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Spartacist Canada No. 155

Winter 2007/2008

Immigrants, Minorities: Key to Workers Struggle

For a Multiethnic Revolutionary Workers Party!

We print below, slightly edited and abridged, a presentation by Miriam McDonald, editor of Spartacist Canada, at a September 22 Trotskyist League forum in Toronto.

Two years ago 2,300 workers in Brooks, Alberta struck Tyson, one of the largest meatpacking and food processing companies in the world. In their majority refugees and immigrants from Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria, they stood firm, virtually shutting down production, as Tyson ran scabs and tried to inflame racism to defeat the strike. These workers process a staggering 40 percent of Canada’s cattle. That is real social power. The unity of their picket line, which included white workers and women workers, enabled them to overcome divisions of race and sex and win a first contract for the UFCW union. Their strike showed powerfully that minorities and immigrant workers are increasingly key to the workings of the Canadian economy and the class struggle, and are often more willing to fight for the rights of all workers. In this way, they can be a catalyst for broader class and other social struggles.

Canada has always been a country of immigrants, and immigrants have always played a vital role in the class struggle here. As far back as 1919, foreign-born workers played a leading role in the Winnipeg General Strike and suffered state repression including deportations in the wake of the strike. Our predecessors in the early Communist Party of Canada were heavily immigrant. Then as now, here as elsewhere, the ruling class foments religious, national and ethnic divisions to poison and defeat class struggle.

Not a day passes that is not marked by an instance of capitalist barbarism, brutal state repression or vile anti-immigrant racism. Worlds away from southern Alberta are the desperately poor, decaying inner suburbs of Toronto where tens of thousands of people of West Indian and African origin live. For many years the Jane-Finch corridor has been in the gun sights of the racist cops. Basic democratic rights have been shredded in the name of a racist anti-gun, anti-drug hysteria that targets primarily black youth. In June, 700 cops converged on this area—one of several police raids over the past year. Doors were kicked in and families were terrorized. Ninety-five people were carted off to the lockups, all on the vaguest suspicions or for merely being in a particular place at a particular time.

With the massive attacks on industrial jobs, especially well-paid union ones, there has been a sharp spike in unemployment among black youth in this city, now an astronomical 32 percent! To the capitalist class and its armed fist the cops, much of the second- and third-generation offspring of African and Caribbean immigrants are a surplus population, and racist terror and scapegoating is on the order of the day. In many ways, these ghettoized inner suburbs in Toronto resemble the Paris banlieues (suburban ghettos) where youth of North African origin are subject to intense state terror and police violence.

In spite of factory closures and layoffs, black and Asian workers remain key components of the powerful unions in the city, such as the transit union. Union protests against the outrages carried out by Mayor David Miller’s cops would give pause to the thugs in blue. Struggling against racial oppression requires unleashing this social power against the capitalists. The rulers’ attacks on minorities can be combated effectively only from the perspective of class vs. class, pointing to the need to overthrow the capitalist system and replace it with an internationally planned, collectivized economy.

Our starting point as communists is the interests of the working class in the struggle against capital. Yet in fighting for socialist revolution, we are confronted by a hard reality: the enormous gulf between the current consciousness of the working class, and the need for workers to take state power, expropriate the bourgeois class and commence the socialist construction of society. Bridging that gulf requires addressing the roadblocks to class struggle the rulers place in our way. That’s really what this forum is about.

The Canadian working class is decisively multiracial. Today in cities like Vancouver and Toronto, immigrants and minorities—second- and third-generation Canadians—comprise close to half of the population and they are fast on the way to becoming majorities. Toronto is one of the most diverse cities in the world. The immigration rate per capita in Canada is one of the highest in the world.

The capitalists seek to modulate the flow of immigration to suit their labour requirements. In boom times, immigrants are encouraged, and when the bust comes, they are scapegoated for “stealing jobs.” And the bosses always foment anti-immigrant racism to poison workers’ struggles. The desperate efforts of people from much of Asia, Africa and Latin America to get to Canada or another advanced capitalist country by any means reflect the systematic imperialist looting and impoverishment of vast swathes of the Third World.

