The Industrial Workers of the World in Quebec: a 10th Anniversary Postmortem

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Feb 052023
 

Anonymous submission to MTL Counter-info

February marks the 10-year anniversary of the presence of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in Quebec. Once a sparkle in the eyes of a tenacious group of student strike veterans looking to broaden their fight, the union now marks its decennial without a single workplace in the province organized under its banner.

What was this initiative and why did it run into trouble?

The United States Idea: Solidarity Unionism

As US union membership continued to decline in the 90’s, one group of thinkers championed a strategy, known as Solidarity Unionism, which diagnosed the harm and the remedy for labour’s problems as stemming from the same source: labour law.[1]

Labour law — specifically, the US National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) — was said to weaken unions by forcing them to follow a formal certification process to represent workers at a particular company.[2] The certification delivered membership growth with legal leverage at the expense of actions a union was to forgo, such as sympathy striking, as a condition of maintaining their certification.

Section 7 of the NLRA provided an alternative course of action, allowing workers to circumvent the long, drawn out process of certifying the union through an election and negotiating a collective bargaining agreement, which can take years to materialize. Section 7 entitles two or more workers to take action together to improve their working conditions— without union certification and without a collective bargaining agreement.

If jumping through the hoops to get “permission to bargain” produced impotent unions, then bypassing this waypoint by directly engaging in the concerted activity protected by Section 7 would be the answer. As an example, workers at Starbucks recently engaged in a strike that would merit no legal protections in Canada.

IWW Arrives in Quebec

In 2013, the IWW chartered its first local in Quebec.

Despite the province’s contemporary status as the most radical and labour-friendly jurisdiction in Canada, Quebec’s Labour code immediately presented a problem for the Solidarity Unionism experiment. Quebec’s labour relations regime has no equivalent to the NLRA’s Section 7. There is no legal protection for workers engaging in concerted activity. If they struck — defined in the labour code as virtually any type of concerted activity that impacts production — the employer was legally entitled to fire them.

However, in Sections 12 – 15, the provincial labour code does contain language designed to protect workers throughout the process of forming a union and during participation in union activities. Invoking the broad language of Sections 12 – 15 in complaints to the Labour Board, the IWW attempted to force these sections to be interpreted as a sort of deformed clone of the NLRA’s Section 7.

This is how the sequence of events would run:

(1) Workers participate in some concerted activity → (2) Employer takes an anti-worker action → (3) File complaint about contravention of articles 12-15 → (4) Utilize aid of Board Agent to negotiate significant financial settlements causing → (5) A discouraging effect on target employer, and signalling effect on other employers.

Would the union’s strategy be eligible for protections offered by Quebec’s Labour Board? More practically, would employers be prepared to enter into the courtroom to find out? While some employers declined to provoke the Labour Board’s attention over union actions that could be re-interpreted as legally protected, others discovered that the Board would crank out hefty out-of-court financial settlements for workers engaged in concerted activity.

While the Labour Board complaints provided the IWW with a defensible legal basis for engaging in concerted activity, the union was able to effectively reap the rewards of its organizing style in the form of broader support from members at target companies, as well as higher intensity workplace activism. Concerted activity in the union formation phase led to these benefits by creating more frequent and emotionally intense occasions for members to increase their sense of identification with the organization.

No Plan Survives Contact with the Enemy

While Solidarity Unionism saw its share of success on both sides of the 49th parallel, the strategy ultimately failed in similar ways in both the US and Quebec.

In the US, though Section 7 provided cover for unions to build strength and support during the initial phase of forming on the shop floor, it did not go far enough to create the necessary conditions to allow the union to actually take root in the workplace. Nor did Section 7 create the conditions necessary for the IWW to achieve concessions on the scale of other unions in terms of wages, scheduling, job protection, and influence over management of the company.

On both sides of the border, labour board interventions in defence of concerted activity were too ineffective. Workers were unable to progress from intense fights with employers over initial, limited problems into establishing a sustainable union capable of shaping company policy. Unfortunately, the speed with which employers can run a campaign of terror — snuffing out initiatives through firings and facility closures, such as at Zeppelin bar and grill, and Red Bee Media — consistently outpaced labour board interventions. In practice, employers also demonstrated their capability to endure the IWW’s tactics of petty economic warfare, as well as the financial penalties which were achievable from concerted activity protection norms. More critically, employers were effective at outlasting their employees’ resolve to work in a perpetual war zone.

In Quebec, workers were also ineligible to make the legal shift arising from formal certification that marks an important switchover from a less advantageous set of laws governing individual employment contracts, to the more advantageous set of laws governing collective bargaining and collective agreements. The Solidarity Unionism model in Quebec necessitated a significant abdication and abandonment of legal entitlements and protections.

As a consequence, the IWW’s organizing in Quebec has hit a wall. Many workers who were able and willing to make a lateral move to the CSN, the second largest trade union federation in Quebec, did so. Others left without union representation in their workplaces.

