Since 29 January, truckers have been descending on the Canadian capital of Ottawa, clogging up the streets and bringing the city to a standstill, sparking panic within the ranks of Canada’s ruling class.
At first, the streets were glutted with private cars and pick-up trucks, which were then supplemented by a huge HGV truck convoy that had travelled to eastern Ottawa all the way from the western province of British Columbia. As the convoy approached the capital, it gathered mass like a Canadian snowball poised to strike Parliament Hill itself.
The sheer scale of the demonstration has led president Justin Trudeau to flee the capital with his family to an undisclosed location while the rest of his government and MPs remain in the city. Indeed, the demonstrators are unequivocal in their opposition to the liberal government, with slogans including ‘F*ck Trudeau’ and ‘Truck off Trudeau’.
It would seem that the protests were sparked as a reaction to the newly introduced requirement for truckers to be vaccinated for Covid-19 before being allowed to cross the US/Canadian border, although there is more evidence that points to this as being the straw that broke the camel’s back rather than the be all and end all of the protestors’ grievances.
After all, as the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) and Trudeau himself have pointed out: 90 percent of Canadian truckers have been vaccinated, a far higher proportion than the Canadian national average of 77 percent. (Canadian trucker convoy descends on Ottawa to protest vaccine mandates by Ian Austen and Vjosa Isai, New York Times, 29 January 2022)
It seems unlikely, then, that truckers, a hard-working and disciplined segment of the working class given the demanding nature of their job, would be the most ardent ‘anti-vaxxers’.
Furthermore, as of 22 January, the US government had also mandated that Canadian truckers entering the USA must be vaccinated.
The bilateral nature of vaccine agreements between countries precludes the possibility of any single state having unilateral say-so on who gets to enter what country, meaning that even if the Canadian government were to revoke this requirement, it would make no real difference to Canadian truckers needing to cross the border for work.
So why are the protesters holding their ground?
According to former conservative parliamentary and leader of the western separatist Maverick party Jay Hill: “This thing has really taken on a life of its own. The vast majority of the people that have either come on board to participate in the truck convoy or those donating to support it financially have just reached a point of frustration and exasperation with these lockdowns and continuation of restrictions that they want someone to speak up and say ‘enough’ to the federal government.”
The validity of Hill’s claim about the diversity of motivations behind the protests – not merely as a reaction to the vaccine mandates – is confirmed when one sees the level of anger amongst the Canadian public at revelations that many of their politicians broke pandemic-related guidelines. This anger is sure to find a great deal of sympathy amongst the British public after revelations of the ‘partygate’ scandal, a telling testimony to the hypocrisy of our political elites.
As the New York Times reported: “When Ms Khera revealed she had flown to Seattle over the holidays to attend a small family memorial, the public reaction was swift and bruising.
“Denounced on social media as ‘selfish’, ‘arrogant’ and a ‘cheater’, she was forced to step down from her parliamentary role as secretary to the minister of international development.”
And further: “The fury started in late December, when it was discovered that Ontario’s then finance minister, Rod Phillips, was in the French territory of Saint Barthelemy, commonly known as St Barts, while his Twitter account issued a Christmas Eve video message showing him sitting by his roaring fire at home, thanking constituents for the sacrifices they had made ‘to protect our most vulnerable’.” (Canadian politicians face ire after taking trips during the holidays by Catherine Porter, New York Times, 7 January 2021)
Although breaking guidelines is not as serious as breaking the law (as the Johnson government did in Britain), this flagrant hypocrisy could not but spark fury amongst a public that had been through the hell of repeated lockdowns and long-running restrictions on normal life. The last thing they were ready to tolerate was the sight of their own ‘representatives’, having implored them to celebrate Christmas and Thanksgiving at home and alone, taking glamorous holidays abroad.
A few token resignations and sackings will not do. Canadians clearly feel that this hypocrisy and contempt for the masses is a manifestation of a much deeper problem in the political system.
Equally clear is that elected politicians see themselves as being above the people, and their job as being not to serve the masses but to shift the burden of every crisis onto the workers’ shoulders. It is becoming clearer by the day that the livelihoods of ordinary Canadians are secondary to the profit margins of multinational monopoly corporations.