Immigrant workers often bring with them militant traditions of social struggle and can thus form a human bridge linking the struggles of working people internationally. The Brooks strike is one example of the way in which minority and immigrant workers have been and will continue to be catalysts for class struggle. In Ontario, too, minority workers were prominent in the recent plant occupations in Scarborough and Hamilton that won severance pay and unpaid wages in the face of plant closures. In Vancouver in summer 2005, 1,200 mainly Punjabi port truckers shut down much of the port. The collective action of this small number of workers had a huge impact, showing the strategic weight of immigrant labour. 25,000 containers piled up on the docks in Vancouver, costing the bosses some $75 million a day! Only a third of these workers were unionized—organizing all the port truckers would greatly strengthen the waterfront unions and undercut divisions between immigrant and Canadian-born workers.

Marxism and Immigration

The task confronting communists—us—is to forge a leadership that can tap into this powerful proletarian army in the struggle to overthrow the capitalist system. Our Marxist program speaks directly to the burning needs of immigrants and minorities. We demand full citizenship rights for everyone who has managed to get here. We are unalterably opposed to the bourgeoisie’s anti-immigrant laws and regulations. Against the capitalists’ attempts to use low-wage, often undocumented workers as a club against the unions, we seek to mobilize the unions to fight deportations through class-struggle means, reaching out to organize such workers into the unions with full rights.

Worldwide, the imperialist rulers have perfected the art of playing upon national, ethnic, religious and sexual divisions to perpetuate their barbarous rule. Their weapons of mass deception include their press, political parties and preachers. Above all, they have their state and its cops, courts and prisons, which exist to protect the capitalists’ “right” to exploit and live off the labour of the working class. The bosses also have at their disposal the pro-capitalist union misleaders and social democrats of the NDP, who push the nationalist lie that Canadian workers have a common interest with Canadian capitalists.

Our program flows from the reality of the world capitalist economy. Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, is not a “policy choice” for the capitalists, but the inevitable product of the constant search for cheap sources of labour and raw materials, including in competition with other capitalists domestically and globally. This has twice resulted in bloody interimperialist wars for the division and redivision of the globe. On the world stage, the Canadian capitalists serve as junior partners to the U.S. imperialists. Today we again see growing interimperialist rivalries, for example, between the U.S. and Europe. There is a huge contradiction between the U.S.’s enormous military might and its declining economic weight, symbolized best by the hollowed-out auto and steel industries of the American Midwest. This makes for a deeply unstable and unpredictable world. Everywhere the capitalists are ratcheting up national antagonisms while attacking social programs, workers rights and minorities.

As communists, whether it’s immigration or trade policy, we don’t seek to tell the bourgeoisie how to run their system. Unlike liberals and the reformist left, we don’t think there can be a fair or non-racist immigration policy under capitalism. There is no answer to the immiseration produced by the boom-and-bust cycles of capitalism short of proletarian socialist revolution that takes power out of the hands of the irrational ruling class. Basing ourselves on the lessons of history—in particular the victorious October 1917 Russian Revolution—we understand that workers cannot achieve emancipation through a futile quest to reform the capitalist system.

The counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet bureaucratically degenerated workers state and the East European deformed workers states in the late 1980s and early 1990s was an unprecedented defeat for the international proletariat. It has produced a retrogression of political consciousness, uneven to be sure. It means that in general the proletariat today does not view its struggles through the prism of the fight for socialism. The bourgeoisie lies that communism is dead. They want workers to believe that they cannot fight in their own interests. In spite of this, the class struggle continues, convulsively in some places. It is the task of communists to give leadership to the struggles of the proletariat.

Maple Leaf Chauvinism: Poison to Working-Class Struggle

There is an emerging economic divide in this country with a capitalist boom in the West and major deindustrialization in Ontario and Quebec. The capitalists are in a plunder mode. All of Alberta’s crude oil exports go to the U.S., where they are considered a reliable alternative to Near Eastern oil. These vast riches are being taken in the most short-sighted and destructive way possible, at tremendous environmental and human cost.

