May Day 2021 marks a year of unprecedented attacks on the health and well-being of working people around the world, first by the coronavirus pandemic and the greedy pharmaceutical companies, and other corporations who saw the health crisis as an opportunity to make enormous profits. And then by the global capitalist economic crisis that threw billions of people out of work around the world, stripping working people of their savings, their homes, their health and their futures, while the world’s wealth and profits became ever more centralized and concentrated into the hands of the biggest corporations and the super-rich.
According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), Canada’s billionaires have increased their wealth by $78 billion since March 2020. “Canada’s top 47 billionaires now control $270 billion in total wealth… while Canada’s richest 87 families each hold, on average, 4,448 times more wealth than the typical family. Together these 87 families own more wealth than the bottom 12 million Canadians combined.” During the same time, 5.5 million Canadian workers lost their jobs or had more than half their hours cut during the pandemic, while 7 million applied for CERB benefits in April-May 2020.
While working people around the world struggled to keep their heads above water, US imperialism struggled to maintain its dominant position among the imperialist powers, and as police of the world’s states and peoples. The drive to aggression, war and regime change escalated to dangerous new levels under the Trump administration, but it has not been stepped back by the Biden administration. This includes the bombing of Syria on February 25, provocative new conditions on Iran for the US to rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the “Iran Nuclear Deal”) which Trump unilaterally pulled the US out of, new sanctions on China and Russia and the continuation of Trump sanctions on Cuba, Venezuela, Yemen and Iran, and outrageous declarations that Cuba and Venezuela are state sponsors of terrorism.
Canada’s Parliament has swallowed whole the Big Lies of the new Cold War against Russia and China, with the unanimous passage of the wholly fabricated Declaration of Genocide against the People’s Republic of China. This is a declaration that other Western governments were bullied by the US to support but, like Australia and New Zealand, declined to do so. Canada’s Parliament signed on without even asking for evidence. It was only after the vote that one MP told media that some fact-finding would be useful.
Like the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ in Iraq, ‘the incubator babies’ in Kuwait, and ‘the Gulf of Tonkin incident’ in Vietnam – which were all fabrications that launched US wars killing tens of thousands of people and destroying whole countries – the ‘Uyghur genocide’ is war propaganda. It is designed to manufacture consent for new wars, for huge military budgets, for purchasing $95 billion in new fighter jets and warships, for funding NATO with 2 percent of GDP and NORAD for $11 to $15 billion in ‘updates’.
Working people are being asked to accept this, or at least not to oppose it, and to offer up their children for war, since there will be very little money for civilian spending on job creation, education, healthcare, housing, the environment, culture or equity.
We are at a crossroads. On the right is the road to war, reaction and neoliberal policies designed to increase corporate power and slash workers’ wages and living standards, along with labour, democratic, social and civil rights. On the left is the road of unity and struggle for a People’s Recovery from capitalist crisis and pandemic, and for socialism – the only real cure for capitalist exploitation and oppression.
It’s time for working people and the labour and democratic movements to build a people’s coalition that can lead a sharp resistance to the neoliberal, corporate agenda and fight for a People’s Recovery, for peace and disarmament, for climate justice – for fundamental change that puts people before profits.
In this struggle, working people in Canada will stand with the vast bulk of humanity around the world who are also fighting reaction, war, climate change and the multinational corporations and reactionary capitalist and fascist governments that support them. This struggle workers are “all in together” and united nationally and internationally we can win.
International solidarity with the peoples of Cuba, Venezuela, Palestine and all those struggling for national liberation, for the right to self-determination and the right to take a socialist path of development gives us the strength and unity needed to win.
Recovery for people – or profits
Statistics show that the economic recovery announced by the government is a recovery of profits for the biggest corporations. It’s not a recovery for working people – the vast majority of this country’s population.
Almost 2 million people are unemployed in Canada today, not counting the 9.7 percent of the workforce who have given up looking for work. The pandemic and continuing mass layoffs resulted in an employment rate in March of just 60.3 percent, including many who are working less than half the hours they worked before the crisis hit a year ago. Hardest hit are women, who continue to suffer the lowest participation rate in the workforce in 30 years, and youth between 15 and 24 whose official unemployment rate of 14 percent is almost twice the Canadian average. Indigenous people are also hard hit with an employment rate of just 52.7 percent, while racialized people face an unemployment rate of 9.4 percent. The impact of COVID’s devastating third wave will almost certainly result in more layoffs, more bankruptcies and more long-term and permanent unemployment.
Instead of closing workplaces and shutting COVID down before it exploded, governments ignored public health officials and bowed to corporate demands to keep people working in unsafe conditions, resulting in the deaths of 24,000 people in Canada and over 3 million world-wide. And the death toll keeps rising.
Front line workers in healthcare, food production and distribution, public services, construction, manufacturing and more became guinea pigs as big companies like Loblaws, Metro, Sobeys and others hiked their prices, raking in record profits while using their employees as props in their self-promotion as good corporate employers offering (very short-lived) pandemic pay.
