Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

In Struggle!

The goals and work of Canadian Communists in trade unions today

First Published: May 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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The theses published today have been adopted by the Central Committee of the Canadian Marxist-Leninist Group IN STRUGGLE!

They summarize our Group’s positions on the attitude of communists in the unions, on the direction and slogans they must put forward and the goal of their work at the present time, the stage of rebuilding the Marxist-Leninist Party of the Canadian proletariat. In the weeks to come, our press will go into further depth on positions in order to disseminate them as widely as possible, for they represent the communist point of view on work within unions. Our aim is to rally workers who aspire to socialism in Canada to this point of view so that they, too, will defend it.

Communist intervention in labour unions is a question of utmost importance. Because they bring together the organized workers in the country, unions play an important role in defending the immediate interests of the working class. They will also have an important role to play in the Canadian revolution and, later, in the building of a socialist society in Canada. The Canadian ruling class is very conscious of the importance of labour unions, and that’s why it tries one trick after another to control, neutralize and infiltrate them. Right now, the variety of bourgeois tendencies which have wormed a place for themselves in the labour unions blunt the workers’ class consciousness, attempt to smother the workers’ revolt and lead the workers’ movement down a blind alley: the blind alley of reformism, bourgeois nationalism, social democracy and revisionism. The ruling class knows exactly what it wants to do in labour unions: it wants to weaken the proletariat, maintain division within its ranks and, most of all, prevent if from making the communist program – the program of the socialist revolution – its guide.

For example, the New Democratic Party (NDP) controls Canada’s biggest union center, the Canadian Labour Congress, (CLC) both ideologically and politically. The CLC is dominated by a party bent on fighting communist influence within the workers’ movement; a party that, once in power, applies all the bourgeoisie’s anti-worker measures, smashes strikes with special laws, freezes wages and actively promotes chauvinism within the Canadian working class by denying the Quebec nation’s right to self-determination, up to and including its right to separate from the Canadian federal State if it so chooses! Imagine the harm done to the cause of socialism when the country’s biggest union center is controlled by people whose role is to neutralize the revolutionary proletarian movement.

Other labour unions are no better off, for they are influenced by the “Communist Party of Canada” (“CPC”). This party is also a counterrevolutionary party, one that sows the criminal illusion of the “peaceful transition to socialism” and promotes opportunist alliances with the Canadian ruling class. It also defends Soviet social imperialism, that bird of prey which, along with US imperialism, oppresses numerous peoples and threatens the world with the danger of a third world war. In the context of the struggle to rebuild the proletarian Party, the revisionist party’s action is all the more detrimental in that it tries to pass itself off as communist and Marxist-Leninist.

Our list would be incomplete if we did not also point out the Trotskyist influence. These revisionists strengthen the control exercised by the reformists by calling on the proletariat to support the latter politically. This is done on the pretext that the masses must learn from their own experience.

The ideology of reformism and class collaboration reigns supreme within Canadian labour unions and the corrupt and sold-out labour bosses are doing everything they can to see that the situation doesn’t change. What tasks do such a situation demand of communists and combative workers?

Should they tail along and try to radicalize the situation little by little? Should they steer clear of the unions on the pretext that we must prepare the revolution and that unions are rotten to the core?

Neither of these attitudes is correct. The foremost task of communists is to disseminate the communist point of view and program within the labour unions and to rally the proletarian vanguard to it. This implies participating in the struggles waged by the workers, supporting them and defending the interests of the working class, without ever sacrificing the revolutionary and socialist interests to immediate successes and partial struggles. Communists must never lower their activity to the level of trade-unionism, of “class struggle unionism”, as do the pseudo-Marxist-Leninists of the Canadian Communist League (Marxist-Leninist). They must aim not at transforming unions into a political party, but at winning the unions over to the leadership of the proletarian Party and its program. They will reach their goal if they demonstrate concretely that only the communist program can lead the working class to the final victory over the exploiters because it strengthens their unity in the immediate struggle against the principal enemy. They will never reach their goal by using the demagogy of radicalism, or through putsches or the childish activism which the League excels in.

The theses we are publishing today must not be considered only as a statement of general principles. They are also a guide to the practice of communists within labour unions, in order that this become a systematic, unified and strong practice that will directly affect the rebuilding of the proletarian Party in Canada.

