Montreal: Why are the BAnQ Workers on Strike?

Leaflet distributed by NWBCW Montreal during the BAnQ and Owens Illinois strikes.

The BAnQ workers are on strike because, even prior to the current inflationary period, their wages were suppressed, without any pay increase since 2018. With generalized inflation, workers across the board have seen their real pay slashed as food prices rise and real estate speculation causes skyrocketing rent prices.

Because, despite many having graduate degrees, their wages are stagnant. This reveals the general precariousness of the working class. In the context of declining profitability, capital seeks to push down the general condition of our class and holds no degree of educational attainment sacred: all workers must sacrifice.

Why are the BAnQ workers on strike? Because, across the world, there is a full offensive against our class, from the rising retirement age in France, to overworked rail workers in the U.S., Turkish workers unable to afford basic necessities, and Ontario education workers having their strike outlawed. There is no alternative for a capitalist system in deep crisis.

Thus the answer to the question, “Why are the BAnQ workers on strike?” must be: because the BAnQ workers are part of the working class.

Why are the capitalists on the attack?

Over the past few years, we have seen many strikes, but the vast majority of them have failed to secure wages above inflation. Why can’t capitalists “afford” to pay wages above inflation? Capitalism is, above all, founded on profits – the ability for capital to expand. And the higher the wages, the lower the profits.

Since the 1970s, through 2008 and the current economic crisis, capital has been suffering very low profit margins. As capitalism is headed further and further into recession, capital is compelled to do as much as it can to attack our class and keep our wages low.

The only other option capital has come up with, besides driving down wages, is to enter into a military confrontation between capitalist rivals, which haunts the whole working class like a shadow. It is with this agenda that Macron raises the retirement age in order to have a sound war budget, for Xi Jinping to drum up nationalist war fever as health benefits are cut, and for Trudeau to outlaw strikes while investing billions in Arctic militarization.

This is why BAnQ workers are being offered 7.5% over four years when inflation was 6.8% last year alone! But we workers have no interest in paying for their crisis! That capital is forced to lower wages only necessitates workers’ struggle.

What are the unions doing about this?

What the unions do is what they feel at home doing: being a partner in the legal apparatus of the capitalist state. As a part of the legal framework of the domination of our class (aka labour law), they do not operate outside it.

For example, when contracts are staggered, it prevents coworkers and workers in general (such as the librarians at BAnQ) from coming together when the struggle is most vital. But for the unions, staggered contracts are an unavoidable legal reality that must not be overcome else they lose their legitimacy.

While we belong to one, single working class, division is common amongst the unions. In the 2021 CPE workers’ strike, the three different unions (CSN, CSQ, and FTQ) held pickets and negotiated separately. The recent PSAC/AFPC federal strike saw the majority of workers go back to work first, leaving the rest striking alone. Not even in the same sector are workers a unified group with common demands, but an assortment of dues payers.

Who are the unions negotiating with? They don’t even dare to ask above inflation! As the situation becomes more and more intolerable, they end up negotiating with our class over how much we will lose and enforce those losses on us.

What does it take to win?

Lessons can be taken from the CPE Petit-Bourgogne workers. These workers marched where they wished. Against an FTQ union directive they organized an email chain with each other to plan strike tactics. Contrasting union division, they attended the CSN demonstration on a non-mandated strike day and led the CSQ workers to block the highway.

When we were on your picket line in March, we spoke with you and your coworkers and heard many ideas regarding strike tactics. Some want to enforce the picket by blocking all the entrances. Others want to have friends and relatives take out the maximum number of books and immediately return them all at once. The strike is yours! Decide on these tactics together, union mandated or not. Your greatest strength is your solidarity which cannot be reduced to the union.

The generalized assault on our class requires a generalized struggle! While the prospect may seem far-off, nobody is going to initiate it for us. The more our class takes the strikes into its own hands, the easier it is to struggle as an entire class, just like the strike committees of 2012 and 1972 which erupted into generalized strikes.

Meet your co-workers after the picket! Discuss the Monday vote to extend the strike and push for it! Your struggle is the struggle of the whole working class: fight to extend it, not just to those at BAnQ still working, but to striking SQDC workers and other workers under assault. And to any other worker reading this, join the BAnQ workers: their struggle is your struggle!

Inflation is an attack on the whole working class, no war but the class war!

NWBCW Montreal
Tuesday, May 16, 2023