The 38th Central Convention of our Party follows a major political upheaval in the recent federal election, and a new escalation of the global economic crisis which emerged in 2007-08. Initially, the Canadian economy was buffered to some degree by exports of fossil fuels and other natural resources, and because Canada’s megabanks were somewhat less exposed to the collapse in value of leveraged (re-packaged) debt. Now, the dramatic collapse in energy prices and the Canadian dollar are causing new job losses and rapid increases in the cost of imported products. The working class is paying a heavy cost for the turmoil of the capitalist system.
As the CC noted at its June 2015 meeting, “Canadian finance capital — the largest corporations and banks — have taken full advantage of the crisis to consolidate their holdings, to downsize production (destroying excess capacity), and to raise labour productivity while attacking the wages, benefits and living standards of workers…. (G)overnments at all three levels have implemented austerity policies, have eroded and/or privatized social services, and have shifted the tax burden more and more onto the backs of working people, primarily by cutting corporate and wealth taxes on the rich.”
The widening gap between rich and poor is a source of growing popular anger in many countries. Figures from the OECD show that the top 1% of Canadian pre-tax income earners now capture 37% of the overall income growth, and 12.2% of total income. Canada trails only the U.S., Britain, and Germany in terms of income disparity among the 18 relatively rich countries compared.
Official unemployment figures reached 7.1% at the end of 2015, or nearly 1.4 million jobless. Part-time jobs now account for 80% of net job creation, and almost 20% of workers are part-timers (up from 12.5% in 1976). There are now 1.1 million temporary contract workers, a rise of 83% since 1997, with lower pay, fewer benefits and less on-the-job training than permanent, full-time workers. Cuts in full-time and well-paying jobs are hitting manufacturing, construction, mining, the tar sands, and the retail sector. Job losses in these sectors, and the lack of overall job creation has driven youth unemployment to 2 to 3 times higher than the general rate of unemployment.
The Temporary Foreign Worker program, including the Caregiver program and the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program had over 550 000 workers. Those working in these programs do not have access to permanent residence through federal immigration programs, often have tied work permits, and do not receive the full protection of Canadian labour laws, including minimum wage guarantees. Temporary Foreign Workers are highly vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment such as, sexual assault, human trafficking, barriers to healthcare and social services. Seasonal Agricultural workers in particular are reliant on their employers for housing, food, and employment. As they are isolated in rural areas they are unable to report abuse for fear of deportation. Workers in the Caregiver program face wage theft, uncompensated overtime, and sexual and domestic abuse.
Public healthcare in Canada is entering a critical period. While the defeat of the Tory government in Ottawa has put a pause for the time being on the most vicious attempts to defund healthcare at the federal level, privatization of healthcare is moving forward unabated at the provincial level. Private clinics continue to grow and provinces have now introduced so-called “private-public” hospitals and community care providers. Amongst the most disturbing of these new privatization attempts is the Cambie case in BC, a constitutional challenge against the Canada Health Act that would see the legalization of private for-profit clinics.
However, this is also a period of considerable energy in the fight to protect and expand public healthcare. The Liberal government has acquiesced in the face of strong public demand to renew the Canada Health Accord with the provinces and has agreed to consider the potential implementation of Pharmacare. Although the efforts of the Liberals on both fronts have been tepid at best, these developments are reflective of a political climate that is favourable for a renewed fight to push back against privatization and demand that Medicare be protected and expanded.
The Communist Party of Canada has been the only Party to consistently champion full publicly-funded healthcare for all. The Party as a whole should use this period of renewed energy to push for our platform on health, which includes demanding that the federal government enforce the Canada Health Act by banning any and all forms of privatized healthcare delivery. We must also continue to publicly demand that Medicare be expanded to cover Pharmacare, dentistry, optometry, outpatient mental health services and continuing care in the community setting.
It is becoming increasingly recognized that the so-called “War on Drugs” in North America has been a failure in prohibiting the illegal drug trade and has instead resulted in mass imprisonment, especially in the US. Studies are being published indicating that the real purpose of the “war on drugs” was to help support reactionary regimes and death squads as in Colombia, as well as further oppress Black, Indigenous, and other racialized and impoverished communities. Canada should move towards a harm-reduction approach to drug policy. Instead of criminalizing drug users, the government needs to focus on addiction as a health problem as well as the underlying issues of social inequality and national oppression: including rampant poverty, marginalization causing hopelessness, and unresolved mental health issues. Further, public mental health services are severely lacking in Canada and must be comprehensively included in Medicare coverage as part of universal, public and accessible health care.
The Canadian dollar has tumbled significantly, driving up prices for food and other imported goods, further reducing purchasing power. The decimation of secondary manufacturing over the past two decades allows little prospect of any countervailing benefit from the weaker currency in the near future, except perhaps in the tourism industry. Millions of working people are one or two paycheques away from poverty, and savings rates are at an historic low. The ratio of household debt to ‘disposable’ income has reached an all-time high of 164%. Almost five million people in Canada are now below the poverty line. More than 200,000 experience homelessness each year. Indigenous peoples experience homelessness at an alarmingly disproportionate rate , with one quarter of people experiencing homelessness identifying as Aboriginal or First Nations. Almost 1 in every 5 households has serious >housing affordability issues’, spending over 50% of their income on rent.
Growing poverty affects every major urban centre and rural area, with the hardest-hit including indigenous peoples, working women, seniors on modest pensions, racialized and immigrant communities, and youth and students. As pointed out in the May 2014 report of James Anaya, the UN Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada, out of the poorest 100 communities in Canada, 96 are indigenous. In the last two months Indigenous communities of Attawapiskat in Northern Ontario and Pimicikamak in Northern Manitoba have declared states of emergency due to suicide crises. This reflects the ongoing genocide of Indigenous peoples in Canada.
Violence by police, including extreme violence and murder, continues to be a regular occurrence, especially against Black, Indigenous and Trans communities across the country. The immoral lack of support for those struggling with mental health also claims many lives when desperate people are shot by police instead of receiving the help they need. Institutionalized police practices of racist harassment exist, for example, through “carding” or “street checks”. In cases like Ontario, where these practices are regulated instead of eliminated, the government is clearly complicit in racial profiling and ongoing systemic racism.
When murder does occur and the perpetrator wears a uniform, the system fails to press charges in almost all cases, especially if the victim is a racialized person. There have been many tragic examples of this across Canada – the 2014 murder of Alain Magloire in Montreal, the “Saskatoon Freezing Deaths” of Aboriginal men in the early 2000’s and, most recently, the murders of Jermaine Carby in Brampton and Andrew Loku in Toronto.
We salute the recent victories that were a result of a Black Lives Matter-Toronto’s March 19th-April 4th Tent City outside Police Headquarters in downtown Toronto. This bold and necessary action resulted in the reinstatement of the full length of Afrofest, which was previously cut in length due to anti-Black racism, and some commitments from Toronto City Hall and the Premier to review the Special Investigation Unit which is supposed to investigate murders, sexual assaults, and assault resulting in serious injuries perpetrated by the police.
The BLM-TO struggle was initiated by young Black organizers and involved broad sections of the Black community and also allies, including the labour movement and students. It is another example that shows how unity and militancy can win, even in the face of police repression, cold weather, racist media reports, and intimidation from the racist far-right.
Add to all this the impact of increased user fees, diminished public services, the denial of access to Employment Insurance for more than 60% of the unemployed, and the corporate attack on defined-benefit pension plans, and life for millions of working people becomes ever more precarious and stark.
At the same time, overall corporate profits remain near historic high levels. Statistics Canada reports that operating profits totalled $79 billion in the third quarter of 2015, down 10.4% from the same quarter of 2014. The Panama papers reveal a starker picture of the disparity between the wealth of the 1% and the increasingly precarious condition of most Canadians. Financial institutions must be prevented from facilitating the theft of money from the Canadian public through offshore banking. Individuals and corporations that engage in such theft must be held criminally responsible.
