Partisan №55
Pensions

A Matter of Class

A major confrontation is underway in Québec where the Liberal government intends to pass a legislation attacking the pensions of city workers. Filed a few weeks ago, Bill 3 echoes the demands of municipal governments—mainly the mayors of Montréal and Québec City—who want to decrease their contribution to the funding of pension plans and increase the contribution paid by employees. The bill will also cut the indexation of pensions currently being paid to retirees.

Since the government’s intention was revealed, a coalition representing some 65,000 white-collar and blue-collar workers, firefighters, professional staff, public transport workers, as well as municipal cops, opposed the bill.

Several actions have already taken place, some of which have raised the ire of the right-leaning corporate media, particularly an August 18 action where 200 to 300 people stormed the meeting of the Montréal Municipal Council and threw papers on the floor. Abusively qualified as a “rampage” by the authorities, this action led to the indictment of 44 workers and the opening of an investigation against at least 39 employees who may soon be fired.

This attack by Québec and municipal governments is part of a broader context that we can also see in the rest of the country and indeed, in most of the major imperialist states. Overall, these attacks against pensions—by raising the age of eligibility, reducing benefits and increasing the workers contribution to their funding—aim to reduce labour costs and ensure the recovery of profits that were undermined by the widespread crisis of the capitalist system.

The historical struggle of the proletarians to liberate themselves, as soon as possible and in the best conditions, from wage slavery is part of the broader struggle against capitalist exploitation.

In the confrontation that is presently occurring in Québec, the state is trying to convince other workers that, because many of them don’t have access to a retirement plan, slashing pensions of city workers is in their interest. But if we look beyond the narrow vision from Mayor Coderre and Labaume, it becomes clear that whenever the bourgeoisie attacked the working conditions of public sector workers, other workers have never benefited. If anything, the contrary has always happened.

In this case, if the government succeeds in imposing its plan, we can expect that there will be similar attacks on the public sector pension plan, and then on the public pension plan itself, while capitalists in the private sector will ask for similar concessions from workers.

Although this is a struggle that concerns the entire working class the city workers’ unions, unfortunately, are not leading the fight from a class perspective. In this regard, the participation of police “unions” within the provincial coalition is more than problematic: it is a strategic and tactical error that will lead the coalition to a defeat. The cops are part of the ruling class and they are in the enemy camp. Currently, they are the ones who set the tone and impose their agenda within the coalition. They insist that their own pension plans are well funded to convince the government to exclude them from Bill 3. We can be sure that as soon as they manage to reach an agreement with the government, they will immediately dissociate themselves from the others and quit the coalition—and then they won’t hesitate to use their batons against their former “allies.” Moreover, the police participation in the actions of the coalition makes it much harder to mobilize the masses in support of city workers against the government.

Some will argue that this is a “tactical alliance” dictated by realism. But the only tactics that are useful for workers are those that arise from a clear and comprehensive understanding of the issues at stake. So cops, get out of our ranks! The bourgeois state and their enforcers are enemies, not friends or allies!

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