On May 1, 2018, International Workers’ Day, Labour Fightback was launched in Toronto. It took place in the evening at Ryerson University, drawing more than 60 workers and youth. The speakers included Jennie Ernewein, shop steward with Workers United Local 154, Donovan Ritch, organizer with the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 (TTC workers’ union) and Jahan Niroomand, rank-and-file member of OPSEU Local 540.
The three speakers each devoted time to speak about specific points of Labour Fightback’s program. Jennie opened with an explanation of the crisis of capitalism in Canada which has led to attacks on workers as the capitalists try to protect their profits. She explained that faced with this situation, workers have time and time again expressed their desire to fight back. Unfortunately, trade union leaders often accept the logic of the bosses and accept concessions that hold the class struggle back. Jennie argued for the need of a militant workers’ movement based on class struggle unionism in order to fight the attacks on our living standards.
Jahan spoke about the desperate need for workers’ democracy in our unions in opposition to the conservative, anti-democratic labour leadership across the country. He also emphasized the need to organize the non-unionized labour force. Donovan, the last speaker, spoke about how the entire struggle of the working class against the attacks of the bosses needs to be connected to the general fight against capitalism and for a socialist society.
After the speakers’ presentations, working class people young and old took turn to speak about their experiences in both unionized and non-unionized environments. Some horrific and angering stories were shared of bosses exploiting and pitting workers against each other. There was also a general consensus that the labour movement needs a revolutionary change to rid itself of labour leaders who are not willing to fight for the rank and file, and to replace them with leaders from the rank and file who would be. The evening ended with attendees going to a pub to continue the vibrant discussion, with the perspective to build on this successful launch in order to revive the militant traditions of the labour movement with much-needed socialist ideas, and to finally wage a real fightback against the bosses’ offensive.
Similarly, on the following day, May 2, Labour Fightback (La Riposte syndicale in french) was launched in Montreal. Around 30 people attended the meeting at UQAM (the University of Quebec at Montreal). Jean-Léandre and Sébastien, two socialist activists in the union movement, gave presentations about Labour Fightback and the need for a militant workers’ movement.
Jean-Léandre, machinist for a railway industry subcontractor and member of the union of handling and service employees, explained that while the past period saw a retreat of the class struggle, we are now seeing its return with a vengeance. We have witnessed a rise in the militancy of workers, with huge strike votes in all sectors. However, the union leadership has acted like a brake on the movement, signing sellout deals as we saw with the massive public sector strike in Quebec in 2015. Jean-Léandre also gave an overview of the history of the CSN (Confédération des syndicats nationaux, or National Confederation of Trade Unions), which became very militant in the 1960s and was arguing for the overthrow of capitalism during the 1972 general strike, and called on workers to bring back these traditions.
Sébastien, nurse and member of the FIQ (Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec, or Federation of Interprofessional Health-care Workers), spoke about the need to have militant union leadership. In the current epoch, marked by austerity measures and bosses’ attacks against the workers, Sébastien denounced the careerism which has become so present among the trade union bureaucrats who make exorbitant salaries. He ended by inviting all of the participants to get involved in La Riposte syndicale to help us bring combativeness and workers’ democracy into the union movement in order to advance the struggle of the working class.
Following these two presentations, there was a lively discussion with many participants. People shared experiences from unionized and non-unionized workplaces. The lack of a fighting union leadership was mentioned by many people. In addition, one worker mentioned the anti-democratic nature of the back-to-work legislation which has become the norm in recent years and expressed the need for the workers’ movement to defy these laws. Union raiding was denounced, and the necessity of unionizing the non-unionized was insisted upon by a number of people to fight for working class unity and strengthen the movement against the capitalists.
With the goal of uniting unionized and non-unionized workers against the bosses and the injustices of the capitalist system, Labour Fightback has been launched! We are determined to fight for the trade unions to become democratic organs of working class struggle. We call on all workers who wish to fight for these aims to join us!
For workers’ democracy!
For a class struggle unionism!