Category Archives: Canada

Quebec Student Revolt Continues

On May 19, 2012, Quebec’s Liberal government passed draconian legislation, Law 78, to smash the mass student strike which has shaken Quebec society over the past 4 months. The so-called Loi de Matraque (truncheon law) is an attack on the rights of association, demonstration and free speech. It suspends academic sessions at all Quebec colleges and universities affected by the strike, prohibits picket lines at educational institutions, forces professors (who had largely been supportive of the strike) to report to work when classes resume in August, authorizes withholding of dues check–offs for any student association deemed responsible for disruption of courses, and outlaws any demonstration that is not pre-approved by the police. Student associations found in violation of the law’s provisions will be punished by fines of up to $125,000 per day.

On May 22, 200,000 people took to the streets to oppose this repressive law and support a negotiated settlement. Later the same day, the first “concert des casseroles” to show popular displeasure with the law was organized by inter net ‘word of mouth’. The banging of pots and pans, borrowed from the Argentinian masses, has turned into a regular evening occurrence in many Montreal neighbourhoods.

The police have chosen to use their new powers selectively and are biding their time. Even so, there have been more than two thousand arrests since the conflict started (four times the number arrested during the invocation of the War Measures Act in October 1970). Several students have been seriously injured by police weapons. Certainly, the huge demonstrations of March 22, April 22, and May 22 were virtually free of incidents as both police and provocateurs bowed to the law of massive numbers.

The students have won widespread admiration for their courage, tenacity and creativity. Yet the government remains intransigent. Why?

Of course, there has been the inevitable backlash. Thirty years of “retro-liberalism” have had an impact on popular consciousness. Many believe the students should “pay their share” since austerity appears inevitable. Many want to see order restored.

The corporate media of course actively promote this view and try to taint the students by playing up every violent incident (though not, of course, the violence of the police). Remarkable in this respect is the difference in tone of the French versus the English speaking media. The most vitriolic hostility to the students comes from the right wing media outside Quebec; and inside Quebec, attitudes are highly correlated with mother tongue.

But this alone does not explain the government’s tough no-concessions stance. The Liberals are very much the party of the Quebec capitalist class and Charest their lieutenant. The Quebec bourgeoisie is anxious to impose austerity in a vain attempt to improve the competitive position of Quebec capital. The Liberal years in office have been dedicated to rolling back the legacy of the so-called ‘Quiet Revolution’, that is, the gains that the labour upsurge of the 1960’s and 70’s secured for Quebec workers and the Quebec nation as a whole. Indeed, the government was able to wring major concessions from the Quebec public sector unions in 2005 and 2010. By contrast, in 2005, the Liberals were forced to retreat before the student mobilizations that greeted their first attempt to force through a tuition hike. This time they are determined to win.

In order to prevail against such a determined opponent , the students would need the support of the labour movement, and not just the resources which the unions have donated, but the preparation and organization of at least a one-day general strike. This the union leaders have refused to contemplate. Unfortunately, although the idea of a ‘social strike’ is in the air, no significant political force has been prepared to take this demand into the unions and fight for it.

Whatever the outcome of the strike, Quebec’s young students have shaken the neo-liberal status quo to its roots. The fight for a freeze on tuition fees linked to the goal of achieving free higher education has struck a nerve. Two different visions of society are posed: on the one hand, relentless commodification of both natural and human resources to benefit the few, drive down the living standards of the many while degrading the environment; and on the other, collective democratic control over the commonwealth so as to provide a decent life for all, and promote the stewardship, rather than the ruin, of the planet.

by Robbie Mahood

(Robbie Mahood is a member of Socialist Action living in Montreal. Several of his pots have been bent out of shape.)

Charge, Try, Jail Criminal Cops of the Toronto G20 Summit

Two years after the event, the flak continues to fly, but justice remains elusive.

With no open, unlimited public enquiry, and after several ‘reviews’ and reports, only a couple of dozen cops have been accused of misdeeds under administrative police rules. No criminal charges have been laid. No firings. No resignations have occurred.

The latest report, by Ontario’s police watchdog, Gerry McNeilly, found excessive use of force and rampant Charter of Rights violations. No wonder. Cops used ‘kettling’ tactics at least ten times during the Toronto G20 Summit. Over 1,100 people were arrested and held for hours, or days, in filthy, overcrowded metal cages. Judges subsequently dismissed or set aside most of the charges. Only 24 of 317 charged were convicted. Meanwhile, police received extravagant amounts of overtime and vacation pay to ‘work’ the gathering of leaders of the major capitalist powers in the downtown core. Some cops made more than $14,000 for a few days’ attendance. The bill was an astounding $1 Billion – just to facilitate elite approval of the austerity agenda now in noxious full bloom.

McNeilly’s report stands in stark contrast to Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair’s review. Blair acknowledged that police were “overwhelmed”, but downplayed the extent of their brutality, their Charter rights violations, unlawful mass arrests and appalling detention conditions.

