August 21, 2013

Support struggles that advance the rights of working people

Labour Day 2013 message, Central Executive Committee, Communist Party of Canada

We are living in the Canadian and global environment where the main corporate thrust is the destruction of the welfare state and the achievements of generations. First in the cross‑hairs are the trade unions, collective bargaining, social programs, equity and environmental protection.

The main features of labour relations in Canada today are intimidation, legislated agreements, lock‑outs and removal of the right to strike. Harper's conservatives have used back‑to‑work legislation five times in two years. A new feature is the legislated imposition of the terms of arbitrated "agreements". Unions are also being bludgeoned by onerous and undemocratic financial accounting requirements designed to fuel a media attack, to paint unions as expropriators of workers' wages for non‑worker campaigns. Cuts to public services, healthcare, immigrants' rights and Employment Insurance impact working people from coast to coast.            

The Ontario Federation of Labour has published important documents and program that seeks a COMMON FRONT with an inclusive fight back program. The CLC "Worker to Worker" campaign, while not as pro‑active as the OFL, still provides potential for those who wish to develop more. The Quebec students impressed the country and the world with their strength, and the 175,000 Quebec construction workers flexed muscle in their recent strike. Working people are not passive pawns, and their as yet un‑coordinated struggles are crying out for form and leadership.

This Labour Day weekend will witness an event that has been over a year in construction and that has the potential to significantly influence the course of Canadian Labour.

Of course this is the product of the CAW‑CEP merger negotiations, the founding convention of the "new union", UNIFOR.

This is not only the largest merger in at least several decades but could prove to be the most unique and significant. It has been certainly the most transparent, the most vertically inclusive and the most talked about outside the membership of the two parent unions. It is not assimilation or a shelter for a battered smaller union finding safety within a larger one. It is not a McCarthyite raid like the Steel‑Mine Mill of the past and neither is it an offshore spin‑off of relations or decisions made in U.S.‑based international headquarters.

Both parent unions, CAW and CEP, are Canadian unions born into diversity and struggle and shaped by these conditions. Both have been on the cutting edge of social unionism and militant struggle, both have experienced retreat and concessionary bargaining, usually concurrent with each other in the thrust and parry of class struggle. It is absolutely logical that these two private sector unions mirror every strength and weakness, every hope and challenge, every potential and every danger that faces Canadian workers in this period of neo‑liberal offensive, super exploitation, ecological disaster and imperialist war. Both of these unions have had to contend with the global mobility of capital, free trade agreements, de‑industrialization, and the general crisis of capitalism and the cyclical recessions of the last decade.

In the publications of the Communist Party over the years there have been both compliments and criticisms of labour as Canadian workers wrestle with the double-backed demons of compliance and concession, and as they also resist and struggle heroically. If social consciousness is a reflection of social being, why would not, in a collective sense, the realities of reformism and class struggle be bound together in the consciousness of our class and its institutions? After all is this not the proving ground?

The Preamble of the draft Unifor Constitution reflects determination and the anger of the oppressed. Some on the left may mourn the lack of a socialist agenda but the Preamble identifies the enemy, recognizes the global nature of the struggle and includes the struggle for peace and ecology. In this world where every foothold has to be fought for, the Communist Party recognizes the potential for militant struggle, the possibility for a new quality and an elevation of class consciousness. This is infinitely better than the "conversation" Ken Georgetti wants to have at the cocktail level with the Harper Tories.

The very security of unions and union membership is under attack as provincial and federal governments prepare to destroy the Rand Formula, dues check‑off and the closed shop. In the face of this onslaught, labour has not closed ranks. There have been too many defeats.

The tendency to bend under pressure, like CAW's recent acceptance of a permanent two‑tier wage agreement at GM Oshawa, must and can be checked and reversed. Ford and Chrysler will definitely want parity and they probably won't wait until the next round of negotiations. Of course the CAW is not alone and unfortunately concessionary bargaining has become common in the private sector since the late 1970s. Pattern bargaining is no use when the pattern is concessionary. The strength of labour is in unity not stratification, in universal rules not anarchy, in unity not competition.

Unifor, for the first time since the struggles of the Workers Unity League in the 1930s, seeks to find the way to organize the unemployed, the youth, precarious workers, indigenous people and immigrants. Skeptics may dismiss this as public relations or media hype for another self‑serving business union merger. Skepticism is not what is needed on Labour Day 2013.

Unions and social advances were not built by skeptics. They were built through resolute struggle, by determined optimists, hard headed perhaps, but optimists. Left activists, Communists and militants. Workers and farmers.

Our objective cannot be simply to regain what we've lost. The struggle now is for what we dreamt about but never achieved, for what the welfare state was supposed to introduce, the next step we didn't manage to take. The present corporate offensive is the result of not defending the socialist alternative hard enough. The value of Unifor is the fact that major labour forces have declared their unwillingness to fold up and take orders, to refuse the role of labour‑brokers.

The Communist Party salutes working people and their institutions, and pledges our support to any new working class formations that advance the rights of working people, and struggles against capitalist domination. We have no other reason to exist.

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