On May 1st, 1886, workers in Chicago were shot down as they marched for an 8-hour workday. Ever since then, May 1st or May Day has been recognized as International Workers Day, a day of celebration and struggle for the toiling masses all across the world.
The twentieth century witnessed heroic struggles and glorious achievements of human liberation under the leadership of workers and supported by the most oppressed and exploited people. The struggles of workers and peasants, women and students of the popular classes, and people resisting occupation, military dictatorship and fascism carved out important gains for the people in the past century. However, decades of neoliberal “globalization” have reversed the gains of previous generations of working class struggles, revolutions, and anti-colonial movements.
With the onset of the 2008 financial crisis – after a brief period when many were questioning the viability of capitalism – the ruling classes of the G20 countries regrouped, decided upon their strategy, and declared open war on the people. In June 2010 at the G20 Summit in Toronto, while 1,100 people were being rounded up in the streets of Toronto and thrown into cages, Stephen Harper announced that we were entering the “Age of Austerity”.
But this new era of “austerity” really isn’t so new. It intensifies the attacks of neoliberalism of the last thirty years on the Third World and the poorest people in countries like Canada, while extending the offensive to those layers of the working class who previously considered themselves as “middle class” – workers in manufacturing and the public sector. Since 2003, 500,000 well-paying manufacturing jobs have been transferred from Canada to countries where workers are more heavily exploited.
For decades, Federal governments have slashed corporate tax rates in the name of job creation and attracting foreign capital. Yet, non financial Canadian corporations alone are sitting on more than $500 billion in cash reserves – never mind what the banks and financial corporations have.1 The stagnant economy is not the result of high taxes or “uneasy investors”, but a crisis of overproduction and overaccumulation of capital across the world economy. The biggest corporations in the world seek to grow today not by expanding their capacity to invest in new production, but by swallowing up their competitors and often closing down their factories in order to conquer new markets, control output, and tweak price levels just to optimize profits. One can say there is a crisis of “overaccumulation” because the capitalists have more capital than they can profitably invest. Redistributing wealth is not an option for the ruling class because that means us workers wouldn’t be as desperate and exploitable.
This crisis of overproduction is what accounts for the upsurge in mergers and acquisitions (M&As) amongst the biggest corporations in the world. The media has a lot to say when a Canadian company is confronted with a takeover by a foreign corporation, but has little to say about Canadian companies buying up assets all across the world. In fact, Canadian companies, especially in mining and finance, have outpaced foreign companies in M&As for the last few years. In 2010, the global mining sector in particular experienced a record number of mergers and acquisitions – a staggering 2,693 – worth USD113 billion, in which Canadian capital was responsible for a breathtaking 713 of these takeovers, or 36 percent of the total global value in this sector.2 Canada is not being taken over by foreign corporations; Canadian companies are more and more dominating in the world. This is what makes Canada “imperialist”, and it’s the people – most especially Aboriginal peoples, and third world workers and peasants – who are paying the heavy cost for the gains of these big capitalists. But it’s also the workers losing their jobs. Our misery is their profit.
These takeovers then allow for big companies to close down the competition and shift production to places where labour is super-exploited. This was the case with Caterpillar’s takeover of Electro-Motive in London, Ontario in 2010 and its eventual shutdown of the plant when it liquidated 500 jobs in early 2012, shifting production to a non-unionized plant in Indiana. Meanwhile, the corporate media divides the working class by blaming more exploited workers in other countries, especially China, for the movement of capital.
The Federal government’s drastic reforms to the immigration system complement super-exploitation. Refugees are being criminalized to keep them out and it is being made more difficult to sponsor family members to come to Canada, while Canada continues the “brain-drain” of professionals and high-skilled workers from the “developing” world — labour and experts that the Canadian system did not have to invest in to train and educate. Meanwhile, the numbers of Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) in the country continues to grow. Capital wants to see a workforce that is disposable — that has few rights, no access to services, and can be sent back home when they’re no longer needed (when they’re injured or done their jobs). In 2008, the number of TFWs entering Canada exceeded the number of permanent residents being allowed into the country. As of 2011, there were more than 300,000 TFWs in Canada. These workers look to Canada for a better life precisely because multinational corporations like those in Canada have made the prospects of a better life back home (under capitalism!) impossible.
Cheaper wages and shrinking social programs are allowing the capitalists to make record profits. Yet, only four years after the biggest financial bailouts in human history, running into the trillions of dollars, the international bankers and G20 countries have the audacity to call for more austerity from the workers! The Canadian government (through the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation) is currently guaranteeing the big banks for up to $600 billion dollars in mortgage assets. That means that as Canadians begin to default on their mortgages under the heavy weight of record-high debt levels, public funds will go to bailout these banks rather than the people who cannot make their payments due to declining wages and lack of jobs.