Many workers were forced to work from home, juggling space with partners and children who were also working or studying from home, while the 8-hour day went out the window along with overtime and working conditions. Corporations loved it and plan to make it permanent, reducing their overhead, reducing worker rights and grievances. Currently, 5 million workers are working from home, almost all without any choice in the matter.
A year ago, more than 7 million people applied for CERB, desperately trying to hold onto their homes and savings while the rich got richer. But the benefits for workers were always short-term, with increasing conditions. Now, CERB recipients must pay taxes on last year’s $500 / week benefits or even repay all the benefits they received, while CRB benefits will be cut to $300 / week in July and cut altogether in September. EI payouts that were increased to $500 / week in December will also be cut back next year.
Between growing unemployment and under-employment and the elimination of government supports, how will people live?
In very sharp contrast, last month’s federal budget is expanding tax breaks, public bailouts and funding for big corporations, including the CEWS program which only went to employers and never to workers. Likewise the rent subsidy, which was always for big landlords and real estate companies and never for tenants or small businesses. The CEWS program alone will cost just short of $100 billion before it is ended, making it the most expensive short-term program in Canadian history and a massive gift to Big Business.
This is a government and a Parliament that has always put profits before health, before people, before the environment. Their profuse declarations, shamefully echoed by the Canadian Labour Congress, that “we’re all in this together” are smoke and mirrors hiding the fact that it’s working people and the public that are paying the freight for the pandemic and this economic crisis, the deepest since the Great Depression.
It’s working people who are all in this together – all victims of capitalist crises – all victims of falling wages and living standards.
While right-wing leadership in the organized labour movement has been content to adopt tri-partite statements and strategies, workers in the food delivery industry got busy and successfully organized Foodora with the help of CUPW. Workers at Lyft and Uber got busy, as did workers at the Huffington Post and Amazon. Hotel workers with UNITE organized a Fast for Our Jobs protest that forced employers to commit to re-hire laid-off workers when hotels re-opened.
Public sector unions raised hell about the underfunding of healthcare and education, with healthcare workers in Alberta’s AUPE staging an illegal province-wide walkout in October. Elementary teachers in Quebec are exercising their strike mandate now, while 86 percent of education workers have voted in favour of a general strike. Professors, students and support staff and their unions in Sudbury are protesting against the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) being used by the Ontario government to dismantle Laurentian University and further corporatize post-secondary education in the province.
There is a strong scent of struggle in the air and on the ground among workers who know that organizing the unorganized and the unemployed is central and vital for resisting and defeating the corporate offensive against the working class and organized labour.
What’s missing is the same understanding and commitment from the leadership of the trade union movement in Canada. Part of the reason for this is the fact that a majority of the top labour leadership in Canada are members of the NDP or the Liberal Party and that’s where they take their direction. But neither of these parties wants a mobilized labour movement organizing strikes and protests for better wages and living standards, to shutdown non-essential workplaces and provide incomes laid off workers, for paid sick days, expanded EI, expanded Medicare, pharmacare, pay and employment equity, or quality public childcare, etc. Even though it was independent labour political action that won these gains in the past and that is essential for future victories. They are afraid of mass action by workers, whose demands will almost certainly exceed the modest demands of the NDP in Parliament and run counter to the Liberals’ Big Business agenda.
Independent labour political action in support of a People’s Recovery and fundamental economic and social reforms is the only way forward in this deep and long-lasting economic crisis. The lessons of the Dirty Thirties hold true today: organizing workers, mobilizing communities, uniting all the people’s forces against the corporate agenda and to provide workers with work and wages, with EI and social programs, with expanded labour and democratic rights. The labour movement today needs to move onto the offensive against the employers and right-wing governments, and to move to the centre of the fight for a people’s agenda and a people’s recovery.
Re-uniting the divided labour movement in Canada requires an immediate commitment by the CLC at its June Convention to overcome and heal the split with UNIFOR on the basis of class struggle policies and mass action to defend workers against the employers, and to secure important economic and social advances for working people across Canada.
Labour unity must also include unity of workers in English-speaking Canada and Quebec, and their common struggle against the employers and right-wing governments. Recognition of the right to self-determination up to and including the right to secession is they key to a united struggle by equal partners.
May Day 2021 must also be a marker for labour to raise the demand for a Canadian foreign policy of peace and disarmament and to reject the drive to war, regime change, NATO, NORAD and the arms trade that Parliament has unanimously adopted in recent years. This aggressive new policy is the prelude to war, which could easily lead to nuclear war or a conventional war of mass destruction and death. This is not the future workers envision for their children or the world’s children and youth. Disarmament and mutual security is the only path to the future.
May Day 2021 must also mark the beginning of real action to reduce climate change, beginning with the nationalization of the energy industry, the closure of the tarsands, the shift to renewable energy with the guarantee of jobs and wages to workers displaced in the transition, hard caps on carbon emissions, and laws requiring polluters to pay for environmental clean-up.
A united working class engaged in an offensive struggle against employers and right-wing governments, for a people’s agenda and a People’s Recovery can win. What’s needed is the will and the muscle of organized labour to do it.