The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Why the Left Doesn’t Copy the Truck Protests

One of the reasons I didn’t condemn the strategy used by the truckers is simple: For a couple decades now, I’ve been saying that this general sort of thing is what the left should do. Change happens only when you inflict real pain. In fact, the trucker protests aren’t that new, this sort of thing happens in France all the time. Truckers have big vehicles they can use to block roads in a way that’s harder to stop than a bunch of people just lining up or even chaining themselves up.

Commenter someofparts, riffing off Lambert said it well:

So then, the question Strether raised that I keep thinking about is – why isn’t it the left wing doing this? Since a caravan that disrupts the supply chain is a brilliant way to pressure our leaders, why isn’t it being done by the big unions instead of the shopkeepers?

Obviously the real question I am chewing on is to wonder what needs to change so that it IS the unions doing this instead of the bourgeoisie? I don’t have any ready answers to that question, but I figure that having a clear idea of where we need to go is the first step. The prospect of supply chain disruption sponsored by the teamsters on behalf of the real working class is a good place to start.

Unions are scared.

They have central headquarters and bank accounts. It is trivial and easy for them to be broken by seizing their assets. They feel they must keep within the letter of what the law allows, because they know what happens if they don’t.

For whatever reason, the truckers here are not scared of asset seizure, which is interesting, because the government easily could take their licenses and their trucks and probably hit them with damages.

As part of my politics book series, I talked about legitimacy. In the neoliberal world order, the right is legitimate, and so are neoliberals (our “center”) but the left and unions aren’t. It is okay to mess other people up in the name of right-wing values, but not in the name of the left-wing (economic, not social) values. There’s some tolerance for cultural left-wingism, since neoliberal elites are more than good with it, but not for economic left-wing populism.

Back during “Occupy Wall Street,” I saw a march in Toronto. It was surrounded on three sides by police (the fourth being pressed up against one side of the road. They had paddy wagons and horse-cops right there, right next to the protesters. I also saw the G-7 protests in Toronto, with the kettling of protestors and mass (unconstitutional, but not illegal) arrests.

Protesting the fundamental economic relationships that control our society is not allowed. Effective  unions lead to wages rising faster than inflation and it is FUNDAMENTAL to our order that wages for most people must not rise faster than inflation. (Yes, that’s not what the figures say, but the inflation statistics are systematically manipulated.)

The left cannot do what the truckers do because if they did, they would be shut down with extreme violence — if they were even allowed to get going. Remember, the Ottawa police chief let the truckers set up, knowing in advance what they were going to do.

Note also, that the right uses decentralized action a lot. Their shooters are created by their ideology, but act individually. The truckers may have organization, but they are individuals. Each truck has to be seized individually. There is some central organization, and when its visible it’s taken out (the shut down of the GoFundMe) but mostly it’s buried in the financial and third-party weeds. Ezra Levant of Rebel news, for example, hired a lawyer to fight parking tickets for the truckers. He’s not directly involved so far as we know yet, but he is indirectly involved.

Then there’s Ontario’s Prime Minister, Doug Ford. Doug could have this stuff broken up easily, and if it truly does need the military, he’s the person with the authority to call them in (the Feds arguably can’t without passing a new law). Doug’s daughter is with the protesters.

FDR alleged (but only allegedly) once said, “You’ve convinced me. I agree with what you’ve said. Now go out and make me do it.” Doug almost certainly agrees with the truckers, but he knows that polling is against him.

“Make me do it.”

Killing people for the market is economic orthodoxy. Impoverishing people so the rich can get richer is economic orthodoxy. Taking care of people, in the US, Canada, and Britain is against the ruling ideology — it is actually not legitimate. (It is in China and Japan, as people there are viewed as productive assets, not as assets to be mined.)

For unions to do what the truckers do they would have to start by decentralizing. No significant  headquarters, few assets to be seized, and leadership that doesn’t matter because anyone can lead. If the “president” is locked up, it doesn’t matter because someone else steps up, and regular members know what to do anyway.