This has also changed the face of Alberta, literally. No longer a lily-white bastion of ranchers and oil magnates, a vast expansion of the working class has produced a growing minority population which includes, for example, some 50,000 Muslims. With a labour shortage, many workers have been able to wrest higher wages from the bosses—but they face an exorbitant cost of living. You might get $30 an hour but you’ll have to pay a fortune to live in a trailer in Fort McMurray.

In line with the capitalists’ demand for labour, and to drive down labour costs, the government has expanded the Temporary Foreign Worker program, providing fast-track approvals for employers in Alberta and B.C. In Alberta, foreign-born temporary workers now exceed immigrants. They come from Poland, Mexico, Venezuela, the Philippines and China. All immigrants face discrimination. Immeasurably worse, however, is the situation of the temporary and migrant workers. Without civil or legal rights, mostly without union representation, bound to their employer, fearful of deportation, with no hope of permanent residency let alone citizenship, these workers are to be thrown aside if they become injured or unruly, for example by organizing a union.

In B.C., construction workers from Costa Rica, Colombia and Ecuador employed by SNC-Lavalin SELI Canada in a rapid-transit tunnel project were getting $10.43 an hour, while domestic workers got $20-25. A complaint lodged by the Construction and Specialized Workers’ Union stated bluntly that these temporary workers were drastically underpaid because they were “dark-skinned, Spanish-speaking foreign nationals.” A union organizing drive, with special attention to minority and immigrant workers and demanding equal pay for equal work, could turn this around. Such a fight would go a long way toward revitalizing the labour movement.

The Alberta Federation of Labour has created a “temporary foreign worker advocate,” but these union misleaders have also responded to temporary foreign-born workers with vile nativist reaction. Targeting Chinese workers hired to work on the Horizon project north of Fort McMurray, the head of the Alberta Building Trades Council wrapped it in the Maple Leaf: “We’re talking about replacing Canadian construction workers,” he said. “This is not a union issue anymore. This is a Canadian issue” (Canadian Press, 27 April 2006).

In B.C. there have been similar outbursts. A proposal to hire 400 Chinese workers to work in an underground coal mine in northern B.C. sparked howls from the B.C. Federation of Labour. Jim Sinclair, the B.C. Fed president, captured how the pro-capitalist union bureaucracy views the world through the prism of the capitalist class: “The government and this company have lost sight of the idea of Canada—how this country grows,” he said, “Most of our wealth comes from the ground, and the way we share that wealth is that we do the work” (Northern Miner, 11-17 June).

Well, “we” indeed do the work. As to “sharing the wealth,” that is a capitalist myth. The wages workers earn are simply enough to reproduce their labour—what is socially necessary for a worker to exist in the given place and time. There is no “fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.” Here’s what Karl Marx said in Wage Labour and Capital:

“To say that the most favourable condition for wage labour is the most rapid possible growth of productive capital is only to say that the more rapidly the working class increases and enlarges the power that is hostile to it, the wealth that does not belong to it and that rules over it, the more favourable will be the conditions under which it is allowed to labour anew at increasing bourgeois wealth, at enlarging the power of capital, content with forging for itself the golden chains by which the bourgeoisie drags it in its train.”

The point, as Marx said, is to struggle for the complete abolition of the wages system.

Protectionism Fuels Racist Reaction

The capitalists have but one goal: to maximize their profits. To appeal to the rationality or humanity of this class, or to see an identity of interest, is a dead end. In the last five years close to 300,000 manufacturing jobs have disappeared, largely in Southern Ontario. As the capitalists try to bolster their profits, production is shifted offshore, increasingly to Asia and especially China. The union bureaucracy answers the resulting job losses with nationalist protectionism. That is, they appeal to one wing of the capitalists, looking to strengthen them against their competitors.

In the agitation against the “free trade” FTA and NAFTA pacts in the 1980s and early 1990s, protectionism in Canada was mainly defined by anti-Americanism. There was also strong anti-Japanese sentiment, still prevalent today. This is all toxic to the working class. Some of you may recall the murder of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American man, in the 1980s. Taken to be Japanese American, he was beaten to death by an auto foreman. This crazed racist blamed Vincent Chin for the mass layoffs ravaging Detroit at the time.