A sample of organizing efforts and their results:

CompanyInitial OutcomeLong-term outcome
Frites Alors! on Rue RachelVoluntary agreement (no status under Quebec labour law)Union killed through turnover; unclear whether workers at this location still benefit from this agreement.
Aux Vivres on Boul. Saint LaurentAbsorbed by CSNUnion legally exists, but killed through lack of support by central
Union for employees of student unions and student union owned enterprises (STTMAE)Voluntary Agreements with Cegep student unions (no status under Quebec labour law)Unions represented members moved to CSN
Community Sector Organizing (STTIC)Absorbed by CSN Dual IWW-CSN campaign that led to significant improvements in Collective Agreement for some members.Union continued but is now exclusively represented by CSN; IWW ousted or left from Executive
Humble Lion CafeVoluntary agreement (no status under Quebec labour law)Union killed through turnover; unclear if workers at the company still benefit from the agreement.
Red Bee MediaCompany closure, mass firing, Labour Board mediated financial settlementsWorkers lost their jobs; company closed
QA CourierMass firingBike couriers followed initial effort by turning to Canadian Postal Workers Union which progressed in Ontario (see Gig Workers United) but did not progress in Quebec
KeywordsMultiple firings, Labour Board mediated financial settlementsEffort to organize video games continues under auspices of Game Workers United & Communications Workers of America

Proof of Concept

The IWW’s Solidarity Union experiment has provided the labour movement with some important lessons. The deliberate, planned, and persistent application of concerted activity in establishing a union translates to higher and more durable degrees of participation and support among members. More importantly, it delivers higher caliber union actions that are effective in throwing employers and labour boards off-guard.

Painfully, these are typically short-term gains measured in months and not years, which more often than not eventually lead to workers seeking collective bargaining agreements in most successful campaigns due to the added legal tools they make available and worker-organizer burnout.

Today, in light of the obstacles described above, workplaces publicly organized by the IWW in the United States combine Solidarity Unionism tactics with Collective Agreements and bargaining, narrowing the gap in their earlier approach. Meanwhile, other underground workplace organizing campaigns continue in what may be defensibly termed small batch, artisanal unionism — unscalable outside of one or two workplaces, and transient.

The IWW’s organizing in Quebec followed a similar trajectory. It set important practical precedents in trade union activity by demonstrating the willingness of the provincial labour board to act in defence of concerted activity. However, it failed to accomplish its goal of establishing durable unions capable of achieving deep concessions without regard for bargaining units and the kind of time-bound peace treaties with employers that have characterized the US-Canadian labour movements since the early 20th century.

Unlike some of their American counterparts, leaders of IWW’s quickly shrinking footprint in Quebec have not demonstrated an interest in shifting to a hybrid approach to organizing that would include tactics beyond the Labour Board’s menu of protected concerted activities, making the organization’s future uncertain. The union’s presence in Quebec, which once included enclaves in Drummondville, Sherbrooke, Quebec City, and Montreal, is now down to just a few dozen active members in Montreal.


[1] The term Solidarity Unionism has undergone several changes in meaning. In the broadest terms it refers to a set of tactics that can be used by any union, while in others it refers to minority unionism. In this context, it strictly refers to a dominant tendency in union thinking that defines it as a strategy based on the NRLA’s Section 7 as described above.

[2] This holds true even in circumstances where workers at a particular company form a union to pursue a certificate to represent themselves.

Tenants Escalate Against Cromwell Renoviction

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Dec 062022
 

Anonymous submission to MTL Counter-info

The views expressed within this text are not those of the Montreal Autonomous Tenants’ Union (SLAM). The following is an account and analysis by one union member. SLAM is built on anarcho-syndicalist principles but is not an explicitly anarchist organization and contains many (if not mostly) non-anarchist militants. Working together has not been a question of compromising our principles, but of growing our strength based on tactical agreement.

This article provides an update to a previous article published by another member of SLAM. Read for more context here

On Saturday, November 26, dozens of banners were dropped from the balconies of 3605 St-Urbain, painted with slogans such as “SOLIDARITÉ ENTRE LOCATAIRES” and “WE NEED HEAT!”. SLAM members danced to union tunes and handed out flyers at the street corner. 

Fourteen tenants remain in the 130-unit building, holding out against a large-scale renoviction by notorious landlord George Gantcheff, owner of Cromwell Management Inc. Quebec. These last few tenants live scattered throughout a dangerous and distressing construction site. Recently they have joined forces with the Montreal Autonomous Tenants Union (SLAM), fighting for compensation, rent reductions, heating, transparent and consensual construction work, and that the renovated units remain affordable. The banner drop is the most recent escalation in their campaign, following several ignored attempts at “playing nice.” When tenants sat down for a good faith negotiation with the management company a few days before the banner drop, Cromwell’s representatives walked out after less than ten minutes of discussion.

On Saturday, union members joined tenants across the street from the newly decorated building. They played music, talked, and handed out over 200 flyers to curious passersby. Neighbours and community members expressed outrage, distress, sympathy and solidarity.

Cromwell aims to profit as much of they can off their property, regardless of the human consequences. So long as housing is bought, sold, and rented on the basis of profit and not need, Cromwell is a prime study of companies acting intelligently in a competitive market. As profit-oriented corporations seize larger portions of the market, Cromwell is an example – not an outlier. With a tenant class increasingly unable to afford housing, more and more people are organizing with their neighbours to take matters into their own hands. Oft-used pressure tactics serve short term goals, demonstrate power, and win concessions. 

These actions lay the basis for a tenant movement capable of revolutionary change. Through the practice of pushing systemic boundaries and wielding our collective power, we make immediate improvements to our lives while preparing for a larger fight. 

To support the tenants of 3605 St-Urbain or join in on our other projects, email us at slam.matu@protonmail.com or stay up to date on our instagram @slam.matu

​​​​​​​Check out the union’s Kolektiva account for an upcoming mini-doc on the banner drop.