1. The tasks of Marxist-Leninists at the present stage

We are at the stage of building the Party of the vanguard, the Marxist-Leninist Party of the Canadian proletariat. The struggle to build this party is the most important aspect of the class struggle in our country at the present time because the realization of this central task will allow the Canadian proletariat to take a decisive step forward on the path which can eliminate all forms of exploitation and oppression of the labouring masses and people of Canada. The struggle to create this party requires that three essential tasks be carried out: drawing up and defending the program of the proletarian revolution in Canada which will cement the political and ideological unity of the party, the unification of authentic Marxist-Leninists in a single organization, the party, on the basis of the program, which demarcates them from all opportunist and revisionist programs or solutions; the winning over of the advanced elements or class-conscious proletarians to this program, thus uniting within the party the communist proletarians who will be the vanguard leaders of their class. The accomplishment of these three essential tasks must guide our present action in all circumstances and must be foremost in our minds wherever we intervene. In as much as the struggle to build the party consists of uniting authentic Marxist-Leninists and winning over the advanced elements of the proletariat to the commumist program, the struggle to distribute, defend and make the program victorious must be a fundamental aspect of our work at the present time.

2. What are unions, and what is their relationship to the party?

Among the defence organizations of the proletariat – i.e. those that don’t have as an objective the conquest of State power but whose aim is to defend the working class and the oppressed strata of the people against bourgeois dictatorship, against both the economic and political attacks of the bourgeoisie – the trade unions occupy a place of the highest importance. Canadian unions are mass organizations composed of an important segment of the Canadian proletariat and some strata of the petty bourgeoisie, farmers and fishermen. That the bourgeoisie (through its State, its parties, its ideological apologists) has a dominant influence in unions at the present time does not in itself change their nature, but rather reflects the fact that in the class struggle – the struggle between the bourgeois line and the proletarian line – in the Canadian labour movement, as elsewhere, the bourgeois point of view has the upper hand for the time being.

As a principally economic defence organization, trade unions cannot and never could lead the struggle of the proletariat for the conquest of political power. This task can only be accomplished by a political party, by the Marxist-Leninist vanguard party of the Canadian proletariat, which will continually struggle to have the trade unions accept its political leadership, to have them adhere to its program, its slogans and calls, up to and including the call to overthrow the State of bourgeois dictatorship and establish the State of the dictatorship of the proletariat to build socialism in Canada. Thus, when it comes to building this party, there can be no question of it emerging from the defensive struggles waged by the unions against the capitalists, no matter how important or combative these struggles may be. For even if the combativity or the radicalization of the struggles waged by the unions creates favourable conditions for the identification of the true friends and enemies of the proletariat and the penetration of the communist point of view in the unions and the proletariat in general, it cannot be considered as a necessary preliminary condition or stage in the creation of the Party.

3. Unions in Canada are dominated by bourgeois ideology

The influence of communist ideas in Canadian trade unions is still fairly minimal. In spite of important progress – demonstrated, for instance, by the increased presence of the Marxist-Leninist point of view in unions, especially in Quebec – unions in Canada are still heavily dominated by various forms of bourgeois ideology. Left or right-wing social-democratic or nationalist and revisionist ideologies still exercise a dominant influence to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the union or federation. In no Canadian labour body at the present time do we see the triumph of the communist point of view.

On the contrary, the bourgeois State can count on the leaders of the labour federations, the vast majority of whom are traitors to the working class and have no hesitations about collaborating with the State. Their action contributes to further strengthening the control of the bourgeois State over the unions. Moreover, for the bourgeoisie, class collaboration between the unions and the bourgeois State and/or management associations in both Quebec and Canada is an important advantage, solidly backing up its directly repressive action against the working-class and Marxist-Leninist movement. It is a bulwark against the penetration of communist ideas in unions and thus an important obstacle to winning advanced workers over to communism.

4. The foundations of communist work in unions

Political work on the part of communists, Marxist-Leninists, in unions is essential. It is of the utmost importance insofar as the winning over of the working-class movement to communism includes, as one of its components winning over the labour movement to the ideological and political leadership exercised by communists and eventually by the Party. Communist work in unions at the present time must be defined on the basis of the three essential tasks to be carried out in the struggle to build the Party.

