On Friday, Feb. 3rd, 87 people attended a private Zoom meeting entitled “Ottawa community townhall and response to convoy”, started by a Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) Ottawa local executive. Despite the meeting not being made public, 87 people attended through various invites. Several left-wing, labour organizations and individuals attended, including Ottawa Centre NDP MPP Joel Harden.
Identity politics used to shut down action by labour movement
The discussion revolved around a potential counter-protest to the “Freedom Convoy 2022” which continues to occupy downtown Ottawa. The agenda was geared around creating a wider virtual town hall where people could strategize further actions and a potential counter-protest. However, immediately it was made clear by a small group of activists that there was an even smaller meeting held behind closed doors, the night before, to come up with a proposal to block any attempt at strategizing actions for the weekend. The discussion was almost exclusively based on the need to cancel a counter-protest which had been posted on Reddit and had received a lot of attention with 9000+ likes.
Representatives of the Public Service Alliance of Canada said that the union would not be endorsing a counter-protest due to safety concerns for BIPOC people (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour).
Several others spoke to argue to the same effect, with one even claiming that this counter-protest should have nothing to do with labour! As if there are no workers on the streets and that it has nothing to do with workers. Another argued that people should “boycott” the vendors who sell products to the convoy protestors, as if small businesses haven’t been through enough this pandemic. Another argued that racialized people would be “cannon fodder” in a counter-protest.
A rank-and-file member of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) and Fightback, a high school teacher, spoke thanking the organizers for holding the meeting, explaining that in order to make it a safe counter-protest, the large labour organizations present should be the ones to organize it. We also pointed out the need to split the “Freedom Convoy” on class lines with bold demands that show we are on the side of the workers, unlike the leaders and funders of the convoy. We need to demand higher wages for nurses and truckers, safer workplaces and hazard pay.
While it is true that there are dangerous elements in the convoy, the best way to provide safety is to organize a large protest with working class demands. If this were to happen, it could help split away any genuine workers who support the convoy and weaken the far-right leaders. This meeting should have come out with bold demands aimed at defending truck drivers, nurses, teachers and all workers, and to clearly expose the leaders of the so called “Freedom Convoy” for who they are: racist members of the corporate elite, the capitalist class.
Reddit counter-protest organizers attacked
Two of the people who made the initial Reddit post calling for counter-protests were attending as well. They had received thousands of likes and comments on the social media platform, and thought it wise to reach out to leaders of the labour movement and NDP for support. But they quickly found themselves defending even just the need for a protest and trying desperately to find support to make the counter-protest safer. Instead they were met with hostility and accusations.
After considerable calls to cancel the counter-protest, one of the organizers said that he would cancel it, but that he couldn’t speak for the other. To his credit, the other organizer refused to cancel the counter-protest and said that he would go ahead with it for Saturday at 2 p.m. Enraged by this, some people in the meeting turned to active sabotage, including suggestions of getting moderators to take down the thread about the protest on Reddit and actively advertising on social media telling everyone not to go.
This continued with an outcry from the floor, with those against the counter-protest demanding that anyone with any connection to the organizer reach out to him and convince him to stop. They even used a hashtag in the chat: #STOP[HIM]. Our OSSTF member defended the organizer, demanding people focus on how to stop the right-wing leaders of the convoy instead. More hostility followed, including baseless statements claiming the organizer and our members were no different from the Freedom Convoy protestors, and that they were supporting white supremacy!
Some people in the meeting, including our members, the organizer and a few others, remained committed to attending the counter-protest and repeatedly said so in the chat. But the hostility continued as new speakers were being called “bots” for defending us, and other kinds of nonsensical accusations. Some of them yelled out of turn denouncing anyone who spoke in favour of a counter-protest. Constant interruptions and disrespectful behavior created an undemocratic and disrespectful environment.
Correctly, the organizer made the point that the counter-protest was happening anyway, regardless of any actions he could take. Cutting through the abuse, they even appealed for those who attacked them to come and help make the counter-protest as safe and successful as possible. But having had enough of the harassment and taunting he left the meeting shortly after.