More information is coming out soon on other anti-eviction actions from the month of November, including a tenant union demo against the eviction of the Ville Marie expressway encampment and rallied in and outside the Quebec Housing Tribunal to stop an eviction by landlord Satish mantha. Stay tuned to learn more!

Tenants Resist Renoviction by Cromwell, Anarchist Solidarity is Key

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Oct 232022
 

Anonymous submission to MTL Counter-info

The views expressed within this text are not those of the Montreal Autonomous Tenants’ Union (SLAM). The following is an account and analysis by one union member. SLAM is built on anarcho-syndicalist principles but is not an explicitly anarchist organization and contains many (if not mostly) non-anarchist militants. Working together has not been a question of compromising our principles, but of growing our strength based on tactical agreement.

A short documentary, based on a community tour of 3605 st-urbain discussed further into this text, explores the conditions of Cromwell tenants.

The residents of 3605 St. Urbain are fighting back against a renoviction by Cromwell Management. Their corporate owner, one of Quebec’s richest men, is George Gantcheff. Gantcheff and Cromwell’s relentless, unpredictable, and initially unlawful renovation project has reached a boiling point. Since January, more than 100 tenants have been renovicted from a 130 unit highrise. This construction has required turning off the building’s heating. Tenants are bracing for a freezing cold winter. Their only heat will come from space heaters provided by Cromwell. 

All but 14 tenants in the 130 unit building have left. Many tenants accepted the landlord’s offer to end their lease early and abandon their homes rather than live out intrusive renovations. Many elderly tenants had been living in the building for years. Cromwell has a history of performing renovictions and hiking rent in both Montreal and Toronto units. 

Renovictions provide an excuse for a landlord to drastically increase rent. This contributes significantly to gentrification and the acceleration of rent increases. The consequence is the enrichment of landlords at the expense of the continued impoverishment of working class people. 

3605’s landlord initially justified construction work as needed to fix the building’s heating system. Cromwell then took the opportunity to carry out massive renovations. Construction was further delayed and expanded. Tenants’ have since faced a lack of hot water, rusty water, dust and dirt everywhere, unbearable constant noise, and power outages. Cromwell turned the building into an unbearable construction zone– and used these conditions to pressure tenants to leave their units. One by one tenants moved out. Once a unit was cleared, the apartment would be gutted, allowing for construction to continually expand.

The majority of remaining tenants at 3605 have formed a tenants council that has been meeting regularly over the past two months. A member of the Montreal Autonomous Tenants’ Union, who has been active in organizing tenant councils in nearby buildings, assists at their meetings and coordinates between their council and the broader union. Hundreds of flyers and posters have since been distributed through the Plateau neighborhood, alerting the tenants’ neighbours to the situation and calling for solidarity.

The current tenants of 3605 refuse to be displaced for the sake of corporate profit.

​​​​​​​Revolutionary Tenant Unionism: Organizing on the Ground

The Montreal Autonomous Tenants’ Union, which is organizing with the building’s tenants is a union based on internal non-hierarchy, solidarity, the use of direct action, and tenant leadership. The broader goal is of a mass movement that can dramatically remove the power relations between people, not just for tenants, but everyone. SLAM (its French acronym) is devoted to the construction of tenant councils in tenants’ buildings and blocks. Members from SLAM attend these autonomous council meetings. Their role is to encourage and educate on direct action, provide advice when asked, and to help coordinate actions or support with the broader union apparatus without dominating discussion.

At the moment of writing, SLAM, which is less than a year old, has helped organize tenant councils in close to a dozen buildings across Montreal. Active tenants include over 40 unionists or participants in councils. There is a broader support network of some 100-150 that have signed petitions or come to events. 

The two-and-a-half months of organizing in 3605 St-Urbain (the building under renoviction), has been a rewarding challenge for organizers. The remaining tenants are all older than 40. They come from a plethora of backgrounds. The meetings are unconventional. Group discussion is only sustainable for as much as 30 seconds before interruptions lead to impromptu side conversations. Attention and “the floor” are very difficult to hold. Added to this is the fact that, because of this working class crew’s disjunctered set of schedules, meetings are held late at night. They can sometimes drag past 11pm.   

When the union first heard from a tenant in 3605, they were contacted by a kind and respected leader figure in the building. This person already organized a first meeting between tenants. With only small encouragement from the union these council meetings continued. 

When SLAM’s organizer first entered the group, tenants were primarily axed on using housing Tribunals to resolve their issues with Cromwell. This was too bad. Without getting too much into the weeds, it’s fair to say that a mass and combative movement capable of replacing corporate control with tenant control will not come from starting court cases. Engaging with tribunals is individualization of social problems at its finest. 

In the early meetings of 3605’s council, SLAM’s organizer brought several samples of collective letters other tenant councils had written to their landlord, discussed the benefits of collective action, and even played videos of direct action and showed news clippings. These videos included SLAM’s June march on Cogir’s head offices. The march won tenants thousands of dollars in reparations, rent savings, and construction work without tenants opening a single case at the Tribunal. Through continuous discussion, some proposals for above-ground collective action were finally proposed and accepted by 3605’s tenants. These resolutions were catered to tenants’ specific situation and comfort zones. 

Once some actions were decided, SLAM helped call a general assembly of its tenant organizers and supporters. Roughly 16 tenants crammed into the union’s usual meeting space, including several older working class tenants. These older tenants had involved themselves in the union out of need, became leaders in their councils, and were now ready for more. At this meeting, two banner paintings were planned, media liaisoning, a social media strategy, and a guided tour of 3605. 