Today protectionism in this country is overwhelmingly directed against workers in Asia including, increasingly, China. The union misleaders have been pounding their protectionist “Made in Canada Matters” campaign, and this was again the theme of Labour Day as Canadian flags fluttered everywhere. On my way to the Labour Day parade, as the streetcar passed through Chinatown, I overheard some functionaries from the Steelworkers union who declared, as if on cue: “We’re not supposed to be buying Chinese.” Blaming Chinese workers for job losses is an expression of the hysteria against anything Chinese, whether it’s a Barbie doll from Mattel or a miner from China, and on the street and the shop floor it translates into racist poison.

Instead of lining up with the bosses here at home against workers abroad, we counterpose the international collaboration of workers against the common class enemy. For the bourgeoisie, protectionism and “free trade” are options that it can debate. For the proletariat to choose protectionism is to reject the program of internationalism, to renounce the struggle for socialist revolution. The solution to the crises of capitalism can only be an international socialist planned economy.

Protectionism weakens the position of workers in their struggles against the capitalists. The union tops’ calls for protectionism are doubly pernicious when directed against China, a bureaucratically deformed workers state. Capitalist rule was overthrown by the 1949 Revolution, leading to the building of a collectivized economy, a huge victory and gain for the working class internationally. The Chinese Revolution was of world-historic significance, laying the basis for an enormous leap in social progress.

The gains of the Chinese Revolution have, however, been undermined from the start by Stalinist misrule. The bureaucracy that rules in China is not a class but a privileged caste that sits atop the workers state. Following the Stalinist dogma of “socialism in one country” and its corollary, “peaceful coexistence,” the Chinese Communist Party regime, from Mao Zedong through to today, conciliates imperialism, not least through selling out revolutions abroad. Since Mao’s death, his successors have embarked on a program of “market reforms” whose impact has been quite contradictory. While penetration by offshore Chinese and imperialist capital strengthens internal counterrevolutionary forces, increased trade and investment have also led to a marked increase in development, including through the importation of industrial machinery. We fight to defend and extend the gains of the 1949 Revolution, and to forge a Leninist-Trotskyist party to lead the Chinese working class, at the head of the peasants and urban poor, to sweep away this bureaucracy through proletarian political revolution.

Particularly since the destruction of the Soviet Union, the U.S., Canadian and other imperialist powers have had as a central goal the destruction of the Chinese workers state. They aim to restore capitalist rule in order to turn the Chinese mainland into a gigantic sweatshop. Just as workers in Canada and the U.S. must defend their unions against the bosses despite the sellout labour leadership, it is the duty of the international working class to defend China unconditionally against imperialism and internal counterrevolution.

The anti-Communist union bureaucrats in Canada and the U.S. have a long record of dirty work on behalf of the imperialist rulers. As in East Europe and the former Soviet Union, these misleaders are abetting the imperialist drive for capitalist counterrevolution in China. The Canadian Labour Congress has joined with openly pro-imperialist outfits like the Falun Dafa religious sect, the Canada Tibet Committee and others in an anti-Communist “human rights” crusade against China. In this same spirit, in the 1980s these union misleaders championed Polish Solidarność, a reactionary movement masquerading as a trade union that was in the forefront of the drive for capitalist restoration in East Europe.

They speak hypocritically about the rights of Chinese workers. But genuine solidarity with the embattled Chinese worker and peasant masses must be based on opposition to the rapacious imperialist rulers and defense of the gains of the Chinese Revolution. Working-class struggle must be consciously waged as an international fight. In Canada that means breaking workers from the flag-waving chauvinism and China-bashing pushed by the labour tops and the NDP.

Labour Must Fight “Anti-Terror” Repression

I spoke earlier of the capitalists’ “weapons of mass deception.” Among the deadliest for the proletariat is the “war on terror.” Internationally, the imperialists are engaged in bloody occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq. We demand that Canadian and all imperialist troops get out of Afghanistan, and that the U.S. get out of Iraq. We fight for class struggle at home, and we link that to opposition to the racist anti-terror hysteria. Muslims are the immediate target, but a more fundamental purpose is to intimidate and constrain the working class and its struggles. The kinds of conspiracy charges wielded against “terror” suspects in Canada and the U.S. have long been used against the left and labour movement. In fact, such charges are the state’s last refuge when they want to get someone in the absence of a shred of evidence.

