August 30, 2010

Labour needs to take the lead!

Labour demonstration in Greece

Labour Day 2010 statement, Central Executive Committee, Communist Party of Canada

This year's Labour Day takes place two years into the most serious capitalist crisis since the Great Depression. The so-called "recovery" is already faltering in Canada and around the world. Corporate profits and huge bonuses for top executives have rebounded, but for working people, the reality is continued high unemployment, falling incomes, more social cutbacks, and new attacks on wages and pensions. On a global scale, the working class faces the unchecked growth of militarism and imperialist wars, and the impact of deepening environmental problems and natural disasters.

In this complex situation, the labour movement and its allies desperately need to build a massive, united and coordinated fightback campaign. But the experience of the past two years shows that the willingness of workers to struggle for their rights has yet to be matched by the leadership of the trade unions. The time has come to stand together and say: those who reap billions in profits must pay for the economic crisis!

Faced with a stubborn refusal by most working people to surrender to the right-wing agenda, the ruling class and the Harper Tory minority government have increasingly resorted to demagogic tactics designed to create divisions and muddy the waters, such as the racist campaign against Tamil refugees and the scrapping of the long-form census. In Canada, the most visible and powerful public rejection of Tory policies - the demonstration by some 40,000 people during the G20 Summit on June 26 in Toronto, including thousands of trade unionists - was met with brutal state repression, including the arrest of over 1,000 protesters and bystanders.

The corporate/government attack has been particularly sharp against organized workers, such as the Vale Inco strikers who held out valiantly for one year in Sudbury and Port Colborne against the outrageous attempt by their Brazilian-based bosses to gut their collective agreement.

There are many other positive signs that workers across Canada are ready to take on the corporate agenda. These include lengthy and determined strikes by university employees, civic workers, and Steelworkers in Ontario, and by the paramedics in British Columbia. In Montreal, 75,000 public sector workers and their allies marched on May Day this year, during the Common Front negotiations with the Charest government.

These examples prove that Canadian workers are just as capable of challenging the ruling class as our sisters and brothers in other countries. The powerful upsurge of general strikes and mass protests in Greece, Portugal and other countries has inspired workers everywhere to step up our militant resistance

However, the truth is that heroic struggles by workers across Canada have been weakened by the labour movement's inability to mobilize its full potential. Time and again, we have witnessed the refusal by many union leaders to build broad community/labour solidarity campaigns around strike battles or wider social issues. This trend includes the retreat from mass action by the Common Front union leaders in Quebec, the collapse of the Coalition to Build a Better B.C., the reluctance of the Steelworkers Union to appeal for wider support for the Sudbury strikers, and the attempts by some forces to hamstring important efforts by the Ontario Federation of Labour leadership to move in a more militant direction. Most troubling, the Canadian Labour Congress itself remains unwilling to engage in the type of movement-building which would rally millions into action against the corporate agenda.

Some activists mistakenly argue that the difficulties in mobilizing the labour movement for a major struggle mean that workers have "sold out" or that the trade unions are a spent force. This wrong assessment has fuelled attempts to impose divisive tactics on the people's movements, such as the claim that isolated acts of property damage, rather than mass action, is the only way challenge the foundations of ruling class power.

The real lesson of these experiences is that working people in Canada have the strength and understanding to conduct tough battles for their rights, despite that challenges of cold weather, scabs, police brutality, corporate media slanders, and relentless political attacks. When organized workers have leadership which matches their capacity for struggle, important victories have been achieved. But when leadership consists of looking for "exit strategies" or calls to retreat at the first sign of pressure, workers are understandably reluctant to take chances.

On this Labour Day 2010, the Communist Party of Canada salutes all working people across our country and around the world who have chosen to fight rather than surrender. Their struggles have played a major role in slowing the offensive by the corporations and pro-business governments (including many led by social democratic parties) against the interests of the entire working class.

We renew our call for the labour movement in Canada to play a leading role in stepping up resistance against the corporate attack. It remains both timely and urgent for the CLC and other labour federations to convene a broad People's Summit, with the full participation of the Aboriginal peoples, youth, seniors, women, immigrants, anti-war and anti-racist groups, environmental groups, and many other movements. Such a Summit should develop an Action Plan to bring down the Harper Tories and other pro-business governments, and to block the offensive by the corporations.

Unity can and must be built around a set of immediate demands for a People's Recovery Program, such as expanded EI coverage, a massive investment in low-income housing and improved social programs, and reversing the huge tax cuts given by the Tories and Liberals to the corporations and the wealthy. These and other pro-people demands are needed to rally millions into action, rejecting the lie that "there is no alternative" to the policies favoured by big business.

We urge trade union members and all activists in the people's movements to raise their voices for such a perspective to move from isolated defensive battles, towards a strategy of coordinated, united, mass resistance, based on recognition that "an injury to one is an injury to all." The working people of Canada have nothing to lose from such a strategy - and we have a better future to win!

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