Spartacist Canada No. 158

Fall 2008


Capitalist Jobs Massacre

No to Nationalist Protectionism!

Union Tops, NDP: Obstacles to Class Struggle

Over 1.1 million people officially unemployed; well over a quarter million manufacturing jobs lost since 2002, with 32,000 more gone this July; 112 unionized plants shut down in Ontario alone in the first half of last year. From the East Coast fishery to West Coast forestry and all points in between, the capitalist economic system is once again proving itself the destroyer of people and the enemy of production for human need.

Behind the gallons of ink spilled over sub-prime mortgages, credit default swaps and other financial chicanery lie shattered lives and broken dreams. The destructive irrationality of capitalism is highlighted by the boom-and-bust economic cycle, driven by the anarchy of the market and intrinsic to this system of production for profit. Internationally, the effects of the latest economic downturn have been devastating, threatening the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people as prices for basic food and fuel skyrocket. Deepening the impact in North America has been the decades-long deindustrialization of the U.S. and its Canadian adjunct, represented in the rusting hulks of steel mills and the shells of auto plants.

The June 3 announcement that General Motors will shutter its Oshawa truck plant, directly throwing 2,600 workers onto the scrap heap and threatening the jobs of three times that many in parts plants, was a calculated punch in the face to the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) union. CAW leaders had signed a rotten three-year concessionary contract with GM only two weeks before. The bosses’ message was loud and clear: we will do whatever we want, whenever we want. Enraged CAW members launched a 12-day blockade of GM’s Oshawa headquarters. That an Ontario Superior Court judge found “GM Corp. engaged in almost deceitful business practice” did not stop him from granting GM an injunction to halt the workers’ action.

The GM blockade is one of many indications that, facing wage and pension cuts, layoffs and plant closures, workers are prepared to fight back. In March last year CAW workers occupied a suburban Toronto plant of Collins & Aikman, one of North America’s biggest auto parts suppliers. A few weeks later the United Steelworkers (USW) staged a similar occupation in Hamilton. In B.C., HEU hospital workers in 2004 and teachers in 2005 struck in defiance of no-strike laws and injunctions. That same year the heavily immigrant workforce at Lakeside Packers waged a bitter strike for a first contract in Brooks, Alberta. And this year in Concord, Ontario the non-unionized workers at Progressive Moulded Products, many of them immigrants with over 20 years in the plant, picketed to demand severance pay. These have been defensive struggles, with workers trying desperately to hold on to what they have, fighting to get money owing to them or simply to be treated as human beings, not animals.

The occupations and blockades have challenged the capitalists’ sacred “private property” and the legal system erected to preserve it. “The law is not on our side,” a worker at Progressive rightly said, “It’s on the side of the people with the money” (Toronto Star, 8 July). Yet, while some of these struggles have managed to knock back some of the bosses’ most brazen attacks, time and again the workers’ interests have been sold out by union leaders who have bowed before the capitalists and their state.

Saddled with such a leadership, the future confronting working people appears bleak. Only 17 percent of workers in private companies in Canada are now unionized. In 2006, strikes (as measured in person days) were at the lowest level in three decades. Demands for givebacks, takeaways and speedup continue unrelentingly alongside the massacre of jobs, while the banks, mining and oil companies and a whole lot more are raking in billions and billions. The situation cries out for a class-struggle leadership of the unions, prepared to wage the necessary battles against the bosses’ one-sided attacks.

Capitalist Class vs. Working Class

The capitalists are doing what they always and everywhere do: seeking to maximize their profit. The source of that profit, as Karl Marx explained, is essentially the difference between what they pay workers in wages (and benefits) and the greater value produced by the workers. The workers sell their ability to labour to the capitalists, while the capitalists appropriate to themselves the value of what the workers produce. There is thus an irreconcilable struggle between the two classes. As long as capitalism exists, the working class will be exploited. As Marx explained in Value, Price and Profit (1865), in their defensive struggles working people:

“ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing its direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady…. Instead of the conservative motto ‘A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work!’ they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword, ‘Abolition of the wages system!’”

To achieve this requires the destruction of the capitalist system, the seizure of state power by the working class and the rational reorganization of the world economy to produce for social, human needs instead of private profit. In short, it will take a socialist revolution to replace the rapacious, decaying rule of capital with a society in which those who labour rule.