These figures illustrate a fundamental reason for the defeat of the Tories in the federal election. Despite Stephen Harper’s claim to represent the best hope for economic prosperity, the true face of his Aeconomic action plan” was harsh austerity, to enhance corporate profitability and the concentration of capital through a wholesale transfer of wealth from the working class, small farmers and primary producers, Indigenous and racialized peoples, women, new immigrant communities and migrant workers, youth and the elderly.
As our CC noted last June, “Part of this strategy is to transform the functions of the state, downsizing and privatizing its social distributive role. In particular, there is a sharpened attack on the principle of universality in the public healthcare system, on direct forms of income support such as EI and pensions, and on social transfers for education and social welfare. These attacks come together with efforts to further ‘deregulate’ the economy by attacking labour laws, equity programs, and environmental protections to promote corporate interests. Finally, there is a concerted drive to strengthen the repressive apparatus of the state through more militarization and foreign aggression, more covert surveillance of its citizens, longer sentences, and more police and prisons, etc.
“Another key aspect of this agenda is to facilitate the corporate re-structuring of the economy itself by sponsoring pro-corporate trade deals like the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with the EU, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal…. Permeating virtually every aspect of this strategy is the sharp attack on democratic rights and processes. The rights of labour to organize, to free collective bargaining and to strike are being curtailed through restrictive legislation and back-to-work orders. Deportations (including Canadian-born citizens) are being authorized without legal redress. The rights of environmental and other concerned groups to intervene against large and destructive development projects are being attacked. Progressive charities that speak out against government policy are being targeted for forensic audits. The rights of women and other affected workers to challenge employer violations of equity standards are being diminished. Government scientists are being gagged. The electoral system itself has also come under attack through the passage of the misnamed “Fair Elections Act” which actually weakens the ability of Elections Canada to prevent and/or punish electoral fraud… And the list goes on.”
However, a growing mood to resist the corporate bosses and their governments can be found among workers and the broader democratic movements – in the workplaces, around the negotiating table and on picket lines, and on the streets in the form of mass extra-parliamentary actions. Notable among these in recent years have been the Idle No More movement of grassroots indigenous people; environmental struggles such as opposition to fracking and the Keystone, Northern Gateway, Kinder Morgan, Energy East, and Line 9 pipelines; the Black Lives Matter movement against institutional racism and police brutality; the opposition among youth and students, especially in Québec, against tuition increases, police violence and austerity; the “Fight for $15” labour/community battle to raise the minimum wage; struggles against anti-labour legislation in several provinces; and last year’s mass mobilizations against the police state Bill C-51 legislation.
These diverse movements have a cross-class character, but are primarily composed of working class and working people in general. Increasingly, they involve young people and others relatively new to mass action. There is a growing tendency to seek broader allies in these struggles, and to draw connections between specific issues and the larger fight against austerity policies and reactionary governments and business interests. The desire for resistance is on the rise, not receding. But at the same time, many of these mobilizations remain localized and spontaneous in character, and lack a clear program of action and articulated alternatives.
The greater involvement of Party activists in these movements, and our efforts to help these movements overcome those deficiencies in particular, is the best way for us to contribute to building the overall fightback. The 2014 Peoples Social Forum in Ottawa was noteworthy as a major pan-Canadian event which included representation from people and labour from English-speaking Canada, Québec as well as some Aboriginal communities and somewhat resembled to our long-standing demand for a People’s Assembly against the Conservatives. But, at the same time, it did not forge a common plan of extra-parliamentary action.
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The growth of popular resistance in recent years was a key element in the federal election, which resulted in a big majority for Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, who more than doubled their share of the popular vote (going from 18.9% to 39.5%) and went from 34 seats to 184. Taking advantage of the widespread mood to dump the Tories, the Liberals played their traditional card of “campaigning from the left”, promising “real change.”
The Liberals countered the NDP’s promise of balanced budgets and no meaningful tax increases on the rich and the corporations, by pledging to use infrastructure spending and other fiscal stimulus measures to create jobs and grow the economy. Trudeau’s warning that “Mr. Harper won’t help you, and Mr. Mulcair can’t help you because he’s signed onto Harper’s budget” resonated with many who opposed the corporate austerity program. Others swung to the Liberals on the basis of Astrategic voting,” seeing Trudeau as the most electable alternative to Stephen Harper’s hard right policies. This included Tories as well as NDPers and a significant section of workers and organized labour. The Liberals received high levels of support from women, youth, racialized communities, indigenous people, LGBTiQ people, and voters with relatively higher education levels. There were other notable factors in the Liberal victory.
In Québec, the attempt by the Tories to use the niqab issue to inflame racist sentiments resulted in an increase in votes for the Bloc Québecois, but was rejected by Québec voters. The Liberals received also strong support from premiers Kathleen Wynne in Ontario and Philippe Couillard in Québec, with Wynne providing strategic advice and troops on the ground to deliver the Ontario vote.
Our Party characterized the October 19 Tory defeat as a significant victory for the working class, for indigenous peoples, for women, youth and students, for the unemployed and underemployed, and for the LGBTiQ communities. The Tory defeat was a major win for Idle No More and the indigenous activists who led the struggles around the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, for the climate justice movements, for all those who protested against C-51 and other attacks on democracy, civil liberties and labour rights. Exercising their franchise to drive the most dangerous big business party out of office, 68.5% of voters cast a ballot, the largest numbers in many years. Even with the advantages of their ‘Un-Fair Elections Act, unprecedented spending, gerrymandering, and the editorial backing of most newspapers, the Tories saw their vote share fall dramatically.
While the NDP remained strong in some regions and among lower-income working class voters, they were reduced from Official Opposition to third party status, dropping from 103 seats and 30.6% of the popular vote in 2011, to 44 seats and 19.7% in 2015. At the beginning of the campaign, the NDP topped the polls. But instead of advancing a clear alternative, they presented a platform of minor reforms, designed to reassure ruling capitalist circles that the NDP posed no serious threat to their interests. They offered increased Ainvestment incentives” to large corporations and major tax cuts to small business, and pledged continued support for military spending and NATO. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair announced that his commitment to balanced budgets would trump all other financial considerations and allocations. This Tony Blair-style approach failed miserably to galvanize support among working people looking for a real break from the pro-corporate and pro-war agenda of the Conservatives, and allowed the Liberals to out-flank the NDP on the left.
This shift has led many long time and recent supporters to abandon the NDP. This trend was seen prior to the election, when candidates who expressed any criticism of Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestine were dumped, and during the election when NDP candidate Linda McQuaig was silenced after stating that tarsands oil should stay in the ground. During the final weeks of the campaign, the anti-Tory vote strategically migrated elsewhere, especially in Québec, where the NDP lost over a half-million votes, primarily to the Liberals.
Meanwhile, the Tories fell from 166 seats and 39.6% of the vote in 2011 to 99 seats and 31.9% in this election. But they did win 5.6 million votes (down 250,000) and formed the new Official Opposition, so they remain a powerful political force, and the obvious alternative for big capital to support if the Trudeau Liberals falter in office. Their decade in office was marked by fanning racism and scapegoating supposed “enemies”, a “Tea Party” style strategy which has encouraged ultra-right forces to spread hatred and divisions on a much wider scale.
After some early signs that their votes might increase, the Greens fell from 4% in 2011 to 3.6% in this election, but did re-elect leader Elizabeth May in Saanich-Gulf Islands. The Greens were the victims of strategic voting, after being largely pushed out of news coverage and leaders debates by the corporate media. While the Greens raised some important progressive policies on issues of democracy and the environment, their adherence to Agreen capitalist” market economics leaves them unable to attract many voters who are sharply critical of the capitalist system.