Instead of public accountability, the norm has been stonewalling and failure to disclose evidence. McNeilly puts this down to ‘mistakes’ and ‘poor planning’. That misses the mark. Toronto Summit policing reflected state repression evident at such events before, and since June 2010 – from Quebec City and Genoa, Italy in 2001, to the anti-NATO protests in Chicago, May 2012. These repugnant practices will not end soon, as they are the hyped establishment response to resistence to their ignoble agenda.

While labour and the left should continue to press for prosecution of cop criminals, from top to bottom, our efforts should be waged without illusions. Democracy and capitalism are simply incompatible – increasingly so in the throes of economic crisis. Fundamental change is necessary. — BW

Union Merger and Innovative Organizing: Is it the way Forward?

Two major unions in Canada, now in merger talks, want to include workers who lack collective bargaining rights.

Is it a step forward, a way to reverse decades of decline, or just a cynical move to make bureaucrats look good?

The 195,000 member Canadian Auto Workers union and the 120,000-strong Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union, both of which have lost thousands of members since the 2008 economic crash, are exploring ways to include temporary workers, contract workers and the unemployed in their ranks.

This is the return of a good, old idea. In the 19th Century, when modern unions began, they first offered tangible benefits like burial insurance and summer camp for kids. They sought also to engage the widest layers of the working class in mass action for progressive social and political change.

That led to union-based political parties like the CCF and the NDP in English Canada. But it morphed into an arbitrary division between economic (union) action, and political (party) action, along with the abandonment of non-unionists by a largely co-opted and conservative labour bureaucracy.

That CAW and CEP leaders now express a desire to incorporate unemployed, laid-off, part-time, and young workers may be a sign that they want to overcome the prevalent image of unions as distant or privilege, and that they see Labour as a social movement.

But how does that square with concessions bargaining and with backing for Liberal politicians by these same unions, among others?

And what rights will non-bargaining unit members enjoy for the modest dues they will pay in the merged union? Will they be an active, democratic influence on the direction of the organization, or just campaign cannon fodder?

The truth is, for any good tactics to be fully realized, good leadership is required. That means leaders who are accountable, and committed to class struggle policies. Qualities like those will come only from the bottom-up. So beware of schemes and panaceas from the top-down. Without workers’ control, they aren’t worth a tinker’s damn. — BW

CP workers Railroaded Labour Tops Fail to Defend Right to Strike

First it was postal workers. Then Air Canada workers. Now 4,800 workers are the victims of aggressive concession demands, backed up by federal back to work legislation.

The question is: What are the Canadian Labour Congress and its major affiliates doing to resist the gutting of workers’ rights?

Conductors, locomotive engineers and rail traffic controllers represented by Teamsters Canada Rail Conference walked off the job on May 23, shutting down CP’s entire freight service from Vancouver to Montreal. Management laid off another 2,000 employees, with a further 1,400 affected.

The strike impacted many economic sectors, including coal, fertilizer, grain and auto. CP operates 24,000 kilometres of tracks across Canada, and into parts of the U.S. Mid-west.

Doug Finnson, vice-president of Teamsters Canada, told the media that CP bargained in bad faith, hiding behind the federal government to roll back workers’ pensions and to ignore serious health and safety concerns.

CP boss Ed Greenberg demands the same concessions CP squeezed out of workers at other railways. Conservative Labour Minister Lisa Raitt proved eager to help the bosses, introducing legislation on May 28 to end the work stoppage. The dispute now goes to an arbitrator, who is likely to impose a settlement right down the middle… of the company demands. NDP federal labour critic Alexandre Boulerice said the most the NDP Official Opposition could do is delay passage of the strike busting bill.

The truth is, much more could and should be done – including mass sympathy strikes – before free collective bargaining, not to mention decent pensions, employment insurance benefits and many other past gains, disappear entirely.

by Barry Weisleder

Protest against the NATO Summit in Chicago

Dozens of anti-war demonstrators picketed Saturday across the street from the U.S. consulate in Toronto to condemn NATO talks on the future of the Afghan mission ahead of the NATO summit in Chicago, which begins Sunday.

The NATO mission in Afghanistan is expected to be centre stage when leaders from 60 countries gather to discuss the war in Afghanistan and other international security issues.

The protesters said they’re afraid that leaders at the summit will approve a plan that would keep foreign troops, including Canadian forces, in Afghanistan longer than originally scheduled.

“Rather than be a strong supporter of the occupation, I would like to see Canada strongly opposed to the U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership agreement,” said Ali Ibrahimi of Afghans for Peace, one of the groups involved in the rally.

“I imagine a Canada that can be successful, be affluent and have influence in the world without the need to support injustice, to support people dying. So I would like our government to leas.”

The demonstrators urged Ottawa to call back the soldiers now deployed on a training mission to the war-torn nation.

Several protests have already taken place in Chicago ahead of the summit, but the main one is set to coincide with the start of the meeting on Sunday.

Photos: SA; Text from