“Conservative” or “militant,” “progressive” or otherwise, the current trade-union leadership opposes this perspective, and defends the capitalist system. They preach the lie that there is a common interest between the working class and the exploiters. They tell workers that their well-being depends on the bosses making more profit—and they tie them ever more firmly to the tiny minority that owns the plants, mines, mills and banks.

The leadership of the auto workers union is a perfect example. Last October CAW president Buzz Hargrove signed a “framework of fairness” deal with parts giant Magna International that gave up the right to strike, required binding arbitration and instituted employer-vetted “fairness committees” instead of elected shop stewards and grievance bodies. This sweetheart deal was so outrageous that leading CAW officials denounced it both publicly and inside the union—until, that is, they meekly toed Hargrove’s line and voted for it.

Even hoary ex-New Democratic Party federal leader Ed Broadbent accused Hargrove of “attacking the very foundations of an independent union” and made himself out as a champion of the right to strike (Globe and Mail, 30 October 2007). This is truly an act of chutzpah. B.C. NDP leader Carole James denounced the 2005 teachers strike, demanding that they “follow the law.” In Toronto, NDP mayor David Miller railed that transit workers should be “punished” for their 2006 walkout, seeking millions in fines. This April, the NDP backed an Ontario Liberal government bill that broke another Toronto transit strike. From Dave Barrett’s massive strikebreaking in B.C. in the mid 1970s to Bob Rae’s anti-union “Social Contract” in Ontario in the early ’90s, the NDP in power has always ruled on behalf of the bosses. The NDP is, in Marxist terms, a bourgeois workers party. Linked to the unions via the labour bureaucracy, its program is thoroughly pro-imperialist and nationalist. NDP governments are capitalist governments.

The Labour Lieutenants of Capital

The labour bureaucracy views the world through the lens of their “own” capitalist bosses. This is not a moral failing, but is rooted in material reality. With the emergence more than a century ago of capitalism’s highest and last stage, imperialism, the most powerful capitalists—grouped together in trusts, cartels and monopolies (formal and informal)—were able to extract huge profits including by superexploiting labour in the colonial world. Dispensing mere crumbs from their vast wealth, the bourgeoisie in the imperialist countries bribed a small layer of the domestic working class, creating a labour aristocracy. The union bureaucrats and their “political arm”—the social-democratic parties—are the product of this. They truly feel more at home with the magnates of industry and commerce than with the workers whose interests they supposedly represent.

Take, for example, the Toronto black-tie charity fund-raiser honouring the soon-to-retire Hargrove, held the day after GM sued the CAW for $1.5 million for blockading the company’s headquarters. According to the Toronto Star (11 June): “The head table list at the Buzz Hargrove Canadian Tribute Dinner includes Arturo Elias, president of General Motors of Canada, and Troy Clarke, group vice-president of GM North America.” Joining them were Magna boss Frank Stronach and a raft of provincial premiers, current and past.

The union misleaders and their parliamentary cohorts are agents of the bosses in the workers movement—the “labour lieutenants of capital” as American socialist Daniel De Leon so aptly put it. They function as a transmission belt for the ideology of the ruling class, preaching above all the inviolability of the capitalist system. At the same time they seek to give its most brutal excrescences a “human face,” and, when the occasion warrants, push for various reforms in order to channel any struggle against the bourgeois order into necessarily temporary amelioration of its most brutal effects.

When compelled to lead struggles by the capitalists’ provocations and pressure from the workers, the labour bureaucrats work to direct them onto the shoals of bourgeois parliamentarism. Thus in the mid 1990s, faced with a savage assault from a new Tory provincial regime, and with the NDP discredited after the attacks of the Rae government, the Ontario labour bureaucrats launched a series of one-day local general strikes, the Days of Action. Shutting down cities around the province in defiance of the bosses’ laws, these strikes gave a taste of labour’s immense potential social power. But for the union bureaucracy they were merely a maneuver: once the accumulated anger was blown off and the NDP sufficiently rehabilitated under a new leader, they called off the Days of Action in the name of beating the Tories at the ballot box. While the bulk of the labour bureaucracy resumed their NDP electioneering, the CAW tops went over to the bourgeois Liberals, calculating that the New Democrats’ electoral fortunes looked dim indeed.

Down with the Poison of Nationalist Protectionism!

