Canada: May Day in Montreal

About 800 demonstrated in Montreal on May Day, facing a brutal intervention of the police, while on May 3rd the official union rally attracted around 50,000, significantly up on last year's numbers.

On May 1, about 800 people gathered in the working class Montréal neighbourhood of Hochelaga to participate in an anti-capitalist May Day demonstration dubbed "Revolution, the Only Solution." The event was organized by a coalition of 20 Maoist, anarchist and anti-imperialist groups.

The event began at 5pm in a local park with a community diner followed by speeches denouncing capitalism and imperialism. The most visible organized presences were the Revolutionary Communist Party and the North-East Federation of Anacho-Communists. The International Marxist Tendency set up a literature table and distributed flyers calling for a mass party of labour based on the unions. The mood in the park was festive, with a broad cross-section of Québec society represented.

There was a significant police presence visible around the neighbourhood, including a large number of riot cops. Before the march had even started, one officer told a student journalist that the police were "gonna beat the crap out of them."

The demonstrators began to march west towards downtown at about 6.30, chanting "revolution, the only solution" and "enough is enough; the social peace is over." About twenty minutes later, a small number of neo-Nazis appeared and began to heckle the crowd. They were quickly confronted by a much larger group, composed mainly of the neighbourhood anti-Fascist committee, who swiftly dealt with these elements in an appropriate fashion.

A few minutes later, as the march approached the edge of downtown, riot cops stormed down two side streets, encircling about 200 demonstrators who were at the front of the line, including children and elderly people. The crowd was ordered to disperse, but not allowed to leave though the front or the back. One riot cop at the front marched up and pepper-sprayed the crowd, increasing the panic. After about five minutes of terrifying the crowd, they allowed demonstrators to leave by the back. People ran off in all directions, effectively ending the march.

The main demonstration organized by the labour unions came on May 3, a Saturday. Quebec is the only place in North America where the unions continue to celebrate May Day. The theme of this year's demonstration was opposing the subtle privatization of health care promoted by the Charest government.

Approximately 50,000 workers from Montreal and the surrounding area marched through downtown Montreal. The turnout for May Day is an approximate barometer of the mood of the Quebec working class. Participation in the 2008 march was an increase over last year's demonstration which was held amidst the rise of the right-wing ADQ, and only drew a paltry 3,000. However, it did not approach the high of 150,000 reached in 2004, when the labour unions were considering forming a common front to organize a one-day general strike against the savage anti-worker policies of the Charest government.

By tradition, the front lines were composed of workers on strike or lockout, this year including workers at Petro-Canada who are locked out. (They face a draconian injunction preventing them or any supporters from holding a picket line of more than five at the refinery or any Petro-Canada gas stations.) Political groups are put at the back of the march, and this included the sects, the Quebec Solidaire contingent as well as the Parti Quebecois.  (The latter seemed to be represented only by the two people holding the banner of the PQ.)  Between the extremities were all the major unions in Quebec, including a very large contingent from the CSN.

The International Marxist Tendency set up a literature table, and distributed about 1,000 of our pamphlets calling for a genuine labour party on socialist demands. These seemed to be well-received. The march ended by filling the soccer field at the foot of Mount Royal, with a live concert and speeches made by prominent labour leaders.