We have opposed every repressive law, witchhunt and sting. The Canadian rulers have yet to find anyone guilty of anything, yet people have been detained on security certificates for years without charge. In the case of the Toronto 17—a massive police sting in which the cops’ own agent says many of the young Muslim men charged are innocent—many of the charges have already been dropped. Criminally, the NDP’s Jack Layton hailed the raids.

On both sides of the border, the rulers are using this repressive climate to target trade unionists, leftist university professors, foreign leftists and more. Port and transportation workers have been singled out especially. Port workers in Canada have been targeted with repressive new regulations that require immigration checks, CSIS checks, criminal record checks, even background checks of your spouse and your former spouse!

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) opposed this from the start and they noted that these regulations would target minorities and union activists. But they did so within the framework that port workers should collaborate with the employers and government in the name of “port security.” Even now, the ILWU leaders’ response to the new regulations is that they are “window dressing” and fail to address “a host of other serious security gaps.” In a 2004 submission to the Canadian government, the Canadian ILWU tops quoted and endorsed their American counterparts’ statement to a congressional committee:

“Longshore workers are the front-line defense to terrorism in our ports…. The government should, therefore, enlist these dedicated workers as partners rather than as suspects in the efforts to secure our national ports.”

—“Submission to Transport Canada,” 21 October 2004

To enlist workers as “partners” in the capitalists’ “anti-terror” hysteria endangers the labour movement, disarming workers in the face of their class enemy.

What the capitalists can get away with in the “war on terror” is conditioned by the level of labour and social struggle. Mobilizing workers against this racist hysteria is central to our struggle to build a revolutionary workers party, a party that will be a real tribune of the people, fighting all manifestations of capitalist violence and barbarism and exposing the workings of the capitalist system for all to see.

When we are able, we put our program in action. In February 2002, soon after the September 11 attacks, when the terror hysteria was at its peak, the Partisan Defense Committee and the Labor Black League for Social Defense organized a labour-centered mobilization against the USA Patriot Act and Maritime Security Act in Oakland, California. This protest drew on a core of mainly black longshoremen from ILWU Local 10 in Oakland. This action was small but significant, showing how the multiracial workers movement can be organized in its own class interest.

Imperialist Subjugation and Women’s Oppression

When we speak of immigrants and minorities and overcoming the roadblocks to class struggle, combating anti-woman bigotry and addressing women’s oppression is central. That the reformist left rarely addresses the often explosive questions of women’s oppression is a measure of how far back political consciousness has been thrown in this post-Soviet period.

At over 250,000 the Canadian Tamil population, concentrated in Toronto, is the largest outside South Asia. Like Muslims, Tamils are also on the government’s “anti-terror” hit list. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were banned by the Harper government in 2006. This has led to a series of arrests and crackdowns. We are virtually alone among self-described leftists in defending the Tamil nationalists against state repression. In this context I want to note with pride that our organization was invited to address an International Women’s Day gathering of over 900 Tamils in Scarborough earlier this year. Our comrade’s speech was a model of communist intervention: she defended the Tamil Tigers against the Canadian government crackdown, noting that it dovetailed with a stepped-up military drive by the Sri Lankan government against the Tamils. She declared our Marxist opposition to the nationalist politics of the LTTE while underlining our defense of the Tamils against the murderous state pogromist violence that has sent hundreds of thousands of Tamils into exile. And she staked out our ground as Bolsheviks in the fight for women’s liberation.

The state-backed furor against Muslims has been devastating for Muslim women. The all-party outcry against letting fully veiled Muslim women vote in federal elections without lifting their veils was an instance of gratuitous racism. Voting rules don’t require photo ID—no-one saw the faces of the 80,000 people who cast mail ballots during the last federal election. Yet Muslim women were singled out following a similar anti-Muslim backlash in the March Quebec election. To even pose the question, as do the current hearings in Quebec, of how far “reasonable accommodation” of religious minorities should extend is to invite a racist backlash.

