First Published: The Forge, Vol. 6, No. 15, April 17, 1981
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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The TV screen showed an almost empty auditorium with dejected Liberal Party members mulling over their defeat. But watching the election results in Workers Communist Party offices in Montreal and across the province were hundreds of enthusiastic supporters, satisfied with the success of the WCP’s first entry into Quebec provincial elections.
Just over 5,000 votes were picked up by the WCP’s 33 candidates. “it’s a very good total, especially considering the strong polarization that occurred as many workers voted for the PQ, which was seen as the ’lesser evil’,” said WCP Chairman Roger Rashi.
“We campaigned hard on issues like the protection of union rights – especially the right to strike which came under attack from the Liberals and the PQ, the improvement of working people’s living standards and the defence of Quebec’s national rights,” Rashi said. “And we popularized our socialist option among Quebecois fed up with a system that puts profits before people.”
WCP candidates turned in a good showing in ridings in Montreal, due to the party’s active work in the unions and its experience in community organizing.
Hospital worker Suzanne Lorne picked up 204 votes in St. Jacques. In the 40-per-cent Greek riding of Laurier, daycare worker Raymonde Lebreux racked up 467 voles, no doubt helped in part by widespread distribution of the party program in Greek.
In Mercier riding, WCP leader Roger Rashi pulled in 250 votes. In the east-end riding of Maisonneuve, site of some of the city’s largest heavy industrial plants, Louis Lavoie, a worker at the MLW-Bombardier factory, got 283 votes.
Elsewhere in the province, Denise Beauchesne – who was arrested along with other workers during the occupation of a cabinet minister’s office in a protest against cutbacks – received 266 votes in the Quebec City riding of Taschereau. The WCP ran in the Saguenay region for the first time, and Edouard Lavalliere polled an encouraging 235 votes in the PQ stronghold of Jonquiere. And Marc Laviolette, a well-known trade unionist in the city of Valleyfield, came through with 287 in Beauharnois.
These totals are obviously not massive compared to those received by the major parties. But each vote came as a result of hard, patient discussions and education by teams of dedicated party workers and supporters.
And the 5,005 vote total reflects a growing bloc of working people who, despite the barrage from the pro-capitalist parties, consciously opt for a socialist alternative.
Significantly, the WCP came out well ahead of other so-called left groups. With 40 candidates, the police goons of the CPCML received under 3,400 votes; while the pro-Moscow CPC’s weak campaign of only 10 candidates garnered only 748 votes.
Moreover, the WCP averaged 152 votes in each riding – just about double the average received by the largely-phantom candidates of the CPCML or the CPC.
In the 28 ridings where WCP candidates ran against representatives of these and other smaller parties, the WCP finished ahead of of them in 26 cases.
What distinguished our campaign was the high degree of education and popularization we did around basic principles – socialism, our party and our criticism of the capitalist parties,” explained Rashi.
Interest in the workers’ revolt in Poland, for example, allowed party workers to explain the WCP’s opposition to the repressive regimes in the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites, while showing how a real socialist country would guarantee workers’ power.
The tendency of many trade union militants to vote reluctantly for the PQ as a ’lesser evil’ despite its anti-worker record led to instructive debates on the need for independent working class political action and a revolutionary party.
There were other strong points in the WCP’s campaign as well.
Workplace organising during the elections was also done more effectively than in the last federal elections. Election committees, uniting party members with friends and supporters, were set up at a number of workplaces to coordinate the campaign work.
A special pamphlet on union rights was also widely distributed in the hospitals. Inroads among immigrants were made with the publication of a special program for immigrant workers in several languages and the campaign of WCP candidate Luigi D’Alonzo in a Montreal district where the Italian community is concentrated.
A wide variety of forms of education were called into play. Distribution of The Forge doubled. Tens of thousands of leaflets were handed out, reaching close to one in ten voters. And meetings were held ranging from small conferences on specific subjects like women’s issues to several large public rallies.
Party sympathisers and friends as well as people coming into contact with the WCP for the first time pitched in daring the campaign. Omer, a 57-year-old retired construction worker, put it this way: “I’ve been reading The Forge for some time so I had made up my mind to vote communist. But I’ve helped out the party by talking to my friends. Many have been through the same things I have, and they can see we need a party for workers that fights for what rightly belongs to us.”
Door-to-door canvassing was especially intensive. Wide sweeps of ridings were done, followed up by selective visits to the many people who expressed an interest in talking more about the party’s program. In some ridings in Montreal, upwards of 50 to 60 people would be involved in these blitzes every evening, some of them working with the party for the first time. Over 10,000 were visited in this door-to-door canvassing throughout the province.
Despite a virtual blackout from the Montreal media, the WCP campaign was helped by coverage in community newspapers and the local media in the rest of the province. In addition, for the first time the WCP bought air time on radio to reach even wider audiences.
“We ran a good campaign, but there are things we can improve on for next time,” said Rashi. “One weakness was that we started late. In the first week of a short four-week campaign, we were busy producing our election material and working out organizational details.
“As a result, we reached full throttle only by the end of the third week. By the end of the campaign, for example, more door-to-door visits were carried on in one evening than in the entire first week of the elections.”
“Of course, our total vote shows that our party is still small and young. But the WCP’s future prospects are very encouraging,” said Rashi. “We came in contact with literally thousands of people who had never heard of our party and its socialist alternative before,” he said.
He noted that many working people who voted for the PQ did so with little enthusiasm, more as an anti-Ryan vote than as an endorsement of Levesque. Indeed, in several ridings workers said they were going to vote PQ but contributed money to the WCP’s campaign or gave their phone numbers to be contacted for future activities.
“These workers are not going to give up fighting for their rights – and this creates a very good base for developing the WCP even more,” Rashi said;
An incident In the Beauharnois riding on election night, perhaps best sums things up.
A journalist interviewing WCP candidate Marc Leviolette on radio asked: “Well, I guess we’ll see you around in the next elections?” “No,” Laviolette replied quickly, “you’ll see me around starting tomorrow, fighting alongside my fellow workers against this system and building the workers’ alternative.”