What Common Front?

The public sector negotiations are coming fast. Already, four trade union representing 400,000 workers have joined together in a Common Front for these negotiations. For many activists, this is an opportunity to finally prepare the response to the austerity policies that have succeeded one another since the 2008 crisis. While the prospect of a strike of more than 500,000 public sector employees promises to halt a bosses’ offensive which has been going since the 1980s, many obstacles still stand in our way.

Indeed, for the past decade, public sector negotiations have never ended well for unionised workers. Whether the suppression of the isolated nurses’ illegal strike in 1999, or special laws repeatedly passed throughout the 2000s, or when the union bosses signed a sellout agreement in 2010 based on wage increases linked to GDP growth (as if state employees can be responsible for the misfortunes of the economy!). If we look at the record of the past few years, we can say that three conditions are necessary for a true mass strike which can be turned against austerity policies :

1 - Ensure the unity of all public sector workers, as well as of the entire working class.

2 - Be ready to challenge any special law that the Liberal government will not hesitate to impose at the slightest threat by means heavy pressure.

3 - The rejection by general meetings of any sellout that will undoubtedly be signed by the major union federations*).*

What unity?

This unity is already under threat. Already 30,000 teachers of the Autonomous Federation of Teachers is not taking part (they say it is at the request of the CSQ (*Centrale des Syndicats du Québec)* which does not want to see their members leave to join a younger, more combative federation). The FIQ (Fédération des Infirmières du Québec or nurses union) members also refused to join the Common Front, which is understandable after they were let down and were jointly and severally left on the wayside during the 2010 negotiations. Also, poaching members between participants in the Common Front is increasing, pushing the union bureaucrats to further weaken unity to avoid losing their “market share” of contributions from the public sector. The Common Front looks more like a facade than a genuine attempt at union of workers. It must be remembered that unity has no value unless it is carried out by the rank and file.

Capitalist legality will be against us

Do not be fooled, there will be special laws, and if they are not challenged it will be a setback for our living conditions. Two things may hamper our ability to confront the bourgeois state and its repression. The first is the lukewarm attitude of union officials. We have to understand that union officials act in the capitalist legal framework and cannot defy it without facing repression that would endanger their positions. Its always more profitable for the apparatus to obey the laws rather than challenge them. With threats of fines and the logic of the class collaboration they will undoubtedly surrender. The other is the fear of defeat. The memory of the consequences of the illegal strike by nurses is still fresh in the memory of the men and women who took part. Without the prospect that we will not be isolated and betrayed, there will be hesitation and this reluctance could be fatal.

No crumbs, no retreat

There will be no real fight when directed by the major union federations. Jacques Létourneau, Daniel Boyer and Louise Chabot, have much more in common with Philippe Couillard and Pierre-Karl Peladeau than with a nurse or a road worker. Social peace, personal benefits, the growth of the capitalist economy is by, and for, them. They especially want to maintain their lifestyle and their privileges from our contributions. Nothing in their nature and in their situation is ready for the class struggle. We must prepare our work comrades to reject capitulations signed by the by the major federations.

Count only on ourselves ... for real

Faced with these difficulties, there are no miracle solutions. The apparatus of union control, the capitalist media , the bourgeois state and its police we will not offer gifts, the only solution is to organize more seriously.

Activists and the more conscious activists have to come together in autonomous mobilization committees in the unions and the state. They must be prepared to face the bureaucracy, to shake up the agenda of union leaders starting with local militant actions. Initiatives in this direction like the STAT[1] committee are promising. Recent years have clearly demonstrated that unions are not even able to carry out the most basic defensive actions correctly. It is time for workers to take the road of autonomy. Massive general assemblies are required, involving members of all unions and all sectors outside the framework imposed by our employers to build unity of the rank and file. It should also go to the other sections of the proletariat to unite with all struggles of our class. If we want to win, it will be through taking control of our struggle. The Common Front for this has to be more than one or two demonstrations on which they spend five minutes on television news, for it is the beginning of a real struggle against the devastating effects of the crisis of the capitalist system on our lives. It should not be sad repetition of previous failures. Victory and the eventual emancipation of workers depend on it.

Leaflet issued by the Internationalist Workers’ Group/ Groupe Internationaliste des Ouvriers

Affiliate of the ICT in North America

Footnote

[1] What is STAT? It comes from the latin “statim”, meaning immediately.

We are a group of workers from different fields in the healthcare sector. What brought us together was our understanding of both the urgent need to slow down and eventually reverse the constant degradation of our working conditions and the fact that this can only be achieved collectively. We believe that we are all in this together - nurses, PBs, secretaries, lab technicians, respiratory therapists, paramedics, maintenance workers, etc - and wish to promote solidarity among all workers.

If you are interested in joining us or would like to subscribe to our mailing list, please contact us via email at comitestat@gmail.com, we will be glad to hear from you. comitestat.org

AttachmentSize
can nurses resize.jpg47.71 KB
Thursday, May 8, 2014

Comments

It's a good statement and provides insight into what is happening in Canada. On point 1 of the 3 recommendations: "to ensure unity... of the entire working class". This will be a process that requires time and challenging nationalism and regionalism. I think it is important that every statement that is distributed to striking workers in any country should also mention that austerity is being imposed globally and should point to similar ongoing or recent struggles in other countries, especially in the advanced capitalist world. What's missing in this article is an international perspective.

Stavros

Its a leaflet not an article. It's distribution is accompanied by L'Internationale which includes the international statement of the ICT.

Fair enough, Cleish. I have no doubt about the internationalist principles of the ICT. I was just thinking that it would be instructive to striking workers reading this leaflet to read about similar struggles in other "developed" countries. A statement of internationalist principles is great but concrete examples to demonstrate their current relevance might strengthen the message and help dispel the reformist and nationalist myths peddled by the unions.

Thanks Stavros. Your comments are useful. These are the sort of discussions we have to have about what we write to try to make any leaflet, document etc more effective.

It's a good leaflet except I don't like: "...shake up the agenda of union leaders..." Shake up? Destroy might put it better. The agenda of union leaders is the defense of capitalism, even if they manage to keep it secret, or hide the fact from some members. The unions are capitalist wolves in proletarian sheep's clothing. Don't forget that! They are against us! Calls for worker autonomy will always be clear targets for union sabotage because, as part of the bourgeoisie's ruling and controlling apparatus, workers's autonomy is what the unions fear most. It's also happens to be what we need most. There's a conflict there.

And that "the unions can't carry out correctly even the most defensive actions" should hardly surprise anyone who is getting any understanding of the unions' chief purpose for existence: sabotage of all working class struggle: sabotage of all attempts by the working class to develop its class consciousness. Let's face it. The unions loathe and fear the working class as much as their bourgeois masters do. Because they are inseparable!

But I like the leaflet overall. Its a good start. Prepare now for the next one. Denounce the unions and explain why.

Charlie

Thanks for those comments which turned out to be very useful. First of all we spotted errors in the English version which we have (we hope) now corrected and your objection to the words "shake up" is right. In the French original it is "bousculer" which has a deeper meaning of "overturn" as well. We should have used that translation I think.

However I think you are wrong to say just denounce the unions (even explaining "why" does not add much). Too many communist left leaflets in the past did that. Made us feel better but did not achieve much. The class response is slowly but only episodically recovering and we need to relate to what is emerging and what the workers we are in contact with are experiencing. This is more complex and we need to relate to that complexity. Our agenda on unions is already known and will not, nor cannot, change but it is only when the workers in struggle come to see things as they really are (i.e. that unions are agencies for controlling the sale of wage labour and not as they once were organs of collective struggle) that we will make real progress.