The banners turned out beautifully and several were strung up Saturday in the lobby and on the exterior of 3605. The tour of the rundown building was attended by more than 30 neighbours, union members, and supporters. Some neighbours had been contacted during the door knocking of apartments on the same street showed up. They were absolutely enraged and engaged. They had their own analysis and experiences and wanted to support in any way they could. One woman requested to join SLAM. 

Tenants have been encouraged by these initial actions (the company, on the other hand, had met the plan for a tour with a firm and aggressive response, posting threatening semi-legal notices and showing up at tenants doors in response). As the campaign moves forward past these first steps, the union will countinue to push for further direct action and escalation. Tenants continue to be increasingly open to these tactics as they feel the power of solidarity from tenants outside their building.

Conclusion

The purpose of this short anecdote about organizing the beginnings of this campaign against Cromwell is to emphasize the importance of anarchists creating and inserting within groups where class antagonism is the clearest. We stand to help create councils, meeting places that build everyone’s collective power and autonomy. We aim also to push the struggle deeper and strengthen it. Maybe our ideology of non-hierarchy and combative revolutionary spirit does not make sense to everyone, but our tactics when proposed to people’s specific situations always should. This syndicalist strategy allows us to build respect and popularity for our methods among non-anarchists and become local “robin hoods” (in the words of one tenant from 3605).

The benefit of this form of syndicalism countinues to prove itself for SLAM. The union is not just the usual crowd of monolithic, ideologically inclined, younger, consciously committed organizers (although this demographic is important, and in majority at biweekly meetings). It has the capacity to organize in the diverse circles that make up the real core of our oppressed classes. 

Continued support and activation of anarchist comrades across Montreal remains as important as ever. Solidarity is essential! 

Our goal is not just the amelioration of conditions. As Lorenzo Kom-Boa Ervin writes in Anarchism and the Black Revolution, “we should throw out the rich bums and just take over! Of course we will have to fight the cops and security guards for the crooked landlords, but we can do that too! We can… build an independent tenants’ movement that will self-manage all the facilities, not for the government… but for themselves!”

Looking to support? Get in touch with the union:

slam.matu@protonmail.com or stay up to date on our instagram @slam.matu.

​​​​​​​Check out the union’s Kolektiva account for our documentary and future videos from SLAM.

Your Cancer, Courtesy of Capitalism

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Sep 092022
 

Anonymous submission to MTL Counter-info

Many cities in Quebec are home to one or more industries that destroy the environment and make the inhabitants sick.

In Rouyn-Noranda, Glencore benefits from a right to pollute that has allowed it to pocket billions for decades. The flora, the fauna, and all living things are affected. Vulnerable people, pregnant women, babies, and children, are particularly affected. All of this is indirectly with the permission of the Ministry of the Environment, who issues the remediation certificate that allows for exceeding the standards for emissions of a cocktail of heavy metals: arsenic, lead, nickel, chromium, cadmium, etc. These exceptions to compliance with provincial standards are an easy way for shareholders to profit.

We are an affinity group from Rouyn-Noranda. Today, we are starting a series of symbolic and direct actions against Glencore. We will no longer accept dying to enrich this kind of of ruthless multinational corporation! We have dropped this banner on the cancer research center that is delaying its operations because of hiring difficulties – and we understand! People who work in the health field do not want to come to Rouyn-Noranda to be poisoned.

Against Your Demands: Lessons from Occupy McGill

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Aug 012022
 

Anonymous submission to MTL Counter-info

In 2022, I was an active anarchist in the two week occupation of McGill University. In the months prior to the occupation, I was part of the meetings that discussed the idea of pitching up tents in the Arts building. Back then, we were just 6 people at a picnic table. I witnessed the successes and failures of the occupation (and of its offshoots at Concordia and UdeM) but until now have not written anything on the subject.  

Earlier this month, an international call to action was launched: “End Fossil – Occupy“. In a Guardian opinion piece, students are urged to “occupy our campuses to demand the end of the fossil economy.” This call seems to follow the example set by McGill, which has received somewhat broad attention. However, it fails to take key lessons from the McGill experience. By explaining these lessons, I am hoping to influence people who are thinking of organizing an occupation (which I still strongly encourage), and to challenge dominant notions of what a movement needs to be. Above all, we are past making End Fossil’s demands.

Purely and simply, the success of the McGill occupation was rooted in two guiding principles: 1) it refused to just be about the climate, and 2) it refused to make demands. Without a doubt, the occupation was successful. Up to 25 people a night slept in the lobby of the Arts building. Our public assemblies surpassed one hundred attendees. Audiences were often several dozen at film screenings, workshops, reading circles, and discussions which happened on a daily basis.* Every day you could show up, no matter who you were, and be fed breakfast, lunch and dinner. A few days into the occupation, several crews ran riot with spray paint through McGill, tagging up security vans and walls with slogans like “Occupy Everything” and “Students: Remember your Power.”

People showed up, not because of the specific issues we brought up, but because of the insurrectionary energy that was created. We printed and handed out hundreds of zines on pretty much everything but the climate. Educational sessions were also hardly-ever climate-related. Instead, the ideas being discussed centred around anarchist pedgagogy. People’s worldviews were not just being reemphasized (as they are when listening to yet another droning rad-lib environmentalist speech), but challenged or developed. 

