“Enough is enough!” The same feelings of revolt, anger and frustration have spread within the ranks of the working class from Britain to the United States, with similar expressions in France and the Scandinavian countries along the way. Widespread attacks on our living and working conditions, and the brutal, arrogant and cynical attitude of governments and employers, have only strengthened our fighting spirit and our determination to continue the struggle. This same mood is strong in Quebec, Canada, where 565,000 public sector workers employed by the federal government (15% of the active population) came out on strike en masse when faced with rising prices and deterioration in their working conditions. Increasingly many proletarians in capitalism's central countries, as in the United States, find themselves being plunged into poverty.
Strikes by public sector workers in Canada have been underway for over a month and are further confirmation of the revival of working class struggle internationally. It's over fifty years since the last strike on this scale which was in April, 1972, when Quebec was paralysed with factories and mines occupied by strikers.
Today's strikes are a significant extension to the wave of struggles in the United States that affected the car industry in particular, with the UAW (United Autoworkers Union) finally signing an agreement with the management at Ford, Stellantis and GM, between October 25 and 30, which was considered a clear "victory" and was able to bring an end to more than a month of strike action.
On a broader level, it confirms the 'rupture' with thirty years of retreat and passivity as referred to in the "Reports and Resolutions of the 25th ICC Congress" , where we explain how the revival of workers' combativity in numerous countries at the vital economic centres of capitalism, was a major historical event.
Workers’ solidarity and combativity
A powerful wave of anger, determination and outrage was evident in the strikes where the public sector mobilised en masse in Quebec, expressing the very strong combativity of the working class there, and the continuing international revival of working-class struggles, particularly in North America, following on from the car industry strikes in the United States.
The provocative and arrogant attitude of the federal government gave rise to increased attacks on teachers and health care workers alike, increasing their job insecurity and by making already intolerable working conditions even worse. The number of teachers who have resigned has doubled in the last four years (more than 4,000!), at a time when there is a crying shortage of teachers in Quebec's public schools, with classes having been closed down for one month for one million pupils. This massive response has reached across all levels of the teaching profession (primary, secondary and higher education), as well as school transport, day-care centres and administrative staff.
The same frustration is being expressed in Health and Social Services, with the threat of a “major reform” hanging over the health system. Living and working conditions are under attack from the bourgeoisie here too. The federal government plans to further increase the number of independent and private clinics that will require increased staff mobility and flexibility and the need to accept voluntary relocations according to departmental needs, meaning more redundancies and existing staff facing an increased burden of already exhausting individual tasks and unpaid overtime. As one lab technician put it: "We already work like dogs on weekends, holidays and nights. And they tell us it's not enough.”
In this situation, the government has been intransigent, contemptuous and totally cynical, offering to negotiate on further wage increases only in exchange for the workers agreeing to increased and more widespread flexibility, with deliberate intentions of letting negotiations drag on. This is demonstrated by the hard line taken by both Premier François Legault and Sonia Le Bel, who is President of the Public Finance Council.
However, the anger and mass mobilisation has already succeeded in breaking with the tendency toward individual despondency and the kind of profound demoralisation that existed previously.
This ongoing situation has both aroused and inspired a wave of mutual support and solidarity. In the case of the teachers, for example, a support group has been set up on social networks to help unpaid strikers on the picket lines with donations of food and clothing. The strikes, including those in the private sector, continue to enjoy the sympathy and support of 70% of the population. In addition, the number, frequency and scale of the mobilisations have demonstrated the great determination of the strikers to not given in.
The bourgeoisie sabotages the struggle and divides workers
The trade unions had already consciously taken in hand the leadership so as to be able to channel the anger and to exert control over the movement to disperse and divide it. The teachers' union (Fédération autonome de l'enseignement (FAE)) called on its 66,000 members to come out on an indefinite strike from 13 November, while the four main trade union confederations that make up the "Common Front" in the public sector, representing 420,000 employees, only called for sporadic strikes from November 21 to 23, then from December 8 to 14. For its part, the health workers union (Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé) called on its 80,000 members to stop work on November 6, 8, 9, 23 and 24, then from December 11 to 14. Some of the organisations had promised tougher strike action if negotiations with the government were unsuccessful, but they were stalling for time in order to delay this eventuality until after the festive season!
At the same time, the government had a trump card up its sleeve with which it was able to exploit to the full in its attempt to defuse this combativity and to stir up divisions and competition: it conducted negotiations with each sector in turn and also separately with each national trade union, and it was able to rely on the work of undermining, dividing and controlling the struggles by the various unions. Thus, as early as 20 December, part of the "Common Front" in education began to fracture, with the FSE-FSQ expressing its desire to conclude a separate agreement with the government and the Treasury Commission. At the same time, the most "radical" fraction of strikers behind the FAE, which was on indefinite strike, was engaging in spectacular minority "commando operations" such as blocking access to the ports of Montreal and Quebec City, before it finally reached an agreement of its own, that put an end to the teachers' strike on 28 December. In this way, the unions and the Quebec government managed to find a solution through specific measures to improve salaries and pensions on a case-by-case basis, as well as to limit overcrowding in the classrooms. On the other hand, no agreement has apparently yet been reached in the nursing sector, which seems to demonstrate a tactic of 'divide and rule' with this particularly combative sector having to continue striking on its own. The possibility of further strikes in other sectors in the near future, given the depth of discontent cannot be ruled out.
Continuing maturation of working class consciousness
Despite the actual limitations and the warning it contains concerning the real dangers facing the development of future struggles, letting the struggle get trapped in the manoeuvres of the bourgeoisie and those of the unions, the public sector strike in Quebec illustrates most of all the potential of the international revival of workers’ combativity and determination, in a broader context of unfolding struggles and maturing workers' consciousness in the central countries of capitalism. Above all, it reaffirms the clear capacity of the working class to develop its struggles in response to the blows of the global crisis and the all-out attacks by the bourgeoisie and its governments, no matter whether left or right wing, the expression of a dying and decaying capitalist world. These struggles are a major step forward for the working class on the road to the recovery of its class identity and its consciousness.
In the face of all the propaganda and the shower of lies spewed out since 1989 about the supposed bankruptcy or death of communism, these struggles demonstrate that the working class has not gone away and more than ever constitutes the only class with a revolutionary perspective for the overthrow of capitalism and a future for humanity, that will overturn the inexorable sinking of capitalist society into a sea of misery, chaos, generalised war and barbarism.
GD, 4 January, 2024