On Labour Day 2018, the working class faces many crucial challenges: the growing chasm between rich and poor, the ongoing austerity assault against working people, a gender pay gap which never gets narrower, the twin threats of imperialist wars and deadly climate change, and the looming possibility of a new and serious global capitalist economic crisis.
Here in Canada, despite “economic growth”, millions of working people and their families are forced to survive on precarious and part-time jobs. Living standards decline and debt loads rise as the costs of housing, food and other essentials escalate rapidly.
Meanwhile, the NAFTA renegotiations are nearing conclusion, but workers will not benefit from the outcome. Corporate interests based in Canada, the US and Mexico, want to redraw NAFTA rules in their own interests, aiming to boost profits at the expense of any meaningful protections for labour and environmental standards. The cuts to US corporate tax rates and Trump’s “tariff war” will have a huge negative impact on working people in Canada.
The federal Liberals are poised to accept NAFTA terms that will allow transnational capital to feast on energy and natural resources, including on the traditional territories of Indigenous peoples in Canada. The US wants to scrap Chapter 19, which settles trade disputes among the NAFTA partners, while expanding Chapter 11, which gives corporations the power to sue governments over future lost profits. Corporations want the right to bid on Canada’s public healthcare and education services and delivery. The Trump administration would decimate the auto industry in Canada, by repatriating the Big Three auto parts and assembly operations to the US, using rules of origin to send auto and manufacturing jobs south, where wages are lower. Trump wants to abolish the agriculture supply management system, which guarantees quotas and incomes to farmers, and to flood the Canadian market with US milk (laced with BGH), eggs, and poultry products.
Working people, Indigenous peoples, youth, women, the unemployed, will all be hit by the final terms of any new deal, just like NAFTA in 1992 and the FTA in 1988. It was a bad deal then, and it’s worse now, despite any “side deals”. Unfortunately, the right-wing leadership in the labour movement has failed to mobilize working people against this danger. Instead of demanding to get out of one‑sided and detrimental A free trade with the US, and move towards mutually‑beneficial, multi‑lateral trade with the world that respects national sovereignty and independence, the CLC (and the Quebec Federation of Labour) have participated in the Liberal government’s NAFTA Advisory Council.
In this dangerous situation, instead of collaboration with right-wing governments, the labour movement urgently needs to build a far stronger fightback and heal the divisions between UNIFOR and the CLC. This should be a key task to accomplish before the next CLC convention.
Massive and heroic struggles by workers are taking place in many countries, from the resistance by the railworkers and their allies in France, to the successful strikes by teachers in several US states. The movement by fast food workers to join trade unions and demand higher wages continues to grow around the world, and garment industry workers in Pakistan and elsewhere are pushing back against brutal working conditions and rock-bottom pay rates.
This is true in Canada as well. Workers across the country are fighting for higher minimum wages (such as the $15 and fairness campaign), to organize into trade unions, and to demand better collective agreements. Other important examples include recent strikes by casino workers in British Columbia, and education workers on campuses in Ontario. Faced with a majority Doug Ford Tory government in Ontario, the OFL should take the lead in coordinating a militant response to attacks on labour and democratic gains mode over the past decades.
Contrary to predictions by ruling class pundits about the “end of the class struggle”, the working class internationally continues to grow in size, now totalling almost three billion strong, including the “informal sector” which is a huge part of the global economy. Even more important, the working class remains the key social force with the potential power to challenge the capitalist agenda, and to open the door to fundamental social change and a socialist future, in which working people own and control the economy.
Unity of the labour movement with other democratic and progressive forces is particularly crucial as attacks on civil, social, labour, and democratic rights escalate in the wake of the election of Donald Trump. The recent US Supreme Court ruling in the Janus case allows public sector workers to decline paying union dues, opening the door wider to more anti-labour legislation. But the overwhelming rejection of “right to work” by voters in Missouri proves that this attack on workers can be stopped.
The new Conservative government of Ontario is gearing up to attack local democracy, and important social and trade union rights, and in Quebec, the right-wing CAQ (which leads in the polls for a fall election) and the incumbent Liberals are also both extremely anti-labour. The presence of open racists and bigots in the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada, and at the provincial level, is another clear warning that in the 2019 federal election, the far right will attempt to promote and legitimize hatred against Indigenous peoples, immigrants, racialized groups, Muslims, the LGBTQ+ community, feminists, trade unions, and others. Mass protests are essential to send a strong message that fascist, racist and white supremacist movements must be blocked.
Such reactionary views arise in the context of the crisis of capitalism and its inability to meet the needs of working people. As they impose unpopular austerity policies, governments aim to stifle opposition and maintain the status quo. Racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and anti‑semitism are tools to split and divide working people and weaken their resistance.
Similarly, the media campaign about the supposed “Russian and Chinese” threats is intended to intimidate progressive voices. Today, Canada is ever more closely aligned with US imperialism, sending troops to Latvia, Ukraine, Mali, and other countries in support of the US militarist agenda. The labour and people’s movements cannot sit on the sidelines as the US, Canada, and their NATO allies whip up war panic against Russia and China, and push to overthrow governments such as Venezuela, Cuba and the DPRK, which resist their domination of the planet.
The Communist Party calls for a People’s Coalition of all forces fighting against austerity, war and the rise of the ultra‑right, and for a people’s recovery from capitalist crisis. Working people need strong and independent voices to defend their interests in the turbulent times ahead. This cannot be contracted out to the NDP, who are committed to put a human face on capitalism, or to the Liberals, the “friendly” face of capitalism. A People’s Coalition would be just that: a coalition of people’s organizations, labour, the Communist Party and others united around a common program to secure those gains.
On this Labour Day, unity of the trade union movement is vital. We call for mass action by labour to build up the struggles to defend jobs, services and people’s rights, and to move towards a wider offensive strategy, shoulder to shoulder with its social and political allies. United we stand, divided we fall! An injury to one is an injury to all!
Central Executive Committee, Communist Party of Canada