Chapter 5: The Working Class and People’s Struggle



The struggle of the Canadian people for democracy, sovereignty, peace, and social advance is essentially a political struggle against big business and its control of the Canadian State. The interests of the vast majority of Canadians are in conflict with the anti-democratic, neoliberal policies of the transnationals and the banks.

The class of those who work so that capitalists can profit – the working class – is the largest class in Canada. Its interests are directly opposite to the capitalists’ interests. But the experience of working together has the result of disciplining and training workers for potential collective action. Because of this, workers not only must but can act effectively in support of their class interests, against the interests and policies of the capitalist class. This makes them the natural leaders of all the progressive forces. It also establishes the primary importance of the labour movement, the most organized section of the working class.

The working class needs allies to defeat the immense, coordinated power of finance capital. Therefore, the trade union movement – its organized contingent – must build unity with other sectors and movements of the Canadian people adversely affected by the domination of finance capital, and which have an objective interest in winning a new democratic course for Canada. To be effective and successful, the struggle against finance capital must have the working class as its core, its driving force and leader.

The Communist Party works for the development of a democratic, anti-monopoly, anti-imperialist alliance, uniting all the labour and other democratic movements, and led by the working class. Such an alliance can win broad support for alternative policies to curb monopoly power: public ownership and democratic control over key industries and natural resources, job creation, improved living standards and social benefits, environmental protection, and defence of democratic liberties.

The Unity of the Working Class

The leading role of the working class is the indispensable factor for effective united action of the people against monopoly capital,; and the unity of the working class is essential to its ability to carry out that leading role.

The working class movement cannot advance on the basis of economic struggle alone. It must challenge and eventually defeat the political power of the ruling capitalist class. To accomplish this aim, the working class needs its own political party. The Communist Party, with its uncompromising revolutionary ideology of scientific socialism, strives to be that party.

A strong and united trade union movement is vital to the defence and advance of the working class as a whole. Canadian workers have built their own trade unions and mass organizations, to protect and advance their economic interests as wage-workers. The unions are their basic organizations of class struggle. The gains made by the trade union movement serve the interests of all working people, organized and  unorganized. Economic and social gains achieved by the unions help to raise living standards and social conditions for the working class and working people in general. This is why the ruling class systematically wages an ideological campaign to turn working people against the trade union movement.

The struggle between the working class and capital will continue to sharpen. The capitalist class and its state have launched an all-sided attack to weaken and destroy the trade union movement. This is a decisive part of the corporate drive to lower real wages and living standards. Using mass unemployment and the direct intervention of the state, monopoly capital seeks to reduce labour’s bargaining strength, to extract concessions wherever possible. The struggle against concessions and to enlarge the scope of collective bargaining is an integral part of the struggle against finance capital.

The most pressing task facing the organized trade union movement is to unite its ranks around class struggle policies and militant actions to confront the corporate offensive, to bring about democratic and anti-monopoly transformation, and to shift the balance of class forces in favour of the working class and its allies. Class struggle policies and an agenda that expands to represent the broadest sections and strata of the Canadian people are necessary to replenish the ranks of labour and to win the popular support needed to become the catalyst uniting the people as a whole into a left political movement. The transition to class struggle trade unionism and coalition building is necessary for a struggle against collaboration and a struggle for democracy and class unity.

For a Sovereign, United and Independent Trade Union Movement

To combat the power of big business and the transnationals, the trade union movement must become sovereign, independent, and united, with the highest level of coordinated strategy and action. A sovereign trade union movement is one whose affiliates are Canadian or Quebec unions, or, in the case of US-based ‘international’ unions, whose members in Canada have autonomy and control over their affairs, including independent political action. Canadian autonomy is a step on the way to achieving full sovereignty. Independence means freedom from the control of employers. Sovereignty and independence are the conditions for a truly united and militant trade union movement, governed by the principle “an injury to one is an injury to all,” at all times placing the interests of the movement as a whole above the sectional interests of individual affiliates. It must oppose raiding, and resolve jurisdictional disputes in the interests of affected workers and the movement as a whole.

In the face of capitalist restructuring, workers and their unions must demand greater control over the introduction of technological change, the moving or closing of factories, the duration of work time, corporate investment policies, worker retraining, health and safety, and pay equity. To win a greater share of the benefits of the new technology, workers and unions must fight for a shorter work week with no loss in take home pay. They must also oppose privatization and fight for the expansion of the public sector. These demands strike at corporate power in the workplace.

