Yesterday was International Workers’ Day – not in Canada though, at least officially speaking. Thousands of people took to the streets yesterday to mark the beginning of the grève sociale against the austerity measures of the provincial government.

Called to action by the Coalition opposée à la tarification et à la privatisation des services publics, more than 860 community organizations, student associations, and unions across Quebec went on strike yesterday. Among those who went on strike were many of the twenty four CEGEP teacher unions, whose strike mandates had been declared illegal by Quebec’s labour board on April 30.

In Montreal, the day of action started early. At 8 a.m., demonstrators associated with the Coalition blocked access to the Banque Nationale tower. This was followed by a large march of estimated 5000 people. Other forms of direct action included the occupation of Québécor, World Trade Centre, and Place Ville-Marie.

However, the brutality of the SPVM did not show itself until later in the evening. Montreal’s Anti-Capitalist Convergence (CLAC) called on people to gather at Phillips Square at 6:30 p.m. Contingents from north, east, and south-west Montreal joined the main contingent at the square and they started marching at around 7 p.m. In less than 20 minutes, SPVM declared the demonstration illegal and started deploying unreasonable amounts of tear gas, injuring protesters and passers-by alike. CBC reported that even children were caught in the middle of the SPVM and the SQ’s clamping down.

According to photographer Gerry Lauzon, “The riot squad charged and gassed while the protest was peacefully walking, nothing being broken. A lot of civilians were present as non-participants in the vicinity and got gassed as well. Women (one pregnant in the bunch) and children among them. The gas made it’s way in some stores and the metro while people were trying to flee the chaos.”

“I was flushed eastbound on Ste-Catherine by the Surété Quebec and didn’t see much of anything after that until 21:15, when the pissed off crowd that was walking down Ste-Catherine got dispersed at Berri without gas, baton, or shields.”

In an interview with Radio-Canada, SPVM spokesperson Laurent Gingras failed to give an explanation as to why the dispersion maneuver took place. At the end of the day, 84 people were arrested.

In a press release, CLAC declared that they would not be repressed without a fight and that “It’s obvious that the escalation of repression we’ve seen in the last few years is the result of a political directive to nip all protest movements with a radical discourse in the bud.”

Rich Bonemeal, spokesperson for the CLAC says, “We can’t see the forest for the tree that is austerity. Sooner or later we’ll have to face the fact that it’s the capitalist system itself that’s at the root of this inequality and injustice. As long as this system stays in place, there will still be exploiters and exploited, there will still be the extremely rich and the extremely poor, and the capitalist bulldozer will continue to pillage and destroy everything in its way until life on earth becomes impossible. Fighting austerity is a start, but it’s capitalism we must destroy.”

Click on the images below to access the galleries. The one above contains photos from earlier in the day, and the one below contains photos from the 6:30 p.m. demo. All photography by Gerry Lauzon.

Morning ProtestsMorning Protests International Workers\' DayInternational Workers\' Day

In the past few weeks the already very publicized loophole of the Foreign Temporary Worker Program (aka FTWP), which was already a hot issue in the past few months, has taken center-stage in Canadian political life. What bothers most is that recently, mainstream media has been paying more attention and putting emphasis on only one aspect of the FTWP: the fact that such a program promotes the employment of foreign workers at the supposed detriment of Canadian workers.

The FTWP is flawed in many ways and I couldn’t agree more with that statement. This being said, it isn’t because of the foreign temporary workers themselves, it’s because of the distinction such a program makes between Canadian workers and their foreign counterparts. But who would expect anything else from a method that derives directly from an agenda of profit over people that wants to pit “Canadian” workers against “foreign” workers in an incessant race to the bottom, a strategy to push down everyone’s wages without any discrimination.

The mainstream media, in many of its reports, still views the FTWP as a solution brought by the Canadian government to regulate the flow of foreign nationals that want to work in Canada for a short period of time. But that’s the hoax, the mirage that has been put forward by the Conservative government.

It’s most certainly very far from the true premise behind the program. Once you understand the FTWP’s underlying purpose, you understand that in the past weeks, Canadian public opinion has fallen into the rhetorical trap laid by the Conservative agenda.

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Falling for the spin (image:

The FTWP should be the Conservatives’ Achilles’ heel and yet in many ways, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Why? Because the criticism that has been put forward against the loophole prefers to focus on the dichotomy between foreigners and Canadians instead of the fact that workers, no matter what their nationality is, are being exploited, and thus that the struggle of foreign temporary worker is our own.

It’s a very clever, elaborate trap and one that’s almost invisible. It creates labour conditions that only exist for “foreigners” (people that aren’t Canadian) thus the debate will revolve around foreigners taking jobs from Canadians, deflecting attention from the issue of the hideous working conditions that are inflicted upon them, or the fact that multinationals benefit in many ways from foreign labour because it’s cheaper, not only in terms of wages, but also in social expenses.

The Conservatives want us to see things in such a manner because the crude reality is that the FTWP is just another one of their handouts to corporate Canada, and that would be much more damaging to them.

The FTWP could the catalyst for a renewed labor-union movement because it breeds in itself so many of the contradictions inherent in the Conservative agenda. The conditions that foreign temporary workers are living in today are a mirror of what might be to come in the near future for Canadian workers of all stripes and walks of life. In many ways the fight of the foreign temporary workers and the fight of Canadian workers goes hand in hand.

On this 1st of May, a day during which we remember the labor struggles of foregone times, we must renew the struggle for better working conditions, a living wage and full employment. The only way to do that is to build a movement that encompasses all labour on Canadian soil.

This is a struggle that isn’t confined to any specific nationality. All workers of Canada, be they foreign or Canadian citizens, must unite. Today, let us go into the streets and commit to create a society in which workers’ rights are inalienable no matter what your status might be. Let us commit to creating a society in which all workers have equal status and in which workers are always above profit.

A luta continua,