Why Do We Lose All the Time?

The following article is translated from L’Internationale, agitation broadsheet of the Groupe Internationalist Ouvriere (Internationalist Workers’ Group) Canadian affiliate of the Internationalist Communist Tendency. Some comrades in Europe may think that the picture given here of the state of class war in Quebec is exaggerated but rather the opposite is the case. The bosses’ offensive has so far been largely successful everywhere (so much that big investor Warren Buffet could announce that the capitalists had won the class war). However there is as yet no end of history. The process of struggle does not stand still and the resentment which is building up against austerity programmes has yet to play itself out. In Quebec the class war appears particularly dramatic because workers are beginning to fight more widely than elsewhere. This article is useful for emphasising that there is no separation between our economic demands today and a post-capitalist future tomorrow just as there is no separation between our theory and our practice. Mindless activism and sterile theorisation outside of any real practice have both always been rejected by the internationalist communist left. As Onorato Damen once famously wrote you cannot make revolution just sitting behind a typewriter. We need to have a developing praxis in order to make a contribution to working class emancipation. The following document is a good example of that tradition.

Why Do We Lose All the Time?

Things are going badly for workers. From the defeat at Rio Tinto Alcan, the conflict at Mapei, passing through the closure of Old Dutch, from the defeat at Aveos and the special law for the building trade, the working class in Quebec seems to suffer defeat after defeat. It’s no better on an international level as the defeats of the car workers in France and the failed attempts of the Greek, Spanish, Portuguese, British and Italian workers to block violent austerity plans demonstrate. Why do our strikes no longer have the necessary force to make the bosses bend?

We will try to give some answers and to propose some courses of action to effectively counter-attack the bosses’ offensive mainly by giving examples of victorious struggles.

The Rules of the Game

The vast majority of the strikes in Quebec are those which took place in the period of negotiation of collective agreements in a very narrow legal framework which has a tendency to isolate the strikers at every turn which the employers are quick to take advantage of. We are fighting on the terrain of bourgeois legality with rules made by our enemies. We don’t have to demonstrate the incestuous relationship between the bosses and the state. The capitalist state is only the tool of bourgeois domination. These special strike-breaking laws and their injunctions prove this in every struggle. Obeying the rules, respecting the injunctions proves it in every struggle. Following the rules, accepting injunctions, rejecting illegality and disobedience is playing the bosses’ game. It is giving the initiative and the choice of terrain to the enemy condemning us to defeat. The workers’ movement was based on illegality. Its victories have always involved civil disobedience and the necessary work of organisation to resist the police (the Aveos case last March where the police forced the picket line open allowing the bosses to take out the machines and shut up shop should remind us that the police of the bourgeois state is ever ready to repress our strikes with tear gas). Only through illegal and wildcat strikes ignoring legal injunctions and organisation of our resistance will we impose our rules on the game.

Win Together

We often struggle factory by factory, firm by firm, sector by sector. The power of our class comes from its solidarity and its numbers. The unity of our struggles is as old as the class itself. The mechanics of Saguenay fought with their backs against the wall, the lockouts at Kronos and Silicium, the Mapei strikes all struggled in isolation. Workers have to get together, visit each others picket lines, to participate, in blocking production at other factories, in demonstrations, and in common actions. The unity of workers’ struggles is a priority to make sure we make a real impact on the bosses.

Saving Ourselves by Ourselves

Another problem of workers’ struggles at the moment is the forced moderation of the union officials. We can see it in the Mapei case where union officials tried to lift a solidarity blockade, or at Saguenay, where the officials discouraged solidarity actions and the visits of workers to other picket lines. Or again in negotiating a wage reduction in the building trade and happily accepting the Parti Quebecois’ Special Law.[1] If the unions act like this it is because the bureaucrats put the union organisation before the struggle. The officials, the bureaucrats live off union dues. They cannot put the organisation in danger by breaking the law and linking up with workers in other major unions. These people will never be able to go beyond strict legality and the framework for struggle imposed by the state and the bosses because their livelihoods depend on it. Our struggles have to be autonomous of the unions. We need strike committees which are not boxed in by the law or union bureaucracies.

The Best Defence is Attack

A major problem of present day struggle is that, most of the time, they leave the initiative with the bosses. They are on the offensive and the entire workers’ movement is on the defensive. Let’s give an example from the last strike in the building trade. There are times when an offensive campaign can be carried out, notably over safety issues (a building worker dies every 5 working days as a result of an accident at work). But the union officials take refuge in speeches about defending past gains, of protection, rather than using an aggressive approach to hygiene on building sites and safety at work.

Public opinion would already be behind struggles to make workers’ lives safer and that would be a spoke in the wheels of the Part Quebecois government because it would already be very easy to put the government on the back foot by accusing it of putting profits before lives (which is increasingly true). Also no-one has attempted actions against the offices of businessmen, the bosses organisations or the government on the eve of the special law. Actions have been limited to blocking site entrances. By adopting a defensive position we leave to our enemies the choice of where and when to hit us. The working class has to go on the offensive as quickly as possible.

Some Stand Out Struggles

Following the banning of the strike in which the employees of Air Canada had hit the airline in 2011, a baggage handler gave the Federal Minister a piece of his mind. He, and several of his colleagues who applauded him, were laid off in March 2012 for their attitude. The baggage handlers of Toronto’s Pearsons Airport unleashed an illegal strike demanding their re-instatement. They were quickly followed by the mechanics and other ground staff. The strike quickly spread to Ottawa airport and Pierre Eliott Trudeau airport at Dorval (Montreal). Even the pilots of Air Canada decide to “call in sick” on the same day in solidarity. The result was the re-engagement of the laid off workers and the withdrawal of all dismissal notices. This struggle is notable for its defiance of bourgeois legality, its capacity to create unity between workers in spite of their different professions and geographical separation.

South African workers in many sectors have launched a series of offensive strikes in the last two years following similar principles and this has brought numerous victories. The Egyptian proletariat has brought down the government and won substantial material victories after two years of this type of tactic. These struggles are exemplary but they are far from being sufficient.

Guaranteeing our Gains

Even if workers carry out victorious struggles which increase social security, raise wages, reduce the working day, etc., nothing will prevent the bourgeoisie from taking these gains back later, or of winning once more through the exploitation of our brothers and sisters living in other parts of the planet. The bourgeoisie as the dominant class is highly organised we are generally much less so.

If victorious struggles serve to increase the confidence in our capacity to act and win, they are also fruitful grounds for those members of the working class to advance politically – the revolutionaries – can meet there and share their experiences. Through these encounters we hope to see the birth of an anti-Stalinist, anti-parliamentary party as the image of our practice, methods, ambitions and hopes. In the GIO (Internationalist Workers’ Group) we don’t claim to be the embryo of this party but simply one of its future components.

That said, the question of revolutionary organisation cannot overshadow another essential aspect – the self activity, the resistance and the creativity of the exploited who together have finally chosen to say no to capitalism. It is through mass action that we can take control of our workplaces, of our districts and to speak the truth, the whole of society. These are also the strategic places at the level of economic and political power which we will be able to turn into popular assemblies and workers councils as the basis of our democracy. The administrative structure of the society which we envisage will consolidate the work of the councils in defending their advances and in coordinating their activities. The entire process will allow us to democratically plan an economy to meet human needs and not for profits which destroy social harmony and the lives of billions of workers. We think that this is the historic project of the working class: we call this project communism.

Maximilien et Nicolas

[1] Enacted June 30 2013 forcing 77,000 building workers to return to work on a 2% wage increase (ie. wage cut) for one year only. Worse conditions are to follow.

Sunday, October 27, 2013