MONTREAL, Quebec — “The heart of a union is workers’ activity in defense of our rights,” Alyson Kennedy, the Socialist Workers Party candidate for president in 2016, told striking members of United Steelworkers Local 9414 Oct. 10, when she visited their picket line at the Galvano plant in Saint-Mathieu-De-Beloeil, 30 miles south of Montreal.
“That’s what laid-off coal miners at Blackjewel in Kentucky showed when they blocked the rail tracks to prevent the company from shipping out its coal after bosses declared bankruptcy and clawed back paychecks deposited in the miners’ bank accounts,” she said. “And we see that in the strike against General Motors by nearly 50,000 United Auto Workers.”
Kennedy and Malcolm Jarrett, the SWP’s candidate for Pittsburgh City Council, visited the Steelworkers as part of their North American speaking tour.
Pierre-Luc Filion, Communist League candidate in Longueuil-St. Hubert in the Oct. 21 federal elections in Canada, joined the picket line with Kennedy and Jarrett. Three days before Filion and two other workers from the Walmart store where he works had joined a strike solidarity action.
Since July 9, the 35 USW members at Galvano have been striking against the bosses’ efforts to impose 12-hour shifts and run production around-the-clock.
“In our contract negotiations, the USW came in with our demands on a few sheets of paper. Galvano came in with a book so thick it looked like the Bible. They wanted to change everything. We said no,” striker Karl Perron told the socialist campaigners.
“We will get out the word on your strike when we return to the U.S.,” Jarrett responded. “Workers produce everything. We need to stand together wherever we live.”
During their picket line visit, the three socialist candidates discussed a range of issues confronting working people. Striker Yvan Dupuis said he was concerned that dairy farmers in Quebec would be hit by the outcome of the trade deal negotiated between the Canadian and U.S. governments. Under the terms of the deal — yet to be ratified by either Ottawa or Washington — subsidies the Canadian government provides to dairy farmers here would be cut.
“Dairy farmers are losing their farms in the U.S., too,” Kennedy said. “Both free trade deals and tariffs are used by the capitalist rulers for their own profits. Workers go to the wall either way. We need to build our own party to overthrow the capitalist class, like working people did during the Cuban Revolution.” SWP candidates demand the nationalization of the land to halt farm foreclosures, bankruptcies and skyrocketing rural debt and to put the soil at the service of the farmers who till it.
Later that evening the SWP campaigners spoke to 35 people at a lively Militant Labor Forum here. “After decades of deteriorating conditions, working people are taking a stand, getting solidarity, and even winning — this is a good sign!” Kennedy said in opening her talk. She pointed to the powerful mobilizations of working people against governments in Algeria and Sudan and the governor in Puerto Rico earlier this year and the challenge that lies ahead of forging the revolutionary leadership working people need.
Jarrett told meeting participants the SWP and CL “are looking for fighters as more working people respond to the deepening crisis of the capitalist system. We are part of these fights and we urge you to join with us at them.”
“Working people in the U.S. need to break with the capitalist two-party system and its ‘choice’ of voting for the lesser-evil,” Jarrett added.
“I was convinced to come because I would learn important things about what’s happening to workers,” said Walmart cashier Amelie Francoeur, after the program.
“I learned that people in the U.S. face the same reality as we do here and I was impressed by how tenacious the SWP candidates are,” Jennifer Alves Nadeau told the Militant. Nadeau is an elementary school teacher and participant in the fight against Quebec’s Law 21, which bans the right to wear religious symbols by teachers and other public workers.
The previous day Jarrett and CL candidate Steve Penner, running in the Montreal riding of Papineau, met retirement home worker Chantal Poirier in Alexandria, Ontario. When Penner explained that all the parties in the televised election debates represent the ruling rich and the CL is building a party of workers to take power into our own hands, Poirier replied, “Not one of them is any better than the other. I think we could run the country better.”
“We know, we do the work, we are the ones facing worse conditions, lower pay, higher taxes,” she added.
Learning from working-class history
Prior to visiting Montreal, Kennedy and Jarrett spoke at Militant Labor Forums in New York and Union City, New Jersey.
“I enjoyed hearing about the strikes and movements from before my time that achieved something,” Walmart worker Rochelle Harrell, who had attended the New Jersey meeting, told the Militant. Harrell was referring to how Jarrett described the working-class-led civil rights movement that tore down Jim Crow segregation. “I read the article about the United Auto Workers and their strike at GM. It’s really a beautiful thing that so many of us from other companies came to support them,” she said.
“The more workers come together, the more ideas you share, and the more you can act together,” Bouraima Berte, a worker from West Africa attending the New York forum, told the Militant.
Franchesca Cruz, 23, a cashier and college student, came to the New York program after discussing political questions with co-worker Don Mackle, an SWP campaign supporter. We “talked about how the system works and opening people’s eyes to help make them aware we can change things,” said Cruz.