Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Canadian Communist League (Marxist-Leninist)

Draft Program for a new communist party

8. Build a class-struggle trade union movement

The unions are the broadest and most important mass organizations of the working class. They are an indispensable weapon in the workers’ intense struggle against capitalist exploitation. Millions of workers belong to the trade unions in Canada.

Our Party works in the unions to win over the broad masses within them to the revolutionary struggle, and to build a class struggle union movement. The unions must become a powerful weapon in the workers’ hands, not only to defend their immediate interests, but also to free the working class from capitalist exploitation.

The Canadian working class has a long tradition of militant struggle. From the creation of the first union in 1827, through the fight for the eight-hour day in the nineteenth century, to the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919 or the general strike on October 14, 1976, the working class has always fought for its rights. Everything it has won, it has won through struggle. The union movement was created and built up despite brutal and often bloody repression. Illegal at their outset, the unions have grown and become strong, despite the capitalists.

Throughout its history, the Canadian bourgeoisie has done its best to divide, crush and halt the development of the unions. These attacks continue today. Using anti-union laws, it attempts to restrict or remove the right to strike and to make it harder to organize. Using the courts, it imposes injunctions, fines and restrictions against union activists and their organizations. Using the police, it hounds strikers and breaks picket lines. With its police and its agents, it infiltrates unions to spy and sabotage. In every way they can, the capitalists attempt to destroy the defence organizations the working class has built at the price of struggle and sacrifice.

It is the job of all workers and the job of our Party to defend these essential instruments of the class struggle, the unions, against all the attacks of capital.

Today the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), the largest union federation in Canada, has a membership of 2.2 million. Its affiliates include international unions, controlled in the US, and Canadian unions.

There are also some major unions outside the CLC, the largest being the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CNTU), with 200,000 members, based in Quebec.

But despite the immense progress in the development of the unions since the creation of the first one in 1827, only about 33% of Canadian workers are organized today.

It is important to organize the great numbers of unorganized workers so as to strengthen the whole working class’s fighting capacity.

The growth of the unions

The first unions were formed with the greatest effort on the part of workers. They were the result of their spontaneous consciousness of the need to organize to fight the capitalists. Their immediate goal was to unite workers and to organize their collective fight for better wages and working conditions. They marked a great step forward for the working class: its passage from a scattered and weak state to the first attempts at class organization.

But as the class struggle developed, the limits of the unions became clearer. Left to themselves the unions tended to withdraw into the fight for reforms alone, and to remain outside the revolutionary political struggle.

It became necessary for the working class to create a higher form of organization to lead the struggle to do away with capitalism.

It is only when communist ideas take hold in the working class that the proletariat becomes conscious of the need to overthrow capitalism by means of revolutionary political struggle; this is when the proletariat creates its highest form of organization, its communist party. The party brings together the most advanced and class-conscious workers, the vanguard.

The party’s task is to link itself to the unions, to educate them and lead them. The unions’ role is to defend the workers’ interests, to act as schools of class struggle for the broad masses of workers, to support the party and take part in the struggle for. socialism.

As the unions grew, the bourgeoisie realized it could not wipe them out completely. So it developed the tactic of sabotage from within, knowing that the strongest fortresses are destroyed most easily from within. It therefore sought systematically to corrupt the union leaders so they would preach class collaboration and reformism and draw the masses away from the revolutionary struggle.

Thus, two trends appeared in the unions: the proletarian trend which seeks to make the unions into organizing centers of the working class, not simply for its immediate struggles, but also for the emancipation of workers; and the bourgeois trend which puts forward the possibility of reforming capitalism and which assigns the unions the role of collaborator with the bosses for the ’ collective welfare” of society.

With the development of imperialism, the bourgeois trend preaching class collaboration was consolidated in the unions. The capitalists used the superprofits of imperialist plunder to buy off and corrupt the most privileged stratum of the working class.

This labour aristocracy makes up a very small social stratum that is distinguishable from the working class by its income, its life style and its view of the world. It acts as the agent of the bourgeoisie within the labour and union movement, actively propagating reformism and collaborating with the capitalists on all issues. It is the social base of opportunism in the labour movement.

The labour aristocracy is made up of privileged sections of the working class, mainly highly skilled workers and union bureaucrats. This labour aristocracy dominates the labour movement in our country.

