Does the current trade union movement can help the Canadian proletariat to resist the attacks from the bourgeoisie? Who pays for the crisis now? It’s true there are some capitalists who lost money since last year, but the majority of them succeeded to withdraw profits of the situation. But for the working class, it’s not the same thing. Governments are helping the rich. We just have to think about the financing of the automobile sector. But when the crisis will be considered ended by the bourgeois economists, who are going to pay for the deficit? It will certainly be the working class and the poor.

The situation that happened at the beginning of the 1990s following the then recession is very instructive about how the governments intervened and the trade unions reacted (or not). Since these times, the trade union movement got new members. Now some 4.5 million employees are unionized across the country. But the majority of the new union members come from the education and public administration sectors. From the fabrication sector largely owned privately, there is a significant decrease in the union membership.

Trade unions historically known to be more independent and progressive like the Canadian Auto Workers suffered greatly of the difficulties in their economic sector. From a former confrontational stand, they turned for a more collaborationist one. They are now adopting a similar attitude than the United Steelworkers Canada at the beginning of the 1990s. When are we going to stop this class collaborationist orientation? When our revenue will be lower than in China?

There are currently two main problems within the trade union movement. There is a problem of political line, where the reformist line cannot break with the passivity and resignation that characterize it. The other problem is linked with the first one. It is the acceptation of the legalized industrial relations system that take support from a cycle of labor negotiation prescribed by the law. With their lawyers and accountants, the capitalists circumvent the law all the time but the trade unions continue to accept a game where they are most of the time the loser.

The Action Socialiste group—a former communist organization based in the Québec province (which existed prior to the establishment of the Revolutionary Communist Party)—produced a pretty interesting analysis about the workings of politics within the trade union movement at the middle of the 1990s, which gave many good answers to these questions. Here are some excerpts from this document (known in French as “Perspectives pour le prolétariat canadien,” available at pcr-rcp.ca).

M.L.

Communist politics resolutely oppose the conciliatory and pro-capitalist strategy led by dominant currents within unions. This struggle is essential in order to prepare the eventual overthrow of the bourgeoisie by socialist revolution.

We must rely on Leninism and apply it to trade unions, which means: taking away the toiling masses from the leadership of the “bourgeoisified” strata of the working class.

To reach this goal in a country like Canada where trade-unions have been since a long while (since the 1950s at least), almost entirely subjugated by the bourgeoisie, we must not make the mistake of considering class collaboration as a superficial political phenomenon (aiming our fire only at the top leadership). We must apprehend it in its entire as to allow the vast bulk of proletariat to understand clearly in which direction it has to move and to make it break with the pro-capitalist orientation that corrupts trade-unions.

Thus when we assess the worth of the trade-union movement in Canada, it is not its 3.9 million members that should be primarily taken into account, or the fact that its presence in industry and in the service sector is two times as much compared with the USA, or three times as much compared to France; we should neither take into account the fact that it has a lot of money at its disposal and that it is able to finance half a dozen general strikes: we have to examine the tidal wave of “new trade-unionism,” which is currently overflowing the movement […].

In a highly striking book (but also politically doubtful) entitled “Changing Workplace: Reshaping Canada’s Industrial Relations System”, Daniel Drache & Harry Glasbeek, who are not Marxist-Leninist strictly speaking, made an interesting assessment pertaining to relations between capital and labor in Canada. According to them, the system of industrial relations set up by the Canadian State since 1944 and bolstered by the trade unions produced some adverse effects on the working class and its movement, of which the bourgeoisie can be satisfied.

The authors refer to the limitation of the economic impact of strikes, due to the mechanism of firm to firm negotiations; the disappearance of political and solidarity strikes; the splitting up of the working class; the stifling of any class trade-unionism; the fact that salary raises only in periods of economic growth for firms that prosper; an almost total lack of protection for workers against firm closures and layoffs; vacation and parental leaves which are clearly insufficient; meager retirement income; of the main industrial countries, the cheapest income security provisions, etc.

The conclusion that may be drawn from those facts is that Canadian workers movement has been built, since the Second World War, to the detriment of the majority of the working class, constantly keeping it in a subordinate position (…“a regime meant to keep workers and the working class in a permanently subordinate position”).

In fact the current Canadian trade-union movement is the very example of a trade-union movement geared for a growing economy (the post-WW2 years) in an imperialist country. It is tailored for the labor aristocracy and a layer of “bourgeoisified” workers, won over nationalism. On the other hand, it is unable to stand up for the working masses and it is not open to heed and to respond to their needs as advocate group for the proletariat in a period of crisis, a role that it played in part (even the conservative trade-unions) between 1918-1940. […]

What we propose

A genuine Communist Party rooted in the proletariat would condemn this collaboration. It would not either try to dissimulate it. On the contrary, it would seek to expose many more agreements of the same nature; it would bring to the forefront the millions of workers who are not protected by any union and who are forced to accept impoverishment; it would not isolate each case on the basis of its uniqueness: “Our company has act in this manner, we have no choice otherwise it will close its doors;” it would explain why it is so imperious to set into motion a general political movement, a political struggle to unite the working class. Such a Communist Party would strengthen itself by showing these individual cases, from each collective agreement, in order to show the terrible weaknesses of the working class in Canada, headed as it is by pro-capitalist unions.