The trade union movement must defend the interests of all workers, employed and unemployed, organized and unorganized, and pay particular attention to those most exploited and underpaid. Today’s solidarity must engage with structural changes in the working class itself, which is largely young, educated and precariously employed, increasingly feminized and based in racialized communities.

With the organization of the public sector, the majority of organized workers are now in Canadian unions. However, many Canadian workers, mostly in private sector unions, are still represented by international unions headquartered in the U.S. Therefore, the struggle for Canadian autonomy and the independence of Canadian sections of international unions will continue, always based on the vital need to maintain unity of the trade union movement, while ensuring that Canadian workers have the right to make all decisions within their respective unions and the trade union movement as a whole.

The trade union movement must resolutely combat all forms of discrimination and intolerance that divide the working class, both within its own ranks and within society as a whole. It must struggle against racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and against discrimination of youth, older workers, or people with disabilities.

The trade union movement, whose membership is now over 50% women, must champion the social and workplace rights of women and non-binary people, and promote their fullest participation within union structures at all levels of responsibility and leadership.

It must also cement the class unity between the workers in Quebec and workers in the rest of Canada, and between Indigenous and non-Indigenous workers. It must oppose manifestations of national chauvinism and respect the national and cultural diversity within the working class as a whole.

The trade union movement also needs to strengthen its international solidarity with workers and their struggles internationally as a condition for securing its own advances.

It must also seek out and build stable and enduring alliances with other democratic and social movements, to defend and promote democratic rights, sovereignty, and the socio-economic welfare of working people in general, and oppose neoliberalism, capitalist globalization, imperialism and war.

No less urgent is the task of organizing the unorganized majority of the working class, of helping them to lift their living standards and become involved in political action and struggle against finance capital. This includes organizing the growing body of technical, scientific and professional workers, and workers in service industries employing large numbers of women, youth and immigrants. This also involves special efforts to organize part-time, temporary and contract workers, and the organization of the unemployed. This will require a vision of social and class struggle trade unionism that seeks to represent the class as a whole, beyond the confines of narrow collective bargaining. This is the essential ingredient in coalition building, where the trade unions become the nucleus of resistance and transition. It includes active struggle for equality and against workplace discrimination.

The rights of unemployed workers must also be defended, and every effort extended to assist them in organizing their ranks and fighting for full unemployment benefits and for decent jobs.

The trade union movement must protect the internal union rights of all its members, especially rank-and-file members, and encourage their involvement in all labour activities. It must uphold the principle of inner-union democracy, and oppose bureaucratic and other undemocratic practices that undermine membership participation and control.

To advance the overall struggle of the working class, the trade union movement must commit itself to a comprehensive program of independent labour political action, one which mobilizes organized workers into democratic and political struggle, in addition to workplace economic struggles against their employers.

To win the trade union movement for such a fighting program, right-wing policies of class collaboration and betrayal of labour’s interests must be challenged and replaced with policies of consistent class struggle. The struggle against opportunism, collaboration, competition, and betrayal is an essential fight for trade union democracy, expansion, survival, and unity of the working class as a whole. Communists in the trade union movement are historically dedicated to this struggle and work to uphold the best, militant trade union principles and maximum democratic involvement in decision-making.

Working Class Policy and Outlook

The winning of working class and people’s unity and ultimately political power requires an independent working class ideology. This involves a long battle for a genuine working class policy, forged in the process of combating capitalist ideology in the labour movement, and the carriers of that ideology.

Historically, the economic base for reformism and opportunism inside the labor movement has been the imperialist exploitation of the colonial and semi-colonial peoples, enabling the imperialists of the exploiting countries to pass on a small share of their super-profits to a section of the workers in the form of higher wages. This formed a basis for cooperation with the capitalist class – class collaboration – and for the penetration of capitalist ideas in the labour movement. Inasmuch as the Canadian monopolists shared in colonial super-profits, this process has had its effects on the Canadian labour movement.

In the post-World War II period, the considerable growth of the productive forces of capitalism, the rising productivity of labour and its intensified exploitation, and the increasing rate of capital accumulation, enabled finance capital to pursue a policy of concessions to working class demands. This encouraged reformist thinking amongst workers, particularly (as in the past) amongst those sections of privileged workers given special material advantages. Reformist thinking was also encouraged, as always, by ruling class ideological propaganda and by the relatively privileged pay and life-style of a significant section of the trade union leadership.