The Bloc Québecois fell from 6% of the vote to 4.7% in 2015, but rose from 4 seats up to 10, benefitting from vote splits in a number of ridings. After being previously written off, the BQ regained some support by campaigning on racist, anti-Muslim sentiments.
The BQ remains a significant force in Parliament because of the national question, and the fact it is the only party in Parliament that recognizes and fights for the right to national self-determination for Québec, and which campaigns for Québec independence, which it sees as the only expression of self-determination. Notwithstanding Harper’s statement that “Québec is a nation” (without any rights), and the NDP’s “Sherbrooke Declaration” (which favours greater autonomy within status quo Federalism), the election results show that the issue of national self-determination for Québec is and will remain a powerful factor in Canadian political life.
For example, the attitude of the bourgeois state in English-speaking Canada towards the French language was made clear by two recent Supreme Court rulings. In 2013, the court invoked British Colonial law from 1791, preventing French-language court proceedings in BC, PEI, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland-Labrador. In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that Alberta and Saskatchewan were not required to translate laws into French, asserting that there was no historical agreement on legislative bilingualism in the North West Territories.
If the national question seems less of a mobilizing force nowadays in Quebec, this is because Québec’s pro-business sovereignist parties, while supposedly seeking to resolve the national question, aim above all to shore up the interests of the Québec bourgeoisie. With capitalism in crisis, the national question has predictably been moved to the back burner, freeing up the Bloc and the Parti Québécois to attack Québec workers.
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In the wake of the election, the question has been: are the Liberals better than the Conservatives? Our answer is still yes – while noting that the Liberals are also a big business party in Canada, serving the interests of the corporate class. The difference is that the Tories are closely connected to the far right political and religious forces in Canada, and have closer ties to the oil and resource interests in the US and globally, and to the military and the arms trade. This makes the Tories more immediately dangerous to civil, labour, democratic, and equality rights at home and abroad, and more easily moved to war, militarism, and repression at home and abroad. The Tories’ defeat was an important step away from the brink, but the Liberal majority government is no victory for working people who will continue to face austerity, unemployment, falling wages and living standards as the corporate agenda marches on.
The first big challenge for the labour movement and other democratic forces will be to push the Liberals to fully implement the progressive policies which they pledged during the campaign, and simultaneously to mobilize to defeat the new government’s pro-corporate agenda on key social and economic issues.
The sections of the ruling class in Canada which back the Liberals are concerned that sharper economic and social polarization, in the context of continued economic downturn, could lead to political crises and the growth of both left ideas and fascist movements, as has happened in Europe. For example, Bill C-51, which imposed harsh restrictions on civil and democratic rights in the name of further combating terrorism, saw not only widespread public opposition but also condemnation by various provincial Premiers, former Supreme Court judges, and other sections of the elite, who criticized the legislation as shaking public confidence in bourgeois law. As Justin Trudeau told the Canada Club in Toronto last May, “if we don’t deliver fairness Canadians will eventually entertain more radical options…. Either we choose to act now or we will be forced to react later.”
The new government’s strategy is an attempt to deal with social discontent through promises to address demands raised by the labour and people’s movements: to repeal Bill C-24, and other dangerous and unpopular legislation; reform of the first-past-the-post electoral system; legalizing marijuana (and stop criminalizing users); halting Canadian participation in the bombing of Syria and Iraq; creating good jobs with massive infrastructure funding (a la Wynne in Ontario); raising taxes on the 1% to provide a break for the Amiddle class”; First Ministers’ meetings on Medicare and pensions; opening the doors initially to 25,000 refugees, and more in the longer term; a temporary hold on ending urban door to door Canada Post delivery; easing immigration laws; appointing women to half of federal Cabinet posts; convening a public inquiry into the missing and murdered aboriginal women; implementation of all 94 recommendations of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission as part of an ambitious plan to establish nation to nation relations with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples; restoring the long-form Census; allowing federal scientists to speak publicly, etc.
However, on the fundamental economic and class issues, the Liberals refuse to consider increased corporate taxes, and they are pushing the TPP and other corporate deals. They have no plans to expand Medicare, pensions and universal social programs, to guarantee labour rights, or to consider nationalization or restoration of privatized public assets. While dropping the former government’s hostility to action around climate change, the Liberals support the energy monopolies’ push for tar sands expansion and fossil fuel exports. They aim to establish nation-to-nation relations with First Nations and Métis, but oppose nation-to-nation relations with Québec. They will not pull out of NATO or reduce military spending, and remain committed to the imperialist concept of Ahumanitarian intervention.” In other words, the Liberal pledge to corporate Canada and the transnationals operating in this country is that reforms will be limited to certain social and democratic issues which have sparked major popular mobilizations. The Trudeau government will not interfere with the drive by big capital for maximum profits, and its neo-Keynesian budget proposals will not reverse the basics of austerity.
In certain respects, the objective terrain to win these important democratic, economic and political demands has improved with the demise of the Conservative government. This will not be achieved by relying on spontaneous resistance struggles, but rather through a conscious political and organizational effort to invigorate the extra-parliamentary movements, and an ideological struggle to shed illusions about the bourgeois role and character of the capitalist state.
Some social movements are already consciously anti-capitalist but lack clear alternatives. Our tasks in these movements include combining parliamentary and extra-parliamentary aspects of the struggle, building a Peoples’ Coalition that can unite struggles to win immediate and radical reforms, and promoting socialism as the achievable and necessary alternative to capitalism. Through such work, we also advance and demonstrate the need for a revolutionary political party that can lead these struggles.
The Communist Party ran 26 candidates and conducted our most ambitious campaign in many years. There was an increase in the average votes for Communist candidates, and our platform was welcomed by many voters who ultimately decided to vote strategically for other parties. By working consistently to sharpen the political criticism of the Conservative record, we succeeded in helping build momentum to ensure their defeat. Our campaign reached out across the country to raise the demand for fundamental change, to expose the systemic crisis of capitalism itself, to campaign for a People’s Agenda for peace, jobs, sovereignty, democracy and equality, and to advance the socialist alternative.
Our task now will be to help move the fight from the parliamentary to the extra-parliamentary arena, and to build a mighty coalition of the labour and peoples’ movements that can escalate the mass struggle, move it into the streets and onto the offensive. In the process, we need to provide and demonstrate concrete political leadership, advancing our policies as the prescription for real and fundamental change; increasing our visibility, and growing our party, press and YCL, and our influence among the people.
Objectively, the labour and people’s movements need to make a rapid shift from parliamentary to extra-parliamentary struggle, holding the Liberals to their promises, and pushing for more wherever possible. This requires mass mobilizing around key demands, leading up to the next federal budget and over the next several years:
Jobs and incomes
• Raise wages, pensions, incomes, and living standards; lower the voluntary pension age to 60; raise the minimum wage to $20.
• Emergency action to create jobs for youth.
• Create one million jobs in value-added manufacturing and secondary industry; build a Canadian car; build affordable housing; nationalize the steel industry and develop an industrial strategy for Canada.
• Make EI non-contributory and universally accessible to all workers including first time job seekers for the full duration of unemployment at 90% of previous earnings, or 90% of a living wage.
Taxation and economy
• Double the corporate tax rate from the current level of 26.5% up to 53%; repeal corporate tax cuts; eliminate taxes on incomes under $40,000; scrap the HST; progressive taxation based on ability to pay.
• Stop and reverse privatization of public assets and crown corporations as the Liberals look for ways to pay for their agenda without raising corporate taxes.
• Extend public ownership and democratic control to the energy industry, the banks and insurance companies, and the pharmaceutical industry.
• Initiate mass transit infrastructure spending and create a mass transit manufacturing base.
