Working class struggle: “Good collective action versus the convoy”

The forces behind the “Freedom Convoy” claim that it is a working-class movement, based on the needs and demands of working people across the country. As proof, they point to the number of working people who are present at the protests. Unsurprisingly though, for a movement that calls for an end to all pandemic restrictions, this “proof” is pretty poor science.

The truth is, the government’s approach to pandemic recovery has heavily favoured corporate profits over the needs of working people and, generally, those of small business owners. Working people have been left to face a frightening range of deepening challenges, and so frustration and confusion has spread. The right-wing populist movement has tapped into people’s (sometimes) legitimate frustrations and drawn them in a right-wing direction – anti-science, anti-immigrant, anti-communist.  

So, while this may appear (or be made to appear) as a protest by workers, it is in no way a protest from the working-class movement. The presence of Confederate flags, swastikas and other outright fascist and neo-Nazi symbols is evidence of this reality. 

A real resolution requires a shift in government priorities, away from big capital and toward people’s needs. That kind of shift can only come from a strong working-class movement – the labour movement, in the first place, needs to put its shoulder to the wheel. 

In response to the convoy, a number of trade unions have issued statements and helped organize counterprotests. 

Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW): “It is not clear that the majority of people present understand that the [convoy] campaign aims to remove the government; nor do they seem to know that a sizeable number of those present are advocating a fascist takeover, or are promoting hate and racism, as is witnessed by the flying of confederate flags for example. Confederate flags and swastikas have no place in a democratic society and must be dealt with firmly.”

National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE): “Some feel, rightly, that governments did not do enough to help, to help stop the spread, to help those impacted, to protect people from hardship and uncertainty. We see that a few profited greatly while the many bore the strain. There is room for a legitimate debate about how we collectively handled the pandemic…Spewing diesel fumes into the air and sewage onto the ground while ignoring and trampling on the rights of thousands of honest, decent citizens, as has happened in Ottawa, is not part of that legitimate debate.”

Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE): “The disruption, bullying, and display of deplorable symbols of hate and bigotry have gone on long enough. It’s time for the mob to go home.”

Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC): “PSAC does not condone demonstrations that harbor racists brandishing confederate flags, swastikas, and other antisemitic, Islamophobic and neo-nazi symbols. They have swamped local businesses while violating public health guidelines, forcing businesses to shut down – all while harassing workers and threatening our community – especially Black, Indigenous, and racialized persons, members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, women and persons with disabilities.” 

Alberta Federation of Labour: “We cannot allow our public health policies to be dictated by an extremist fringe that clearly doesn’t understand science…And, for the sake of our democracy, we cannot allow authoritarian bullies to become further emboldened or pretend that they speak for the majority of workers and citizens.” 

Photo: Healthcare workers and allies counterprotest the “Freedom Convoy” in Toronto [Credit: Drew Garvie]

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