Truckers fight back with superior methods
The GoFundMe page for the Freedom Convoy raised over C$8m, leading many leftist commentators to dismiss the protests as having been ‘astroturfed’ by right-wing billionaires.
Whilst there is no doubt that the convoy has been reported with a great deal of sympathy by right-wing conservative media, this was also the case in regards to the Gilet Jaunes (yellow vest) demonstrations in France. Yet there was not nearly the level of ‘leftist’ opposition to such demonstrations as is now being shown to the Freedom Convoy.
Perhaps a better parallel would be the Capitol Hill riot in January 2021, which instigated a wave of panic amongst the American ‘left’ and led to hysterical accusations of an attempted ‘fascist coup’ rather than a recognition that this had been a poorly organised but fairly spontaneous outburst of working-class anger. A key difference between Capitol Hill and the Freedom Convoy is the admirable level of organisation, solidarity and orderly conduct on the part of the latter.
The Canadian truckers have distinguished themselves as a militant and disciplined section of the working class, demonstrating tactical expedience and an intolerance of agent provocateurs. For instance, there is video footage of a protester who claimed to have chased off what he believed to be a state-sponsored provocateur, who was calling on the protestors to storm parliament before he was summarily dismissed by the protestors.
The trucker who saw off this troublemaker went on to explain that their strategy is to hold the line and provide no grounds for further public condemnation.
A lack of majority support amongst Canadians overall has been used by the left as a stick to beat the truckers in struggle. Such Canadian ‘leftists’ would do well to remind themselves that their duty is to win over the advanced workers in struggle, no matter what the wider public attitude might be, and to do whatever they can to imbue such protests with class-consciousness.
But perhaps they think that communists should sit aside from the class struggle until such time as they have won over 50 percent of the vote in a referendum on whether people feel ready for socialism?
Only after winning over the advanced workers to their cause will Canada’s Marxists have a chance at building an organisation of mass propaganda and agitation to win over further sections of the Canadian public. Instead, the Canadian ‘left’ has decided to dismiss the struggling truckers as ‘right-wing’, ‘fascist’, ‘anti-worker’ and ‘petty-bourgeois’ – whatever makes a scintilla of sense to their readers – to absolve themselves of the responsibility of reaching out and trying to bring them a class analysis.
Without the help of the Canadian ‘left’, the protestors are digging in for a protracted struggle and counting on the Canadian government to dig its own grave. In light of the government’s having refused to engage the protestors diplomatically – as suggested by the more intelligent conservative opposition; in light of the determination of Trudeau’s merry gang of liberals to crush the demonstrations with force; in light of the resignation of Ottawa’s police chief after having used the most cruel and inhuman tactics to try to quell the protests; in light of the invocation of authoritarian ‘emergency’ powers, the truckers’ strategy is working beautifully!
Violent and cruel reaction of the ‘liberal’ Canadian government
From confiscating firewood used by the protestors for warmth in the freezing Canadian night all the way to threatening anyone – with prosecution and tear gas – who attempts to provide the protestors with food or fuel, the so-called ‘liberal’ regime in Canada is using every authoritarian measure in the book.
The latest development has been Trudeau’s passing of emergency measures which give the Federal government the right to freeze the bank accounts of anyone sponsoring or supporting the protests in any way. This injunction has caused friction between the federal government and regional state leaders, exacerbating contradictions among Canada’s rulers.
As the Financial Times reported: “‘I was very clear: we do not want a federal state of emergency on the territory of Quebec,’ premier François Legault said.
“‘Now is not the time to put oil on the fire … I can understand that after more than two weeks, the federal government and the Ontario government want to put an end to this blockade, which has nearly become a siege. But we do not have these problems in Quebec.’
“Jason Kenney, Alberta’s premier, said he told Trudeau that invoking emergency powers ‘could make the situation even more complicated’.
“Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe said: ‘If the federal government does proceed with this measure, I would hope it would only be invoked in provinces that request it.’” (Justin Trudeau invokes emergency powers to clear trucker protests by Matthew Rocco and Charlie Mitchell, Financial Times, 14 February 2022)
As Trudeau continues to impose his will on the autonomous states of Canada, his mishandling of the political crisis is bound to reignite separatist strife, perhaps to the extent of what was seen in the Quebecois uprising of October 1970.
Progressive Conservative leader in Ontario, Doug Ford, has decided it would be a good idea to threaten the demonstrators in some ‘bad cop’ performance to contrast with Trudeau’s softly-spoken demeanour, issuing the following blunt ultimatum to the truckers: “[You would] lose your [commercial] licence for life, lose your car indefinitely. We’re going to throw every tool we’ve got at you.”
This desperate threat, combined with Trudeau’s implementation of dictatorial emergency measures, can only be interpreted as a declaration of war against the truckers, but such open class conflict could well backfire, leading to the collapse of Trudeau’s liberal government and to a considerably weakened Canadian state machinery.
Left betrayal of the truckers
Sadly, the truckers have not only been spurned by the fringes of the far left but have also been betrayed by their very own unions and associations.
Francois Laporte of Teamsters Canada, for instance, made the following shameful statement: “The so-called ‘freedom convoy’ and the despicable display of hate led by the political right and shamefully encouraged by elected Conservative politicians does not reflect the values of Teamsters Canada, nor the vast majority of our members.” (Canada’s truckers and the politics of anti-vaccine protests by Charlie Mitchell and Kiran Stacey, Financial Times, 11 February 2022)
Mr Laporte’s statement flies in the face of the evidence. One need only look at the sheer scale of the protests – and at the fact that, when called upon to do so, tow-truck drivers refused to remove the trucks that are blocking roads in Ottawa.
It is true that the convoy has received positive press coverage from right-wing populist media outlets and financial support from wealthy donors. But it is important to bear in mind that it ultimately owes its success to mass participation, to the militance and discipline of the truckers, and to the logistical support of local sympathisers.
The truckers’ restraint and self-policing has meant that overall their gatherings are more like a festival than a violent skirmish against the state – or even (because the liberal left seem to lose the plot when they see isolated individuals holding unsavoury flags, some even remote from the demonstration) an occupation of Ottawa by Wehrmacht or Confederate forces!
Sadly, the Communist Party of Canada (CPC) has joined in chorus with Trudeau’s liberal regime. Since the beginning of February, the CPC has published two statements on the matter, the first entitled “‘Freedom Convoy’: a dangerous movement for the working class, but useful for the ruling class.”
The convoy seems to be so ‘useful for the ruling class’ that the gangsters of Washington were the first to suggest that the Canadian government use federal measures to curtail the demonstrations! This was followed by the ostensibly progressive “No to the Emergencies Act”, which included the very confused slogan “Defend civil liberties – enforce hate laws”.
In its first statement, the CPC describes the convoy as “a public expression of the increasingly organised and assertive far right. The clear links between the organisers of the convoy and far-right networks indicate that this is not a spontaneous working-class demonstration.” (4 February 2022)
Such a smugly dismissive statement flies in the face of the mass working-class participation in the convoy (not petty-bourgeois, as has been argued by those keen to dismiss the phenomenon). There is no doubt that the ‘far right’ – or, more accurately, right-wing populists – have supported, funded and helped to organise events, but the biggest problem for the convoy is not right-wing participation, but left-wing abstention.
The CPC’s statement continued with the dishonest claim that “The convoy is filled with Nazi and Confederate flags, election signs for Bernier and all sorts of far-right symbols.” (Our emphasis)
This tired and lazy attempt to dismiss thousands of demonstrators as fascists, racists and neo-Nazis can only be an attempt to frighten people away from assessing the demands of the protestors critically and seriously. Isolated individuals posing with fascistic symbols have long been used as ammunition by bourgeois governments to dismiss such protests – including the mass yellow vest phenomenon in France.
The statement went on: “This is a convoy of hate which has threatened and attacked the civilian populations in Ottawa and everywhere it has passed through.”
