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April 27 marked the first demonstration of the spring season in Montreal. Tens of thousands of people gathered from across Quebec in a protest called by the main workers' unions against the Employment Insurance (EI) reform put forward by the Harper government. The draconian measures are meant to push unemployment recipients back onto the job market at reduced pay. These measures are being resisted by workers across the country, and the weekend’s demonstration in Montreal was a good beginning for the movement. We must extend the fight against austerity at federal and provincial levels, and the student strike last year has shown us that militant action is the only way to win.

The federal government's reform is an attack on unemployed workers across Canada. The new rules are meant to force workers to accept a pay cut while seeking new employment. They would even be expected to accept a job up to an hour away from their home. Those who don't agree to these conditions would be considered to not be looking for new employment and therefore lose their benefits. This would have the effect of flooding the market with an army of unemployed workers who have no choice but to accept low wages and thereby would push down wages for all workers, employed and unemployed alike.

Workers living in more remote regions of the country, where often jobs are seasonal, would be some of the most affected by these changes. Amongst the thousands who were on the streets today, many were bused in from the far corners of Quebec in order to voice their rejection of these cuts.

This EI reform is part of general austerity measures being put forward across Canada and the world by a capitalist class in crisis. Workers are expected to make sacrifices in their standards of living in order to save the profits of the banks and private industries. Since 2008, capitalism has been in crisis, with no end in sight. In Greece, the capitalists have even suggested the idea that Greek workers should work 11 hours a day and 6 days a week to pay for the debts to the banks. Across the world, the situation for workers and youth today is worse than it was a decade ago, and can only continue to decline. The austerity is not a Quebecois or Canadian problem, it is an expression of the fact that capitalism is at a dead end around the world and can no longer offer any future for the working class.

In the past few years we witnessed the beginnings of a fight against these attacks. Workers at Air Canada and Canada Post have voted massively for strike mandates, but have been legislated back to work by the Harper government. We've also seen the rise of Quebec students last year against the tuition hike of $1,625 proposed by the former Charest government. The militancy of the students has shown us that the only way to fight austerity is to take massively to the streets. Today's demonstration was a continuation of this and is an indication of what is to come in the future as society is getting increasingly polarized due to these cuts.

The Parti Quebecois (PQ) has put forward austerity measures of its own: indexation of tuition fees, taxing health care, cuts to welfare and other social services. However, this protest was against the Harper government with little mention of the PQ's attacks. The main student union, ASSÉ, today put forward the slogan: “Uni-e-s contre les mesures d'austérité du provincial au fédéral” (“United against provincial and federal austerity measures”). This is absolutely correct. The CSN, FTQ and CSQ should organize a united fight back against austerity at all levels, both federal and provincial. It is time to break with the PQ, which has clearly shown whose interests it really represents. Only mass mobilization against the capitalist parties both in Quebec and the Canadian state can obtain victory. As ASSÉ did last year, the unions must view this action as only one small step in a general plan for mobilization. Further protests and a plan for ramping up the struggle are also needed. A long term vision for carrying out a serious struggle that would actually stop the austerity is needed, not mere expressions of opposition. There are valuable lessons to be learned from last year's student strikes, and without a united movement with the concrete aim of defeating the austerity, we cannot expect much to change.

The weekend’s protest was also intended to be a weekend Mayday demonstration. Mayday is a worldwide tradition of the working class, honouring those who died in Chicago in the struggle for the eight hour day and laid the basis for today's standard of living in this and other battles. Their sacrifices would be in vain if the capitalists erode those gains without a fight. It is becoming increasingly clear that that is all that Capitalism has in store for us. Only a movement that not only resists these attacks but goes on the counteroffensive can end this misery. What we need is a movement to go beyond this system based on individual profit and bring about a new society based on human needs. What we need is a fighting, socialist movement. In the honour of the Chicago martyrs and countless others, for mayday, and for today's movements against austerity across the world, we must proudly raise the slogan: “Workers of the world unite!”

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