The capitalist class and the right wing in the labour movement used this extended period of relatively buoyant capitalist development to cultivate the false idea that capitalism has a capacity for continuous social advance, meeting the ever-expanding requirements of the entire people. The wide influence of this propaganda tended to make capitalism acceptable to important strata of workers.

However, the economic base for reformism and class collaboration is steadily eroding. As the systemic crisis of monopoly capitalism deepens, big business is placing increasing demands on the working class, and extracting more and more concessions. This in turn compels the workers to stiffen their resistance. As a consequence, the possibilities of achieving any overall accommodation – or “social contract” – between labour and capital become ever more difficult.

But this objective shift by monopoly to a more open attack on working people does not mechanically and immediately raise people’s consciousness. Bourgeois and social reformism is still the dominant characteristic of the labour movement. There is increased militancy, but militancy alone is not yet class and political consciousness.

The actual conditions of life for workers under capitalism create the conditions to challenge and overcome illusions about the ever-expanding ability of capitalism to deliver the goods. The exploitation of the workers becomes more intense; they must wage broader, more militant and united struggles for their needs. The illusions fostered by social reformism come increasingly into conflict with the realities of the class struggle.

Thus, the battle for working class policy and for working class unity incorporates an ideological struggle against capitalist illusions in the labour movement.

The Communist Party conducts a constant struggle against reformist ideology – opportunist ideas that identify the interests of the working class with capitalism. Reformists view the capitalist state as an impartial authority, standing above classes. Reformism in the working class leads to class collaboration – and the illusion of a possible class partnership – between workers and capitalists. Reformist ideas limit people’s movements to narrow parliamentary aims and partial reforms. Some reformists define the aim of socialism as a ‘just society’ or ‘welfare state,’ seeing socialism as the outcome of endless improvements or stages of capitalism. In this way, they politically disarm the working class and adapt the labour movement to the preservation of capitalism.

Communists hold that the general laws of capitalism leave workers no alternative but to fight back against the consequences of its systemic crisis, to confront and break the power of finance capital and ultimately to overthrow the capitalist system and replace it with socialism.

While opposing reformism, the Communist Party supports the fight for reforms to protect working people from the effects of capitalist exploitation. The struggle for reforms helps the working class to gain confidence and experience, to strengthen their unity and organization, to deepen their class consciousness, and to shift the balance of class forces in society in their favour. The Communist Party links the struggle for reforms with the revolutionary transformation of society.

Social Democracy

The main political expression of reformist ideology and class collaboration within the labour movement in Canada is social democracy. The history of social democracy in Canada, especially since 1945, is intertwined with vicious anti-communism and class collaboration, with aspirations to rule on behalf of capital. That is the fatal flaw of social democracy, and it cannot be rectified by new incarnations of social reformism.

Large numbers of people who consider themselves “democratic socialists” are moving into political action, around struggles for better wages and living standards, social equality, democratic and civil rights, and other issues. Despite such positive contributions, “democratic socialism”, a form of social democracy, is a theory which rejects scientific socialism, and is a dead end in the working class movement: it is not class-based, anti-capitalist, or revolutionary. “Democratic socialism” defines the communist movement as undemocratic. It rejects the need for a revolutionary political party of the working class, and negates the historical achievements by the working class under socialism.  Its essential content is class collaboration and anti-communism.

Social democracy, however, is not the only conduit channeling bourgeois ideology into the trade union, labour and people’s movements. Bourgeois parties attempt to operate within, and influence, the trade union and other mass democratic movements. The state apparatus and its infrastructure, including educational and cultural institutions, the capitalist-owned mass media, and other institutions of the ruling class, conduct a daily ideological assault against working people.

Nonetheless, the main obstacle to the unity of the workers’ movement, to the uniting of the progressive forces and to the establishment of anti-monopoly unity is right-wing social democracy and anti-communism.

The Communist Party has continually worked to unite the reformist and revolutionary wings of the working class movement in the struggle for peace, democracy, and Canadian independence, and against corporate rule.

However, capitalism’s deepening crisis, and the resulting intensified struggle between capital and labour, is evoking a deep-going ideological and political clash within the ranks of social democracy. The right-wing leadership of the social democratic movement in Canada and internationally has abandoned the goal of “socialism” entirely, embraced globalized capitalism, and reoriented social democratic parties in favour of the illusion of managing capitalism “with a human face.”