• Construct infrastructure to increase and maximize the availability of safe pedestrian and cycling spaces.
• Protect Canada’s food security and political and economic sovereignty.
• Block the TPP, CETA and the other trade deals; fair trade not free trade.
• Withdraw from NATO; bring home the troops; a foreign policy of peace and disarmament; cut military spending by 75% and invest in jobs and universal social programs.
Health, education and social programs
• Enforce the Canada Health Act; defend universal Medicare against attacks by Big Pharma and the U.S. HMOs.
• Expand to include pharmacare, dental & vision care, long-term care, mental health care, massage, physiotherapy and chiropractor services.
• Eliminate tuition fees and fund post-secondary education.
• Introduce a universal, affordable, quality, public childcare system.
• Build one million units of affordable, social housing now; enact real rent controls on a country-wide scale.
Labour and democratic rights
• Scrap the Conservative government’s anti-labour legislation, and build labour unity around upcoming negotiations in the public sector, the post office, etc.
• Implement anti-scab legislation in the Canadian, and all Provincial and Territorial labour codes.
• Implement Card-check Certification based on a 50% plus 1 card basis in the Canadian, and all Provincial and Territorial labour codes.
• End racist scapegoating and open Canada’s doors to immigrants and refugees.
• Repeal Bill C-51, Bill C-24 (which allows the government to arbitrarily revoke Canadian citizenship, C-36 and other dangerous attacks on civil liberties and human rights.
Women’s and gender equality
• Guarantee full access to reproductive rights in every part of Canada, a strong commitment to pay equity and gender equality, and restoration of federal funding for equality-seeking organizations, shelters and rape crisis centres.
• Expand LGBTiQ rights; ban all discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.
• Extend parental benefits to three full years.
• Enact the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and convene a public inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women now.
• Early and just settlement of Aboriginal land claims, and immediate action to raise living standards and create good jobs on and off reserves.
• Immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, close the tar sands and projects to expand fossil fuel exports, and guarantee jobs at equivalent wages.
• Strong and enforced environmental regulations, to make corporations accountable to workers and communities.
These measures would provide immediate relief for millions of working people across Canada, but that relief would be temporary until the next capitalist crisis arrived, or the next far right government. So long as capitalism exists in Canada, working people will be at the mercy of the large national and transnational corporations and their political parties and state power. In the longer term, the only solution is to go further, to leap forward towards socialism and workers’ power. At its heart, the fight for fundamental reform under capitalism is the fight to expose capitalism and to build the fight and the momentum for socialist revolution.
Labour and the fightback
The Communist Party will continue to call for broad unity of the labour and democratic forces to build a mass fightback for such a people’s agenda. The most crucial element of such a strategy is to move the trade union movement 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. Such a shift requires building the left and left-centre forces in the labour movement, oriented on moving away from “outsourcing” labour’s political struggles to the NDP or even the Liberals, in favour of independent labour political action at all levels. The trade union movement cannot win alone – it must become the catalyst to bring together all sections of the working class, by organizing the unorganized and the unemployed, reaching out to indigenous peoples, racialized communities, environmentalists, anti-poverty activists, students, women, farmers, the LGBTiQ community, defenders of civil liberties and human rights, and opponents of the TPP, CETA, TIPP and other corporate trade deals – in other words to orient on building a powerful United Front to fight for the interests of working people in all parts of the country, like the Common Front in Ontario or the Red Hand Coalition in Québec.
The first target of the Tories after securing a majority in 2011 was organized labour. This was characterized by intervention in the CUPW-Canada Post negotiations, threats against flight attendants and pilots in their negotiations with Air Canada and intervention in the CP Rail negotiations with the Teamsters. This was an escalation of the government attack on free collective bargaining, the right to strike and other trade union rights, aimed at federal employees and designed as a stimulus for right wing provincial legislators.
The attack on labour spearheaded by the Tories and their pro-corporate agenda became more intense after the 2008 recession, marked by plunder of the public purse to bail out the banks and corporations, and the push to make labour accept concessionary bargaining and tiered wage and benefit settlements. Draconian legislation to interfere with labour’s internal finances and political support was rammed through. Privatization, cutbacks in services and employees, the CETA deal, a sustained attack on civil liberties, militarization and war – this is the legacy of the Tories.
The ruling class armed itself with new police state powers and weapons. Bill C-51 was the instrument designed to silence labour, indigenous people, environ-mentalists, students, women and opponents of Québec’s austerity policies. Even though labour’s fightback was delayed by the wobbling of the NDP caucus in Ottawa, both the NDP and organized labour finally joined the groundswell of popular resistance that helped topple the Tory government. It’s a fight that’s far from over. The new Liberal government has refused to consider repeal, and is tinkering with amendments that will not fundamentally change this dangerous legislation. Only public pressure can force the government to repeal C-51 once and for all.
The recent period has largely been characterized by a slumbering CLC leadership that takes its lead from the NDP rather than mobilizing workers and its affiliates. Dissatisfaction and rumblings from below fuelled the 2014 election campaign for CLC President launched by Hassan Husseini and the ATake Back the CLC” caucus. Husseini’s campaign challenged the right-wing leadership of incumbent Ken Georgetti, and forced Hassan Yussuff who was eventually elected as President, to commit to independent labour political action and democratization of the CLC in exchange for Husseini’s withdrawal from the race. It was a significant victory for the left and progressive forces in the trade union movement.
Our Party’s 2015 May Day message said, “This year, a new solidarity is forming across Canada. It is built on the strong foundation of working class experience, adapted to the present conditions. It showed strongly in the 2012 Québec student strike, the Occupy Movement, Idle No More and environmental struggles. Solidarity was the pivot point of victory in the highly visible strikes of post-graduate education workers at the University of Toronto and York University in Ontario. This new solidarity reaches outward to recruit allies beyond the old labour solidarity that created it, making the unity of organized labour, social justice movements and the public a key ingredient in the formula for success. Today’s solidarity reflects changes in the working class itself, which is largely young, educated, street wise and precariously employed, increasingly female and based in racialized communities.”
This is an expression of class struggle unionism, and of the sense of unrest and dissatisfaction which was squandered by the NDP in the federal election, largely by abandoning any serious commitment to social justice and defence of the welfare state, and embracing the austerity agenda of neo-liberalism, in a doomed attempt gain respectability and replace the Liberals as the second mainstream party.
There is a long history to this development. The aggressive class struggles led by Communists in the 1930’s and the primary role of the Soviet Union in the defeat of fascism posed a terrible ideological threat to capital after 1945. Concessions that were grudgingly granted in the advanced capitalist states were not gifts; workers had to struggle for them, but Awiser heads” in the ruling classes recognized the need to minimize and slow down the qualitative effect of expanding revolutionary ideology. The delivery of better labour laws, recognition of trade union rights and wage improvements were made to appear as the result of social-democratic leadership, not the result of militant struggles by the working class flexing its muscle after the defeat of fascism.
The compromise of interests that was the welfare state is a classic example of the law of dialectics, the unity and struggle of opposites in motion. The welfare state was full of contradictions. It represented social progress for most people, but never the emancipation of the working class. It was a necessary tactic of capital to secure hegemony over the working classes in some countries, in order to pursue their relentless attack on socialism and the national liberation forces in the post-war world. Social democracy accepted the Agreat compromise” and championed collaboration with capital, thinking that there was a new stage of capitalism. The reality is that there was a tactical pause before the resumption of new levels of exploitation and war.
During this time, while paying lip-service to socialism (which has since been abandoned entirely), social democracy in Canada consolidated reformist/opportunist ideology as the dominant trend in the leadership of the trade union movement, with Abusiness unionism” as its organizational and structural expression. The ideological scales between class struggle and reformism in the Canadian working class were tipped heavily on the side of reformism/opportunism. The militant class struggle unionism that prevailed in the post-war years was attacked and replaced with narrow sectarianism and economism. The trade was for wages and benefits, in return for acquiescence and partnership in the attack on socialism and the liberation movement abroad, and support of McCarthyism at home.