Claims of trucker violence have been repeated throughout the bourgeois media without a shred of substantiating evidence. Indeed, the considerable video footage available online overwhelmingly shows the protestors to have been peaceful, behaving cordially to both police and bystanders. They have even been seen distributing hot chocolate and doughnuts.
Meanwhile, the CPC complains that the protestors “don’t say a word about the central issue of defending and expanding our public services, especially our public healthcare system; about raising wages and controlling the prices of basic necessities; not a word about nationalising the pharmaceutical industry to stop big pharma’s profiteering (which is contributing to the proliferation of variants), about military spending and the danger of war to guarantee corporate profits”.
These are, of course, important issues, and such crimes committed by the ruling capitalist class in Canada should certainly be brought to the attention of the truckers. But instead of taking ownership of the situation and doing their duty as self-proclaimed ‘communists’, the CPC’s leaders have withdrawn from the fray, covering their retreat with self-serving excuses.
Communists must go wherever there are workers in struggle – no matter how backward, no matter how ‘right-wing’, and no matter how hostile or anticommunist. They may well be abused for their pains, but that must not be allowed to stop their work. This process must be repeated again and again if we are to win workers over to the cause of socialism despite all the prejudices with which they have been imbued.
The CPC statement finished with a treacherous conclusion: “We also know that it will take mass political action by the labour and people’s movements to force Parliament to legislate hate groups as criminal organisations, to enact and enforce hate speech laws, and to defeat the rise of the ultra-right.
“This is why we call on the most conscious workers [apart from the ones in the Freedom Convoy!], the trade union movement, but also on all progressive and democratic forces to block these reactionaries by unmasking them, and to oppose them by fighting for a genuine people’s recovery.”
We cannot but conclude that the CPC is advocating for the Canadian state to bolster its machinery of repression against one section of the working class in the blissful hope that such repression will not in turn fall upon itself. While calling for the repeal of emergency measures in Canada, the CPC is advocating for some imaginary ‘mass movement’ (the very one it has so far failed to build) to appear and ‘block’ the Freedom Convoy – the only force in Canada that could actually force the government to repealing those measures.
The only people the CPC has succeeded in unmasking are its own leaders: a treacherous and cowardly bunch who, along with the teamster associations and union leaders, are holding back the advance of the Canadian working class. If the CPC is serious about building a vanguard of the Canadian working class it must take the initiative and go to the protestors demonstrating support and solidarity.
Communists in Canada, as elsewhere, cannot be content to sit on the sidelines, but must work to wrest the convoy’s political hegemony away from such right-populists as Maxime Bernier and the People’s Party of Canada, doing everything in their power to imbue the convoy with socialist consciousness and politics. This will prove to be much more effective than puerile name-calling. If they cannot change course, they will ultimately be replaced by a group that is serious about leading the Canadian working class to socialism.
The CPGB-ML stands in solidarity with the Freedom Convoy, as we do with all workers struggling against the vaccine mandates that are being used as a way to justify further repression against (and scapegoating of) the working class. People are right to be angry about the gross mishandling of the pandemic by imperialist governments, which at every step of the crisis have prioritised corporate profits over the health, livelihoods and wellbeing of their workers.
Nor are workers to be blamed for their increasing distrust in governmental institutions and the monopoly capitalists our governments serve (in particular big tech and big pharma, both of which have profited mightily from the people’s distress over the last two years). Nor do we blame workers for striking back against the iniquities of their governments.
We stand by the right of workers to make their own decision regarding the vaccines on offer, especially since the opportunity to tackle the pandemic through a social solution was blown early on by all the imperialist governments.
We unreservedly condemn those who describe themselves as ‘socialist’ or ‘communist’ but who in practice side with imperialism – albeit in a disguised way – in its efforts to coerce workers to take the vaccine, and to scapegoat those who refuse as being to blame for the ills of the pandemic. We unilaterally reject any attempt to pass the burden of dealing with either the health crisis or the financial crisis from the shoulders of the rich and powerful to the poorest in our societies.
As communists, our duty is clear: to use every opportunity to help workers understand that it was the capitalist system itself that precluded any meaningful and effective response to the health crisis, and which stands in the way of solving every other pressing problem of humanity.