Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

May First Collective and October Study Group

Summary of the Strike Against Alcan in Kitimat B.C.

First Published: In Struggle No. 69, September 2, 1976 and No. 70, September 16, 1976
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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In Struggle introduction to Part 1: We are publishing the first part of an article that was given to us by the October Study Group of Vancouver, a group of Marxist-Leninists that intervened on the side of the workers during the struggle against Alcan. Part 2 criticizing the legalism and the reformism of the union bosses and actions of the revisionists inside the uniion and during the strike will be published in the next issue.

In Struggle introduction to Part 2: We published the first part of this article in IN STRUGGLE!’s last issue (no. 69), however the text was prepared by the comrades of the October Study Group in Vancouver as well as by the comrades of the May First Collective, also of Vancouver. The editorial staff wishes to rectify this oversight and here publishes the second part of the article.

* * *

A ferocious Canadian monopoly supported by the bourgeois state

The recent two-week “illegal” strike by 1800 workers at Alcan’s aluminium smelter in Kitimat, B.C., reflects the growing resistance of all workers to the Trudeau measures.

By fighting, the Kitimat workers demonstrated the understanding they’ve gained of the true role of the Anti-Inflation Board (AIB) as a tool for the bourgeoisie.

In addition, what began as a struggle against Alcan and the AIB became a school of valuable lessons about the workers’ so-called friends, the social-democrats and the labour bosses.

“Our demands are just”

Last November, Alcan and the AIB teamed up to impose a two-year settlement of 8% and 6% on the members of the Canadian Association of Smelter and Allied Workers (CASAW), an affiliate of the Confederation of Canadian Unions (CCU). At the time, the middle of winter, the workers were not prepared to challenge both the government and Alcan, which was threatening a lock-out. Furthermore, some workers were deceived by the AIB’s claim that it would end inflation.

The examples of other workers who resisted the AIB limit helped develop a desire to fight in Kitimat, as did the knowledge of strike preparations by Alcan workers in Arvida, Quebec. During the spring months, the local CASAW leadership conducted agitational meetings among the workers on the need to reopen the contract.

On June 2nd, some tradesmen in the smelter walked off the job to protest company refusal to deal with job-classification grievances. That evening, in a tradesmen, the workers’ bitterness over the imposed contract came into the open. They decided the contract had to be reopened before anyone would return to work.

To press their demand, they threw a blockade up on the highway leading to the plant, locking in the 400 “supervisors” and scabs with which Alcan was trying to maintain some semblance of production. Of course, these strikebreakers weren’t able to do the job, so the company began an airlift of foremen and other management staff from their plant in Arvida where the workers had shut down the plant completely.

The state to the rescue of the capitalists

Naturally, a worker shutdown of a big company like Alcan and the defiance of the AIB is a serious matter to the bourgeois state. Not only that, but the strike was “illegal” according to the capitalist regulations because it occurred in the middle of a contract. Serious matter indeed!

So, it took the B.C. Labour Relations Board (LRB), that provincial overseer of labour “peace”, only one day to order the workers back on the job. Despite a recommendation for compliance from the union leadership, this order was rejected by the workers, as was a second, and then a third.

As the workers met to discuss their response to each back-to-work order, more and more of them stood up to denounce the LRB as a tool of the companies, just like the AIB. And where did the LRB spring from? This much vaunted body (vaunted by the bourgeoisie and by the labour bosses) was the creation of none other than the previous NDP government in B.C., and continues to be useful to the current Social Credit government. The social-democrats, traitors to the working class, preach labour “peace” and the end of class struggle, but this is the soft sell approach of the bourgeoisie’s attempt to disarm the working class, one of several tactics the capitalists employ. Even if this tactic works, it is always combined with and dependent on the threat of repression. The LRB officers sent to Kitimat simultaneously offered conciliation and issued back-to-work orders.

Unity grows amidst struggle

In Kitimat, each LRB order was greeted with increasing defiance and unity by the workers. On the picket line, the workers discussed the collusion of the government and the company. The picket line solidarity of Portuguese, German, East Indian, Czech (to name only a few of the immigrant communities) Anglo-Canadians and the contingent of Quebec workers from Arvida (see IN STRUGGLE!, No. 64, p. 1) overcame the ethnic and racial divisions fostered by the bourgeoisie. Furthermore, on many occasions, close to half of those at the blockade were wives of the strikers. Through the struggle their solidarity was strengthened.

The third LRB order was sent to the Supreme Court of B.C.. opening the way for contempt-of-court charges against 51 union members. The workers’ defiance of this order threw the bourgeoisie into a panic. As the LRB couldn’t handle the situation, the B.C. Attomew-General shipped RCMP Superintendent Dallon to Kitimat to threaten the picket line with police action. When the workers wouldn’t budge, Dalton brought in 200 heavily armed police in a pre-dawn raid and arrested everyone at the blockade.

At this point, the union leadership retreated and relied on what had been a legal picket-line of the eight Arvida workers to maintain the strike. But of course this picket was then declared illegal by the LRB.

Here, one must ask why the CASAW workers were left to fight almost singlehandedly against Alcan and the bourgeois state. Where were the labou* centres of the CLC and the CCU?

Once again, the labour bosses have exposed their demagogic character. The “general strike”, talk of the CLC bosses comes cheap. Did the CLC or its provincial affiliate, the B.C. Federation of Labour, organize any concrete support for the Kitimat workers? No, on the contrary! (...)

The social democrats shown their true face!

What could more clearly expose the services these traitors offer to the bourgeoisie than the mission of Jack Moore and Angus MacDonald? These former labor bosses (in the International Woodworkers of America, and the Steelworkers) were the first appointees to the LRB after the NPD overhauled that board. They were also the first officers sent to Kitimat by LRB boss Paul Weiler and they issued the back-to-work orders.