Several years before signing on to Magna’s “framework of fairness,” Hargrove joined with Magna co-CEO Don Walker and other auto bosses in forming the Canadian Automotive Partnership Council, a federal government-initiated outfit “to strengthen the Canadian automotive industry in the short and long-term.” Looking out for the interests of the Canadian wing of the auto bosses has been the raison d’être of the CAW tops since the very inception of the union. In December 1984, United Auto Workers (UAW) Canadian director Bob White announced, without a membership vote, that he was pulling the then-120,000 Canadian auto workers out of the International to set up his own show north of the 49th parallel. Once the most powerful union in North America, the UAW had been criminally weakened by the misleaders on both sides of the border who kneeled before the bosses’ demands for giveback contracts and watched as the union ranks were decimated by plant closures and massive layoffs.

Playing on his reputation as a supposed “militant,” White told auto workers in Canada (who have the same bosses as auto workers in the U.S.) they would be better off going it alone because, he claimed, he stood for “no concessions” as against the givebacks rammed down the U.S. workers’ throats by the UAW leadership. Preaching the virtues of the protectionist Auto Pact, White used the fact that Canadian auto workers cost the bosses $7-an-hour less than their U.S. brothers and sisters to appeal for more investment in Canadian industry. In other words, he sold Canada as a low-cost place to do business.

Forged in bitter international class struggle in the 1930s, the UAW was split by White’s “poor little Canada” nationalism, which deliberately isolated the Canadian locals from the potentially explosive black auto workers in Detroit. The labour-hating Globe and Mail proclaimed him “Organized Labor’s Great White Hope.” As we wrote at the time:

“The UAW’s ‘Build Canadian, Buy Canadian, Bargain Canadian’ jingoism appeals directly to the racist British colonial ‘values’ of this rich white man’s land….

“The only winners in the UAW split are the auto bosses. Canadian auto workers are the losers. Now they face the greedy auto companies with 10 percent of their former potential strength.”

—“Bureaucrats Split UAW,” SC No. 63, April 1985

Today the CAW tops push “Made in Canada Matters” chauvinism, telling workers that protectionism is the answer to layoffs, closures and the drive to cut wages and benefits. This is false! Protectionism means joining with the class enemy to help them shore up their profits, profits that come from the labour of working people whether in Canada, the U.S., South Korea, Mexico or elsewhere. We communists are without exception opposed to protectionism in 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. Capitalists go where they will make the greatest profits, and they will always try to drive down wages and working conditions.

Protectionist poison is sometimes couched in the language of concern over “cheap labour” in other countries. Yet “cheap labour” also exists in this country—indeed the union movement exists in large part because at one time low-paid workers (notably including immigrants) poured into its ranks. Today the union tops have sought to “protect” their dues base by agreeing to “cheap labour” sellouts as at Magna or in the two-tier contracts at the Big Three.

The CAW’s lead banner on the June 12 march during the Oshawa blockade read: “World Class Quality + World Class Productivity = OUR JOBS TO MEXICO. THANKS GM.” The CAW tops have in their sights not the capitalist masters, but the workers of Mexico. This poison fuels racism against immigrants and other minorities at home, helping to keep the workers divided and incapable of united struggle. Such pro-capitalist protectionism was also the basis of the labour bureaucracy’s opposition to NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), a scheme for shoring up U.S. imperialism against its rivals abroad through an economic Fortress North America. In a joint statement with our Mexican and American comrades issued when NAFTA was introduced in 1991 we declared:

“Far from ‘freeing’ trade internationally, the pact is aimed at setting up a private hunting preserve for the American imperialist bourgeoisie, their Canadian junior partners and their lackeys in the Mexican ruling class….

“There is a burning need for an internationalist proletarian opposition which stands with the working class and impoverished peasantry of Mexico against the imperialist assault. The Canadian, U.S. and Mexican sections of the International Communist League are dedicated to building a revolutionary vanguard that can unite the working masses of the continent in common class struggle.”

—“Stop U.S. ‘Free Trade’ Rape of Mexico!” SC No. 85, Fall 1991

Underscoring that workers around the world have a common cause and a common battle against the capitalist exploiters, in many cases facing the very same corporations, Mexican workers sent greetings to the CAW during the 2002 battle against scabs at Navistar in Chatham, Ontario: “Today, more than ever, workers—without taking into consideration nationalities—should remain united to confront capital as one.”

Turning its back on workers like these, People’s Voice (1-31 July), newspaper of the misnamed Communist Party of Canada (CPC), uncritically reports the CAW’s chauvinist banner in Oshawa. Deeply nationalist, the CPC has long devoted itself not to the cause of the workers but to defending “Canadian independence, jobs and farms” from “foreign” threat. They, the union misleaders and the NDP are in a bloc with those imperialists who demand that the Canadian government provide protection from “unfair competition,” demanding the very same trade practices for which they condemn other governments. Moreover, the supposedly counterposed “wings” of the capitalists, the protectionists and the “free traders,” often turn out to be one and the same. GM for example, squeals for protection against “unfair” Japanese trade practices, only to then appear in Mexico in the garb of a “free market” buccaneer.

