Build the strike movement into a political movement

PV Editorial 

According to the most recent data, more than 2.2 million work days were lost in Canada last year due to strikes. This is the highest number in decades. Wage increases included in collective agreements amount to an average of 3.7 percent – against inflation of 3.9 percent – with the biggest part (4.6 percent on average) front end loaded into the first year.

To put this into historical perspective, the cost-of-living increase in 1980 was 13 percent. So, workers are really only catching up with the 1990s, years in which most of them experienced big reductions as they struggled against capital.

At the same time, profits are soaring. There is no shortage of statistics to prove this, but one of the most significant is that companies in Canada with more than 1,000 employees generate $85,000 in profits per capita each year – more than the average salary itself. Companies of that size, of course, are typically monopolies.

One of the important developments we are seeing now is a re-recognition among working people of the fact that nothing is acquired – everything must be won or defended in struggle against a boss class which never disarms itself.

We see this at the Port of Quebec where, even after more than 600 days of lockout, the longshore workers still refuse to accept the employer’s offer. We see this in the 155,000 federal public service workers who went on strike for the first time in almost 20 years. We see this in British Columbia, where longshore workers held the costliest strike that the bosses experienced last year. And we see this with the auto workers who, while they did not strike, forced the hand of the sector’s monopolies.

This upsurge in all-out worker struggles is not limited to Canada. Think of the US film industry strikes – make no mistake, this is a strategic industry for the country and for US imperialism, or the strikes in the auto sector. Think of the European strikes in transport and public services.

The working class may be digging up the hatchet to fight the bosses, but it is often also taking the fight to its own union representatives. Agreements, recommended by union leadership, are turned down by the membership. Contracts are ratified by slim margins. Across all sectors, workers are telling their unions to do better, fight harder and win more.

And international solidarity is beginning to regain its place within the labour movement, albeit timidly. This is most notable in the area of Palestine solidarity. Pushed by both the unfolding crisis and by huge mobilizations in which a large part of their members are involved, more unions have adopted positions which at least defend the consensus at the UN and the International Court of Justice, that a genocide is happening in Palestine.

It’s potentially a big breakthrough in the struggle to have international issues influencing union bodies in such a way. It places labour at the crossroads between internationalism and anti-imperialism, or class collaboration. The challenge is to convince workers to take the first fork.

Because more than ever, workers’ economic action must be extended into the political arena. This means weaving through the obstacles that capitalism places in the path of the working class – one the one hand, the labour movement’s right-wing social-democratic leadership which wants to anesthetize class struggle; and on the other, the anti-union and reactionary “workerist” populism which tries to channel the working class’s creative and revolutionary potential back against itself.

The difficulty in navigating these obstacles is a big reason for the Conservative Party’s high polling numbers among workers, both public and private sector.

But this doesn’t have to be the conclusion. For the ruling class, nothing is more dangerous than a politically conscious and militant working class which rejects both social democracy and right populism. Nothing is more dangerous than a working class which demands the exercise of political power, and which is prepared to conquer it.

Armed with revolutionary ideology that unites working people into mass struggle, the working class in Canada has all the potential to be that dangerous to the ruling class.

[Photo of labour solidarity on PSAC picket line: Unifor]

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