With the onset of the Cold War, the right-wing of the trade unions, the leadership of the CCF, the America Federation of Labour, and the corporate media all combined forces to wage an anti-communist campaign against the left in labour, and had either smashed or excluded the communist-led unions from the main current of the Canadian labour movement by 1949.The attack on the left and left-leaning unions destroyed the influence of the most progressive ideological leadership and purged the labour movement of its alternative vision of socialism and a different world. There is no vacuum in the class struggle. The ideological desert imposed by the abandonment of build class struggle unionism in those years is largely responsible for the mix of disorientation, confusion and compliance that characterizes the ineffective attempts of the present leadership to come to grips with the neo-liberal agenda.
In English-speaking Canada, when there are attempts to build class struggle unionism and the fightback, the response of the labour leadership has been antagonistic. This is because class struggle unionism seeks unity of the working class and its allies, solidarity, a program of resistance.
Class struggle unionism is social in the sense that it is concerned with broad social and political issues, as well as the immediate concerns of its members. It aims to be a militant and partisan social force for transformation of society. Its goal is democracy and socialism and it will create the organizational forms to fight for this. As such it finds itself in antagonistic conflict with those who seek a hegemony with capital which accepts exploitation, imperialism and war. How else to understand the prolonged and vicious attack on Sid Ryan, the past president of the Ontario Federation of Labour? How else to understand the subversion of the democratic convention by dues strikes, malicious campaigning and the use of the capitalist media for such? This was primarily an attack on class struggle unionism and the concept of a common front in Ontario, which had proven it could be a powerful factor in both electoral and independent street level campaigning. The criticism from some quarters over the years against Jim Sinclair, who retired in 2014 as president of the BC Federation of Labour, was also at one level an attack on class struggle unionism.
In the absence of a large-scale, strategic vision about class and class struggle, the response to the disorientation of organized labour tends toward technical or structural answers to the dilemma of the trade-union movement. Social democratic ideology remains dominant within the organized labour movement, here and in many other parts of the advanced capitalist world. As a result, many trade union voices have a naive and nostalgic support for Neo-Keynesian proposals from sections of capital, without realizing that these proposals aim to utilize limited and selective stimulus spending within an overall context of neoliberalism. Labour’s response to the changes in global capitalism must dramatically break with the hope of strategic alignments with sections of capital.
Labour and people’s struggles in Québec
In Québec there has been a more militant approach. The fight against the latest attack on EI illustrates this. Taking effect in January 2013, that reform was part of the “omnibus” Bill C-38 adopted in June 2012 by the Conservative government, and was one of the worst attacks against EI since the 1980s. The bill cut EI benefits for the unemployed who did not accept any job at a salary 30% lower than their last job, and within 100 km from their place of residence.
An unprecedented mobilization against this “reform” and to demand restoration of a comprehensive and universal system ensuring real protection for workers who need it, was developed at the initiative of the Québec labour and unemployed organizations. Many public meetings and demonstrations were held in several regions of Québec. A broad coalition emerged, comprising among others, the major unions such as the Fédération des travailleurs du Québec (FTQ) and the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), the Québec Federation of Municipalities (FQM) the Union of Québec Municipalities (UMQ), the Union of Agricultural Producers (UPA) and the Union des artistes (UDA). Relations were also developed with Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) in New Brunswick in order to extend the fight across the country, despite the refusal by the CLC leadership to join the struggle and its decision to focus its efforts on supporting the NDP in the next federal election. This popular mobilization contributed heavily to the unpopularity of the Conservatives in Québec.
Our Party’s 37th Convention was held shortly after the 2012 strike of the student movement in Québec. Launched against the increase in tuition fees, this strike became a major battle against Charest government’s neoliberal policies and repressive law 78, which had been introduced in a vain attempt to stifle the movement. This struggle ended in the defeat of the Charest Liberals and the election of a minority Parti Québécois government which had presented a progressive electoral platform: abolition of Bill 78, cancellation of the tuition increases, abolition of the health tax and electricity rate increases, higher taxes on the rich and increased royalties on natural resources, and so forth.
But after cancelling rising tuition and repealing Law 78, the PQ government quickly caved in to the pressures of big capital, betraying almost all its promises and instead adopting an austerity program. Notably, it presented a budget with a substantial increase of childcare fees, described as “rate shock” by the Liberal opposition. Of course, many of those who had elected the PQ were deeply disappointed.
Desperately looking for a parliamentary majority, the PQ’s strategy was to keep its influence on left voters by affirming more clearly its commitment to the cause of independence (electing PK Peladeau as its new leader) and at the same time, to regain right-wing votes with its Charter of Values which supposedly would ensure the secular nature of the state. In fact it was a “wedge tactic” as practiced by the Conservatives. As we stated, ‘the PQ made the opportunistic calculation that the launch of its Charter of Values would allow it to gain support from voters on the right, particularly those who previously voted for the CAQ and the ADQ, and who fear for their national identity. Without openly admitting this, the PQ expects to benefit from the latent feelings of intolerance, xenophobia and islamophobia which exist in some segments of the population.”
But this maneuver failed. The PQ suffered a historic electoral defeat, and the Liberals returned to power under a new leader, Philippe Couillard, who had recruited several candidates from the right-wing CAQ.
Once elected, the Couillard government, adopting large parts of the far-right CAQ program, launched an unprecedented assault against many social and union gains. This includes an attack against the pensions of municipal employees; a bill giving municipalities the power to decree working conditions; a hiring freeze in the public sector through attrition and elimination of 15,000 positions; unprecedented budget cuts in education and health services; legalization of billing health incidentals, in contravention of the Canada Health Act; a major increase in child care fees and elimination of universality; major cuts in welfare benefits; increased Hydro-Québec rates. At the same time, the government significantly increased physician income and intends to do the same for National Assembly members. Despite the government’s austerity, it easily found $1.3 billion to help Bombardier which faces financial difficulty.
Since autumn 2014, a significant mobilization of the trade union movement has emerged, including by municipal employees for their pension funds, and a community movement, especially the ARed Hand” coalition. Inspired by the Maple Spring of 2012, the idea has emerged of a so-called Asocial” political strike and a civil disobedience movement in response to the government offensive. In the spring of 2015, a series of actions were carried out by the unions, the Red Hand coalition and the student movement.
A grouping of activists mainly from anarchist trend which called itself ASpring 2015” (P15) tried to launch through ASSE, the most radical student movement, a general political strike against the austerity measures of the government and against the hydrocarbon economy. In fact, they tried to take away the leadership of the resistance movement from the labour centrals, hoping that workers and local unions would respond to their call. To them, Aunion bureaucrats” were traitors who refused to fight a political struggle. They qualified union demands in the public sector, in particular for wage increases, as Acorporatist”. The strike began on March 21, 2015 in CEGEPs and universities, but the major unions resisted this call, and refused to leave the legal framework. Instead, they seek to build Common Front negotiations, gaining the right to strike which was prescribed by the Labour Code in the fall of 2015.
So, except for May 1st, the strike remained mainly an isolated student action which faces very strong repression. Strikers suffered mass arrests, court injunctions and expulsion threats by educational institutions. Still, more than 130,000 students went on strike during the national demonstration of April 2, 2015, of which 55,000 were part of a longer general strike. May 1st saw a huge 24 hour mobilization around the whole of Québec, bringing together unions, students and community groups in hundreds of local actions. About 30 unions, mainly from the teachers of local CÉGEPs (most affiliated with the CSN) voted for an illegal strike on May 1st. P15 still hoped that local trade unions would join the student strike movement in defiance of central leaderships, but that was not the case. Because the protests were exhausted, the movement focused on the local struggle at UQAM, which included nine activists facing political expulsions. If in 2012 bourgeois legality had been undermined, 2015 demonstrated its repressive force.
