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08928252 f4c3 4418 b2bc e88e683ee849 ORIGINALThe following article is a translation of the editorial for the latest edition La Riposte socialiste, the paper of the Quebecois Marxists. You can read the original french version here.

2018 in Quebec has so far been marked by an upsurge in the class struggle. Workers are becoming more combative and the bosses more vicious. Week after week, new labour conflicts erupt. Taken individually, these little isolated economic struggles could seem of marginal importance. But taken collectively, the fact that they are taking place at this time is not accidental, but the harbinger of movements of great historic importance. Slowly but surely, the “old mole” of revolution digs its tunnel and causes tremors on the surface in the form of strikes and lockouts. Sooner or later it will reach the surface, shutting up the pessimists and the prophets of the status quo.

Recently, educators at daycare centres, school bus drivers, packers at Elopak, SICO workers at Beauport and workers at Manoir Sherbrooke have gone on strike. Just last week, crane operators in Quebec spontaneously walked off the job in a wildcat strike action. In addition, there have been many other positive strike mandates: workers at the Société des alcools du Québec, the TVA television station, the Société de transport de Montréal, and some Résidences Soleil locations, as well as the forestry workers in Bas-Saint-Laurent and Gaspésie. In the health care sector, the discontent of the workers, most notably the nurses, has led to several demonstrations and spontaneous sit-ins.

There are other elements which underline the character of the present situation. Firstly, it is notable that many of these recent strike votes have passed with large majorities, often in the neighbourhood of 95 per cent. The emergence of private sector labour disputes also marks a change from the past few decades, when we have become accustomed to seeing strikes primarily in the public sector (with the exception of the construction sector).

In response to the clear combativity of the workers, the bosses are becoming increasingly aggressive. This aggression has been demonstrated by lockouts, most notably at the ABI aluminum smelter in Bécancour, which has locked out their employees since Jan. 11. The workers at Viterra in Port of Montreal have been locked out since Jan. 30. The administration at the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivières has recently resorted to a lockout against its professors. In Sept-Îles the bosses at the Iron Ore Company laid off 200 workers in reaction to their strike vote.

This upsurge in the class conflict occurs in a specific economic context. Canadian capitalism seems to be doing well, and this is reflected by a certain improvement in the situation of the working class. Unemployment rates are at an historic low around 5.3 per cent, and will continue to drop according to the Bank of Canada’s predictions. While unemployment rates can be misleading and only give one only a partial picture of the health of the economy, the current low unemployment rate is accompanied by an increase in the number of jobs, especially in full-time jobs. Wages have also been rising at a quicker pace, from 1.2 per cent in 2015 to 1.4 per cent in 2016 and three per cent in 2017.

Trotsky explained that, contrary to the often-advanced simplistic equation which states that economic crises lead to class struggle while economic booms lead to class peace, it is often the opposite which occurs. During the years of economic uncertainty following the 2008 crisis, Québec was relatively calm in terms of strikes. Workers kept their heads down and waited for the storm to pass, passively accepting the erosion of their living conditions. However, increasingly, their fighting spirit has returned. 2012 saw a huge movement among the students, but the workers hardly intervened. In 2013, the construction strike marked a revival of economic struggles. Then, in 2015, public sector workers went on strike in large numbers, before having a rotten collective agreement forced down their throats. Today, the low unemployment rate and the more reassuring economic context has restored the workers’ confidence: The scarcity of labour strengthens their position with the employer, as losing income for a few weeks is less of a risk.

After years of austerity and stagnation or regression of living conditions for workers following the 2008 crash, the working class is beginning to seriously oppose the bosses’ attacks. While the left has largely abandoned the working class and essentially rejects the idea of class struggle, the class struggle is coming back with a vengeance. As Marxists have always explained, the working class, due to its role in production, is the most progressive and powerful social group, and is therefore the only class capable of overthrowing the rotten ruling class that is currently running our society into the ground. More and more people are realizing this, particularly among the youth. This awakening in Quebec marks an important milestone in the revolutionary process.

But this latest upswing in the class struggle is only the beginning. Even if these strikes don’t lead to concrete gains, they constitute an important learning process for the workers. Through struggle, the workers will inevitably come up against the union bureaucracy which was formed in the previous period. The current leadership of the unions is accustomed to concessions and “compromises” with the bosses—that is to say, giving up without a fight. They therefore represent a conservative, careerist crust on the workers’ movement. As the class struggle intensifies, the union leadership will either be forced to move to the left, to better represent the wishes of their members, or they will be tossed aside and replaced by the best militants from the ranks of the workers.

Strikes in different sectors, if they remain scattered and divided, will never be able to defeat the bosses who have huge resources at their disposal and who benefit from the support of the state and mass media. We have already seen efforts toward solidarity with the struggle of the locked-out workers at ABI, who received aid in the form of donations and solidarity rallies from other unions. This must be repeated and broadened out. The workers must play an active, systematic role in the struggles of their brothers and sisters across the working class movement and it is the duty of the leadership to facilitate this. This means organizing mass rallies in support of striking workers, solidarity pickets, and so on.

Finally, workers will have to start waging a struggle not only on the economic front, but also on the political front. The bourgeois political parties (the PQ, the Liberals, the CAQ, the Conservatives) do not represent us at all, and are in fact our enemies. They use the state to divide us and legislate us back to work and crush our attempts to defend our living conditions. If we do not also unite to fight for our collective interests on the political front, our society will continue to be run in the interests of the rich. The workers need their own party.

These strikes will have important repercussions on the consciousness of the working class.  They will teach the workers the real role of the bosses, the media, the bourgeois parties, and the state in a capitalist society. They will reveal who their friends and enemies are, and the workers will become aware of their own strength. These lessons will push the working class to the left, and more and more towards revolutionary conclusions. In short, the wave of strikes in Québec lays the foundation for explosive developments in both the economic and political struggles.

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