In spite of the summary nature of our analysis of the dominant political currents in the Canadian trade union movement and the bourgeois political tendencies developing there, our intervention in unions should not be defined primarily in function of the fact that there exist reactionary and progressive unions, but above all in function of the fact that all unions in Canada are, in varying degrees and forms, dominated by bourgeois ideology and opportunism. The union movement must rid itself of this opportunism, regardless of whether or not this opportunism masks itself in “progressive” clothing. From the point of view of our work in unions, the question of the more or less progressive nature of one union or another should be used to clarify the specific conditions in which the work to win over the trade-union movement to communism must be carried out.

5. The goal of communist activity in unions

The objective of our activity in unions at the present time is to have Marxism-Leninism penetrate them and to rally the vanguard workers around the communist program, the program of the proletarian revolution in our country. This goal is not and cannot be different from that which we pursue currently in our action in all mass organizations and struggles. This means that our immediate objective is not the conquest of the organizational leadership of unions, federations, councils, or centrals; rather, our primary goal is the broadest possible penetration of the communist program, with the aim of winning over the working class leaders active in these unions to this program by convincing them of the correctness of the path of the socialist revolution in Canada and the necessity of fully involving themselves in defending this path in the working class, including in the unions.

Working today in unions in Canada on the basis of a program or platform other than the program of the proletarian revolution may well distract us from the essential tasks that must be carried out in the struggle to build the party. To adopt the point of view whereby it is necessary to draw up and distribute a “trade-union” program whether or not it includes everything included in the communist program, is to take a path which may lead to subordinating the struggle for the creation of the Party by reducing communist agitation and propaganda to the level of the most immediate economic and trade union questions.

As there is no need whatsoever for such a stage of trade-union or economic consciousness before being won over to communism and since, on the contrary, history has shown that this supposed “stage” in making workers politically conscious has in fact been nothing but a mask for reformist and opportunist politics, Canadian Marxist-Leninists must do their utmost to weaken the bourgeois political tendencies in the labour movement by opposing them with the only correct solution to exploitation and oppression – that given by the communist program. The struggle to rally the advanced elements of the proletariat to communism is the struggle to rally them to the building of a Marxist-Leninist vanguard party, armed with the program of the proletarian revolution.

6. How are we to defend the communist program in unions?

The task of defending the communist program in unions must be undertaken and carried out on the basis of the present political and economic situation on both the national and international levels. This situation, characterized by a profound economic and political crisis both in Canada and in the world, leads, here as elsewhere, to a sharpening of the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie and a proliferation of political “solutions” emanating from the bourgeoisie and its existing political parties and from political currents and tendencies at work in the working-class movement to attract the electoral favours of the proletariat. This struggle between various bourgeois political parties or currents, on the one hand, and the communist point of view, which is largely dominated, on the other hand, is waged increasingly on all the vital questions concerning the future of the class struggle of the Canadian proletariat – for example, the question of the nature of the State, the attitude of the proletariat towards this State, and the path the proletariat must follow to seize State power; the question of the attitude of the Canadian proletariat towards the international proletariat, the socialist countries and oppressed peoples, especially those who are victims of the imperialist activity of the Canadian bourgeoisie; or the question of the kind of party that the proletariat needs now. This struggle is also being waged in the trade union movement, and communists must work to make the interests of the proletariat stand out clearly by unmasking the ideas, positions, and actions of the reformists and opportunists, whose aim is to place the proletariat under the domination of bourgeois politics. Insofar as our activity consists principally in weakening the various forms of bourgeois ideological and political influence in unions, it is on the grounds of the various manifestations of the class struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie that this action must be waged, that the struggle to make the communist program triumph must be pursued.

7. What means should be used to defend the communist program in unions?

Communists must defend the communist program in struggles, strikes, union elections, demonstrations organized by unions, conferences, local and regional union meetings, union conventions, etc., by stressing the distribution of our instruments, the newspaper and the program in particular, and the ideas which are contained in them.