The government has tried to force the unions to accept significant concessions in working conditions, and wage increases much lower than the rising cost of living. The mobilization of the Common Front workers is therefore very strong. A demonstration in October 2015 mobilized 150,000 people in Montreal, the largest trade union demonstration in the history of Québec. Furthermore, workers have voted overwhelmingly in favour of the six-day strike proposed by the Common Front. A citizens’ movement in defense of public schools which took shape in the spring of 2015 involves almost 100,000 relatives and supporters on the first Monday of each month. For the first time in Québec history, the majority of the population supported the union demands, despite the walkouts.
This mobilization forced the government to withdraw its demands for concessions on working conditions and to improve somewhat its wage offer. Just before the Christmas holidays, the government and the Common Front reached a tentative agreement, which the government argues has complied with its budgetary framework.
Public sector workers will vote on the agreement in the coming weeks, but it appears that many will reject it as unsatisfactory, particularly around wages. Delegates of FSSS-CSN affiliates representing 110,000 members voted against the agreement on the recommendation of their executive. The 40,000 members of the Autonomous Federation of Education, although not part of the Common Front, are likely to do the same. Whatever the final outcome, it appears that the fight against the Liberal government’s policies will continue. But the government has succeeded in breaking the unity of the Common Front, which includes unions facing multiple different conditions, realities, and interests.
Although public sector bargaining is objectively at the heart of the fight against austerity in Québec, it appears that the union leadership sees this struggle primarily as the simple renewal of a collective agreement. However, it is impossible for the unions to win their demands without reversing the fiscal framework determined by the government, and its fiscal program to reduce corporate taxes. To achieve their goals, the unions must confront the government in a broader political struggle.
The relatively higher level of militancy of the labour movement in Québec, combined with the all-sided attack on the working class across the country, emphasizes the urgent need to unite the struggles of the working class in Québec, English-speaking Canada and among Aboriginal peoples, for peace, jobs, rising living standards, democracy, and equality, on the basis of national equality and the right of nations to self-determination including the right to secession.
This is the dialectical key to an all-Canada struggle: a more active fight for a united struggle based on recognition of the right to self-determination will help improve the conditions for that struggle to open up. The fight for EI and jobs, against austerity, for accessible education, for universal childcare (an issue which has seen important involvement by the trade union movement), for protection and expansion of universal Medicare, expansion of the pension system, etc. provide a strong basis for common action across the country, although the fight has been siphoned off by the NDP and channelled into a parliamentary direction to date. This is also suggested by the spontaneous response of trade unionists and some local unions in English-speaking Canada to support the Québec students in 2012.
Unity will be achieved on the basis of national equality, and the common struggle to achieve it. Unfortunately, the CLC has adopted the view that equality means Québec and English-speaking Canada are two solitudes, each going its own way with best wishes from the other, but not a united struggle. This skewed view of equality, which is also advocated by the ultra-left, has helped the employers and narrow nationalists, but is harmful to workers in struggle and to the struggle for socialism.
The struggle in Québec is one example of the need to challenge the trade union bureaucracy and to win the concepts of class struggle unionism and unity around people’s alternatives. Ironically, this struggle will be complicated by the offer of an apparent softer model of the neo-liberal agenda. It is probable that powerful sections of the ruling class were becoming alarmed that state repression was propelling unwelcome resistance and welding large sections of the public to a pro-democracy agenda that could ultimately interfere with TPP and other plans. It is significant that in January 2015, most of the prominent speakers at a UNIFOR AJobs Summit” were Liberals like Justin Trudeau and Kathleen Wynne, and one of the notorious anti-worker Irwin family from the Maritimes. Obviously the Liberal party and the NDP both figure large in the plans of UNIFOR.
Shortly after the federal election, the CLC Canadian Council was addressed by the new Prime Minister. This was the first time a CLC leadership meeting had been addressed by a Prime Minister since Diefenbaker. Later, Justin Trudeau met with a handful of select leaders including CLC President Hassan Yussuff and Unifor’s Jerry Dias for a public photo op. New cooperation and unity were in the air as Trudeau promised to roll back some anti-labour legislation and the ecstatic labour leaders talked about introducing workers’ rights and transparency into the TPP, while failing to condemn it outright.
In December 2015, Chrystia Freeland, Minister of International Trade, met with Yussuff, Dias, NUPGE President James Clancy, and several other labour leaders. A CLC news release stated: AWe are very encouraged that the ministers have reached out to us to start what we know will be an ongoing discussion about whether this deal benefits Canadian workers and industries… Labour leaders raised a number of concerns with the ministers, including how to ensure the deal actually helps to raise labour standards instead of lowering them, how violations would be penalized, the very dire impact it would have on Canada’s auto sector, how it could impact drug costs, why it should not include reference to temporary foreign workers, and how it could impede Canada’s commitments on climate change.”
Notable was the absence from this meeting of USW, which has condemned the TPP unequivocally from their Pittsburgh headquarters. The outcome of the debate over the TPP will shape labour’s fightback in every sector, from parliamentary democracy and sovereignty, indigenous rights, labour relations, foreign workers, privatization, water and the environment and the notorious disputes mechanisms. At 3000 pages of undisclosed corporate usurpation of governance and sovereignty, this is biggest trade deal in history. Yet our labour leaders are encouraged by the promise of an ongoing discussion after the negotiations have ended, and as the Obama government goes to the U.S. Congress for a fast-track – and even in the face of NDP opposition to the deal (belated but still significant).
As the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says, “Leaked text confirms that the TPP includes an investor-state dispute settlement mechanism similar to NAFTA chapter 11. These clauses exist in thousands of international trade and investment deals and are used by multinational companies from rich countries to sue governments when policy decisions interfere with their investments. Canada is already the most sued developed country in the world because of NAFTA’s ISDS process and the TPP will significantly increase the number of foreign investors eligible to sue.”
The danger is that if labour takes the bad penny on the largest overriding deals – CETA, TIPP and the TPP – it will be neutralized on thousands of smaller issues and ultimately diminish its ability to represent working people. When viewed through this lens, the need for a transition to class struggle unionism is not just preferable, it is necessary for the survival of the labour movement as the essential and most important part of class resistance and democracy.
The class struggle unionism that was dominant in the early 1930s in the Workers’ Unity League and during the late 1930s and ‘40s in the Committee For Industrial Organization was never eradicated completely. Its accomplishments are the foundations upon which modern labour is built, and it is still very much present. There are elements of class struggle unionism present in every labour organisation, because it is needed pragmatically by workers coping with everyday problems in the real world.
Solidarity, unity and coalition building in some degree or another are necessary for all labour leaders and activists. Starting from the unity and internal solidarity of labour organizations, extending to the organizational unity of central labour bodies and the coalitions of labour and social justice movements, class struggle unionism re-emerges constantly as an objective phenomenon, as a product of social being. For right-wing social democracy, class struggle unionism is a utensil that may be useful at times to win a strike or rally support for a campaign, but at other times intrudes to create difficulties for deal-making. The contradictions are always present, intertwined, interdependent, inseparable and relative. Partisan class struggle unionism is the inevitable objective product of the development of class consciousness, and a breeding ground for class struggle ideology. Its threat to the exploiting class, and its value to the revolutionary movement are both obvious. The struggle for and against class struggle unionism is a measure of the class struggle within the working class.
