May Day Message from Socialist Action, Canada

by Barry Weisleder

Close to 150 people gathered at the 15th Annual Toronto Socialist May Day Celebration in Toronto on April 28, 2001, at the Cecil Street Community Centre. Below is the message presented on behalf of Socialist Action, one of the sponsors of the event, by Barry Weisleder, editor of the Canadian newspaper Socialist Action.

Sisters and brothers, comrades and friends:

As we celebrate International Workers’ Day, along with millions of workers around the globe, we are reminded that we are part of something truly awesome and great. We recognize the potential power in our diversity and in our unity.

Proudly we take our place among the workers of the world, because, in the words of Solidarity Forever, “without our brain and muscle, not a single wheel can turn.” The growth of workers solidarity means the day draws nearer when we will be masters of our own fate.

Still the attack on workers’ rights continues on a broad scale. The lords of Capital like to gloat over the triumph of their system, backed up by the “wisdom” of their hired hands in the business media and academic circles. But when arguments fail them, they retreat behind steel fences, behind volleys of rubber-tipped bullets, tear gas canisters, and water cannon. More and more it is clear that the poisonous fumes of tear gas are the stench of global capitalist rule.

How can it be, that a system incapable of providing food, housing, and useful employment for all its people, a system that thrives on war and ecological destruction, a system that turns every person and thing into a commodity — how can it be that such a system appears triumphant?

Can it be because for so long workers have been chained to an illusion? The illusion that capitalism offers stability and prosperity for the majority. The illusion that fairness and democracy would prevail

Workers are the overwhelming majority, so why do we feel outcast and powerless before a tiny, ruthless business elite? Is it because for so long we have been on our knees? Is it because for so long we have followed leaders who kept us in our place, content to beg for crumbs from the banquet table of the big banks?

That’s the challenge we face. Those are the forces we must turn around. But we are not alone in this effort. We are joined by a new generation of young activists standing up to capitalist globalization. Youth for Socialist Action is among them. The YSA is meeting and attracting some of these new fighters for social justice in the schools, in the NDP, and in the protest movements.

On a global scale, the workers’ movement is being renewed — renewed by a youth radicalization that will help to generate a new vanguard of the working class.

On a global scale there are many sources of renewal and inspiration. Let’s take this opportunity to salute the front line fighters of our class, the people who stand up to imperialism and exploitation.

We salute the Palestinian people, whose second Intifada has permeated the Zionist state. Israeli rockets, tanks, machine guns, and bulldozers are no match for the courage and tenacity of Palestinians demanding self-determination. More and more, Jews in Israel and around the world recognize that Zionism is a death trap, an apartheid machine, a vicious tool for American corporate control of Middle East oil, and that the only way forward is an end to Zionist apartheid and the establishment of a Democratic, Secular Palestine.

We salute the workers and students of the Far East who have mobilized in their millions to drive from office corrupt and repressive leaders in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia. We salute the rebels of Colombia who battle U.S. puppet rulers and their military death squads. We salute the workers of Russia who demonstrate and strike against capitalist restoration and against Putin’s reactionary Labor Code, which legalizes the 12-hour day and child labor. We salute the workers of Iran and Afghanistan who battle daily against the anti-worker, misogynist rule of repressive Islamic neo-colonial regimes. We salute the Kurdish, Irish, and indigenous peoples of every continent who refuse to give up their fight for unity and self-determination.

We stand in solidarity with the Cuban people and their revolutionary leadership. Cuba upholds health, education and social welfare. Cuba sent to Québec City two very clear messages: 1. Total solidarity with the protest movement. 2. Total opposition to the FTAA. To the leaders of the OAS, Cuba gives a defiant, up-raised middle finger.

Closer to home there are victories and ongoing struggles that inspire a renewal of the workers’ movement.

In Newfoundland last month virtually the entire public service was shut down as 12,000 members of the Newfoundland Association of Public Employees struck for a decent pay raise and pension improvements. The Liberal government said 13%. NAPE demanded 15%. The workers stood firm, and with the help of a devastating snowstorm, the workers won.

