On Monday, September 7, between 300 and 400 people gathered for a Labour Day rally in Montreal. Although this number of participants may seem modest, this demonstration was nonetheless very significant. For the first time in a very long while, more than 20 unions and organizations, including the most important Montreal labour councils (the FTQ and the CSN), held a rally with the following anti-capitalist and radical slogans:
For militant trade unionism!
For a class struggle against racism!
A promising annual tradition has just been established!
The demonstration began with a number of inspiring speeches held in front of the empty pedestal where the statue of John A. MacDonald stood until it was brought down last week. The symbolism behind this starting point was all the stronger as the first speaker was Darcy, an activist with Fightback and member of the Cree Nation, who gave a poignant speech about the Indigenous struggle in Canada. Darcy pointed out that the land acknowledgements heard at demonstrations are often empty and are made by Liberals to clear their conscience while they do nothing. She stressed that yes, we are on stolen land, but capitalism is the culprit. Affirming that Indigenous peoples cannot lead the struggle alone, she emphasized the presence of the unions and called on them to actively join the Indigenous struggle. “The capitalist class trembles at the idea of labour uniting with the Indigenous struggle… Let’s move to make that fear a reality!” she said.
Dominique Daigneault, President of the Central Council of Montreal CSN and Marc-Edouard Joubert, President of the Quebec Federation of Labour Montreal Council then spoke. They spoke about the impact of the pandemic on the working class, on the one hand, and the need for solidarity within the labour movement and to fight racism within our ranks, on the other. Speaking about the three slogans of the demonstration, Dominique added that it is necessary to fight patriarchy as well, underlining that the labor movement must fight against all forms of oppression.
The last speaker before the march was Julien Arseneau, an activist with La Riposte syndicale. Julien stressed that it is time for the trade union movement to call things by their right name and fight against the capitalist system itself. He added that we must prepare ourselves for the struggle against the CAQ and the bosses. He also explained that unfortunately, over the years business unionism has taken the place of fighting unionism. The labour movement has for too long backed down when faced with back-to-work legislation, which is constantly used to break strikes. The labour movement would not exist today if we had backed down every time the bosses’ governments used the law to prohibit workers from organizing and striking. With this in mind, Julien insisted that the demonstration represented a commitment to revive our combative traditions, adding that we must fight for a socialist society where the workers make the decisions, not the bosses.
The march then headed east on René-Lévesque chanting militant slogans like, “The workers united will never be defeated”, “Immigrants and workers, same fight”, “Against the CAQ and the bosses, fighting unionism” and “He who sows misery will reap the anger”.
The demonstration took place calmly under a completely disproportionate police presence, and one demonstrator was even arrested after the march by a few dozen police officers. At a time when a mass movement against police brutality has been raging for months with the slogans “Defund the police” and “Abolish the police,” this unnecessary police presence simply further demonstrates the real role that the police play in capitalist society.
The demonstration finished in the entertainment district with final speeches. Wilner Cayo of Debout pour la dignité (Stand Up for Dignity), Coline Gaucher of IWW Montreal, Nancy Beauchamp of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and Frantz André of Solidarité Québec-Haïti addressed the demonstrators. Then, the final word came from Geneviève Raymond of STTIC-CSN, who thanked the participating organizations, emphasizing her hope that other movements of this kind will be born. She concluded by saying, “see you for Labour Day 2021!”
Indeed, see you next year!
We have entered the worst economic crisis in the history of capitalism. In the coming period, the capitalist system will become more and more discredited in the eyes of workers and youth. A trade union demonstration that speaks openly about the need to fight capitalism could very well become a point of reference. This is what we hope Labour Day will become in the coming years.
In Quebec, we are entering this unprecedented crisis with the most right-wing government in the province’s recent history at the helm. It is certain that François Legault and the CAQ will try to make workers pay for the crisis.
In June, La Riposte syndicale and the STTIC-CSN (community outreach workers union) launched this initiative with the aim of getting the labour movement on board for an anti-capitalist labour day rally committed to reviving militant methods of struggle. We have to say that this has been a success.
Many unions have endorsed the demonstration. This represents a commitment to revive our traditions of struggle, and not to let the CAQ and the bosses erode our gains and destroy our unions. Very soon, we will have to translate the slogans and spirit of the demonstration into action. The question will be asked concretely: is the labour movement ready for struggle? Is the union leadership going to prepare the movement to defy the anti-union laws to come?
La Riposte syndicale (Labour Fightback) intends to work tirelessly to ensure that the labour movement is ready for what is coming. We will promote militant trade unionism, class struggle against all forms of oppression, and a socialist perspective in the labor movement. We invite you to join us to make this happen!
STTIC – CSN
La Riposte syndicale
Travailleuses et travailleurs progressistes de l’éducation
Conseil central Montréal métropolitain CSN
Conseil régional FTQ Montréal métropolitain
Au bas de l’échelle
Le Comité Chômage de l’Est de Montréal
IATSE local 262
SCFP, section locale 2850 – Syndicat du personnel administratif, technique et professionnel du transport en commun
Syndicat des Employé-es d’Aux Vivres Cuisine – CSN
AGSEM – Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill
Coalition Solidarité Santé
Syndicat des étudiant·e·s salarié·e·s de l’Université de Montréal (SÉSUM)