Like most other social democratic parties, the NDP has been gradually repositioning itself toward the Acentre” of the bourgeois political spectrum, jettisoning traditional social democratic policies and any hint of support for anti-war positions or opposition to NATO. It has distanced itself from the labour movement and instead appealed to the ‘middle class’ of professionals and small business people (i.e., the petty bourgeoisie), while accommodating the interests of monopoly capital.
In the disastrous 2014 Ontario provincial election campaign, the NDP was out-maneuvered and out-flanked by the Liberals. Similarly, the NDP lost when it campaigned from the right in the 2013 provincial elections in British Columbia and Nova Scotia.
The story was somewhat different in the May 2015 election in Alberta, where the right-wing was divided between the Conservatives and the Wild Rose party. NDP leader Rachel Notley was elected on a platform including increases to the minimum wage, higher oil royalties and corporate taxes, more social spending, and other relatively progressive promises to offset the impact of falling oil prices. Some had hoped that the federal NDP might adopt a similar platform.
But instead, the Mulcair leadership kept to its strategy of attempting to marginalize the Liberals by moving further to the right. The conclusion the NDP leadership drew from the 2011 campaign and recent provincial elections was to press their case harder with Bay Street, focusing on balanced budgets and other austerity measures to prove their credentials as a reliable partner for Big Business and an electoral alternative to the Liberals and Tories.
Their aim was to replace the Liberals, who had been decimated in 2011, as the liberal bower of state monopoly capitalism in Canada. The adoption of New Labour policies under Alexa McDonough’s leadership, on top of Broadbent’s efforts to jettison socialism from the NDP’s program and more recently its constitution, had already set the stage for the recreation of the NDP as a party of Big Business with a human face.
Now, the NDP faces an internal crisis. While the media campaign for a change of leader, prominent NDPers like Ontario MPP Cheri DiNovo, a left social democrat, are demanding a sharp change in direction. In a December 1, 2015 interview with the Toronto Star DiNovo said the party should reverse course, abandon austerity and embrace ‘democratic socialism’ a la US Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. “We have to remember who the hell we are,” she said, “And honestly, Canada’s waiting.”
But unlike the US or Britain, Canada has a strong Liberal Party which also has ties to the labour movement, and chameleon-like abilities to campaign from the left and govern from the right. The Liberals emerged in the federal election like a phoenix, recast as the agent of progressive change, the defender of democracy, civil and social rights, the provider of jobs and social security, and the party to pull Canada back from the carnage of war. This was the NDP’s promise in years past; the roles appeared to reverse in a political sleight of hand, leading many voters to opt for the Liberals.
DiNovo’s call for a return to ‘democratic socialism’ is the same demand that fuelled the birth of Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain, the progressive social democratic trend in the US Democratic Party, and the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the British Labour Party. This reaction to the rightward shift of traditional social democratic parties reflects a desire to turn back the clock, to the “good old” days when social democracy was supposedly rooted in the labour movement and claimed to champion the workers’ struggles against the employers, for peace and disarmament, and for some form of socialism.
What the supporters of this trend do not acknowledge is that the history of social democracy in Canada, especially since 1945, is intertwined with vicious anti-communism and class collaboration, leading slowly but surely to the right-hand side of capital, with aspirations to govern on their behalf. That is the fatal flaw of social democracy, and it cannot be rectified by new incarnations of social reformism.
The proof, of course, is in the practice, and the best example is the tragedy of Greece, where Syriza sold out the working class and the country to the European banks and the European Union. After promising to stand up to the Atroika” in the July 2015 referendum, Syriza immediately surrendered, imposing even worse austerity measures.
The consequences were immediate and catastrophic: new cuts to wages, pensions and living standards, privatization of public services and assets, a new tax load on the working class and unemployed. The grip of the EU and the German banks was strengthened, along with the hand of reaction and the fascist Golden Dawn party. Attacks intensified on the Communist Party of Greece, and on the labour and people’s movements. In fact, Syriza has been an important vehicle for the European Union and the European banks to impose austerity and control over the Greek people.
In Canada, the first response of the ‘democratic left’ was to defend Syriza, and to call on the left forces to withhold all criticism of their actions. The main reason for this disgraceful position was that the ‘democratic left’ had advocated Syriza as a model of a ‘democratic socialist party’ to socialist minded Canadians who were fed up with the NDP. When the terrible truth of Syriza’s actions were splashed across the media, the >democratic’ socialists had little to say.
Podemos – capitalizing on the genuine rage of the Spanish people against national inequalities and the implementation of EU austerity ‘diktats’ became the third-largest party after the 2015 elections. But like Greece’s Syriza, post-election Podemos is neither against NATO nor the EU. In fact, since Spain’s continued membership in the EU is a key element of the corporate attack against the Spanish peoples, Podemos aids monopoly capital by channelling opposition against the established order into a strategy that does not challenge the ruling class.
‘Democratic socialism’ has always been the alternative to scientific socialism, not the alternative to capitalism. It is a response to the exposure of traditional social democratic parties as agents of capitalism, austerity and war. It’s also a response to widespread disenchantment with the traditional bourgeois parties which increasingly deliver the same right-wing policies once elected.
It also reinforces illusions about ‘fixing’ or ‘humanizing’ capitalism. Keynesian policies of economic stimulus can provide some temporary relief to the worst effects of capitalism, but cannot challenge capitalist control of the main levers of the economy. The notion that somehow, the prosperity of past capitalist economic booms can be recaptured for workers in the future, is wishful and dangerous thinking that will disarm the working class. In the period ahead, the struggle will be sharper and the stakes higher.
A new illusion that accompanies ‘democratic socialism’ is the notion that ‘people’s democracy’ and ‘power from below’ can overcome state monopoly control of the economy, and the private ownership of the means of production, without fundamentally challenging capitalism. This is a pipe dream, not reality. Working people face an enormous struggle, which cannot succeed without winning the fight for public and social ownership of the main levers of the economy, and for working class power.
This is why ‘democratic socialism’ is a dead-end in the working class movement: it is not class-based, anti-capitalist or revolutionary, and its main content is anti-communism. Its most important feature is that it seeks to create an identity that rejects scientific socialism and the reality of socialism in the 20th century. For this reason it is supported or at least tolerated by capitalist interests in Greece, Spain and elsewhere. This is not to say, however, that ‘democratic socialism’ will quickly disappear as a trend in social democratic ideology.
In Canada, as in other capitalist countries, anti-communism has been ingrained in the working class and youth for generations. While economic crises have shaken public faith in the immortality of capitalism, the system has stepped up its anti-communist offensive since 1990 — an ideological inoculation against scientific socialism and revolutionary transformation. Part of this inoculation is the creation of a Ademocratic socialism” that can coexist with capitalism. Such a strategic concept is useless to the working class, but it is very useful to capitalism as a diversion for working people in search of real and fundamental change.
The Communist Party of Greece wrote about this some years ago, comparing social democracy and ‘democratic socialism’ as an ideological spider-web, from which workers can be extricated only by the patient political work of Communists.
This is certainly the case in Canada today where anti-communism is the biggest single obstacle to winning workers to the ranks of the Communist Party, and to building unity of the left and progressive forces. This points to the need for a lot more work on the ideological front, with respect to the role and history of the CPC, the need for fundamental and revolutionary change, the struggle for class oriented change and for socialism, and the fight for unity of the left and progressive forces in Canada.
The “Leap Manifesto,” launched as a strategy to tackle the climate change crisis, has been portrayed by some of its supporters as a new, radical version of “democratic socialism.” On the positive side, this manifesto advocates military spending cuts, indigenous sovereignty, higher wages, a shorter workweek, replacing tar sands extraction by a renewable energy program, massive investment in housing, and an end to “corporate trade deals.” However, it does not condemn imperialist wars, and says little about labour rights or police state repression. Instead of advocating state/public ownership of energy and natural resources, it proposes “collective community control of new energy systems.”
