Partisan №4

Defend Our Own Interests, and Nothing Else!

Every day the system prompts us to act as “consumers,” “Canadians,” “Quebecers,” “citizens” and so on. There are even cases where some try to make us believe that we are anything except what we really are: workers!

To cite a particularly strange case, we can look at Wal-Mart employees who are called “associates” though they are paid only a few cents above minimum wage! But rarely, if ever, are we asked to think and act as workers, which is what most of us are, Wal-Mart employees included.

Yet, whatever one may say, the proletariat —those who have no means of survival except the sale if their labour-power— makes up roughly two-thirds of Canada’s population. And we, proletarians, are the ones who produce all wealth; it is our work that allows the bourgeois to accumulate capital and make it more profitable. But it seems that there is nobody, or at least almost nobody, to speak and act on our behalf in this system. That’s what the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) means when it says in its program “the proletariat remains politically, ideologically and organizationally dominated by the bourgeoisie.”

Originally created to resist capitalist exploitation, the labour movement, at least in Canada, no longer defends our basic interests. Of course, there are still some trade unions —whether locally or, in some cases, on a broader scale— attempting to mobilize their members and uphold their interests, but these are exceptions. Globally speaking, the union movement has become too integrated into the workings of the capitalist system to oppose it seriously.

It should be noted when we talk about the trade union movement that unionized workers make up only a small fraction of all the proletarians in this country. In fact, much of the official “labour movement” is made up of people who are not proletarians! Indeed, employees from non-proletarian strata (journalists, lawyers, police, professionals of all manner) make up about 40% of the labour movement. And these people, who are more well off, educated and accustomed to leading others are often those who have found themselves at the head of the big trade unions.

By contrast, the most exploited sectors of the proletariat, the have-nots who do not enjoy any privilege and whose interests are not in the continuation of the system —migrant workers, youth, women and indigenous proletarians who are subject to the lowest wages, highest unemployment and most job insecurity— are unionized less frequently, if at all. And when they are, their influence is minimal compared to those sectors that traditionally dominate the labour movement.

It could be argued that all this is not the fault of the union movement, that labour laws (or the lack thereof) are making it more and more difficult to organize precarious workers. This is certainly true, but this approach is also part of the problem. The legal framework established by the State following the emergence and the early struggles of the labour movement had that contradictory effect: while union recognition gave them at least some means to act, it also “froze” their existence within the framework and under the constraint of the mechanisms of state apparatus. And over time, major unions —again taken as a whole, and not from particular cases— eventually integrated these mechanisms into their own functioning.

This phenomenon has intensified with the setting up of investment and venture capital funds by the labour movement, the worst example of which is probably the Québec Federation of Labour’s (FTQ-QFL’s) “Fonds de Solidarité.” Through it, a network of hundreds and even thousands of “union activists” who have come to think and act like capitalists has emerged. Their mentality is simple: “We manage capital and we have to invest where it pays!” In this way the fund has become a major player in the consolidation of the Québec bourgeoisie. It is this mentality that led the Fonds de Solidarité to become shareholder in the Québec-owned multinational company Gildan the mid-1990s. When the company harassed and tried to fire the migrant workers who were trying to unionize with the FTQ-QFL at its Clark Street plant in Montréal, the “Fonds de Solidarité” remained suspiciously silent.

Obviously, all this does not mean that we should not defend the right to unionize, or that we should never consider getting involved in the trade union movement. But we must be aware of what it is and avoid fooling ourselves into thinking this movement is the best vehicle for social change or the best tool for establishing workers’ power.

It is better to keep a cool head, even in cases where a union appears to “take a left turn,” as was the case at the most recent congress of the “Confédération des Syndicats Nationaux” (CSN, or Confederation of National Trade Unions), which has about 300,000 members in Québec. Its new president, Louis Roy, refers to his colleagues as “comrades” and openly advocates “socialism.” In the speech he made just after being inaugurated, he even upheld the proposal to organize a “social strike in order to build the society we want.”

Only two days earlier, though, the same Congress hosted a panel of “specialists” (an economist and a psychologist who are affiliated with the CSN) who emphasized the need for companies wishing to “achieve success” to “closely involve the workers.” Of course, this requires, they added, the establishment of a “bond of trust between labor and management.” What was going on? Was the threat of a more radical labor movement anything more than a reminder for the capitalists of their interest in collaborating with the trade unions if they want to prevent workers to revolt?

As workers, we must avoid falling into this kind of trap. Of course, we must fight against all forms of exploitation and boldly defend our rights. And in some cases, this may involve fighting for or with a trade union. But as the RCP program states, what matters first and foremost is for us to begin acting and thinking “as an autonomous and distinct class apart from the bourgeoisie,” according to our own interests —and only them! We need to organize and wage our own struggle and lead our own movement, because only in this way can we lead the revolutionary struggle that will overthrow the bourgeoisie and establish a new workers’ power.

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