It is not a big step from complaining that “they” are stealing “our” jobs to the demonization of “them” as the enemy. In the May edition of CAW Local 222’s Oshaworker, a prominent local CAW bureaucrat bragged that on a trip to the U.S. he baited Americans for driving an import:

“I asked, if Afghanistan or Iraq opened dealerships in the U.S. would they buy vehicles from them? They strongly replied negatively (good). I then asked them to look back in history and think of another dark day in America of Pearl Harbour, and why they now buy vehicles from Japan, after all it is the same people who 60 plus years ago tried to destroy you.”

This is open support to the predatory wars of the North American capitalists.

Indeed, in the end, trade wars lead to shooting wars, the ultimate means for rival capitalist states to secure a monopoly of foreign markets and spheres of exploitation. That, writ large, is the essence of imperialist capitalism. Its price has been millions of corpses.

Defend China!

Maple Leaf class-collaborationist nationalism is hardly confined to the CAW. The leaders of the UNITE HERE garment workers have joined with the textile bosses in an ongoing campaign to slash imports from China. The USW campaigns to “Stop Toxic Imports,” again singling out China.

Targeting China, a bureaucratically deformed workers state, for protectionist measures is doubly pernicious. The 1949 overthrow of capitalist rule in China, leading to the building of a collectivized economy, represents an immense gain for the working class internationally. Despite profound bureaucratic deformations, the Chinese Revolution was of historic importance, overthrowing the imperialist-backed Chinese bourgeoisie and laying the basis for an enormous leap in social progress. Just as workers in Canada and throughout the world 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 anti-China campaign of the labour brass is the latest example of their anti-Communism, another way in which they identify the workers’ cause with the interests of the exploiters. The current pro-capitalist union bureaucracy was consolidated through the anti-Red purges of the late 1940s and early 1950s in which the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation—predecessor of the NDP—played a key role. In the 1980s, the labour misleaders were avid fans of Polish Solidarność, a reactionary movement masquerading as a trade union that was in the forefront of the drive for capitalist restoration in the Soviet bloc. The B.C. Federation of Labour and NDP organized an anti-Communist picket against a Polish ship, while the Canadian Labour Congress put on its payroll a rabidly reactionary supporter of Solidarność.

Upholding the “national interest” and a “partnership” of labour and capital, the social democracy internationally eagerly embraced and helped—including with CIA funding—the victory of capitalist counterrevolution that destroyed the Soviet Union in 1991-92. The Soviet Union was the product of the 1917 October Revolution, which destroyed capitalist class rule and built the world’s first workers state. Despite the usurping of political power by a nationalist, conservative bureaucracy starting in 1923-24, the USSR remained a workers state, albeit bureaucratically degenerated. Its destruction was a world-historic defeat for the working class, destroying the lives of millions while throwing back workers’ political consciousness around the world. We Trotskyists stood at our posts in defense of the workers states against capitalist counterrevolution. We fought for workers political revolution to oust the Stalinists who undermined that defense by capitulating to the imperialists.

Rallying behind the Canadian rulers, the labour bureaucracy and NDP also uphold “national unity” against the right of the Québécois to independence. In 1972 the CLC tops and the NDP used Canadian nationalism and Anglo chauvinism to isolate and denounce the Quebec general strike—the most deep-going class battle North America had seen in many decades, or has seen since. In the midst of the strike, the CLC denounced “those elements, in any part of Canada, which advocate the destruction of Confederation…as a means of pursuing selfish regional aims” (Globe and Mail, 15 May 1972). Federal NDP leader David Lewis even publicly applauded the jailing of the Quebec union leaders.

Once again, English Canadian workers were told to line up behind the bosses. This betrayal helped drive the militant Québécois workers into the arms of their own would-be exploiters, represented by the bourgeois-nationalist Parti Québécois. The result is a working class that is deeply divided along national lines. In English Canada militant workers must oppose Anglo chauvinism down the line and advocate Quebec independence. Only through unstinting opposition to their “own” chauvinist rulers can workers in English Canada assist the Québécois working class in breaking from nationalism, paving the way for common class struggle against the exploiters.

