By JOHN LESLIE
The so-called Freedom Convoy in the Canadian state is, simply put, a reactionary mobilization of a few deluded workers, far rightists, and reactionary sections of the petty bourgeoisie. This protest has blocked highways and hospital emergency rooms and flooded downtown Ottawa with trucks and protesters. Protesters have engaged in vandalism and reportedly have threatened pedestrians who are wearing masks.
Last weekend, a few thousand marched in Toronto against vaccine mandates. Some activists around the protest have called for a Jan. 6 style invasion of the parliament. Observers note that few of the protesting truckers are actually truck drivers. Organizers claim that 50,000 big rigs are participating, but the convoy is mostly pickup trucks and other private vehicles. In response to this exaggeration, police estimate that between 1000 and 2000 vehicles are participating.
Protests have ranged from 8000-10,000 people. On Sunday, the mayor of Ottawa declared a “state of emergency” in response to the protests. Police in Ottawa have stated that they may ask the military to help disband the protests. Another trucker convoy has blockaded the U.S.-Canada border crossing in Coutts, Alberta, stranding some Canadian truckers on the U.S. side of the border.
The demonstrations originated with a protest against the requirement, which took effect on Jan. 15, that Canadian truckers who cross the U.S.-Canada border be inoculated against COVID-19, in order to avoid a 14-day quarantine. The protest has now mutated into a call to remove all COVID-19 health protections and for the removal of the government of Justin Trudeau. Ninety percent of Canadian truckers are already vaccinated.
Far-right and racist ties
The protest organizers themselves have ties to far right and white nationalist politics—and the demonstrations have received some funding from U.S. right-wing sources. “We’re saying that this is a far-right convoy because—from day one—the organizers themselves are part of the far-right movement,” said Evan Balgord, executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network. It’s notable that some protesters carried Confederate flags, a Nazi flag, and a Trump flag at an Ottawa march. Trump himself has praised the protesters, while denouncing Trudeau as a “far-left lunatic” who has “destroyed Canada with insane COVID mandates.” Two prominent organizers, Tamara Lich and B.J. Dichter, have built their political careers on racism, immigrant bashing, and far-right rhetoric. In a speech to the far-right People’s Party of Canada, Dichter warned of the dangers of Muslim immigrants and the infiltration of “political Islam” into Canadian society, likening it to syphilis. In 2019, protest leader Patrick King warned that Canadians faced “depopulation of the Caucasian race, or the Anglo-Saxon. And that’s what the goal is, is to depopulate the Anglo-Saxon race because they are the ones with the strongest bloodlines…” More recently, King stated that “the only way that this [COVID-19 mandates] is going to be solved is with bullets.”
Lich, a former oilfield worker and western Canada separatist, has been labeled “the spark that lit the flame.” Lich has ties to Islamophobic organizing, organized a “yellow vest” movement in Canada, and helped organize the “United We Roll” truckers’ protest convoy, which descended on Ottawa in 2019 and was built in support of pipeline construction workers against environmental and First Nations protesters.
Socialists understand that not every mass mobilization or strike is progressive. For example, the Chilean truckers’ strike against the Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende played a crucial role in the effort to destabilize Chile and helped pave the way for the bloody military coup in 1973. Likewise, the New York City teachers’ strike in 1968 was held against more community control of the schools and is widely known as a hate strike by socialist trade unionists.
Currently, the far right, including fascists, are participating in and helping drive anti-vaccine and anti-mask protests in the United States and Europe—making links with Q-Anon conspiracy theorists in the U.S.. In Europe, anti-vax protesters have attacked union halls, while the trucker convoy model is being copied in the Netherlands, Britain, New Zealand, and Australia. The right in the U.S. has taken up the convoy idea as well with a call for a trucker convoy to Washington, D.C., next month.
What can be done?
Workers need on-the-job protections against the coronavirus and paid time off when sick or exposed. The unions should be fighting for robust COVID-19 protections on the job and educating the ranks of the unions about the benefits of vaccination and masks. The right exploits the legitimate concerns of workers about vaccine safety to weaponize opposition to vaccines and public health measures. At the same time, ruling-class politicians have backed away from lockdowns to stop the spread of COVID-19 in favor of opening up the economy. Workers’ lives are expendable when measured against the profit motive.
The labor movement should be fighting for better pay, working conditions, and benefits for truck drivers. Union organizing amongst drivers would offer a social and political alternative to the regressive program of the far right.
A Canadian Union of Postal Workers statement sends the wrong message by calling for police intervention against the protests: “The absence of a robust response on the part of authorities to the actions and positions taken by this convoy is problematic. People taking part in the rally have desecrated monuments, intimidated people, and behaved like vandals. We denounce the behavior, and remind members that when other groups made up of people of color and Indigenous people organize peaceful events, the police response is more immediate and often brutal.”
Police are always more likely to crack down on the left or labor movement than on the right. Anti-protest laws and states of emergency can just as easily be used against the working class and oppressed. We cannot rely on the capitalist courts, politicians, or the police to protect the working class and oppressed from the ultraright. This can only be done through mass mobilization and the organization of working-class defense guards. Mass mobilization has the added effect of teaching working people their potential power in society and points the way towards more effective political action in the future. This type of mobilization must be centered in the mass organizations of the working class—the unions.
Photo: Protest truck at the border crossing in Coutts, Alberta. (Jeff McIntosh / AP)