What can we say of those “friends” who act as the bourgeoisie’s first line of attack against the workers? They are simply enemy agents within the worker’s ranks. Some have won their promotions to the bourgeoisie’s tables; we can cite the example of ex-Teamster boss John Brown, who sat with an agent of the forest monopoly MacMillan Bloedel and a so-called “labour” lawyer on the LRB panel which, in mid-July, approved a 6 month work suspension for three CASAW leaders for “fostering” the strike. Under the guise of restraining company demands for outright firings, the LRB reproached the workers for their “illegal” action and instructs them that a penalty must be paid. But, better not to provoke the workers too much! Give the appearance of concession. Otherwise, the workers might call into question the whole basis of the bourgeoisie’s sacred laws. This is how all good social democrats and class traitors think. Above all, prevent class struggle!

But, not all these enemy agents wear the cloth of the bourgeoisie so openly. Many remain among the workers to peddle their social democratic illusion and to preach capitulation to the capitalist offensive.

The Kitimat workers grasp the betrayal of the CLC bosses. But, what of the CCU, the Canadian labour centre which grew out of workers’ struggles for unions independent from the “internationals”, so dominated by the U.S. labour bosses? What can we conclude from the CCU’s involvement in the strike? It must be said that the CCU behaved much like the CLC and B.C. Federation of Labour as it failed to organize any campaign on behalf of its CASAW affiliate. Can we accept the excuse that the CCU is small in numbers and financially poor? No, for this can never justify the opposition to the strike mounted by the leadership of CAIMAW [1] in Vancouver, the de facto CCU central in B.C. The CAIMAW leadership stood not merely aloof from the battle in Kitimat, but publicly spoke against both continuing the fight and organizing support for CASAW. They even attacked the Kitimat leadership for its inexperience and criticized the workers for not accepting LRB ’initiatives’.

Is this how workers are to be led to defend themselves against the bourgeoisie? The support which CASAW did receive from several locals cut accross the CCU/CLC boundary and shows that the workers can rally to the side of their class brothers and sisters. It is the labour bosses who wish to contain and isolate the struggles of the workers. For the moment, they have succeeded in partnership with the state machine, oiled so well by the social democrats. Despite the unity forged in Kitimat between the B.C. and Quebec workers, the bourgeoisie was able to defeat the strike.

Workers are learning that the enemy is not a series of separate employers or separate governments, but a single class of exploiters and defenders of exploitation, the bourgeoisie.

To overcome the exploitation and crises of capitalism means abolishing the capitalist class and replacing its rule with proletarian dictatorship. Workers must therefore be organized as a class on a nationwide basis. Instead of the bourgeois ideology of the labour bosses who wish to save capitalism, workers must be guided by their own proletarian ideology, Marxism-Leninism.

We must also examine those leaders who perhaps represent an honest and militant strata in the trade unions. When Kent Rowley, [2] Secretary-Treasurer of the CCU, appears before the Kitimat workers and encourages them to continue the fight if they have any chance of victory, this is certainly distinct from the open hostility of other CCU leaders and the CLC’s betrayal. Rowley wins the respect of the workers when he refuses to meet with Trudeau behind closed doors or when, like at Kitimat he sums up the workers’ understanding of the Anti-Inflation Board (AIB) and LRB as tools of the bosses. Here, we must also be concerned with the local CASAW leaders, some of whom are honest enough to admit that they underestimated their membership’s determination.

But, do these honest (let us assume the best) and militant (to different degrees, it can be seen) leaders really assist the workers to resist the bourgeoisie’s offensive? Further, do they in any way prepare workers for their historical task of defeating the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and building socialism in order to end the crises of capitalism once and for all?

We must conclude, in all frankness, that labour leaders like Rowley, who cut short their analysis when they’ve described the government as a tool of the bourgeoisie and then call for more militancy or more union democracy (the catchwork of the CCU) are opportunists within the working-class movement. For, struggles such as the one waged in Kitimat show that militant sentiment is not enough. Nor can workers be satisfied with abstract democracy to solve their problems.

As long as the trade union centres are headed by class traitors who peddle their bourgeois ideas of collaboration and capitulation, workers’ struggles will be undermined. It is these agents of the bourgeoisie within the working class who must be thrown out.

But, let us repeat, we are not speaking simply of more militancy. The working-class struggle is not simply one of resisting the capitalist offensive, but must be an open conscious class struggle to abolish the capitalist dictatorship. It is this necessity which shows us the limitations of ’militant’ leaders like Rowley.

Only the dictatorship of the proletariat can put an end to the fundamental laws of capitalism, exploitation of labour and inevitable crises. The only leadership which can raise the class struggle to a conscious political struggle is a true working class headquarters, a proletarian party. May we remind those ’militants’ such as Mr. Rowley that they are not unfamiliar with this idea? And yet, they neglect to mention it.

This ’omission’ can only serve the bourgeoisie and help maintain the dominance of bourgeois ideology in the worker’s movement. For, in the absence of such a party (and no genuine communist party exists in Canada) the advanced workers must take up the struggle of Marxist-Leninists to create one. It is through the accomplishment of this first task of building a party that workers will establish instruments of struggle subject to their interests and control.


[1] CAIMAW Canadian Association of Industrial, Mechanical and Allied Workers

[2] Kent Rowley is a well known defender of the opportunist and revisionist line of the so-called Canadian “Communist” Party, that thoroughly revisionist party and agent of Soviet social-imperialism in our country and peddler of a class collaboration line in the Canadian labour movement. MIA Note: The October Study Group later sent a letter to In Struggle! correcting this endnote. The OSG stated that Rowley was not at that time, a member of the CPC and had not been a member for a number of years.