The top bureaucrats draw their salaries, which are much higher than the workers’, from workers’ dues, and benefit from the various privileges that go with their positions. They sit on numerous government and parliamentary committees, or on the boards of directors of public institutions. Each of these positions ties them to the capitalist system.

Many trade union activists and workers holding union positions are strongly opposed to the sellout misleaders.

They fight for strong unions defending the workers against capitalist exploitation.

Under various misleading names and forms – tripartism, industrial democracy, economic summit – the top bureaucrats propagate class collaboration and try to bind the unions to it. They sabotage workers’ struggles, block the mobilization of the masses, undermine the unity of the labour movement, preaching collaboration and good faith as the solution to the problems of capitalism. They weaken the working class’s fightback against the many attacks of the bourgeoisie, thus helping it to apply the crisis measures – layoffs, wage cuts, etc.

The bureaucrats’ sabotage is not only on the economic terrain. It is present on the political terrain as well, with their attempts to tie the unions to the bourgeoisie’s political parties, the reformist parties in particular. Thus the CLC supports, finances and participates directly in the NDP. The CLC leaders have the gall to try to pass the NDP off as the “political arm” of the workers.

In Quebec, the bureaucrats support the PQ, though they may criticize it to one degree or another. They claim the PQ is a social-democratic and people’s party.

Some union leaders, particularly those at the head of the CLC, openly support imperialism and oppose national liberation struggles. An obvious example of this is their support for Isreal and their hostility towards the Palestinian people.

The workers have never been content with the domination of the bourgeois current in the unions. They have waged and continue to wage tough battles against it. The history of the Canadian union movement is filled with stories of struggle and strikes waged by workers against the will of the collaborationist leaders.

The bourgeois trend did not always dominate to this extent in the Canadian labour movement. These was a time when the proletarian trend, the class struggle trend, was strong in the Canadian labour movement. This was in the ’30s and the ’40s when the Communist Party led the Workers’ Unity League, a class union, and later organized the major industrial unions.

Over the years, unions like the United Auto Workers, Steelworkers, and United Electrical workers waged fierce battles to defend workers’ rights. But when the CPC degenerated into revisionism, this tradition was lost.

Without a communist party to lead the opposition to the class collaborationist trend, workers’ struggles remain isolated and weak. Today, with the rebirth of the communist movement, the trend to class trade unionism is once again growing.

The Party’s tasks in the unions

Within the union movement our Party actively fights the labour aristocracy and the class collaboration it propagates, so as to develop, strengthen and unite the current of class consciousness. This is why we wage a tough struggle against reformism, social-democracy and revisionism, all manifestations of bourgeois ideology, to educate workers in the spirit of class struggle and in Marxism-Leninism.

Through agitation and propaganda, we make our Party’s program and positions known in the union movement. We fight the labour aristocracy to win the support and sympathy of the masses of the workers for our Party.

Our strategic objective in the unions is to turn them into class unions, to achieve the victory of proletarian line.

Class unions reject all forms of collaboration with the capitalists – tripartism, bipartism or any other form it, may take – and firmly defend the workers’ interests. They are democratic, controlled by their members, and are against any sort of privileges or benefits for their elected leaders or paid staff. They build unity in action and solidarity among workers and unions, and they educate their members in the spirit of class struggle. They stand for political action that is independent of the bourgeois parties, for solidarity with the international proletariat’s struggles and the national liberation struggles, and they oppose imperialism and the two superpowers.

Class unions oppose the view that unions ought to be politically neutral. The unions are not neutral nor can they be. Because the bourgeoisie attacks on both the economic and the political fronts, the unions must act on both these fronts. The point is, which politics reign – bourgeois or proletarian politics? The union bureaucrats commit the unions to supporting the bourgeois parties, either openly, or surreptitiously, behind a mask of neutrality. Class unions reject support for the bourgeois parties, and support those who fight for the emancipation of workers – the communist party.

This support is won through a long and patient process of education and persuasion, through the masses’ own experience of the Party’s activity. It is not imposed on union members, but is democratically attained.