As a student movement, it was important that we did not make demands or centre on any specific issue. We were a place to locate people with a variety of concerns. Some of the most loyal comrades at the occupation were not there because of climate-related anxieties. Participants in assemblies often discussed issues under the sun that touched on anything-but. We cast a broad net, and created a broad base. This wider focus allowed us to then bring to bear a radical critique of all hierarchy, all forms of domination, and to propose revolution, not reform (no matter how green).

I am going to be honest here. If I were to see another purely narrow environmentalist occupation – I’d keep walking. Most working class people also rightly distrust this messaging. From Occupy, Shut Down Canada, to the George Floyd uprising, it is clear that people want insurrection. You still want reforms? Fine. But let’s not ask for reforms. Let’s build a revolutionary movement and allow politicians to panic and try frantically to slow us down with concessions. That is, let’s not be ineffectively boring.

I do not want to pretend that every participant in the McGill occupation was a born-again anarchist. In fact, many campers complained that our intentions were outwardly vague. Some raised concerns that people were not participating because, without demands, they couldn’t understand what was going on. First, it’s worth saying that virtually everyone who claimed not to understand what we were doing were more conservative or liberal students who would never have participated anyway. But more crucially, we fail to bring people into our movement not because we lack demands, but because we are not effective enough at illustrating to others why joining our projects will change the world. This is harder to do: it takes good discussions, fun actions, effective assemblies, clear strategy, strong zines, and organizing. But it is possible.

It is certain that some of our camp organizers did not have a strong enough grasp of radical politics to explain convincingly why we don’t make demands but struggle for insurrection. However, this is not a barricade; it’s a small hurdle that one or two deliberate group conversations could have fixed.

The experience of Concordia’s short occupation was entirely different. The occupation at Concordia was quickly co-opted by the student union. Power and responsibilities became increasingly concentrated in a small set of vocal elected students who, already burdened with union responsibilities, could hardly carry out the tasks they took on. Union representatives began asking opponents to leave the occupation. Other students left by themselves — fed-up by the union or not at all enchanted. Any initial radical insurrectionary energy was sapped out by narrow syndicalist politics. I briefly attended the University of Montreal occupation. From what I observed (although more pleasant), the singular focus on the school’s fossil fuel investments had become hegemonic; and the occupation concentrated in an offshoot of Greenpeace.   

There was, of course, a core limitation to Occupy McGill’s strategy. The occupation was only powerful as an attractive / communal symbol of resistance and rallying point for radical ideas. To break past this point, it would have had to go on to actually shut down the university, spread into a strike, create new combative student organizations, practice new tactics like property destruction, or spill into neighbouring communities. These are also training, coordination, and mobilization tactics for revolutionary action. They go further and rally more people. We do so until we hit a moment where we finally revolt – and start winning.

We have a world to win. Not just the end of the fossil economy, but a whole society that could be created from solidarity. The landlords, police, capitalists, politicians, machos, and anyone calling themselves “authority-figures,” will be abandoned and replaced by cooperation. The university will not just be green but be transformed beyond the alienation, the work-to-death ethic, and the carreerism that infects it today. Unless we take direct control, we will be lied to, taken advantage of, and used for others’ political ends. We don’t have patience for the piecemeal reforms that have failed us for hundreds of years. There is so much to do and so little time to do so. It is time we strike.

That is our only demand, not to authorities, but to one another.


*Films viewed included Street Politics 101 (by Submedia), and two documentaries on the Rojavan Revolution. Reading circles read a selection on revolutionary education from Democratic Autonomy in North Kurdistan, and Autonomous Education in the Zapatista Communities: Schools to Cure Ignorance. Discussions included a discussion on anarchist pedagogy, a discussion on anarchism, a workshop on the just transition framework, a workshop on accessibility, and a talk by a long-time Mohawk activist. Zines included “Education for Liberation not Corporation” (by Divest McGill) “Anarchism: Towards a Revolution in Montreal,” “Blockade, Occupy, Strike Back,” and “A Recipe for Nocturnal Direct Action.”

Student Organizing with Divest McGill

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Apr 292022
 

From From Embers

In this episode I chat with two members of Divest McGill, a student-led organization at McGill University in so-called Montreal. They are fighting to force McGill to divest from the fossil fuel industry and transform the university into something liberatory and accountable to the people whose lives it affects. This spring, they led a more than two-week-long open, social occupation of a university building.

All music in this episode is from the 2012 anti-folk opera “What The F*ck Am I Doing Here?” about anarchist participation in the 2012 Quebec student strike. Check it out on Soundcloud here: https://soundcloud.com/whatthefuckamidoinghere/sets/what-the-fuck-am-i-doing-here

Learn more about Divest McGill here: https://www.divestmcgill.ca/

CALLOUT for the Anticapitalist Mayday ’22: Colonial and Ecocidal, Capitalism is War!

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Feb 222022
 

From the Convergence des luttes anticapitalistes

On May 1st, 2022, Convergence des luttes anticapitalistes (CLAC) is calling for a 15th Anti-Capitalist Workers’ Day demonstration. This year, the colonial state has demonstrated once more that it will prioritize capital growth over our lives. In total hypocrisy, our governments speak the words reconciliation and environment while ignoring the sovereign rights of Indigenous peoples and destroying the land with extractivist and discriminatory policies. It is time to revolt!