At York University, this past winter, course instructors went on strike over wages and to hold the line on fees for graduate students. CUPE [Canadian Union of Public Employees] Local 3903 conducted an exemplary strike. They put a powerful emphasis on mass pickets, political action, and excellent communication, and they won.

The McMaster University Staff Association was on strike in Hamilton for several weeks this spring, and then was forced into a final offer vote. The workers in this new independent union were not intimidated. Last week they voted 1086 to 318 to reject management’s final offer, and their struggle continues.

Strikes of transit workers in Calgary and Victoria raged for weeks and won gains. Many other strikes are fighting for wage improvements now as workers aim to make up for a decade of losses. We know that the so-called decade of prosperity was for the corporate rich — at our expense. Now it’s our turn and our time for justice.

The biggest strike today has its headquarters on this very street. 13,000 members of CUPE Local 4400, support staff at the TDSB, are fighting to preserve jobs and improve wages, which have been frozen for nearly a decade. CUPE members are battling a school board that is doing the dirty work of Mike Harris and his government of Reform-a-Tories. Instead of fighting the unfair provincial funding formula, most of the trustees and mega-buck managers have implemented it, insulted the support staff, and prolonged the strike. Now the provincial government is imposing strike-breaking back-to-work legislation against Toronto and Windsor school support staff. In the Toronto case, this includes appointing as arbitrator a lawyer formerly with Hicks-Morley, a Tory law firm that works for the TDSB-despite the fact that the parties resolved many issues and agreed to their own arbitrator on the outstanding issues.

As president of over 1,000 Toronto secondary school substitute teachers I can tell you this: we stand solidly beside our CUPE sisters and brothers; their struggle is our struggle. We’ve been at the bargaining table for 11 months, and we will not settle for less than the 8% increase regular teachers got. Concessions are out of the question. We are fighting for improvements, and we are fighting to win.

But victory in contract negotiations can be short-lived, or short-circuited, when governments legislate a new political landscape.

OSSTF leaders assumed that when teachers protested heavier workload and funding cuts by refusing to do extracurricular duties, the government would be forced to retreat on workload. But the Harris Reform-a-Tories are set to invoke the part of Bill 74 that makes extra duties compulsory. Like earlier government decisions to impose teacher testing, school board amalgamation, and the infamous funding formula, this shows that workers cannot rely on collective bargaining.

Harris’s announcements about expanding the intervention of private Capital into public health care, and pushing “choice of schools” as a cover for vouchers and two-tier education, again demonstrate that to rely on collective bargaining is worse than short-sighted. It is suicidal to the interests of the working class.

We are dealing with a global bosses’ agenda. That agenda aims to dismantle all the past gains of the class struggle, and to rachet up private profits at the expense of workers’ wages, job security, living conditions, and the environment. The bosses are obliged to do this, not just out of greed, but to sustain their anarchic, crisis-wracked capitalist system. We, however, are not obliged to accept it. We are not obliged to accept their secret treaties, which make public ownership a crime, and make Capital a deity. We are not obliged to accept homelessness, poverty, disease, ignorance, and strike-breaking as inevitable features of human nature or human society.

That is why up to 65,000 demonstrated in Quebec City against the FTAA. That is why thousands tore down sections of the wall of shame, despite the best efforts of the labor leadership to divert the protest to the outskirts of town. That is why tens of thousands protested in Argentina last week, and earlier at Seattle, Washington, Windsor, and Prague; and why tens of thousands more will protest in Genoa, Italy.

That is why OCAP is absolutely correct to target the Harris government, and to call for mass action and economic disruption this fall to remove the Tory government. Every progressive person and organization will want to go the June 15 Assembly, and sign on to the OCAP plan of action. Now is not the time to look for excuses, but to take to the streets. Now is the time to lead the rising tide of militancy and activism forward.

Now is also the time to link militancy to a political strategy for fundamental change. Activism is inspiring. Activism is energizing. But activism is not a strategy. If we can bring down the bosses’ governments, anywhere, through mass action, it will make conditions much more favorable for the working class.

But it will not put in place a political agenda that serves the interests of the majority. Activism will not replace the bosses’ government with a workers’ government. And nothing less than a workers’ government will stop exploitation and oppression, and save this planet from the polluters and war makers.