Plus, there needs to an implicit threat. “If you take us out by force, we will keep showing up, and you can’t lock us all up.” The “truckers” (most truckers disagree with them, including the Teamsters) belong to a movement that shows up at school board meetings, that pickets hospitals & legislatures and threatens nurses, and that is generally perceived as dangerous. Politicians don’t feel entirely safe using force and law against them, though this is (or was) far more true in the US than in Canada. The left has spent generations telling themselves that violence is always bad and that even the threat of it should never ever even be considered because Gandhi, Gandhi, Gandhi.

All people are equal, but some people are more equal than others. All protests are equal, but some protests are more equal. Some ideologies are far more equal than others.

In the thirties, it was not unknown for unions to fight the police, straight up. The Feds would often stay out of it, and usually there was no attempt to destroy the union as a whole. Unions were legitimate, especially since FDR generally supported them and wouldn’t let the Feds intervene.

Today, unions are illegitimate according to the dominant ideologies. Practically the first thing Reagan did was break a major union (the Air Traffic Controllers). Thatcher showed she was in charge and that things had changed by defeating the Miners in Britain. Punching left is good, punching right is verboten.

The “truckers” can do what they’re doing because they’re doing it in service of right-wing values, not left-wing ones, and they are supported by powerful elite factions, including most of Canada’s Conservative party.

They may well be stopped, and even have the law used against them, mainly because they’ve stopped trade between the US and Canada, but they would never have been allowed to run this far if they were left-wing. They’re legitimate, they have elite backing and the cops are sympathetic.

These are also, by the way, the pre-conditions for revolution: An elite faction in support, enforcer class unwilling to step up, and a popular faction in support (although they are decided minority, which is the only reason they aren’t already in charge).



The Decline and Fall of Post-war Liberalism and the Rise of Neoliberalism


Open Thread


  1. rangoon78

    “Lambert Strether” (pseudonym) gets it:
    “To put this in the U.S. context: If the Association of Flight Attendants, the International Longshoremen’s Association, the “Big Four” railroad brotherhoods, and of course the Teamsters had wished to, they could have done, on a national scale and with far more effect, what the Canadian Truckers are doing. These industrial unions might have demanded, at the very minimum, decent PPE for health care workers, and proper ventilation for teachers. At a maximum, they could have demanded that Americans be paid to stay home until Covid transmission in this country sputtered out, ending the pandemic here and setting an example for the world. But here we are.”

  2. rangoon78

    Modest proposal from the fringe (Trotskyists)
    Modern science has shown that the closure of all nonessential workplaces and the transition to remote learning for all schools for a period of two months could quickly bring viral transmission under control and lay the basis for the full-scale elimination of COVID-19. These necessary lockdowns must be accompanied by the provision of full financial and social supports for all workers and small-business people affected.

    Two-month lockdowns must be combined with the globally coordinated production and distribution of vaccines and high-quality masks to all countries, as well as the use of mass testing, contact tracing, the safe isolation and treatment of infected patients, and a dramatic expansion of health care infrastructure. At every essential workplace and hospital, workers must have access to the highest quality N95 or better masks, as well as modern filtration and ventilation systems. All nonessential domestic and international travel must cease immediately to allow for the elimination of the virus in each country.

    The working class must take matters into its own hands.

  3. Dan Lynch

    Unions? What unions?

    In my state the only significant union remaining is the teacher’s union, which focuses on lobbying for higher pay and is always pretending that teachers are starving (experienced high school teachers in my rural county make $70,000 – $80,000, which is a lot). They never use the union to lobby for more academic freedom, or to get coaches out of the classroom, or to shut down private schools, or for anything that would actually make a difference.

    There is nothing wrong with a union demanding more money if the workers really are starving, as say in the case of the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers strike. I also support workers demanding safer conditions, more security, solidarity with other strikers, political reforms, and so forth, but when well paid workers are only interested in more money that does not come across as the high moral ground.

    So don’t wait for U.S. unions to save us.

    As for U.S. conservatives using violence, we have the Jan 6 coup attempt, the Malheur bird refuge occupation, and the Bundy standoff in Nevada — but what did any of those activities accomplish? Yes, the Feds are afraid of Bundy and his cattle are still illegally grazing, but the public is increasingly aware that Western ranchers are welfare queens. Certainly the Jan 6 crowd did not win any friends. I’m not seeing a path to victory there.