As time passes, our steroid pumped capitalist system increasingly contributes to the degradation of the climate and ecological conditions that ensure our survival. We are heading for disaster as our governments collude with oil companies, the forestry industry and the mining industry to continue to push through ecocidal projects like the Coastal GasLink pipeline in Wet’suwet’en land, the Fairy Creek cuts and the latest announcements allowing the mining industry to emit even more zinc and nickel particles in so-called Quebec. To defend their right to bring the world to an end, they buy guns, cops and prisons, because they know that people are resisting, have always resisted and will continue to do so. Extractivism goes hand in hand with colonialism and the oppression of Indigenous peoples; both of these systems of oppression are central to the running of the capitalist system that keeps us in a misery that is constantly getting worse.

We have stopped relying on the hypocritical people in power for quite some time, but Trudeau and Legault are working hard to break records. Our governments continue to lash out at the unvaccinated in order to avoid blaming all the paternalistic governments of the last few decades for the unbearable working conditions in education and health care (disproportionately afffecting women). As usual, there is always a lack of money for schools and hospitals, but never for cops and prisons for migrants. On top of that, our governments wash their hands of the violence they inflict by attacking “wokes”, saying that “Quebecers, we’re not that bad.” Among other things, Legault is puting forward transphobic, interphobic (PL-2), and xenophobic (PL-21) bils in addition to refusing to apply Joyce’s Principle and to consider the housing crisis as such. As ecological catastrophe continues to plague the globe, our governments give us shit worlds of unsustainable electric cars that keep people in bondage and contribute to urban sprawl. They send an RCMP military squad to destroy an Indigenous camp so they can build another state and bank funded fucking pipeline ostie, and this at the very time the province is dealing with major flooding.

We have to face the fact that the situation is devastating; however, the world is starting to wake up and more and more people are standing together, standing in solidarity with other communities and building bridges that didn’t exist before. There is more and more talk of environmental racism, for example of the illegal landfill in Kanesatake that endangers the health of people and land. Banners are appearing in occupied Palestine in solidarity with the defenders of the Wet’suwet’en territory. Our movements to abolish capitalism and all systems of oppression continue to grow in strength. We are on the right track.

We no longer have a choice but to refuse this work-based system of death whose primary interest is the enrichment of the bourgeoisie at the cost of our physical and mental health and the infinitely complex millennia-old ecosystems on which we depend.

On May 1st, let us express our rage against capitalism. Let’s stand up against these oppressions, against the destruction, and build a radically different future. Let’s take to the streets, together.

Time and place TBA.

An Anarchist Rejection of the Covid Culture War

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Feb 142022
 

From IGD Worldwide

At the beginning of the pandemic the state claimed masks were futile, but this was due to shortage and the government’s refusal to regulate the free market to ease the pain of the pandemic. Once companies managed to catch up with demand, the narrative changed. Many people likely died unnecessarily as a result of this.

Wearing masks can help save lives, but it is not a political statement in and of itself as some seem to think. Wearing your mask is not meaningfully countering the death-cult voices on the openly right-wing side of this culture war, it is simply common decency. On a larger level, it serves the state’s agenda to be louder about wearing masks than about the failing medical infrastructure around the world, or how the global medical establishment only serves the rich. I cringe when I see a liberal wearing a mask as if it is a symbolic virtue signal for BLM and organic farming. Supporting masks, encouraging vaccines, and not wanting vulnerable demographics of people to die is something we may have in common with someone on the liberal side of this culture war– a culture war that has been fabricated by state media and the worst of the internet– but it does not mean we can align ourselves with the liberals.

As Omicron predictably swept the earth in light of a vaccine rollout hobbled by the interests of capitalists, the pandemic that has plagued our lives is showing signs that it may be here to stay. Denmark has already acknowledged this: taking into account its privileged vaccine status, the country has already dropped all covid restrictions. Hong Kong, a country with some of the toughest restrictions in the world, is struggling with the futility of their own covid mandates in light of Omicron and may wave the white flag soon. Still many are dying across the world, as many also die from cancer, heart disease, famine, and war– although capitalism seems to consider these the cost of doing business. So much has happened since March 2020 when this boring apocalypse began.

I am not excited to be writing another piece on covid, but it is a truly unprecedented event. Even beyond the scale of death it has caused, its ripple effects and political implications are essential to discuss, no matter if we’re all tired of it. The pandemic continues to dominate our lives despite a looming and ongoing climate catastrophe, a global refugee crisis, the hyper-resurgence of fascism, and an increasingly stratified world. The world will never be the same. As anarchists, however, we must also evaluate our own behavior to grow and strengthen our communities of resistance in light of the world to come.

You can read my last article regarding the anti-vax and anti-lockdown right-wing movements that seized on the fear of those overwhelmed by this unprecedented event. I do not subscribe to this rubbish thinking. I am vaccinated; the first time to help others, the second time to be able to travel and enter a damn bar. I find the narrative of much of the anti-vax and anti-lockdown movements to still be dominated by double standards, inconsistencies, and the heinous influences of right-wing and anti-Semitic opportunism, but governments pretending the pandemic is the fault of the unvaccinated doesn’t work on me, because I know who is to blame. Omicron is a direct result of vaccine companies blocking patent sharing and the capitalistic practices of the “first world.”