All means and events enabling communists to put forward the communist program in the unions should be considered. We should decide whether or not we should use this or that mean, or concentrate our efforts on it, on the basis of the pertinence and usefulness of such means in broadening the defence of the communist program in the unions. In this respect, participation in a union newspaper or the struggle to elect communists to union positions should only be considered priority methods in our activity in unions at the present stage insofar as in specific situations they may allow the broader penetration of the communist program and the struggle against bourgeois ideas in the trade-union movement.

8. The orientation of our work in unions in the present situation

In the present situation of economic and political crisis, the bourgeoisie is using all possible means to sow division among the Canadian proletariat, including in the ranks of the trade-union movement: divisions between workers of different nations and national minorities, between workers of different ethnic backgrounds, between men and women. The bourgeoisie spreads chauvinism, racism, narrow nationalism and class collaboration – all methods of heightening division among the proletariat. It counts on its active agents such as the labour bosses, its own political parties and the reformist and opportunist currents to achieve this in the labour movement.

Thus, the struggle to unite the multinational proletariat of our country – to unite it with women, immigrants, the unemployed, and others against the bourgeoisie and its repressive State – is the tactical orientation which must guide the action of communists in the working-class movement, including the labour movement. In this respect, the unity of the Canadian labour movement in the struggle against the political offensive of the Canadian bourgeoisie takes on very great tactical importance. It is not a matter of uniting the union movement in Canada on just any basis, but rather of seeking the greatest possible unity of action of unionized workers (including organizational unity, if this contributes to advancing the immediate and fundamental interests of the proletariat) in the struggle against the Canadian bourgeoisie, principal enemy of the Canadian proletariat, and, in particular, in the struggle to weaken the political power wielded by the bourgeoisie. This kind of unity of the Canadian trade-union movement is impossible if the above-mentioned factors of division within the movement are not considerably weakened. With this in mind, our work to combat the collaboration of the present leaders of the labor centrals with the bourgeoisie, its State and its parties must not be centred on the denunciation of particular union leaders but rather on the denunciation of class-collaborationist ideas and actions on both the economic and political levels which hamper and sabotage the unity of unionized workers with each other and with non-unionized workers, and which slow down the development of their political consciousness in the struggle against the economic and political offensive of the bourgeoisie and its State.

Communists put this tactical orientation into practice in unions by putting forward forms of struggle and slogans, specific demands which would have the effect of uniting the ranks of labour in common actions against the principal enemy (solidarity strikes, general strike, solidarity messages, financial supports, etc.) while constantly keeping in mind the need to present the communist point of view to the workers. Thus, for instance, they use the lessons to be drawn from a specific union struggle against the bourgeoisie or a particular position taken in the trade-union movement to show why it is necessary that the working class engage in the struggle for socialism.

9. The struggle for the democratization and Canadianization of unions

The slogans for the democratization and Canadianization of unions must be understood on the basis of the point of view which aims to strengthen the unity of the Canadian proletariat against the Canadian bourgeoisie and its State. On the one hand, the domination of many unions in Canada by US unions – a domination which is often maintained with the complicity of Canadian and Quebec union leaders, who find it in their own interests to do so is an important obstacle to the proletariat’s struggle against the bourgeoisie insofar as the control over decisions, funds and means of action in relation to the organization of the defensive struggle of these unions against the bourgeoisie is in the hands of US union bosses. Thus these unions can in no way serve the interests of the Canadian proletariat.

On the other hand, the domination of the vast majority of Canadian unions by agents of the imperialist Canadian bourgeoisie and US imperialism for some time now has had the effect of considerably reducing the democratic character of these defence organizations of the working class, making it more difficult to express the communist point of view in these unions and endangering the democratic rights of unions, won through long and bitter struggles against the bourgeoisie and its State.

In as much as it is in the interest of the Canadian proletariat to defend its right to free expression, association and complete independence with regard to the bourgeois State to the best of its ability, the struggle for the democratization and Canadianization of unions should be an important tactical concern for communists; because the greater the possibility of the working class controlling its own defensive organizations, the greater will be the possibilities for the penetration of the communist program as the only correct response to the intensification of capitalist exploitation and its effects, like inflation, unemployment and the oppression of other strata of the people.

Forward in the struggle to rally the vanguard of the working class to the communist program!