Build Mass Labour Struggles & a People’s Coalition

Labour Day 2016 statement from the Central Executive Committee, Communist Party of Canada

Coming almost a year after the defeat of one of the most dangerously reactionary governments in Canadian history, Labour Day 2016 is an important point for the organized trade union movement to respond to challenges facing the working class in the changed political environment – and most importantly, to mobilize against the continued neoliberal austerity policies of governments and corporations.

After a decade of brutal attacks by the Harper Conservatives, working people in all parts of Canada voted for what they saw as the best opportunity to achieve change at the parliamentary level. The collapse of support for the NDP had many causes, but one of the most significant was its refusal to break with the big business austerity agenda, symbolized by Mulcair’s “balanced budgets” promise, based on protecting corporate profits and the incomes of the rich, at the expense of social spending. By failing to present working people with a strong progressive alternative, the NDP opened the door for the Liberals to pose as the party of real change.

In office, PM Justin Trudeau has continued the typical Liberal strategy of “campaigning from the left and governing from the right.” The Liberals made initial con-cessions to people’s movements on some important issues, but without any significant shift from the pro-business course of previous governments. The inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women has begun, and the first Liberal budget contained relatively minor spending increases on some social programs, including reversal of the Tories’ move to change pension eligibility age from 65 to 67. These victories were achieved as a result of years of organizing and political struggles by the organized working class, indigenous peoples, and other sections of the population.

But overall, the corporate agenda remains untouched. The Liberal budget did not provide for the necessary massive spending on infrastructure and social housing, nor did it address the huge gap in living standards and social conditions faced by indig-enous peoples and communities. The recent agreement between Ottawa and most provinces on improvements to the Canada Pension Plan does nothing for retired workers and those nearing retirement age. While the elim-ination of door-to-door urban postal delivery has been temporarily halted, Deepak Chopra and Canada Post are continuing this drive to cut jobs and public services at the negotiating table. The new government says it will be a leader in the fight against climate change, but instead of making huge investments in renewal energy and conservation programs, it is backing pipeline projects to extract and export unprocessed tar sands oil. Unemployment is growing rapidly, along with cost of living increases which hit working people and the poor. Household debt levels are rising, and could reach record levels if – or more accurately when – the housing price bubbles pop in major cities. Despite maneuvers to make it appear that they are engaged in genuine popular consultations, the Liberals remain determined to adopt the Trans-Pacific Partnership, CETA, and other pro-corporate trade deals. Through outsourcing, and in violation of federal law, the government has killed thousands of well-paid union machinist jobs in Quebec and Manitoba.

This list could be greatly expanded, but the point is clear. The pro-corporate, austerity policies that Harper pushed following the 2007-08 economic crisis have continued under the new government, exacerbated by the impact of the collapse in oil prices. Inevitably, the honeymoon period for the Trudeau Liberals is beginning to wane.

But unfortunately, instead of using the new situation to prepare for broader resistance struggles against right-wing economic and social policies, the leadership of the trade union movement (especially in English-speaking Canada) has largely adopted a tactic of cozying up to the Liberals. This approach fails to recognize that the shift from the “iron fist” and harsh rhetoric to a “velvet glove” and “sunny days”, however welcome as a temporary relief, does not represent a fundamentally new scenario. Instead of jostling to pose for photo ops and selfies with the PM and inviting Liberal cabinet ministers to address conventions, the leadership of the trade union movement needs to begin mobilizing a broad fightback for real change and a genuine People’s Agenda, not just a series of feel-good moments.

The most crucial element of such a strategy is to move from the defensive towards an offensive posture. What is needed is a sovereign, independent and united trade union movement, advancing policies based on class struggle, not class collaboration. This means dropping the traditional approach of “outsourcing” labour s political struggles to the NDP or even the Liberals, in favour of independent labour political action at all levels.

This Labour Day, the most immediate priority for labour is to build maximum solidarity in support of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, which is engaged in a critical collective bargaining battle. As one of the most militant unions in recent decades, CUPW has been targetted repeatedly by both Conservative and Liberal governments which seek to push back the entire labour movement. This attack is also part of the plan to privatize Canada Post and other public services, and to cut tens of thousands of public sector jobs. Their fight is our fight. The best immediate way to push back is to organize huge turnouts for the September 17 “Postal Power Pan-Canadian Day of Action” (see for details).

Over the next period of time, the trade union movement can and must become the catalyst to bring together all sections of the working class into a powerful, fighting united front. This means organizing the unorganized and the unemployed, and reaching out to indigenous peoples, racialized communities, immigrants, environmentalists, anti-poverty activists, youth and students, women, farmers, the LGBTiQ community, defenders of civil liberties and human rights, opponents of the TPP, CETA and other corporate trade deals. It means building active alliances between the progressive national forces in Quebec and English-speaking Canada. Such a united front can build a sustained, escalating fight for the interests of working people, along the lines of recent experiences such as the Common Front in Ontario or the Red Hand Coalition in Quebec.

To those who say such a strategy is unrealistic, we point to the wave of mass popular movements in recent years: the 2012 Quebec student strike, the Occupy Movement, Idle No More, environmental campaigns, the strikes of post-graduate education workers at the University of Toronto and York University, the massive demonstrations in Quebec against the Couillard Liberal government’s austerity drive and its attempt to take away the collective bargaining rights of municipal workers, the growing “fight for $15” struggle to raise the minimum wage, and last spring’s mass community-labour actions across Newfoundland against the provincial Liberal austerity budget.

These examples show the importance of a political vehicle that can draw in the broadest sections of the labour and people’s movements. We urge the labour movement to take the initiative to begin building such a People’s Coalition to lead mass struggles against the corporate agenda. Such a fightback could help forge a democratic people’s alliance, led by the working class, and which could ultimately challenge the ruling class for political power.

This is the perspective of the Communist Party of Canada, which fights to end capitalism and exploitation, and to win a socialist future, based on public ownership and democratic control of the economy.

A stronger Communist Party and Young Communist League are essential to strengthen the labour movement – on Labour Day 2016, we invite you to join us in this historic struggle!

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