I am uninterested in playing into the games of the governments of the world, governments that have proven they exist solely to preserve the comforts of the wealthy and maintain the existing social order of misery for most of us. Covid has made this even more obvious. After the arguments of state-defenders that murders and rapists are inherent to humanity (rather than a result of poverty and a patriarchal society), plagues and unprecedented global events are probably the next things to be used to defend and rationalize the horrors of government. Covid has shown, however, that the government really serves no purpose apart from its own interests, and will cravenly blame those it rules over if it can not manage what it supposedly exists to manage.

I am pro-vaccine the same way I am pro-chemotherapy. Both are a method of dealing with a horrible thing produced by the same horrible society responsible for the problem’s creation. I am cautious and concerned about who I come in contact with because I realize that the excluded and exploited are more likely to be affected by this pandemic, but I also believe many are suffering through this pandemic beyond the medical element of covid itself. If you don’t see this, you probably have a comfortable job or secure existence, because for myself at least, I wonder if the stress from this plague is going to kill me before the plague does.

I encourage people to be vaccinated as well as take precautions to ‘stop the spread’; but the implications of mandatory vaccinations concern me. I am concerned consistently with every opportunity the state may see in the fear caused by the pandemic or generally confusing times; this new precedent of mandatory vaccination worries me as does every crazy-ass thing governments do when people are afraid. It is ok to say this because it is an anarchist position.

Being an anarchist means rejecting the theater of politics. I am part of a movement that in its most sincere form cannot be trapped by the culture wars fabricated to divide us, because such wars are fought on faith that the systems in play will determine who wins. I can never welcome the decisions of the state without questioning them. However, some of us, whether through fear of a never-before-experienced pandemic, or more sadly, the fear of judgment by the liberal establishment, have made these kinds of compromises in position and rhetoric.

In my last article I mostly attacked the right’s use of the pandemic to distract from broader issues such as the hyper-profiteering of the rich during the pandemic, state opportunism in repression and authoritarianism made possible during the pandemic, and rampant inconsistencies exposed by the pandemic when it comes to government regulation. At the same time, as we have learned from governments around the world, lockdowns cannot be a cut-and-dry debate, and the authoritarian opportunism the pandemic has allowed governments around the world is something we should have seen and challenged in the process of breaking away from right-wing counter-revolutionary analysis. We cannot fear the judgment of the liberal and left-wing establishments around the world that have blindly accepted government decisions and who attempt to smear anyone who challenges the government’s decisions as being in league with white supremacists and Christian fundamentalists.

We are anarchists, not a political party looking to appease those whose analysis and ideas only exist within the framework of the existing power structures. We are anarchists meaning we are anti-fascist, anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-so on, and so on, because our defining characteristic is being opposed to all facets of domination and exploitation.


Blind support of lockdowns is inherently classist, and not consistent with an anti-authoritarian position. I don’t like to use the term classist, because the mainstream use of this word tends to focus on incidents of class bigotry rather than class society as a whole, and is directed towards achieving “class peace,” rather than pushing for the elimination of class society. With that said, and in order to confront a specific tendency, realizing it or not, there were some fairly offensive classist approaches and tendencies coming from those fetishizing the state’s pandemic procedures.

Take for example people staying at home and posting TikTok videos of fusion meals (prepared magically), pompously letting everyone know they were staying in to help others without acknowledging that this is only possible on the backs of cooks, delivery workers etc. unable to do the same. It’s almost in line with the disrespect shown to workers by the bosses and fascists who wish to challenge the existence of the pandemic sheerly to preserve their sacred free market.

It assumes that others can get through even a week of not working without financial aid, while millions of migrant workers across the world, documented and undocumented, have not been eligible for the emergency pandemic financial resolutions or stimulus packages made by nation-stations and banks.

It ignores the labor and suffering that is necessary for such a meal to be made during these times– the “heroic essential worker” praise at the beginning of the pandemic was temporary and conditional. It reflects the worst of the liberal establishment, both in the USA and copy-cat centrist movements around the world.

Even the liberal establishment’s distasteful promotion of the vaccine as a moral choice, despite the majority of the world still waiting for any access to it, continues this classism. From early on, Americans and eventually Europeans were flaunting their vaccine status as the rest of the world was beseeching the WTO to make generic versions because they couldn’t afford Big Pharma’s price tag. You saw many declaring that the pandemic will soon be over because “we did it,” despite “we” not including much of humanity!

Now, as the western world begins to acknowledge that its approach to the crisis failed, recognition of the possibilities of “a permanent pandemic” only takes into account the conditions faced in the West, not the increases in deaths and looming variants that will continue to spread in the so-called third world, most of which is still waiting on the first world to share patents or non-expired vaccine surpluses.

The inconsistencies and mismanagement of the pandemic shine a light on the inherent flaws of the state. Unfortunately, giving too much consideration to the coercive talking points of the liberal establishment prevents us from countering the fascists who have dominated the narrative around covid. That is why we must find a balance, never allowing ourselves to place faith in the mandates of the state or expect the state to share the interests of anarchists with regards to managing the pandemic.

Drawing lines takes courage, especially on sensitive subjects, but as anarchists we are familiar with controversial approaches. Many who claimed to be interested in saving lives in the USA are now silent as Biden sends people back to work, obeying the demands of the bosses and capitalism. It’s a decision followed by countries around the world due to the pressures covid mandates have put on air travel, the transfer of goods, etc. Saving lives will always come second to saving capitalism on both the left and right side of the power games, no matter if one side minces their words or is willing to budge a bit.


