Spartacist Canada No. 151

Winter 2006/2007


Imperialism's Labour Lieutenants

Anti-China Protectionism: Poison for Workers

The Canadian capitalists have been looting the working class of this country with a vengeance. Since the early 1990s, the wealth amassed by Canadian banks and corporations has soared, while workers, immigrants, women and the poor have suffered drastic cutbacks in real wages and social services, and homelessness has skyrocketed in all the major cities. Despite occasional upsurges of labour struggle, the trade-union misleaders have capitulated time after time to the bosses’ attacks and giveback demands. In Ontario in particular, they have responded to the massive job losses in industry not by using the weapons of class struggle, like strikes, but with Canadian-nationalist protectionism that targets workers abroad—in Japan, Korea and now increasingly in China.

The labour tops’ campaign is interlaced with anti-Communist “human rights” rhetoric demanding that the Canadian capitalist rulers take action against China. Their parliamentary allies, the NDP, took the occasion of Chinese premier Hu Jintao’s visit to Canada in September 2005 to demand that then prime minister Paul Martin, whose Liberal minority government the New Democrats were propping up, “drive home Canada’s serious concerns with China’s record of human rights abuses.”

Meanwhile the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) has joined with such openly pro-imperialist organizations as the Falun Dafa religious sect, Canada Tibet Committee and Rights & Democracy, a “non-partisan” outfit set up by the Mulroney Tory government in 1988, to form the Canadian Coalition on Human Rights in China. On October 6, this Coalition issued an open letter to Tory prime minister Stephen Harper criticizing the previous Liberal regime’s policy of “quiet diplomacy” with China and urging the Tories to implement a “strengthened approach to the promotion of human rights in China.”

Such open anti-China alliances with the racist Canadian state—brutal oppressor of the Native peoples, the Québécois and millions of immigrants, not least from Asia—show the pro-capitalist character of the labour bureaucracy: a thin, privileged layer at the head of the unions whose worldview corresponds to that of the capitalist class, which it seeks to advise on how best to “conduct business.” Today both the NDP and the CLC-backed Coalition are getting what they wanted, as the right-wing Harper government lectures the Chinese regime on “human rights” at every opportunity.

Nationalist protectionism has long been the calling card of Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) president Buzz Hargrove, who stridently demands government action against Asian imports. For their part, the leaders of the UNITE HERE garment workers union have joined with the textile bosses in an ongoing campaign to pressure the government to slash imports from China.

We communists are without exception opposed to protectionism in the imperialist countries like the U.S. and Canada. But nor are we partisans of “free trade”: we are fully aware that companies which today demand free access to foreign markets do so with the sole purpose of increasing profits. Their mechanism for this is the superexploitation of cheap, largely unorganized labour abroad and often, concomitantly, access to an increased pool of buyers for goods. This “offloading” is not simply corporate policy but is intrinsic to capitalism.

The unions are the necessary first line of defense against the capitalists’ attacks, but promoting national protectionism undermines labour’s struggle by poisoning class consciousness and solidarity. Protectionism scapegoats foreign workers for the loss of jobs in North America, while building illusions in the benevolence of our “own” national capitalists. What is necessary is internationalist solidarity with workers abroad and a fight to replace the current Canadian-nationalist labour misleaders with a class-struggle leadership.

Defend the Gains of the Chinese Revolution!

The union tops’ calls for protectionist measures are doubly pernicious when directed against China, a bureaucratically deformed workers state. The fact that capitalist rule was overthrown in China by the 1949 Revolution, leading to the building of a collectivized economy, represents a historic gain for the working class internationally. Despite profound bureaucratic deformations, the Chinese Revolution was of world-historic significance, overthrowing the rule of the imperialist-backed Chinese bourgeoisie and laying the basis for an enormous leap in social progress. A nation that had been ravaged and divided by foreign powers for a century was unified and freed from imperialist subjugation. In a country defined by abject peasant backwardness, the revolution enabled women to advance by magnitudes over their previous status.