These attacks on the voting rights of a minuscule number of Muslim women reek of the anti-Semitic laws and quotas that once barred Jews from attending universities or visiting beaches. This should have met with an outcry of protest from the labour movement. Instead, Jack Layton and his NDP joined in the racist outcry, showing in a chemically pure way how the pro-capitalist social democracy transmits bourgeois reaction into the working class.

The increased prevalence of the Islamic veil on the streets of Toronto, Montreal and elsewhere is in part due to the rise of political Islam internationally. It is also a result of the relentless racism and poverty suffered by Muslim immigrants and their descendents in the imperialist centers. As fighters for women’s liberation, we oppose the veil in all its forms as a symbol and an instrument of women’s oppression. But we also oppose state bans on the veil and any other religious symbol as racist and discriminatory.

The “multiculturalism” policies promoted by the Canadian rulers serve to reinforce the cultural and racial segregation of minority communities. Hated by right wingers because of its mask of feel-good “tolerance” and “anti-racism,” multiculturalism serves to obscure the fact that minority communities, like the rest of society, are class-divided. The struggles of immigrant and other minority workers for jobs, unions and equal status requires breaking the grip of religious and other so-called “community leaders.”

For the ruling class there is no contradiction between smearing Muslims as “terrorists” while promoting at the same time the most retrograde elements among the Muslim clergy. It all serves to reinforce the grip of capitalism—scapegoating minorities on the one hand, regimenting them on the other. In 2004-05, we opposed the Ontario Liberal government’s plan to allow sharia courts to function as part of the state-run arbitration system. We regard all modern religion as an instrument of bourgeois reaction that defends exploitation and befuddles the working people. In contrast, the International Socialists are partaking heavily of religious opiates. They backed sharia courts, and today pander to the most right-wing forces among Muslims.

Murders of Sikh Women in B.C.

Over the last year there have been protests in the B.C. Lower Mainland that have thrown a spotlight on the intense oppression experienced by South Asian women of Sikh background. In October 2006, the charred remains of Manjit Panghali, an elementary school teacher, were found near a busy ocean port terminal in Surrey. Her husband and brother-in-law have since been charged in her murder. Around the same time, a woman was shot in the face, blinded by her husband before he killed himself, and yet another woman was stabbed to death—her husband is charged with her murder.

These horrific crimes are part of a series of murders of Sikh women in B.C. by their relatives. These killings occur against a backdrop of longstanding racism against people from the Indian subcontinent. The racist backlash which held that the murders reflect Indian people bringing “their problems” here, unable to adapt to the “North American way of life,” was predictable.

Shock and anger rippled through the Punjabi community and beyond, and at the anguished protests in fall 2006 and last April the question of why these murders were happening was posed. Violence against women crosses class and ethnic lines with brutal indifference. But these murders are something else. Like so-called “honour killings” among Muslim immigrant families that have taken place in Germany, Britain and other imperialist centers, these murders reflect at bottom the condition of women as property. One pattern among the B.C. Sikh women was their relative economic independence: most of them had good jobs as teachers, school principals, software engineers and so on. In traditional Sikh society—where arranged marriages and dowry are still the norm, including among immigrants in Canada—such independence clashes with traditional culture, especially marriage.

The institution of the family is the main source of women’s oppression. That’s true in the advanced and neocolonial worlds alike. The family is also the main vehicle for the transfer of private property and the regimentation of society. Independence or some form of defiance of parental or spousal control is what sparks “honour killings,” which have also occurred in Canada. In addressing the murder of an immigrant Turkish woman by her family, our German comrades explained: “The concept of ‘family honor,’ i.e., control of the sexuality of women by their family, is not exclusively Islamic, but rather connected to a mode of production where a clan—a series of related extended families—holds and works the land in common” (“‘Honor’ Killings in Germany,” Workers Vanguard No. 850, 20 June 2005). As Friedrich Engels put it trenchantly in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884):

“Such a form of the family shows the transition of the pairing family to monogamy. In order to guarantee the fidelity of the wife, that is, the paternity of the children, the woman is placed in the man’s absolute power; if he kills her, he is but exercising his right.”