Many who couldn’t “hunker down” and had their livelihoods sacrificed by state mandates are now turning to the right. As I write, truckers are blocking borders and cities in Canada and the USA over vaccine mandates. Blocked borders and occupied cities are typically something I would be excited about, but police and state forces haven’t obliterated these truckers the way they have indigenous land blockades and occupations against pipelines in Canada. The trucker protest crowds are generally of the included, not the excluded. They don’t challenge the broader system of capitalism, and are a generally confusing phenomenon for the status quo since they resemble its base. The convoys in Canada and the USA are quite troubling in light of the political associations and motivations of their founders. Solidarity blockades are also catching on in France, New Zealand, and more countries around the world. We are in conflict with the broader conspiracy theories and fascistic narratives that have helped to form these blockades, but we must counter them on our terms without resembling the voices of the liberal establishment. An excerpt from a recent on-the-ground review of the convoy in Ottawa and some of the liberal counter-protesters complaining against it helps paint a real-life example of why we need to challenge ourselves to counter these fascist events from an anarchist position that has no consideration for liberal approaches:

In the afternoon we check out a counter-demonstration organized primarily, it seems, by residents of downtown Ottawa who are sick of the noise, traffic, and acts of hateful speech, harassment and bullying on the part of some of the protestors. Countering the trucker protest before it becomes a full-blown neo-fascist revolutionary movement is so, so important but I honestly felt zero affinity with this counter-protest in particular. Most of the signs were either calling for more police, complaining about inconveniences like sound and traffic, or making fun of the demonstrators for being unvaccinated and/or stupid. “Honk if you failed civics,” “Self-driving trucks can’t spread covid,” “Ottawa police act now,” “Make Ottawa boring again.” A lady with a wordy sign about how vaccine mandates save lives mistakes me for a member of convoy protest and chastises me for apparently being illiterate, “Did it take you a few minutes to read that one, honey?” I have a graduate degree and no business being this personally offended but I feel a surge of rage at downtown liberal elites who think the problem is that these people just didn’t go to school long enough. We leave before it’s over, just as some of the protestors are engaged in a verbal standoff – antis chanting “Go home dipshits” while convoy protestors chant back “We still love you! Love! Love!” and the police form a stronger line between the two crowds.

-Critical Notes From On the Ground in Ottawa (Regarding the so-called “Freedom Convoy in Canada”).

The emphasis on appropriate and educated semantics and aesthetics that has invaded anarchist movements for years tends to come out of privileged university circles where issues are discussed instead of systems. As a result, we are discovering people on the fringes of our movements who feel connected not by experience and discontent but rather by a shallow connection of superficial identity. While fascists of all backgrounds deserve not a millimeter of space, we should admit allowing liberal mindsets “within” anarchy is a potential reason so many continue to get recruited by the right without even knowing it. Out of fear of resembling the right, we are allowing ourselves to be censored by the liberal establishment.

There are increasing riots worldwide related to lockdown restrictions. In the Netherlands for example, (https://itsgoingdown.org/reflections-and-report-on-the-nov-19-riots-in-rotterdam-nl/) on two occasions since the pandemic began there was some of the most intense rioting the Netherlands has seen in its modern history, mostly by unemployed and marginalized youth struggling in the most unequal country in the European Union. Many liberals, leftists, and even some anarchists dismissed these riots solely due to the ugly spark that may have helped trigger them.

On the days these riots happened, there were disgusting protests. The worst of the worst coming together: new agers, religious fundamentalists, right-wing politicians and neo-nazi/fascists protesting peacefully in their grossly white parades against the vaccines and lockdown mandates. Maybe some of the hooligans stuck around for the riots that followed, but those attending the pre-riot protests events are generally of the included, white, and privileged in the Netherlands, and could be seen denouncing the “hooligans” and “thugs” who came out when the sun set.

Lockdowns were the last straw for huge demographics of youth in the Netherlands who face constant racist violence by police and a second-class livelihood. Many pissed off, unemployed, and disenfranchised youth saw these events as an opportunity to manifest their rage. However, the liberal bourgeoisie and academic folks who dismissed these riots grouped fascists and politicians with unemployed youth of a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds simply because of the timing. How could some of us succumb to such a superficial and elitist approach to understanding a manifestations of social war that should be of interest to anarchists? It is a blurry time for humanity, myself included, but we have got to keep our analysis honed.

Anarchists consider looting the destruction of the sacred commodity, as well as reflecting poverty the looter faces. End of story, this is an anarchist response. However, those who tend to dismiss from the ivory towers of the academic and privileged world may not have the intellect or sincere desire for revolt to even appreciate such a thing. One may not manifest rage in the precisely opportune time or among the prettiest of circumstances, but it is our responsibility as anarchists to see these moments where such ruptures and tensions manifest and, regardless of the judgments of the liberal establishment, demonstrate our solidarity and support.

As anarchists we have to continue to assert our position unconditionally, heightening our voices and communicating our position clearly in order to make it clear to both sides of this culture war that we are not falling for the distractions. We want social war towards liberation.

We have learned a lot since March 2020. Just because we militantly reject the right’s death cult doesn’t mean as anarchists we should give in to the moderate right, centrist, or leftist establishments either. Whether civil wars in history, or Black Lives Matter, Occupy, the anti-globalization movement, or the pandemic of today, we hope the anarchist movement will always remember that “On the one hand there is the path that leads to the institutions, on the other, the way to the streets. These paths cannot co-exist.”

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