Only the labour movement can provide safety
It was a scandalous ending. The reality is that PSAC, who organized the event, is a union of 200,000+ members, with the resources to greatly amplify a call for a counter-protest. This kind of authority and support is what is needed to defend the safety of Black, Indigenous and other vulnerable people in Ottawa. In fact, their lives are already in danger if these leaders haven’t noticed yet! Why organize nothing and let the far-right organizers continue their rampage?
Instead, several of the attendees suggested holding a street barbecue as an alternative! The majority of speakers used the rest of the time in the meeting to say that organizing a protest was too dangerous and just suggested support for mutual aid networks.
MPP Joel Harden of the NDP said he agreed with canceling a counter-protest after “walking through downtown”. One wonders what he thinks of those who have to walk downtown every day in fear because they are left isolated by leaders of the labour movement and NDP.
Instead of organizing a counter-protest, the solution was left with the government and police to handle safety. Some even made mentions to the Canadian military to step in! This is exactly why the “Freedom Convoy” is successful as millions of Canadians have already lost trust in the government and establishment as a whole. What is more, we can’t trust the police as they have very clearly shown that they support the right wing anti-vaxxers.
We need labour leaders that will live up to their positions and organize the mass anger in this country. We will never be able to build a large protest if we allow the far-right to have a monopoly on mobilizing working class anger towards economic insecurity and how poorly this pandemic has been handled by governments.
One municipal organizer said that the protest had to be canceled because a majority of people at that meeting wanted it canceled and that we had to be democratic. We support democracy, but it is hypocritical when it was revealed that a meeting had taken place the night before to decide that the protest should be canceled. This shows a disdain for democracy and reveals little care if any for the most vulnerable in our society who are screaming for some organization from labour.
The meeting which took place on Feb. 3 was not a meeting to discuss upcoming actions during the weekend, including the Reddit post which had garnered so much attention. It was a carefully coordinated sabotage to denounce the call to action and to funnel people towards a town hall being put on by Joel Harden that is named “outlasting the convoy.” One wonders if rank-and-file workers will be able to speak at this town hall and have their opinions put into practice. Or will they be cast out and pushed out? Will it be another sideshow for those who, through their pessimism and fear of a working class movement, do everything to stop it?
One in three Canadians support the convoy—labour must split them on class lines!
According to a poll by Abacus Data and reported by the National Post this week, 32 per cent of Canadians sympathize with the convoy. This is a concrete fact proving that those who support the convoy are not a homogenous group of fascists.
One of our members, a rank-and-file member of PSAC, spoke at the Feb. 3 meeting asking attendees to think about the reasons behind the convoy in the first place and the massive anger in society. He outlined the mishandling of the pandemic by governments who defend the big corporate owners and the whole capitalist system. He quoted Malcolm X: “We’re not outnumbered. We’re out-organized.”
He said that those present were there because they wanted to do something about the convoy. But to do something means to understand who the real enemy is; to draw battle lines and figure out who we should be fighting.
He said that the labour movement should be on the side of the working class and completely opposed to the capitalist class, the big business wealthy elite with their puppets in government. He highlighted how the people at the head of the convoy are a coalition of capitalists and white supremacists who have duped a big number of workers who are justifiably angry at the way things are. He said we need to split the convoy along class lines so that the leadership of the convoy is exposed and so we can win over workers with our demands, not the demands of the right wing.
The leaders of the convoy are racists, some associated with white supremacist groups, and literally the corporate owners of the truck companies—the real enemies of truckers. It is generally a right-populist leadership taking advantage of a vacuum of leadership from the left.
This is but a small expression of a mass phenomenon of anger against the establishment—an anger that our labour movement urgently needs to organize to stop the right-wing corporate frauds at the head of the convoy. If labour and the NDP continues to remain inactive, more workers will fall further into the hands of the right-wing populists.