Social democracy’s reorientation – a reflection of its changing class base, from the working class toward the petty bourgeoisie, professionals, and other sections of the middle strata – has had far-reaching effects. It has provoked deep divisions within the New Democratic Party (the main expression of social democracy in English-speaking Canada), between its right-wing leadership, and an increasingly marginalized section of the membership who retain socialist convictions or even traditional social democratic views. This sharp debate has carried over into the labour movement itself, calling into question the continued political and organizational relationship between the NDP and the Canadian Labour Congress (and its affiliates). The Communist Party believes the trade union movement is not well served by having automatic affiliation or permanent organizational ties to the NDP or any other political party, but rather by taking independent political action in mass extra-parliamentary struggle, as well as giving support to particular electoral candidates, parties, coalition programs, or policies.

These developments attest to the widening gap between the interests of the working class and those of right-wing social democracy.

In the day-to-day struggle, Communists work closely with left-wing social democrats and other activists in the labour and progressive movements, and strive to develop united action and cooperation. The Communist Party continues to work for cooperation with the NDP around common issues and reforms, despite the widening gulf between the principles and class allegiance of the two parties. In the same way in Quebec, the Communist Party works for cooperation with Quebec Solidaire, a left-wing and pro-independence social democratic party.

The more effectively the Communist Party works for left and democratic unity and strengthens its independent political activity, putting forward its Marxist-Leninist program and policies, the more the left forces, both within and outside the NDP, can be brought into united struggle for genuine progressive policies.

Building Alliances among the People’s Forces

As monopoly capital attacks the living standards and interests of the working class and other strata, a broad cross-section of the Canadian people are compelled by their own economic and political interests to fight back against the power of finance capital and the state. This is the expanding feature of our time.

People’s movements are involving growing numbers of Canadians in extra-parliamentary political activity. Uniting these forces, together with the working class itself, into broad coalitions to resist the offensive of finance capital, will lay the foundation for democratic and social advance, and for the emergence of a fully-developed democratic, anti-monopoly, anti-imperialist alliance.

These forces include other classes and social strata whose contradictory circumstances more often, and to varying degrees, bring them into conflict with the interests of big business. Farmers and other primary producers, professionals, intellectuals, small business owners, and independent, non-monopoly capitalists have common interests in opposing the reactionary policies of finance capital and its governments.

These forces also include progressive currents within the national movement in Quebec. While primarily bourgeois and petty-bourgeois forces lead this movement, democratic and progressive-minded people are also drawn to its ranks.

Similarly, the growing struggles of Indigenous peoples for social justice and for their inherent rights, including the right to self-determination, make them an important force in the struggle for democracy and against monopoly domination.

Especially important are the vast array of people’s movements, multi-class in character that are united around democratic and social struggles across Canada. These include the movement for women’s equality; for protection of the environment; the peace and solidarity movements; the youth and student movement; the social justice movements; the movements against racism, discrimination, and fascism; the 2S/LGBTiQ movement for sexual orientation and rights of gender identity and expression; progressive forces in the religious communities; and growing struggles in the cultural community, by senior citizens, and for community and urban reform.

By the end of the last century, the women’s movement had grown into an increasingly effective and significant force in the movement of the people against reaction and neoliberalism. A prolonged attack by neoliberal governments, including defunding the pan-Canadian, provincial and local women’s organizations – has left the women’s movement weakened and divided. However, organizing and the struggle for unity continues. The battle for equal pay for work of equal value, affirmative action, fully paid maternity and parental leave, for reproductive choice, and for universally accessible, affordable, quality public child care has won broad support from the labour and people’s movements. One of the most important struggles for women’s rights and for justice has been the fight for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

To unite working people in common struggle against the common enemy, it is necessary to combat sexist practices and ideas which are reinforced by monopoly-controlled media and culture. It is also necessary to combat the growing ideological, organized campaign by neoliberal socially conservative, and even outright fascist forces seeking to promote reactionary ideas.

The crisis of capitalism affects youth directly, giving rise to increasing militancy and resistance. As the aspirations of youth for a life with a future are undermined by capitalism, young workers, students, and youth of the middle strata increasingly desire change. The struggles of young people are centered on employment and education. Many young people are also opposed to capitalist globalization and imperialist aggression.

Neoliberal attacks on post-secondary education are more and more making education into a privilege for the rich. The student movement combats these attacks, demanding accessible, quality, adequately funded education programs, and an end to tuition and student debt. Young people are protesting an educational system geared to serve the needs of finance capital.

Young workers face higher than average unemployment, unsafe working conditions, and a lack of training. They are subject to increased exploitation through precarious contracts and “gig” work, as well as unpaid internships. Families headed by young people form a large proportion of those living in poverty. To combat these conditions, it is necessary for the trade union movement to organize the unorganized, who are disproportionately young workers.