It is a principle of the international labour movement that the working class of each country must control its unions and political organizations. In Canada, 47% of union members belong to unions controlled in the United States. These unions, dominated by the American labour aristocracy sold out to the interests of US imperialism, stifle democracy and the independence of Canadian workers, and encourage them to support the policies of US imperialism. The fight against American domination of our unions is part of our fight for a class union movement. Our Party fights for Canadian class struggle unions.

To contribute to and advance the struggle for class unions our Party undertakes the following tasks:

A. Develop the unions’ fighting capacity.

•  We support the building of a united fightback of the union movement against the capitalists’ crisis measures, to defend workers’ basic demands.

•  We support the united action of unions and union federations. This unity must be based on the unity of rank-and-file union members. We oppose raiding campaigns that divide unions.

•  We reject tripartism and all “social contract” schemes that attempt to drag the union movement into class collaboration.

•  We reject any support, official or otherwise, on the part of the unions for any bourgeois party. We demand that the unions undertake political action to mobilize the masses of workers for direct battles against the bourgeoisie, and we reject the reformists’ parliamentary back-room manoeuvring.

•  We demand that the workers participate in working out their demands, and we demand democratic control by the workers over all decisions to strike or to return to work.

•  We oppose anti-communist campaigns and witch-hunts in the unions. These serve only to divide workers and to weaken the unions. We demand the elimination of all anti-communist clauses from the constitution of “international” unions.

B. Our Party fights to defend the union movement against all attacks by the capitalists and their state.

• We oppose all so-called right-to-work laws, which legalize scabs and union-busting.

• We fight all laws that restrict the right to organize.

• We fight for the right to strike for all workers, including those in the public sector, and we oppose all strike-breaking laws and all laws that limit or abolish this right.

•  We oppose all state interference in the union movement and all laws that limit or deny union members their right to run their own affairs.

C. Organize unorganized workers.

•  We fight to organize the non-unionized. We fight to build unions and to bring into the union movement the two-thirds of Canadian workers who are as yet unorganized. Unorganized workers are concentrated in small factories that employ, in particular, a large number of women, members of oppressed national minorities and immigrants.

•  We oppose company unions and yellow unions, dominated and manipulated by the employer. Workers in these unions must be organized in legitimate unions.

D. Fight for independent Canadian unions.

Our principal means of achieving independence for Canadian unions is to work for the dissaffiliation of whole Canadian sections from international unions. Such a decision would be taken in convention by the workers concerned, or in a referendum. This would be the best way of assuring the unity and the strength of the newly-independent unions.

Our Party supports workers’ struggles to win greater autonomy; for example, control over strike funds, the right to elect top leaders in Canada and the right to decisional conventions in Canada for Canadian sections. We are opposed to all forms of trusteeship, interference, control or arbitrary decision by the American leadership in our unions.

E. Fight for the rights of workers of oppressed nationalities, and the rights of women workers.

•  The unions must support the struggle being waged by workers of oppressed nationalities against national oppression and for equality and national rights.

•  We are fighting to have Quebec’s right to self-determination recognized by Canadian unions.

•  Workers of oppressed minorities must be assured equal rights and the right to speak their language in the unions.

•  The unions must support the demands and specific struggles of women and make them the demands of the whole union movement.

•  Special efforts must be made in the unions to ensure widespread participation by women workers.

In our struggle against the capitalists and their agents in the labour movement, we must pay careful attention to the different levels of consciousness in the working class and to the need for the widest possible unity. Many workers have been strongly influenced by reformism and are not very open to revolutionary ideas. But they want to defend their class interests against the bosses and they want strong and militant unions. Many union leaders, particularly at the local and regional level, also want to take up the fight against the capitalists. They have nothing in common with the big bureaucrats and must not be counted among them.

In order to build the broadest unity among the workers, our Party applies the tactic of the proletarian united front, seeking to unite, despite different political ideas, all those workers and honest union activists that want to fight and not collaborate with the capitalists.

The main point of the united front is to strengthen the working class, to unite it against the capitalists’ attacks, and to isolate the top bureaucrats and minimize their influence. It is built principally among rank and file workers and in action, around the demands and the battle tactics appropriate to the situation.

As it builds the workers’ united front, our Party maintains both its complete freedom to do agitation and its political independence. There is no question of our Party abandoning its own activity and strategic objective in the labour movement.