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Workers Tribune Supplement

October 2020

Montreal Longshore Workers Wage Two-Week Strike Against Maritime Bosses

For Union Control of Hiring and Scheduling!

We print below the leaflet “Victory to the Longshore Workers!” translated from République ouvrière, our French-language newspaper in Quebec. The leaflet was distributed on the picket lines during the Montreal longshore strike of 10-21 August. The strike, massively supported by the membership, ended with a “truce” arrived at between the executive of CUPE 375 and the Maritime Employers Association. This truce, imposed by the union bureaucracy without a vote from the membership, demands a no-strike pledge from the union for seven months, while solving none of the issues in dispute. This is an example of the pro-capitalist union leadership relying on the “good faith” of the employer, as the article explains, rather than on the social power of the union membership. It underlines once more the necessity for the unions to be led by a class-struggle program rather than one of class-collaboration!

10 AUGUST — With the longshore workers’ contract at the Port of Montreal having expired in December 2018, the rapacious bosses of the Maritime Employers Association (MEA) have taken the offensive, pushing the 1,125 members of CUPE Local 375 as well as Local 1657 of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) to call an unlimited strike. At the heart of this class conflict is the question of scheduling. The MEA seeks to strike a blow against the union, maintain workforce “flexibility,” and is determined to keep longshoremen chained to the docks 19 of every 21 days, effectively depriving them of a life outside of work. The capitalists have launched a smear campaign around wages in the bourgeois media in an attempt to isolate the longshoremen and undermine their strike, even as the MEA parasites sit on billions of dollars extorted through the exploitation of these workers. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, all workers face brutal attacks from the capitalists who want to make them pay for the economic and health crisis that their rotten system has created. The entire labour movement must support the CUPE 375 and ILA 1657 strike!

It is necessary to demand full union control of hiring, with a system of rotating hours that allows work to be distributed fairly among all available workers. A real union hiring hall would undertake campaigns to recruit additional workers, especially among women and minorities. To be able to enjoy a life outside of work, it is necessary to demand a cut in working hours at no loss in pay, such as 30 hours work for 40 hours pay, at the highest hourly union rate. Free 24-hour daycare facilities are also needed, an issue that particularly affects conditions for doubly oppressed women workers.

But these demands necessarily collide with the interests of the capitalists, whose immense profits are derived from the ever-increasing exploitation of the working class. To increase their profits, the capitalists must attack the unions and impose speedup and unbearable work schedules, endangering workers’ health and safety. The interests of the bosses and the workers are simply irreconcilable: the workers must get rid of the profit system once and for all and run society themselves according to the needs of the population.

The State: Repressive Tool of the Bosses

Workers certainly can’t rely on the “good will” of the bosses or “good faith” negotiations. But it’s just as suicidal to rely on intervention by the state and its courts. The state is the oppressive tool used by the bourgeois class to maintain its rule over the working class. The cornerstones of the Canadian capitalist state are the national oppression of Quebec and the British monarchy; it serves to defend the profit system of the anglophone bourgeoisie and its French Canadian minions. The bourgeois state consists of the police, army, courts and prisons, an arsenal deployed during workers’ struggles to break picket lines, protect scabs and prosecute workers. Longshore workers are already confronting this repressive apparatus, with the SPVM [Montreal police] opening a criminal investigation against strikers while the Canadian Industrial Relations Council enforces the maintenance of “essential services” during strikes.

The union leaders always peddle the illusion that negotiating under a Liberal government would be better for the workers than under the Conservatives. This only chains workers to their class enemies. Regardless of which party is in power (and this is equally true for the chauvinist social democrats of the NDP, who would like to take the reins in Ottawa, or any governing party in Quebec City), the capitalist government is nothing but an executive committee for the bourgeoisie. Just like the Conservatives, Trudeau and his Liberal clique are experts in breaking strikes and unions. He was the one who broke the Canadian Union of Postal Workers strike in 2018 through emergency legislation. Placing hopes on the bosses’ lackeys in parliament is a recipe for defeat.

Rather than looking for support from bourgeois politicians, the workers must turn to their real allies: their class brothers and sisters. The union must seek to mobilize truckers and rail workers to refuse to transport port cargo. There should also be solid picket lines that no one dares to cross, so that nothing enters or leaves the port. The workers won’t achieve anything by seeking to be “good partners” with the MEA for the “profitability” of the Port of Montreal. All of the longshore workers’ potential power lies in international solidarity. Since the MEA bosses have already put the port in a technical lockout by redirecting ships to the ports of New York, Halifax and Saint John, it is urgent to mobilize the unions there to refuse to unload the diverted ships.

The workers need a leadership guided by the policies of class struggle, i.e., with no illusions in the possibility of reconciling the workers’ interests and those of the bosses. It was precisely such a leadership that made the difference during the great longshore strike on the U.S. West Coast in 1934. Through this strike, longshoremen won the union hiring hall that the International Longshore and Warehouse Union still has (though this gain has since been eroded by employer attacks and the collaboration of the union bureaucrats). As we wrote in the article “Then and Now”:

“…the militancy of the workers was not restrained by leaders who promoted the lie of a ‘partnership’ between labor and capital. Instead, the mass strength and solidarity of the workers was organized and politically directed by leaders who rejected any notion that the bosses are ‘reasonable’ or their state ‘neutral’.”

—Workers Vanguard No. 1050, 8 August 2014

For a Workers Republic!

To reinforce its domination, the ruling class constantly seeks to divide the workers by spreading racist and sexist poison. In addition to fighting for better working conditions, it is crucial for the unity of the workers movement that it is mobilized in defense of all the oppressed, notably the Muslim minority under attack by the racist Law 21. With this law, the rulers seek to drive veiled women out of the daycare centres and schools and to pit workers against Muslims rather than against their exploiters: the MEA and all the other capitalists.

To link the workers’ struggles with those of all the oppressed, the necessary tool is a revolutionary and multiethnic workers party fighting for a workers republic of Quebec. Only when the workers have driven the capitalists from power through socialist revolution and are in charge of their own state will they be able to utilize all the resources of society to secure their interests and satisfy collective needs, while eliminating the overwork of some and the unemployment of others. Victory to the longshore workers! For Quebec independence and socialism!