
Spouses staring at loss
Children without a parent
What else do you want?
The day of our injury
Was the loss of human rights
Not even our Canada Pension Plan
Wants our contributions now
No compensation for pain
Charity from month to month
Looked upon from provincial lenses
But are we not perfectly Canadian?
A life of hell
Confined to the margins of society
Was this justice denied?
Why the trip from pride to begging?
O Canada, we gave you so much
Why so much cruelty in return?
Are we just an old tool
Good yesterday, garbage today?
(download a copy in English & Italian ” Gli’Infortunati sul Lavoro”)