Workers Vanguard No. 1113
2 June 2017
Down With Anti-Labor Back to Work Law!
Quebec: Construction Workers Show Their Strength
QUEBEC CITY, May 30—Construction workers in Quebec, who have been on a general strike since May 24, were ordered back to work this morning by the provincial government of Liberal Party premier Philippe Couillard. The law, which was passed by the National Assembly (Quebec’s parliament), dictates that the workers end their strike on May 31.
The construction sector is responsible for 6.5 percent of Quebec’s gross domestic product. While largely blacked out in English-speaking North America, the strike had the construction bosses and the capitalist media of Quebec howling with rage. The Conseil du patronat (Employers Council) denounced the strike prior to its launch as a “threat” that would “take all Québécois people hostage,” and warned of “the grave consequences that a work stoppage could have on the whole of Québécois society, its economy, its functioning and its security.”
On May 29, as the National Assembly was debating the back-to-work legislation in Quebec City, over 5,000 construction workers mobilized from throughout the province and surrounded the legislative building. Many workers denounced the “dictatorship” of the government, but still had illusions in the police as fellow workers. However, the role of the cops as the repressive force of the bosses and their government was shown by the line of riot police protecting the entrance for sitting members of the National Assembly.
Our comrades of the Ligue trotskyste/Trotskyist League distributed thousands of their May 23 French-language leaflet, translated and printed below, calling for “Victory to the Construction Workers!” at this and other rallies as well as on the picket lines. Some two dozen subscriptions to their upcoming newspaper République ouvrière (Workers Republic) were bought by workers.
The government estimates that the strike cost the economy more than C$45 million per day. One of the reasons it was so effective is the fact that the Quebec construction industry is organized along the closed shop model. Any worker hired on a construction site—whether it’s residential, industrial, commercial or road construction—must belong to a union. The unions are divided among a few federations representing many smaller craft unions united in the Alliance syndicale. That they waged a powerful united strike points to the need for industrial unionism—i.e., one union for the whole industry, the most effective method of organization to defend all workers.
During the strike, the construction bosses and the capitalist media were furious over roving pickets that reportedly shut down construction sites where work was still going on. In fact, historically, mobile pickets have been an important class-struggle method to stop scab labor and are essential to rendering strikes more effective.
In Quebec, the construction unions are heavily regulated by the government. For instance, the government oversees union affiliation votes and even issues union cards. The strikebreaking legislation is another extension of this regulation. At the May 29 rally, union leaders told angry workers that the way to fight the anti-strike law was to appeal to the bosses’ courts. But state interference in the labor movement—by the government or the courts—is a noose around the workers’ struggles. Government out of all union business!
Quebec has a long tradition of militant workers struggle. The leaflet below refers to the May 1972 semi-insurrectionary general strike, where the powerful Quebec industrial working class took control of entire towns. Quebec’s labor militancy has long been fueled by the struggle against the national oppression of the French-speaking Québécois by the privileged Anglo ruling-class oppressors. The binational Ligue trotskyste/Trotskyist League calls for Quebec independence, aiming to then forge two revolutionary workers parties in the two separate states of Quebec and English Canada.
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Some 175,000 construction workers in Quebec are preparing to strike on May 24. The rapacious and corrupt employers’ organizations are demanding that the workers sacrifice stable work schedules. They are fiercely opposed to the legitimate demands of the Alliance syndicale for better wages, pensions and group insurance benefits. Since the bosses are not obliged to pay any wage increases retroactively, they are deliberately dragging out the negotiations [the contract expired on April 30] in order to pocket even more profits. The struggle of the construction unions is a struggle for all Quebec workers, all of whom are faced with anti-union attacks, austerity and lack of job security. The entire workers movement must stand with the construction workers!
After the PQ [bourgeois-nationalist Parti Québécois] government broke the 2013 strike, the bosses are now even more determined to make the work of unionized workers more “flexible.” For example, under the pretext of not “inconveniencing” their commercial clients, they are seeking to impose brutal working hours, which would force some workers to start as early as five in the morning or to work until late in the evening. They are also insisting that workers work Saturdays, without any overtime pay! The workers are being asked to work longer for less money, all so that the bosses can pocket even more profits, and this in an industry that already rakes in billions. The labor movement as a whole has been subjected to attacks on working conditions, wages and social benefits for years. Enough! It’s high time to turn the tide!