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, aiming to restore capitalist rule in order to turn the Chinese mainland into a gigantic sweatshop. They have a two-pronged approach. On the one hand, they aim to undermine the workers state by strengthening internal counterrevolutionary forces, including through capitalist investment. On the other, they are exerting unremitting military pressure against China. The incursions into Afghanistan and elsewhere in Central Asia by the U.S. and its allies—including Canada—have significantly tightened the military vise around China. The U.S. has also strengthened its military deployment in the Pacific Rim, placing antiballistic missile systems in the region and signing a joint declaration with Japan in defense of capitalist Taiwan.

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 against imperialism and internal counterrevolution.

The gains of the Chinese Revolution have, however, been undermined throughout 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 (CCP) regime, from Mao Zedong up through today, has conciliated imperialism, not least through selling out revolutions in other countries. Since Mao’s death, his successors have embarked on a program of “market reforms” whose impact has been deeply contradictory. While penetration by offshore Chinese and imperialist capital has strengthened internal counterrevolutionary forces, increased trade and investment have also led to a marked increase in development, including through the importation of industrial machinery. (See “China’s ‘Market Reforms’—A Trotskyist Analysis,” Workers Vanguard Nos. 874 and 875, 4 August and 1 September, for an extensive treatment of this question.)

Insofar as it offers up low-wage Chinese workers to large imperialist corporations, the Beijing bureaucracy acts as a labour contractor for the international bourgeoisie. The same Stalinist regime conciliates imperialism at the international level by such acts as voting in the United Nations Security Council to condemn the North Korean deformed workers state’s nuclear testing. This is but one example of how CCP rule undermines the system of nationalized property and the defense of the deformed workers state itself. In recent years, Chinese workers and peasants have waged constant battles against the effects of the bureaucracy’s “market reforms.” A Leninist-Trotskyist party, committed to defending and extending the gains of the 1949 Revolution, must be forged to lead China’s powerful working class, at the head of the peasants and urban poor, to sweep away the Stalinist bureaucracy through proletarian political revolution.

The CAW, David Miller and Bombardier

But who are the social-democratic misleaders of the CLC, CAW et al. to howl about the lack of workers’ rights in China? For years these labour fakers have let the bosses get away with sweeping attacks on workers’ jobs, union rights and benefits. CAW president Hargrove has long raved against Japanese and Korean cars, and now the CAW tops are warning of the “threat” of cheap imports from China. Yet in Ontario alone, tens of thousands of auto workers are employed in non-union plants, including Japanese-owned Honda and Toyota and Canadian-owned parts plants, notably the union-busting Magna. Hargrove & Co. wage no serious fight to organize these plants. Instead they criminally pit workers in the Japanese-owned factories against the CAW by denouncing the products they make, because they are “foreign”! Organize the unorganized! The entire auto industry must be unionized!

The union tops’ anti-China protectionism was in full flower this fall over the awarding of a $700 million subway train manufacturing contract for the Toronto Transit Commission. After Montreal-based Bombardier was given the contract for production at its Thunder Bay, Ontario plant, a furor erupted when Siemens of Germany claimed it could do the work more cheaply, in part by assembling trains in China. While right-wing councillors tried to make political hay against NDP mayor David Miller for awarding the contract to Bombardier as a sole-source supplier, the CAW, which organizes the Thunder Bay plant, went into overdrive to back their friend Miller, thereby pitting Canadian workers against their brothers and sisters in China.

Cynically manipulating workers’ fears of losing their jobs, on September 25 the Toronto Labour Council organized a chauvinist “Made in Canada Matters” rally at City Hall before the vote that approved the Bombardier contract. While Miller intoned, “Public money used to buy subway cars made in Canada helps keep jobs and technology in our country,” senior CAW official Bob Chernecki called on workers to “oppose politicians who want to ship jobs overseas” (CONTACT Newsletter, 29 September). A few months earlier, TTC chairman and NDP councillor Howard Moscoe railed: “I don’t want to build my cars in a communist regime…. I want to make my cars where it benefits Canadian workers” (Northern Ontario Business, 5 June).