Reflecting the anti-communist views of some of its authors, the manifesto does not offer a socialist alternative. Instead, it suggests that capitalism can somehow be pushed back by community control of projects and resources. While we welcome the debate over many important issues raised in the Leap Manifesto, this document is deeply flawed by its refusal to call for an economy democratically owned, controlled and planned by the working class, a change which requires a revolutionary break with capitalism.
At the same time, we work with all those who are willing to fight for the interests of working people, for the cause of peace and against aggression, reaction and war; for democracy, equality, sovereignty. Many of our allies in these daily struggles do not understand or interpret the world in the same way that we do, which is not surprising in a country where working people are surrounded by capitalist media and subject to a bourgeois explanation of the world. But this does not, and should not alter our scientific analysis of the class and social forces at work here and globally, and of our responsibility to weld that analysis onto the working class movement (as Lenin put it a century ago), while working to unite the movements for reform into a powerful common struggle for fundamental and revolutionary transformation.
Since the late 90s, our Party has worked hard to unite the political left forces in Québec around a united front platform to defend the immediate economic and political interests of the working class and the masses, not only in the daily struggles, but also on the electoral scene. This contributed to the creation of the Union of progressive forces (UFP) in 2002, which united forces that did not share the same view about Québec sovereignty. In 2006, the UFP merged with Option Citoyenne to form Québec Solidaire.
This was not the first time that we tried to realize such a united front. During the Quiet Revolution in Québec in the mid-60s, the CPC and the PCQ worked with the Socialist Party of Québec (PSQ) to establish a steering committee to unite the left for the Acreation of a federated mass workers’ party around a common program of immediate demands in defence of the interests and national rights of Québec workers.” The PSQ was a party born from a split of the NDP-Québec around the issue of the right to self-determination of Québec. Prominent trade unionists were at the leadership, including Michel Chartrand and Pierre Vadeboncoeur from CSN, and Fernand Daoust and Émile Boudreau from FTQ. The idea of a mass workers’ party even received the support of the FTQ Congress in 1967.
But, the creation of René Lévesque’s Sovereignty-Association Movement (predecessor of the PQ) at the same time, attracted many union leaders, particularly in the FTQ, and relegated to oblivion the project of a workers’ party. As a result, the bourgeoisie, through the Parti Québécois and because of the national question, was unfortunately able to maintain its political domination over the working class for many years. As early as the 1970s, our party pointed out that the PQ was not a social democratic party with a nationalist flavour, but a petit-bourgeois nationalist party that was trying to capture the working class with its agenda.
After the defeat of the 1980 referendum on the sovereignty of Québec, the PQ government engaged in unprecedented attacks against the working class, including decreeing 20% wage cuts in the public service. This again raised, albeit timidly, interest in an independent political alternative for the working class. After the defeat of the 1995 referendum, when the government of Lucien Bouchard launched a fierce fiscal austerity campaign, slashing social programs, that interest became much stronger and ultimately led to the creation of UFP and then QS.
Nevertheless, to this day the PQ – a party of big business – continues to maintain a significant hold on the labour movement. For example, under the most recent Marois PQ minority government, labour was unwilling to connect the cuts to social programmes with the fight against Harper’s EI reforms. The support of trade unions behind L’Aut’Journal, the publication of the unofficial left caucus within the PQ, is another example. Québec Solidaire serves to break the hegemony held by the PQ over left-nationalist forces.
Our position inside QS had been weakened by the split in the PCQ in 2005, and some forces regularly tried to take QS back into the fold of the PQ, arguing in favor of a strategic alliance prioritizing the promotion of Québec sovereignty. But QS congresses twice pronounced against any form of electoral alliance with the PQ, despite its position in favour of Québec sovereignty.
In its program, QS incorporates many of the workers’ and popular demands. Although it does not propose socialism, it calls for nationalization of large enterprises in strategic sectors, the development of public services, and a cooperative sector and social economy. In the nationalized firms, production targets would be set through democratic forums involving employees as well as national and regional representatives, citizens, etc. The organization of work within these companies would be controlled by the employees themselves (self-management). As its most recent congress re-asserted, a QS government would convene a Constituent Assembly with an “open mandate” where the population is involved in drafting a new constitution. This is in line with the long-standing proposal of the PCQ and CPC for a Constituent Assembly with representation from English-speaking Canada, Quebec, and Indigenous peoples, that would prepare a new Constitution for the country, based on an equal and voluntary partnership of all the nations in Canada.
QS now has three deputies in the National Assembly, and polled up to 16% of the vote in a recent survey, and higher among people under 35 years. The PQ has angrily accused QS of dividing the soveriegntist vote. More and more leaders and activists of trade unions, student and popular movements are joining or supporting QS.
The development of QS reflects the desire of workers and the masses to escape the domination of the bourgeoisie over the national question, and also their opposition to the agenda of the capitalist monopolies.
The task of the PCQ is to decide the best tactics to establish relations with QS, while also preserving our own independent role. Communists must always be vigilant against right opportunism, consisting of belittling the role of the Communist Party in the ranks of the united front, and reconciling with social democratic ideology, and on the other hand, to avoid falling into the trap of sectarianism, which overstates the pace of the masses abandoning reformist positions, of burning problems and difficult steps to override complicated tasks of the movement. Participation in Québec Solidaire, and united front work generally, provides a forum where the battle of ideas is engaged, where we work to persuade social democrats that reformism is not a solution and that fundamental social change is necessary.
Our perspective for unity is to build a People’s Coalition of class and social forces willing to unite in a militant struggle for a common program to curb corporate power. As we outline in our Program, such an alliance could introduce far-reaching economic, social and political reforms that would strengthen the working class and its allies in the immediate struggle, and in the process open the door for socialism and working class power. As we have said at previous Conventions, Québec Solidaire has some characteristics of a People’s Coalition but not all, nor can QS be simply or mechanistically copied across the country.
As we saw in the 1930s and 40s, conditions can change very rapidly, once the working class is gripped with the notion that radical change is necessary and possible. The growing demand for such far-reaching and meaningful change was evident in the Occupy movement, in Idle No More, in the Québec student struggle and in the Common Front. It is evident in the fight for a higher minimum wage, in the teachers’ fight for quality education, and in the struggle to save Medicare. It was the defining issue in the federal election campaign, and while illusions persist about the Liberals’ inclination or ability to deliver real change, it won’t be long before the limits of the Liberals’ change agenda are visible.
People should be made aware of these limits and the continuation of capitalist austerity and war in one form or other, so that they do not reach for the likes of the Ford brothers, Kevin O’Leary, Francois Legault, and others on the far right. We want them to reach for the left, for a coalition of progressive forces at the heart of which are the Communist Party, the class oriented trade unions, and the peoples’ movements, including left social democrats and activists campaigning for a peoples’ agenda, against austerity and war, and to sharply curb corporate power.
The answer lies, in part, on our ability to win the class oriented unions and progressive forces for the concept of a People’s Coalition and mass independent political action. Organized labour needs to be at the core of this coalition. That’s why the fight for left and left-centre unity in the trade union movement is so critical today.
The People’s Coalition is the political vehicle that can draw in the broadest sections of the labour and people’s movements, indigenous peoples, the youth and student movement, the unemployed and unorganized, precarious workers, the women’s movement, LGBTiQ and other equality seeking movements, immigrants, and the progressive national forces in English speaking Canada and Québec. Many left and progressive social democrats and some Greens will also be active and supportive of this project.
We welcome the energetic and committed participation of all these forces, as we work to build a People’s Coalition to block the corporate agenda through mass extra-parliamentary struggles. Such a fightback could help forge a democratic, anti-monopoly, anti-imperialist people’s alliance, led by the working class, in which the Communist Party aspires to play a key role, and which could challenge the ruling class for political power in this country.