Far from being a “neutral arbiter,” the capitalist state—the courts, prisons and cops—is a tool of oppression in the service of the bosses. All the successive governments in Quebec—be they Liberal or PQ (as well as the Union nationale, in the past)—are committed above all to maintaining capitalist exploitation of the workers. For this purpose, they have at their disposal their laws, their injunctions and their billy clubs. (The same applies to the federal government, which also forcibly maintains Quebec in a “united Canada.”) Thus the government of Couillard has already declared that “it would not sit idly by without acting,” implying that it was already preparing back-to-work legislation. But workers must not be intimidated—the labor movement has the power to throw the law back in the government’s face.
In order to make gains, the labor movement must fight independently, according to its own class interests. Recall the spontaneous general strike of 1972, which gave a foretaste of the tremendous potential in the hands of the Québécois working class. The workers’ hard-won gains weren’t acquired through “good faith negotiations” but through hard class struggles against the attacks of the capitalists and their governments.
The construction unions are demanding to be covered by the “anti-scab” provisions of the Quebec Labor Code. But the best way to stop strikebreakers in their tracks is through solid and united mass picket lines. Under the guise of “regulating” workers’ struggles, the capitalist government is simply seeking to make them ineffective and ultimately to break them. Relying on the bosses’ laws to protect the workers is a recipe for defeat. The real weapon of the organized labor movement is its social power.
In order to reinforce the picket lines, it is necessary to seek the support of the broader workers movement. For example, the Teamsters union wrote in a letter of support to the unionists that it would be “at your side throughout the negotiations and during the strike, if it becomes necessary.” By turning words into deeds, the unity of the labor movement can create a powerful bulwark against the capitalists’ attacks. For picket lines that no one dares to cross!
Union members are particularly incensed at the threat of being forced to work Saturdays or at ridiculous hours. A life outside work is a hard-won gain for the working class, which used to toil for ten to twelve hours a day, six or seven days a week. Today, with automation and mass unemployment, workers should demand a shorter workweek with no loss in pay, by dividing the available work among everyone. In order for both male and female workers with families to take advantage of their free time, it is also necessary to fight for free, 24-hour childcare. If the capitalist system isn’t able to meet these demands, then let it perish!
For Workers’ Control of Production!
The bosses and their spokesmen are trying to create collective hysteria over the recent floods by setting the flood victims against the workers. The bourgeoisie, along with its bloodsucking insurance companies, its governments and its callous city administrations, which allow infrastructure such as sewers and levees to rot, now seek to blame those who do the real work: the workers.
The Alliance syndicale is encouraging strikers to volunteer to help the flood victims—so much for the bosses’ lies. In fact, the flood crisis shows the extent to which capitalism has long been unable to meet the real needs of the population. While the big bosses of the construction companies, of industry, of the mines, banks, etc., make billions, for the vast majority of the population it’s exploitation and “do it yourself.” The unions should in fact take charge of organizing the entire relief effort for the flood victims—and in the process kick out the imperialist Canadian military [currently deployed for flood relief]. In order to build a better society that can meet the needs of the entire population, and to rebuild the housing destroyed by the floods, as well as the city slums, it is necessary to control production.
The construction sector is the deadliest in Quebec: 80 deaths in 2016 alone! At present it’s up to individual workers to report potentially dangerous situations in the workplace and to push for the right to refuse to work. The unions themselves must be able to shut down work at any dangerous construction site. For union control of health and safety at work!
By running the organization of work, the working class will be able to distribute the resources and manpower needed to repair, rebuild and create. But this requires a direct confrontation with the decaying capitalist class and its “sacred” property rights. These parasites no longer have anything to contribute to society other than outright theft of the wealth produced by the working class, which the bosses channel into their bank accounts, their luxury properties or their “Touch” [the motor yacht formerly owned by a big construction boss].... The rotten capitalist system leads to anarchy in production, repeated crises, mass unemployment and endless wars around the world. What is necessary is an internationally planned collective economy, where everyone will work for the benefit of society, and everyone will have plenty of free time for leisure, education and the pursuit of a better life.
The Quebec construction workers have tremendous social power, which is precisely why the bosses are terrified of this strike. To channel this social power toward a revolutionary transformation of society, it is necessary to build a workers party independent of the bourgeois parties—Liberals, CAQ [right-wing Coalition Avenir Québec], PQ and even [the petty-bourgeois populist] Québec solidaire, which basically only seeks to itself administer the capitalist state one day. Such a workers party will be a tribune of the people, that is to say, a party that fights against all manifestations of capitalist oppression targeting ethnic minorities, women, youth and others. For a workers republic of Quebec!
A victory for the construction workers is in the interest of all working people and would point the way toward the kind of class struggle that’s necessary to win. Victory to the construction workers!