The Social-Democratic Syphilitic Chain

For decades, most ostensibly socialist groups in Canada have been firmly within the orbit of the NDP and the social democracy generally. Instead of the necessary struggle to win the most class-conscious workers away from these political agents of the capitalists, the CPC, International Socialists, Socialist Action, Fightback and others reinforce the hold of social-democratic ideology, which they fundamentally share.

A prime example is the Fightback group, which falsely claims to stand in the tradition of Trotskyism. If the social democrats see the world through the eyes of the bosses, Fightback peers through the lens of the NDP, proclaiming as the very first item in its program “NDP to power on a socialist program.” In a June 4 leaflet addressing GM’s shutdown of the Oshawa plant, Fightback politely advises Hargrove & Co., “the CAW should drop their demands for trade restrictions and pick up the demand of nationalizing the auto industry…. Only by taking the entire industry into public ownership can we break the grip of the billionaires on society and guarantee a decent standard of living for the workers.”

As Leon Trotsky explained in the founding document of the Fourth International, the Transitional Program (1938), the revolutionary Marxist program of expropriating the capitalist bloodsuckers is counterposed to “the muddle-headed reformist slogan of ‘nationalization’.” Trotsky emphasized the need to “link up the question of expropriation with that of seizure of power by the workers and farmers.” Fightback does the opposite, portraying nationalization under capitalism as the road to a rosy future for working people.

Thus during a bitter 2005 strike by phone workers against union-busting, Fightback, calling to “Nationalize Telus!”, declared: “Without the hindrance of the profit motive, a nationalized telecommunications company would be able to put quality first. It would be completely illogical to make decisions that hurt the workers or the customers” (Fightback, August 2005). As we wrote (SC No. 146, Fall 2005):

“Try telling that to CUPW unionists at Canada Post, or for that matter the HEU, whose members work in public-sector hospitals. The idea that nationalized industry under capitalism can be free of the ‘profit motive’ and friendly to the workers (and consumers) is a demented social-democratic fantasy. Fightback claims to be a ‘Marxist Voice of Labour and Youth,’ but they are in reality hard-core reformists, as shown by their perennial call to elect NDP governments, which they claim against all evidence can enact a ‘socialist program.’”

Forge a Revolutionary Workers Party

In 1914 almost all the European social-democratic parties lined up behind their “own” rulers to preach “defense of the fatherland” against rival imperialist powers in World War I. For this act of betrayal, the great revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg declared “social democracy is nothing but a stinking corpse.” Less than five years later the German Social Democrats engineered Luxemburg’s murder as they moved to crush the heroic Spartakist workers uprising. It was the Bolshevik Party led by V.I. Lenin that pursued proletarian opposition to its own ruling class in the crucible of imperialist war and rallied revolutionaries to split with the social-democratic traitors. This intransigent fight for the class independence of the working class from the capitalists and their state was key to the victory of the October Revolution.

Today, too, the fight to forge an internationalist revolutionary workers party requires exposing and combating the social-democratic defenders of capitalist barbarism. It means fighting to win workers away from the flag-waving chauvinism and China-bashing of the labour tops and the NDP. It means demanding full citizenship rights for all immigrants and defeating the racist “war on terror.”

A workers party would fight against every manifestation of capitalist oppression—from cop rampages against immigrant and Native youth to attacks on the democratic rights of gays to attempts to deny women’s rights to free, safe and legal abortion. Such a workers party would fight within the unions to oust the labour bureaucrats, cohering a class-struggle leadership to organize the unorganized and to fight for a sliding scale of wages and hours to divide the available work among everyone at no loss in pay. We need a massive program of public works to rebuild the crumbling and deadly infrastructure of North America and to ensure the very best housing, health care and educational facilities for all.

The Trotskyist League/Ligue trotskyste fights to build such a Leninist party. The workers, starting with the most advanced, must become conscious of themselves as a single class whose actions are directed against the entire class of capitalists and their government. The only way to guarantee an end to grinding exploitation and oppression is by expropriating the capitalist class through socialist revolution. As Trotsky emphasized in the Transitional Program:

“If capitalism is incapable of satisfying the demands inevitably arising from the calamities generated by itself, then let it perish. ‘Realizability’ or ‘unrealizability’ is in the given instance a question of the relationship of forces, which can be decided only by the struggle. By means of this struggle, no matter what its immediate practical successes may be, the workers will best come to understand the necessity of liquidating capitalist slavery.”