Last week CAW President "Buzz" Hargrove and Magna International Chairman Frank Stronach announced a new arrangement between Magna and the CAW. The essence of this arrangement is that Magna will allow CAW to unionize its auto parts plants in return for the CAW accepting the status quo at Magna, including a permanent ban on strikes and joint union-management selection of local union representatives.
Under the new arrangement between the CAW and Magna, the workers will be confined to complaining about health and safety issues and hoping that management will listen to their pleas. Everything else will be decided for them by the CAW-Magna co-management team or, if they cannot agree among themselves, then by an arbitrator. "Buzz" Hargrove has cynically stated that the right to strike is a non-issue because the Magna workers do not currently have such a right and because strikes have become largely meaningless within the current economic climate. However, Hargrove is not being entirely honest. Prior to the government recognition of trade unions in the late 1940s workers, unionized or not, did not have a legal right to strike, but did so anyway with great frequency. Presumably, the workers at Magna could do so as well. However, once the CAW "represents" them there will be one more powerful force pressuring them not to use that tactic. In a nutshell, this arrangement means that the CAW will join Magma management in jointly controlling the workers and suppressing the class struggle at Magna’s plants.
Since the announcement many trade unionists and progressives have denounced the deal as a sell-out of the interests of the working class and have singled out Hargrove for his key role in this betrayal. However, Hargrove, as much as he deserves condemnation, neither engineered this betrayal, nor is he the first or the last trade union leader to take such a position.
The formal incorporation of the trade unions into a co-management role is the inevitable outcome of an arrangement between labour and capital that was forged in the 1940s and 1950s. The keystone of this arrangement was the agreement between Tim Buck of the Communist Party of Canada and Liberal Prime Minister Mackenzie King during the Second World War. Under Buck’s insistence, the CPC agreed to eliminate the word "communist" from its name and revolution from its platform and, in exchange, Mackenzie King agreed to legalize the party under the name Labour Progressive Party. Following the war, the LPP adopted a new program entitled "The Peaceful and Parliamentary Road to Socialism", officially eliminating the main centre of revolution in Canada.
Having neutralized the communists, Mackenzie King went on to strike a similar deal with the mainstream trade union movement. In exchange for government recognition of the trade unions and mandatory collection of union dues (the Rand formula), the trade unions pledged to become instruments for preserving class peace. In other words, they agreed to become instruments of capital against the interests of the working class. Mackenzie King’s labour laws that formalized this arrangement were, in fact, modelled closely on those of Benito Mussolini, who established a tri-partite, corporatist system in Fascist Italy in which the trade unions became an agency of the state with the mandate of ensuring class peace.
In order to demonstrate their allegiance to the capitalist system, during the early 1950s the mainstream trade unions purged their ranks of communists and other revolutionaries. In 1956 they established the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) on the basis of Cold War anti-communism and support for capitalism and imperialism. From then on the trade union movement in Canada took consistently reactionary and anti-worker positions and sought to limit the struggle of the working class to getting a "bigger piece of the pie".
The international crisis of capitalism during the 1980s led to the adoption of neo-liberalism by the international finance capitalists and also led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the pseudo-socialist bloc under its control. The neo-liberal offensive and the collapse of the Soviet Union led, in turn, to the disruption of the communist and revolutionary movement around the world. In Canada, every revolutionary centre was, effectively, eliminated. By the mid-1990s it was clear that the capitalists no longer needed their existing tri-partite arrangement with the trade unions and began to break these deals wherever they saw fit. Interestingly, it was Bob Rae’s NDP government in Ontario which was in the forefront of scrapping the old arrangements. The trade union movement was thrown into crisis and, in Ontario, responded with the Ontario Days of Action. The unprecedented outpouring of hundreds of thousands of workers into the streets and the militancy they expressed shook the trade union leadership to the core, raising the spectre of revolution. The tearing up of the post-war Liberal-Labour alliance presented two stark alternatives. One alternative, expressed by the masses of workers during the Days of Action, was to abandon the policy class collaboration for one of class struggle. The other alternative, favoured by virtually every trade union leader, was to crawl back to the capitalists and beg for a new class collaborationist role within the new capitalist order, a new form for the old content of the Liberal-Labour alliance.
Using their positions of power within the trade union movement, the leaders of the Ontario Federation of Labour and the leaders of most of the major trade unions pulled the rug out from under the Days of Action and allowed that movement to peter out. During the following decade they slowly but surely hammered out a new arrangement between labour and capital which brings the trade unions even more in line with the corporatist unions of Fascist Italy, eliminating not only any talk of class struggle, but going so far as to give up even the day-to-day economic struggles of the workers. The CAW-Magna deal represents the new face of the Liberal-Labour alliance in Canada. It demonstrates with stark clarity the utter bankruptcy of the path charted for the Canadian working class by the communist and trade union leaders of the 1940s and 1950s.
There is an alternative to the corporatist trade unionism represented by Hargrove and other trade union leaders. That alternative – the class struggle of the working class – is not an option to be adopted or defeated at some trade union convention. Rather, it is the inevitable result of the division of Canada between two great classes – the capitalist class and the working class. For over fifty years the mainstream trade unions have being doing their utmost to suppress and eliminate the class struggle, but it remains simmering just below the surface.
While Hargrove’s deal with Stronach may be viewed as a betrayal of the working class, in reality it is only the final form for a betrayal that took place half a century ago and should actually be accepted as a welcome development. Finally, the Liberal-Labour alliance is being forced to shed its mask and show its true anti-worker colours. The trade union leaders are being forced to show workers that they are working on behalf of the capitalists and their state and not on behalf of the workers. As the attacks on the workers multiply in the coming years, the existing trade unions will be exposed as completely as those in the former pseudo-socialist states were and a new trade union movement will emerge on the basis of waging class struggle, with the aim of the complete elimination of the capitalist order. It is inevitable. It is just a matter of time. •