The federal governments in Canada and the United States have mandated that all truck drivers crossing the Canada-U.S. border must be vaccinated. This has outraged a layer of people who have organized a cross-country anti-vaccine “freedom convoy” to Ottawa. The convoy is expected to reach the capital on Jan. 29.
The convoy has attracted nationwide controversy as well as considerable support. A GoFundMe propped up to help cover transportation costs has raised more than $6 million from 82,500 donors. This includes a handful of anonymous donations of well over $10,000 with the largest being over $25,000.
The convoy has become a focal point for far-right elements. For example, the woman who organized the GoFundMe, Tamara Lich, is secretary for Alberta’s pro-Wexit Maverick Party. There also have been open calls for it to become Canada’s own version of the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riot. These calls are loud enough that GoFundMe has suspended the convoy’s funds until the organizers can provide an exact plan of how the money will be used.
A number of prominent voices in the Conservative political establishment have also lent their support to the truckers. These include Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, former federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, and deputy federal leader Candice Bergen. Federal leader Erin O’Toole was initially hesitant to voice his support, but recently announced he’ll be meeting with the protesters at Parliament Hill. Kenney in particular has been very vocal in his support, announcing that he’s flown to Washington, D.C. and is working with a team of United States governors to get the mandate overturned.
This is another example of blatant Conservative hypocrisy. In response to the rising militancy of the Indigenous movement in recent years, Conservatives have been putting a number of bills forward aiming to ban protests that interrupt what they deem to be “essential infrastructure.” Kenney passed such a bill in Alberta, and similar legislation has been proposed in Manitoba and federally. But now that several hundred people have grouped together on wheels and actually disrupted highways and public roads, they come to their support. The convoy has already passed through Alberta and Manitoba without incident. That’s because these bills aren’t designed to protect infrastructure, but to clamp down on dissent. It’s not okay when a group of Indigenous protesters block a railway or when striking workers form a picket line, but so long as the protesters hate Trudeau, they can cause as much traffic as they want.
Despite the controversy, only a small minority of truckers actually support the convoy. The Canadian Trucking Alliance has stated nearly 85 per cent of truckers are fully vaccinated, which is comparable to the general population. Only about 1,200 have joined the convoy, a far cry from fake news claiming that it’s 50,000 strong.
While some on the left have mistakenly called this “fascism” because of its association with conservative anti-vaxxers, we should be careful not to blow things out of proportion. This movement does not represent the strength of the far right, but their weakness. If they tried to openly drape the movement in racism or Indigenous genocide denial, the support for it would collapse overnight.
The anger of these few truckers who are involved is totally misdirected. Trucking is a brutal industry, which capitalism relies on to ship commodities on tight schedules. This has pushed truckers to work harder than they have in decades without any meaningful increase in pay. They are routinely pressured by their bosses to violate safety protocols and work for longer than the law states. As a result, crashes, death and injury are all too common. This is, of course, piled onto the baseline stress of a job that has truckers drive across the country, miles away from any family or friends for weeks at a time, while the risk of getting into an accident is always present.
On top of this, the past few years have completely exposed the bankruptcy of the current system. These people have been told their entire lives that capitalism is designed to work in their favor, but the pandemic has shown that’s clearly not the case. Society has been thrown into crisis after crisis, and each and every time, it’s workers who have been forced to pay for it. This is having a radicalizing effect on layers of the population as people look for answers.
Due to these conditions, many truck drivers are angry and distrustful of the status quo, and this outrage has allowed a small layer to be won over to the fringe movements like the anti-vax movement. They feel powerless, and the imposition of a vaccine mandate is an easy target to direct their anger at. But in reality, the vaccine has nothing to do with why their lives are so difficult. It has everything to do with their bosses, who greedily keep wages low and working conditions rough.
Lack of labour leadership
What may have begun as a small group of truckers angry about vaccine mandates has now transformed into something more broad. The convoy has attracted support from all sorts of characters, including Don Cherry, Russell Brand, Elon Musk, Joe Rogan and many more. In stretches of Ontario, where the convoy passed through different cities, small crowds with Canadian flags have gathered on overpasses and the side of the road to cheer them on. The demands of the mobile demonstration have also broadened. One demonstrator standing on the side of the highway in Winnipeg told CBC, “I think this is more of a freedom movement”. A trucker named Robert Jorgensen participating in the convoy said, “This isn’t about a vaccine mandate on truckers, this is about the entire thing. It’s gotta go.”
This movement is a warning to the labour movement. There is immense anger building up in the depths of the working class looking for an outlet. Unfortunately, the NDP and the trade unions have not used their resources to build a mass movement to fight for better pay, conditions and safety. On the other side, the right wing, especially the far right, has been unapologetically mobilizing people against the government.
Ultimately if there was a fighting labour leadership, movements like this wouldn’t happen. The legitimate anger of many truckers at the horrible conditions they face would much more easily be channeled into a combative mass movement for better wages, conditions, health and safety measures, directed against the bosses who are the real culprits. The leadership of the organizations of the working class need to mobilize workers in a militant mass movement against the capitalists and their government; otherwise, some of this anger against the status quo can be captured by the far right.