Unions have become powerful apparatuses, rich and replete with resources, for which we will not condemn them. But they are machineries that will not move—in a situation where the working classe is facing the worst economic period since the end of the Second World War.

Not only that but those apparatuses are quietly vanishing, eroding slowly but steadily, and are undergoing a metamorphosis in which they become appendages of the bourgeoisie.

It is obvious that social contracts, participative management, taking part in the management of the capital of the companies and so on, are grounds on which class unity is impossible.

The Programme of the Red International of Labor Unions was very outspoken on this issue. The workers united front has to be a front against capitalism: “At this point principled people ask ‘Is the unity of the working class a means or an end?’ The end is socialism, unity is just the best means to achieve this end, and we are for this unity in as far as it moves the proletariat closer to socialism.” And then: “A united front is always desired by revolutionary workers, but it cannot be created on the grounds of class collaboration.” Currently, throughout the imperialist countries, unmasking these “leftist unionists” is the issue at stake; this is the task of the proletarian currents, this is how will be created among the unemployed and among factories and firms a true proletarian opposition current.

It is not easy to develop an authentic proletarian movement in a given setting molded by the reformism of social-democrats and revisionists.

We can organize and rally around us a proletarian opposition, a true fighting fraction within and outside unions, in so far as our appeal to the worker is definitely “on the other side,” meaning that our appeal is not a strategy which is constantly enmeshed with companies, neither preoccupied with the bosses’ problems, nor seek subsidies from the government or from economic boosting committees, nor deploy its efforts to help firms, nor spend its time defending the bourgeois State.

A cleavage has always existed in the workers’ movement. This split is visible when struggles proliferate and when the toiling masses pressure the bourgeoisie and its State. Otherwise it is difficult to notice. But as communists, it is our responsibility to point out this cleavage!

“Go deep among the masses”, No. 1 tactic for Communists

It must be clearly understood that we do not deny how important is the work within unions. The communist standpoint has always been that the parties must work within trade unions (we never said that we “could” or “will try” to work with them). To be wishy-washy on this question is a big mistake. In fact, the Twenty-One Conditions of Admission to the Communist International were stating that “every party that wishes to belong to the Communist International must systematically and persistently develop communist activities within the trades unions, workers’ and works councils, the consumer co-operatives and other mass workers’ organizations.”

But we would be poor communists (in fact, purely bookish communists) if we were to be complacent in regard to this imperative command, to this work within trade unions; if we were to say, like amateurs: “This type of work is our priority, our main task.” Never had Lenin, nor the International, developed such a vague orientation.

We must pay close attention to the communist tactics and the call of the Communist International at its Third Congress: “To the masses!” This is the essence of tactics. This is the political watchword that allowed for the breakthrough of communism after the First World War.

To perceive this call as a mere slogan that struck the imagination would consist of a denial of its meaning. When Lenin, the Bolshevik Party and the Comintern repeated time and time again this watchword, perfect expression of historical materialism, it is reiterated in the framework of a specific epoch and bears a political aim entirely suited to class struggle which is part of it. […]

Even if communism defeated right wing opportunism, shamefully unmasked during the First World War, Communists have been unable to overcome the social basis of opportunism. Within the imperialist countries, the bourgeois tendency exists in the workers’ movement; this right wing is based on a powerful stratum, well organized, privileged, but nonetheless constituting a minority within the proletariat—the labor aristocracy. The proletarian revolutionaries will be able to vanquish the bases of opportunism and reformism in so far as they will be able to organize the proletarian masses and provide them with a leadership that can lead a struggle against the “bourgeoisified” minority that is at their head.

To organize this political “overthrow”, which “will require a long period of revolutionary struggle” (Theses on Tactics), Communists must go to the masses, in other words, delve into the very heart of the proletariat where the privileges are non existent and exploitation is acute.

This orientation is a living example of the democratic character of communism, not as a product issued from a formal bourgeois democracy, but one stemming from a true democracy, a revolutionary one, in which the masses play an authentic role. Where, in the last analysis, the thickest layer of the population who possess the least are the most valued for they are the ones who comprise the vast majority of the people worldwide.

Communist revolution, patiently prepared in this spirit, is not a coup, a plot put together by a minority, a surprise, a nightly explosion in the political life of a country; it is not power handled over by a delegation; it is not a bourgeois bureaucracy: it is a movement which has established itself through a close link with all the exploited, which gained its strength through the proletariat among factories, offices, shops, high schools, trade-unions, renters associations and associations of unemployed, local hangouts, cultural groups, bars, taverns and obviously, the streets.

What must be retained by communists to insure a fast progression in the reality of an imperialist country are an ensemble of measures, linked together by a common thread, a conductive plan that can be splitted up like this:

A) Establish and keep contact with any large proletarian organizations; B) Always set up, however difficult, an independent communist group, closely linked to the party (study group, party unit or cell, etc.); C) Assume the leadership of the proletariat’s fights; D) Renew the workers’ movement by organizing through practice and by educating to socialism the most deep-seated and most numerous layers of the proletariat and exploited classes; E) To make use of this plan of action in order to actualize our essential task which is to wrestle from the lieutenants of the bourgeoisie the political direction they have over the largest sections of the proletariat, task which is essential to prepare revolution.

e p D T F s