Labour Day is a day to celebrate the gains of the working class. It is a day for socialists and trade unionists to remember past victories and collectively struggle for new ones. It is not an event for strikebreaking politicians like Justin Trudeau to stump for the upcoming election.
Hamilton Labour Day is organized each year by the Hamilton and District Labour Council (HDLC) the local affiliate of the Canadian Labour Congress. For decades the Labour Day parade has always brought together Hamilton activists, trade unionists, socialists, Indigenous groups, and others into one giant march. It is a traditional show of solidarity. However, this year the Hamilton leadership of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) thought politicking was more important than solidarity. Without informing the HDLC, LIUNA invited Trudeau to march with their contingent. This decision was only presented to the HDLC as fact after the prime minister accepted the invitation, and the HDLC was told four days ahead of the march.
This decision was not met with cheers of joy, but disgust and anger. Rank-and-file union members and the leadership of the HDLC were upset that LIUNA had taken this action unilaterally without informing or consulting any other labour organizations. And more importantly, they were upset that a politician who denied affiliate members their rights as a union also attacked Indigenous land protectors, failed to fix the water crisis facing Indigenous communities, allowed corporations to steal workers’ pensions, and continues to bail out the rich.
On Labour Day, Trudeau arrived around 9:30 a.m. with heavy security at the back of the parade where he was met by a group of protesters from Grassy Narrows Solidarity. Despite what has been said in some news articles, the protestors did not block the march, only the contingent with Trudeau. They were joined by activists across the Hamilton left, including local Fightback comrades. While Trudeau took some selfies he was met with jeers about the conditions of Indigenous communities, anti-worker activities and bailouts.
When Trudeau wanted to go forward, police became very aggressive with the protesters, pushing them along with no regard to their safety. Trudeau tried to sneak around the protestors, but the group was determined. For about 10 minutes, the police continued to push, shove and grab the activists until a large contingent of workers from the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) showed up. There was no longer a question of the police being able to bully their way forward. With the numbers of CUPW and ATU members present coupled with the militant mood of the crowd, the police knew they could not push forward anymore. The anger against Trudeau was loud and clear. There was a stand off for about 35 minutes. The demand of the protestors was simple: “Trudeau goes, we go”. Trudeau eventually ran away, whisked away by his security. Once Trudeau left, the protest continued forward in the Labour Day march and the LIUNA contingent continued marching.
The Labour Day march ended in a local park in Hamilton with unions holding a barbecue. Trudeau thought he could show up here and get a few more photo ops. He tried to rush in, but was quickly surrounded by protesters and left after only four minutes. The police who had had their egos bruised were even more violent, intentionally trying to separate protesters from each other and shoving protesters out of the way, sometimes into areas that were dangerous to walk in. Ultimately this aggression of the police did nothing to dissuade the protesters, but it did manage to anger regular union folks who had their booths disrupted by police shoving protestors.
Trudeau was followed to his cavalcade by protesters continuing to chant “Hey ho, Trudeau has got to go”. The lesson was quite clear: Trudeau was not welcome in Hamilton.
Lies of the capitalist media
Trudeau’s hope was to present himself as the labour-friendly prime minister with nice pictures of happy union workers around him. After years of Liberal austerity and attacks, most workers already know that’s a joke. But this year it was a particularly sour note for Trudeau to show up to Labour Day since he legislated CUPW back to work less than 10 months ago.
The protesters can’t stop the Liberals from getting that precious campaign material. Trudeau smugly posed for selfies while Indigenous activists asked him when the money for people suffering from mercury poisoning in Grassy Narrows will be coming. He appeared in photos with a big grin as if the question of access to water for Indigenous communities wasn’t even worth addressing.
But selfies and campaign stumps are worth nothing if the visit itself is a PR disaster. So the Liberal spin machine had to turn reality on its head. Reporting on the protest, The Hamilton Spectator initially released an article titled “Group hijacks Hamilton Labour Day parade: Justin Trudeau eventually joins in”.
They might as well have titled the article “Angry leftists stop nice man from taking a nice stroll” for all the deliberate lies being spread here.
In response to the article, the HDLC released a statement expressing that this statement was utterly false. The HDLC explained that Indigenous activists, Fightback, the IWW and other protestors were not only welcome, but friends of the council. Trudeau was never invited. If anyone hijacked the rally it was Trudeau for his photo op.
The Spectator quickly changed the title and content of the article. The article stated that there were “only 10 to 20” protestors who were “led by Marxists and anarchists”. This is entirely false. The protest included hundreds of trade unionists, Indigenous activists, and a variety of social groups. This was an act of mass dissent. This was an act of a city that has had enough of corrupt Liberal governments. This is a purposeful lie by the Spectator to play down the mass anger that Trudeau is facing in Canada.
The article also states that Trudeau rejoined the protest a block later. Again this is false, and entirely uncorroborated. It even contradicts itself: if Trudeau rejoined the protest, then why bring up the story of the aunt and nephew who really wanted to meet Trudeau but missed that opportunity because of all these pesky protesters? They must have been very unfortunate to be waiting in the one block of the parade where Trudeau was not marching. The truth is that he didn’t rejoin. The Spectator is attempting to show that Trudeau wouldn’t back down to protesters. They want to give the appearance that opposing the Liberals is impossible.
The entire article should be dismissed. Not one single fact in it is true. These articles and the rest like it serve one purpose: to prop up Trudeau’s “Sunny Ways” campaign sequel. Thus these pro-Liberal media outlets have to pretend that mass protest and mass dissent against Trudeau doesn’t exist and that it isn’t effective. The truth is that workers and youth tired of Liberal lies are looking for an alternative, and mass action is the way forward.
Which way forward for labour?
Unfortunately, the incident with LIUNA inviting Trudeau is only the latest iteration of labour leaders pushing class collaborationism. We also saw recently that Unifor invited Trudeau to their convention. These labour leaders think they will get sweetheart deals by cozying up to the bosses. Nothing could be further from the truth. In an age of austerity and capitalist crisis, these leaders will be the tool for Trudeau to carry forward the cuts to the workers.
The rank and file need to push out the right-wing leaders who push for collaboration with the Liberals or even the Tories. A real working class leadership with a militant attitude is needed. That is the lesson of the Hamilton protests. Not even a prime minister with a huge security entourage can march for a photo op when confronted with even a fraction of the might of the working class. The working class has the power to lead a militant fightback against the bosses and win. Hamilton showed that this Labour Day by kicking out Trudeau. Now it’s time to apply that lesson to the rest of Canada.