Letter to Workers Vanguard

On the CN Strike

12 March 2004

Workers Vanguard
New York, NY

To the editor:

The 5 March 2004 issue of Workers Vanguard (WV) contains a useful report on the recent “hot cargoing” of parts shipped on Canadian National (CN) trains by members of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) at Ford’s Southern Ontario plants in Oakville, St. Thomas and Windsor. They took this action in solidarity with their fellow CAW members who are on strike against CN. The 24 February issue of the union’s Railfax wrote: “Special thanks go out to CAW auto workers who placed themselves at risk yesterday in order to support their striking brothers and sisters at CN Rail.” As WV correctly observed, these courageous unionists “showed the kind of militant solidarity that’s needed to win labor’s battles.” The capitalist media has largely ignored this action, presumably because they don’t want any repetitions.

The same issue of Railfax also reported that, “CN moved over the weekend to secure injunctions in Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal.” These injunctions were aimed at crippling the strike, but at least in Montreal the workers took no notice. According to a 5 March report on the Montreal website of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (montreal.cbc.ca) 75 CAW pickets blocked the entrance to the rail yards in St. Laurent for several hours and prevented trucks from entering. Eventually the riot squad appeared and attacked the workers, one of whom complained: “We have a right to go on strike, we have the right to be here, but the police are beating the shit out of us to make sure that we leave.”

The fact that militant workers in both English Canada and Quebec have been prepared to defy bourgeois legality in the course of this strike seems to us a good reason for you to reconsider the proposition that: “The recognition by the workers of each nation that their respective capitalist rulers – not each other – are the enemy can only come through an independent Quebec” (Spartacist Canada, September-October 1995).  The fact is that the current CN strike fits the same pattern of joint struggle by Anglo Canadian and Quebecois workers that we have seen in strikes by rail, postal and civil service workers over the past several decades. There is no question that the Anglo-chauvinism, social-democratic reformism and petty-bourgeois Quebec nationalism pushed by the labor bureaucrats represent important obstacles to the development of a class-conscious workers’ movement and must be vigorously combated. But the fact is, the current rail strike parallels previous ones (including the one featured on the front page of WV No. 28, 14 September 1973) in that workers on both sides of the national divide are engaged in common struggle against a common enemy.

As you know, we uphold the position initially developed by the international Spartacist tendency (iSt) in the mid-1970s in contradistinction to various ostensibly Trotskyist organizations which invested petty-bourgeois Quebecois nationalism with some inherently revolutionary dynamic. The iSt position combined a resolute defense of the inalienable right of the Quebecois to separate and form their own state with an advocacy of common working-class struggle across national lines. Contrary to the allegations of the Pabloites, there was no shred of Anglo-chauvinism in this position. The current rail strike demonstrates that the perspective of bi-national class struggle remains a valid one.

As we sought to explain in Trotskyist Bulletin No. 7, the link between the historically more militant Quebecois working class and their English-Canadian sisters and brothers (and through them the powerful U.S. proletariat) is a potentially highly significant factor in the development of revolutionary consciousness within the North American working class. We urge the comrades of the International Communist League, on the basis of this most recent experience, to reassess your organization’s position and reject the pessimistic estimation that joint class struggle is not possible prior to the establishment of an independent capitalist Quebec.

Bolshevik Greetings,

J. Decker,

for the International Bolshevik Tendency

Posted: 20 March 2004