Imperialist penetration in the colonial world blocked the path of social and economic development, and to this day it reinforces all that is backward and retrograde as a prop to bourgeois rule. It is this fact which is central to explaining the underlying causes of such brutal crimes as the murder of wives or “honour” killings. Today among concentrations of immigrants in the Western imperialist countries, capitalist rule continues to reinforce anti-woman practices, from the barbarism of female genital mutilation to veiling to arranged marriages.

However, it would be false to portray minority women as helpless victims. When we speak of immigrants and minorities as catalysts for class struggle, we needn’t look far to see that women workers play a crucial role in such struggles. In the forefront of the militant HEU hospital workers strike of three years ago in B.C. were Filipino, Chinese and other minority women. Unions like UNITE HERE are heavily female and minority. These overworked and underpaid workers have waged many struggles for their rights, often with great élan and courage.

Against the “divide and rule” policies that are intrinsic to a society based on brutal exploitation, we fight for the voluntary integration of all minorities based on full equality. Eradicating racism, women’s oppression and all forms of discrimination requires a revolutionary struggle, mobilizing the working class to uproot capitalism.

No One Is Illegal: Liberalism, Reformism and Immigrants

This is not, however, the approach of the reformist left and of immigration advocacy groups such as No One Is Illegal (NOII). At its most left-sounding, NOII’s Vancouver group opposes protectionist calls to “defend Canadian jobs.” But they really just advance a program of liberalism as applied to workers, calling to “give voice to their struggles for dignity and justice” and to “re-envision a labour movement based on a globalized solidarity that recognizes the expansionist nature of capital” and “unmask the legacy of colonialism and racism and place migrant workers at the centre….” Not much there about workers as a class with social power.

Even more blatantly liberal in its appeals to the capitalist class is NOII’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” campaign. This campaign is meant to protect undocumented workers from being picked up and deported merely because a city official tells them to reveal their immigration status. Now, if any serious reforms are on offer that assist immigrants, we support that. But lobbying the powers-that-be is the alpha and omega of NOII’s program. Their crowning achievement has been to get the Toronto police chief to agree to a “don’t ask” policy. The entire campaign is predicated on building illusions in the capitalist state, especially in the cops, who could care less and openly shake their fists at such initiatives while waging murderous state terror against immigrants. The cops are a central part of the apparatus of state repression that “serves and protects” the private property of the capitalists against the working class.

Some anarchists and reformist left groups also raise the utopian call for “open borders.” This implies a belief that there can be the abolition of national states under capitalism, and further implies that the state—whose function is the suppression of the working class in the interests of the capitalist class—can be reformed away or be made to serve our interests. It can’t; it must be overturned and a workers state established.

“Open the borders,” if applied to a small, neocolonial or underdeveloped country, can be downright reactionary. Should Jews, for example, have been allowed unlimited immigration following World War II and the Holocaust into the Palestinian protectorate of British imperialism (a “right” opposed by Palestinian Trotskyists before the formation of the state of Israel)? Applied to the imperialist powers, which are the only ones really capable of defending their borders, it is fatuous utopianism. Capitalism cannot provide economic well-being and freedom for the people of the world. If you call for abolishing the border cops, why not call for abolishing the cops and army? After all, policing its borders is just as vital to the existence of the Canadian capitalist state as having a cop force to break strikes and attack Native peoples, and an army to occupy Quebec, as it did back in 1970. The destruction of national frontiers will become a reality only under socialism, as a result of the abolition of material scarcity.

Another way in which class lines are blurred is seen in the popular “people of colour” designation. In denying the distinct histories and present realities of the diverse ethnic populations that make up this country, the view that race or skin colour is the primary divide is a denial of class differences. Behind this is a presumption that all non-white people have common interests against all whites. The idea that a Mexican agricultural worker has more in common with a Chinese Canadian real-estate mogul or South Asian doctor than with an auto worker of European background underscores how absurd this program is. Large sections of the working class buy into the racism of this society, often because it is transmitted through the union bureaucracy. But the notion that white workers and bosses are supposedly united in “white skin privilege” is a truly toxic conception that will undermine class struggle.