The claim that Canadian workers have a common interest with Canadian bosses is a pernicious lie: here, as everywhere, the interests of labour and capital are irreconcilable. What is needed is an internationalist fight against the capitalist exploiters, who are manifestly incapable of providing decent conditions for workers anywhere. Job losses can be fought by militant class-struggle actions such as plant occupations. Last May, Toronto ATU transit workers gave a taste of labour’s potential power when they struck against management harassment, safety violations and arbitrary shift changes, shutting down North America’s third-largest transit system in an “illegal” walkout. NDPers Miller and Moscoe were in the forefront of denouncing this strike and are seeking massive fines against the union.

The unions should fight for demands like a shorter workweek with no loss in pay, enabling the available work to be shared among all workers. If the capitalists are unwilling to run certain plants or sectors of industry—out of pure greed, or because plants may be obsolete or resources depleted—then workers must put up a hard fight for long-term wage protection and retraining at company expense. Such demands go against the grain of the irrational capitalist economic system of production for profit. Only socialist revolution and the establishment of an international planned economy—where production is based on human needs as determined through workers democracy, not the profits of a tiny exploiting class—can put an end to joblessness and misery everywhere.

For Internationalist Proletarian Leadership!

The anti-Communist union bureaucrats in Canada, as in the U.S., have a long record of dirty work on behalf of their “own” imperialist rulers. This was driven home at this year’s Toronto Labour Day parade. “Made in Canada Matters” was a central theme of the march, and among the contingents was one from the reactionary Chinese Falun Dafa religious sect. Back in the 1980s, the labour misleaders were avid champions of Polish Solidarność, a reactionary movement masquerading as a trade union that was in the forefront of the drive for capitalist restoration in East Europe. The American AFL-CIO union tops channelled millions of dollars of CIA money to this counterrevolutionary “union.” In Canada, the B.C. Federation of Labour and NDP organized an anti-Communist picket against a Polish ship, while the CLC put on its payroll one Zygmunt Przetakiewicz, a rabidly reactionary supporter of Solidarność, who openly made common cause with the U.S. rulers on every issue from CIA-backed counterinsurgency in Central America to the West European “peace” movement.

As they did in East Europe and the former Soviet Union, the U.S. and Canadian labour tops are abetting the imperialist drive for capitalist counterrevolution in China. Counterrevolution in the Soviet Union, prepared by decades of Stalinist misrule, plunged the working people into mass unemployment, falling life expectancy and all-around social degradation. Capitalist restoration in China, a much poorer and less developed country, would bring even deeper misery and devastation, and would further embolden the capitalists worldwide in their attacks on workers and oppressed minorities.

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. The smashing of capitalist class rule was the crucial precondition for China to commence the economic and social modernization necessary to bring millions of toilers out of poverty and degradation. Substantial trade with and investment from more industrially advanced imperialist countries has brought crucially necessary modern technology, permitting further economic progress. But the CCP bureaucracy’s dismantling of the state monopoly of foreign trade; its promotion of policies that have produced substantial new domestic capitalist forces while sharply increasing inequality; and above all its anti-revolutionary appeasement of imperialism on the global scale—all this points to the need to replace Stalinist bureaucratic rule with the revolutionary-internationalist rule of soviet democracy. The all-round liberation of the Chinese masses ultimately rests on winning support, including crucial economic aid, from successful socialist revolutions in the imperialist centers of Japan, North America and West Europe.

Working-class struggle must be consciously waged as an international fight. In Canada that means fighting to break workers from the flag-waving chauvinism and China-bashing pushed by the labour tops and NDP. As part of our struggle to forge a revolutionary workers party, we warn against the deadly dangerous trap of calls to “defend Canadian jobs” against foreign competition. We live by the words which Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels inscribed on their banner more than 150 years ago: “Workers of the world, unite.”