Although alienation generated by monopoly capitalism is widespread, demoralizing many young people, they are struggling to end it. This struggle, along with the struggles around education and employment, is in fact a struggle for fundamental social change.

There is also a growing struggle against U.S. domination of our economic, political and cultural life, made possible by the betrayal by the Canadian ruling class. Today the struggle for Canadian sovereignty and independence is a struggle for the future of Canada – an essential condition and step for the advance to socialism.

Increasing numbers of Canadians are coming together to advance democratic, anti-corporate and progressive demands on a myriad of class and social issues. Such movements include, among others, those which seek:

  • to defend Medicare, public education, pensions and other social programs; to oppose deregulation and to prevent the privatization and dismantling of the public sector at the hands of neoliberal governments;
  • to oppose capitalist globalization and TNC plunder of Third World peoples; to defend Canadian sovereignty and prevent the alienation of our country’s wealth and natural resources;
  • to protect and preserve the environment from wanton corporate devastation;
  • to oppose war, imperialist aggression, the continuing arms race, and Canada’s participation in NATO; to demand the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction, and an independent Canadian foreign policy of peace and friendship with all nations and peoples;
  • to combat racism, discrimination and intolerance, and to oppose any resurgence of fascism in Canada;
  • to support the just demands of Indigenous Peoples including just settlement of land claims, recognition of their right to self-determination and their inherent rights, and an end to the genocidal policies which continue up to the present;
  • to defend the equality rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people;
  • to defend people’s rights based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and on the sex characteristics of intersex persons;
  • to recognize housing as a universal human right, to increase affordable housing supply with shelter costs of not more than 20% of income, and to expand tenants’ rights to organize and act collectively;
  • to defend and expand the rights of people with disabilities;
  • to oppose reactionary U.S. mass, corporate culture, and ensure the development of a democratic Canadian culture which reflects the progressive aspirations and democratic struggles of working people of all nations, and origins;
  • to defend human rights and the individual, social, and democratic rights of the Canadian people, and to prevent their erosion by corporations and governments.

In striving to realize their aims and objectives, these movements unavoidably come into conflict with monopoly capitalism. To a greater or lesser degree, their efforts to change government policy and win even mild progressive reforms challenge vested interests and meet the combined resistance of reactionary finance capital and its state. In this sense, these movements are objectively anti-monopoly in character, and are therefore important forces in the struggle for fundamental democratic and social change, in alliance with the working class.

• • • • •

To win the majority of Canadians away from capitalist influence will require a persistent and complex struggle and flexible political tactics.

Independent political action of the trade union, people’s and democratic movements can be the means of winning masses of the people away from the capitalist parties, and setting them on the path of political independence and fundamental change. The Communist Party will strive to convince all those involved in independent political activity to fight for consistently progressive, anti-monopoly measures.

The Communist Party sees the struggles of the people around their economic, social and political aspirations as the decisive factor determining the course of social development.

The Communist Party combines public mass work, support for and participation in the mass movements, with the continuing struggle to win a people’s majority in Parliament, as an integral part of the path to socialism. No meaningful parliamentary advance can be achieved without the people’s mass action.

In line with our continuing struggle for working class and democratic unity, the Communist Party determines its own electoral tactic according to the circumstances and the relationship of forces in each particular election. The Communist Party nominates candidates around the Party’s platform as a component part of the overall struggle for the unity of the democratic, left and anti-monopoly forces.

Local governments are more accessible and closer to communities and the people. Local governments’ powers and role are being undermined by legislation at higher levels. At the municipal level, the Party works for broadly based progressive civic alliances to address the growing difficulties of our cities, towns and rural areas, which negatively affect the lives of working people, homeowners and tenants alike.

• • • • •

In all of its mass political work, the Communist Party strives to help build a democratic, anti-monopoly, anti-imperialist alliance. Such a new alliance will include the Communist Party and other parties and political organizations, democratic people’s organizations in Quebec and English-speaking Canada, Indigenous peoples, the trade unions, farm organizations, youth and student organizations, associations of intellectuals and professionals, women’s and 2S/LGBTiQ organizations, senior citizens organizations, and cooperatives.

The Communist Party works to unite all these people’s forces as the basis for a democratic, anti-monopoly, anti-imperialist people’s government, led by the working class, in which the Communist Party aspires to play a key role.

Next Chapter: For a people’s Government

Previous Chapter: The Canadian State; The nations and peoples of Canada and the crisis of democracy