Neither NOII nor the fake left that slavishly tails the NDP regard the working class as a social class that uniquely has the social power to defend itself and all the oppressed, and do away with this entire system. Non- or anti-revolutionary, seeing workers as just another pressure group, they are incapable of fighting to mobilize workers independently of the capitalist exploiters.

Forge a Multiracial, Revolutionary Workers Party!

Embracing the immigrant, the native-born, the migrant worker, labour must demand: Full citizenship rights for all immigrants! Asylum for refugees! No deportations! Jobs for all through a shorter workweek at no loss in pay! A fighting union movement would organize the unorganized, drawing in workers in the most dangerous, low-paid and menial jobs. Combating the bosses’ racist union-busting schemes, the unions should fight for union control of hiring, including the aggressive recruitment of women, minorities, Native people—those historically discriminated against by the capitalist system.

This perspective poses the need for a new, revolutionary leadership built in a political struggle against the pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist misleaders in the unions and in the NDP. Pushing the lie that Canadian workers share a common national interest with their bosses, these misleaders shackle workers to their exploiters. When in power, the New Democrats pursue their own racist crackdowns on immigrants and minorities as in B.C. in the 1990s, when they were in the vanguard of a racist hysteria against Chinese immigrants.

And the NDP always promotes Maple Leaf Anglo chauvinism against Quebec, thereby inflaming nationalist animosities. The national subjugation of Quebec is a central pillar of Canadian capitalism. In English Canada, the workers must understand that defense of Quebec’s national rights is key to any perspective of struggle against the capitalist rulers. We advocate independence for Quebec as the best means of getting the national question off the agenda, and of winning Québécois workers away from their nationalist misleaders.

As revolutionary leader V.I. Lenin wrote in an article titled “Capitalism and Workers’ Immigration” in 1913:

“There can be no doubt that dire poverty alone compels people to abandon their native land, and that the capitalists exploit the immigrant workers in the most shameless manner. But only reactionaries can shut their eyes to the progressive significance of this modern migration of nations. Emancipation from the yoke of capital is impossible without the further development of capitalism, and without the class struggle that is based on it. And it is into this struggle that capitalism is drawing the masses of the working people of the whole world, breaking down the musty, fusty habits of local life, breaking down national barriers and prejudices, uniting workers from all countries in huge factories and mines in America, Germany, and so forth.”

The working class is the only revolutionary class. In emancipating itself, it emancipates all the oppressed. By expropriating the capitalists, a workers government can begin to eliminate scarcity and hunger, laying the material basis for eradicating racism and women’s oppression. Our model is the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, which uniquely made a law giving citizenship rights to the foreign-born workers there, giving life to Karl Marx’s statement that the working people have no country.

The capitalist system brings war and occupation abroad—and at home, anti-immigrant racism, the destruction of jobs, health care, education and infrastructure alongside attacks on unions and basic rights. The capitalists are ruining the lives of workers and the oppressed. Only class struggle can beat back these attacks. And only the destruction of the entire capitalist system through workers revolution can open the road to genuine human freedom. We communists look forward to a socialist future where racism and national animosity will be supplanted by the mutual voluntary assimilation of cultures and nations. In the immortal words of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: “Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.” Workers of the world: unite!


Spartacist Canada No. 155

SC 155

Winter 2007/2008


Immigrants, Minorities: Key to Workers Struggle

For a Multiethnic Revolutionary Workers Party!


Marxism, the Capitalist State and the Police

(quote of the issue)


Outrage Over Cop Taser Killing in Vancouver


Mass Arrests in Montreal

Defend Quebec Student Protesters!

(Young Spartacus pages)


Mumia Is Innocent!

Free Him Now!

Sinister Book Recycles Frame-Up Lies


New ICL Bulletin

The Logan Dossier


TL/LT Eleventh National Conference:

Fighting for a Revolutionary Perspective in a Reactionary Period


Down With Imperialist Sanctions!

U.S. Hands Off Iran!