Such bailouts are a major part of the “fiscal crisis” that has become the justification for the major spending cuts and privatizing public goods. Tens of thousands of Federal public sector workers will lose their jobs in the coming years, a move that will disproportionately affect women employed in these jobs and families who rely on the related services.3 Workers under 54 years of age have had two years stolen from their old age security in the last Federal budget.
Yet, you can always become a cop, join the military, or help build new prisons for the poor! These “public services” are exempt from austerity because they’ll be needed to contain the next round of popular struggles. Canada is in the midst of the largest prison building boom since the Great Depression. Federal and provincial governments are building or expanding upon 60 prisons across Canada to make space for the Federal government’s Omnibus Crime Bill.4 The second largest addition is the New Toronto South Detention Center with 1100 beds. It costs $117,000 to house an inmate at a Federal facility. If even a quarter of this money was directed towards job creation, community services, affordable housing, and raising the disability support and welfare rates, crime would plummet significantly. How do we know this? Close to 100% of all inmates are from the poorest 10% of the population – a shocking statistic that reveals the relationship between poverty and criminalization.5 What’s worse is that the prison population is “racialized”: Aboriginal and black peoples make up much higher proportions of the prison population than they make up in the Canadian population.
Yet the main debate we see animating Parliament today is about who got the contract to build the F-35 jets and how many we’re getting for however many billions of dollars. The people are asking why the hell we’re spending billions on these death machine to begin with. There’s no party in Parliament that has clearly stood up against any spending for these weapons of mass destruction to begin with. Why would they? Every parliamentary Party supported the bombing of Libya. Canada dropped more than 550 bombs on the country, destroying its infrastructure and paving the way – or destroying the way – for the new Western-backed Libyan government to take out billions in foreign loans from for “reconstruction”. It’s for wars like this that the F-35s are needed.
Meanwhile, the unions can’t even resist the concessions being forced onto their members. The only leverage that the unions have to resist attacks on their narrow defense of the collective agreement – the right to strike when collective bargaining breaks down – has been virtually banned by the state through the wanton use of “back-to-work legislation” by Federal and provincial governments. Examples: Air Canada pilot strike in March 2012; Canada Post postal workers in June 2011 and Air Canada flight attendants in October 2011; York U. teaching assistants and contract faculty in 2009; Toronto transit workers in 2008; the list goes on. Some workers, such as seasonal farm workers, have no right to form unions at all.
Yet, the only resistance that labour leaders have to offer is begging at the feet of corporate management and various levels of government for “good jobs” and “green jobs”, as if the harmonious relationship between workers and capitalists can continue – a collaboration that was always premised on the super-exploitation of workers and peasants in the oppressed countries.
Now that this era of class peace between unionized workers and the big capitalists in countries like Canada is coming to an end, a new era is opening up for class struggle. It’s time to reclaim the history of militant labour! It’s time to reorganize workers under the leadership of our own class! It’s time to break with the bosses, the bureaucrats, and the bourgeois politicians! Most importantly, it’s time to break with the illusions of the previous era: namely, that capitalism can continue and that the majority of us have anything to gain by continuing to defend the capitalist system.
Our exploitation is their profits. Our grinding poverty and desperation means we’re forced to work for less. Price increases to food, gasoline, and rent are extorting the people of our ever-shrinking real wages, while filling the coffers of the rich.
It’s either capitalism or the people. It’s either a system based on blind production for private profit and necessitating the destruction of the environment and the conquest of peoples and nations, or a system where production meets the needs of all people and future generations. Those are the only two ways forward at this juncture of history.
The May 1st Movement (M1M) was founded in late 2008 as a coalition of working-class and people’s organizations to reclaim the history of May Day for the working class in Toronto. After four years of organizing May Day activities and rallies, in 2012 we have contributed to bringing together people’s organizations for a united rally on International Workers’ Day. In the coming years, we must broaden and strengthen this unity with all possible forces in order to advance our struggles.
To do this, M1M and all progressives, militants, and revolutionaries – all anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, and anti-colonial forces – must work together to win over more and more people to a positive vision of what is to be done. The crisis of capitalism is deepening day-by-day. Before the ruling class finds more reactionary solutions to the crisis, people’s organizations must struggle to unify around a project of universal liberation.
The May 1st Movement (M1M) believes that we cannot expect capitalism to meet the needs of the people. Our demands should reflect this reality, and so should our strategy for change. We can’t propagate illusions about what’s possible in this system. We need to build the capacity of the people to fight for a new society. We need to reclaim the history of militant labour and unions led by the workers, not big salaried bureaucrats. We need grassroots power in our communities and our schools — in every sector of society. We need as many people as possible to take a lead. The Aboriginal people in this country are showing us the way forward as they stand up all across the country to defend their land, their lives, and their livelihoods from the plunder of Canadian government and the corporations. The rest of us must do the same.
Let May Day be the launching point for the struggles that must come. Let May Day be the day when we march with the toiling peoples of the world against the global capitalist and imperialist system!