The working class is the decisive social force. Politically class conscious workers can unite the many against the few. But the political advance of the working class requires at least two things: the break of a majority of the class from the parties of big business, and the unity of large sections of the class into a political organization that fights for a Workers’ Agenda.

The obstacles to workers’ unity based on a Workers’ Agenda are many. One big obstacle is the conservative, self-interested bureaucracy that dominates our unions and the NDP. Their embrace of capitalism prevents them from fighting to abolish the FTAA. Their commitment to class peace causes them to stifle protest, to kill the Ontario Days of Action and the 1997 teachers’ strike, and to prop up an NDP leadership on the road to oblivion.

Under these distressing circumstances it is easy for activists to make a very big error. That error is to confuse the present leadership with the mass membership. That error is to confuse the union brass and NDP tops with the thousands of union and NDP members who marched in Quebec City. That error is to think that a new class struggle workers’ movement is going to develop and emerge entirely, or even mostly, outside the existing workers’ organizations. Surely the workers’ organizations include the unions, with over two and a half million members (not including their families). And it includes the NDP in English Canada with its 80,000 members and over 300,000 union member affiliates, and over 1 million voters in the last federal election.

Rebuilding the Left is the task at hand. But that means building a class struggle left wing inside the unions and the NDP. Socialism without the working class is impossible. The socialist left which is outside the unions and the NDP is not a decisive force. It can give tactical leadership on specific issues, but it is separated from the massive forces it needs to become a majority, to become capable of transforming capitalist society.

Fighting to become a majority does not mean adopting the views, and catering to the prejudices, of the present majority. But it does mean working within the rank and file, setting a militant example in the mainstream, and advancing the ideas that can help working people to emancipate ourselves.

The Socialist Caucus of the NDP stands on a class struggle program — the Manifesto for a Socialist Canada — and it intervenes in a mass labor-based party. The Socialist Caucus is organizing a Conference on the Future of the NDP, to be held June 22–23 in Toronto. This will likely be one of the biggest gatherings of party and non-party leftists prior to the federal NDP Convention in Winnipeg in November. The Socialist Caucus believes that the NDP belongs to the workers and farmers who launched the CCF in the 1930s and the NDP in the 60s as a political movement independent of the Liberals and Tories, independent of the banks, big business, and their media mongrels. The NDP belongs to the millions who built this country, and whose toil and intelligence make this country run. It is not a private club for the McDonoughs and Hamptons, but a political party of the class that must come to terms with the anachronism known as capitalist rule.

That is how we must approach the problem, the problem of power. Capitalism must go. But it won’t go quietly. We must force the issue, or continue to live like slaves. To free ourselves and humanity, we must break the majority from ideological slavery to the system and its political parties.

The NDP is a partial break, an organizational break from the parties of Capital. The next step is to deepen that break, and to build it on the basis of a program for working class emancipation. This is the direction that the Socialist Caucus proposes. That is why hundreds of NDP activists have joined the Socialist Caucus across English Canada. Because they want to fight for a Workers’ Agenda, for a Workers’ Government, and they know that the place to start is the only existing mass labor-based party in North America.

On May Day 2001 we still find ourselves in the very early stages of a new working class radicalization. Once again, youth are leading the way. As this movement manifests itself inside the mainstream workers’ organizations, we will know that this is real, that this is significant, and that this movement can win.

Socialist Action, and the YSA, hope to forge a leadership, a cadre of leaders, which can make an indispensable contribution to this process. That contribution will be the living memory of our class, the vision of a socialist future, and a strategy to get there. That contribution will be unbending loyalty to workers’ interests, and unyielding opposition to capitalist rule. That contribution will be for socialist democracy, feminism, ecology, political pluralism, internationalism, and the construction of a cooperative commonwealth. If you share those goals, those principles, you should join SA or the YSA.

Together we can fulfill the promise of May Day. We can create a future worthy of humanity. For that we need a revolutionary workers’ organization. Join us. There is a world to win.

Long live international workers’ day! Long live the struggle for freedom, social justice, and workers’ power!