    So what is the path to victory? If your state has a ballot initiative, I suggest the left should focus its energies on getting popular reforms placed on the ballot. Issues that would help the working class, like raising the minimum wage, free health clinics & hospitals, and replacing regressive taxes with progressive taxes.

    I think a national ballot initiative is key to national reform but don’t see a path to make it happen — TPTB will never voluntarilty give up their power.

  4. different clue

    Different people will have their own different theories of what works and why. Every different Theory Action Group should go ahead and pursue its own Theory Of Change based actions.

    I will say this about ” why can’t the Left do what these Trumpanon Truckanons are doing?” Because any Left group trying it will be immediately suppressed with all due savagery to crush it down. The Obama Administration semi-military and well coordinated attack on 19 separate OWS encampment actions at the same time all over America reveals that most recently.

    And after decades of repression and targeted assassinations and so forth, there isn’t much of a Left left. The only real Left left is the Leftard Wokenazi left composed of homocentric heterophobes, trans-centric cisphobes, BIPOC racist pigs, etc.

    If the Left had as many millions of members with as decades-long a participation in the gun culture and as many millions of guns and billions of rounds of ammo as the Right has, plus as much Police and Military and Secret Government support as the Right has, then the Left could play the same game the Right plays the same way the Right plays it.

    Since the “so-called” “left” and the so-called “progressives” don’t have any of that, and since they know very well that they don’t have any of that, then they will have to try to find a different kind of game to play in a different way.

  5. Z

    It sounds like a large part of the reason that the unions won’t back this sort of action is due to the corruption of the union leadership. These union leaders constantly advocate for their members to vote for tiered contracts and slavishly back democratic party candidates. You got to imagine that the more powerful ones have carrot-and-stick leverage applied on them by our rulers as is deployed on our political leaders. It also motivates them to try to stay in power because they fear the stick if they don’t.

    The game the Fed plays by understating CPI and then coming in and squashing workers’ wages by raising interest rates to fight the understated inflation is one way that our rulers pull chairs away in the neo-feudal game of musical chairs they impose on us. It systematically disempowers us financially.


  6. Ché Pasa

    Unions are not Teh Left, not in this country; haven’t been for a very long time.

    While I agree with “Lambert” and Ian regarding the nature of the Truckupations, “Lambert’s” faith in Union Power is… touching. Unions do not perform the functions they once did; their leadership has long been folded into the Overclass, their members mostly just as subject to the precarity of the rest of the working class.

    The exception, of course, is the police union. Funny that. They have achieved immense power over public policy, not just over wages, working conditions and benefits. Their power is so immense until recently they have behaved with near complete impunity, as immune from consequences of their bad actions as the Overclass they serve. They’re often able to determine their own budgets, they are treated with deference by those they are ostensibly accountable to, and their contempt for the public and elected officials is not even concealed any more — if it ever was.

    And as Ian points out, “truckers”, police, much of the military, a significant fraction of the bourgeoisie, and a large faction of the elites and Overclass (oh, and the Republican Party) are all aligned in an apparent determination to dispense with a multiparty “democracy” and seize full power for themselves alone, under a charismatic leader, regardless of the interests or votes of the People most of whom have little interest in fomenting rebellion in any case.

    “Lambert” seems to think it’s all a funny little clown car of ineptitude and tomfoolery.

    Well, pretty much every action is until it succeeds. And that point is sometimes much closer than we think.

  7. Feral Finster

    Because I am yet to meet a leftist trucker. By contrast, I’ve encountered plenty of truckers who are not bashful when it come to sharing their um, more retrograde political views.

    For that matter, most of the leftists I have known are terrified of anything resembling physical struggle or confrontation.

  8. fringe element

    As I read it, these were the key points from Ian about why we see the bourgeoisie assert itself more forcefully than unions/labor –

    “Unions are scared.

    They have central headquarters and bank accounts. It is trivial and easy for them to be broken by seizing their assets. They feel they must keep within the letter of what the law allows, because they know what happens if they don’t.

    For unions to do what the truckers do they would have to start by decentralizing. No significant headquarters, few assets to be seized, and leadership that doesn’t matter because anyone can lead. If the “president” is locked up, it doesn’t matter because someone else steps up and regular members know what to do anyway.”

    As far as creating a broad, decentralized base for politics that support labor, here is Freddie deBoer talking about the steps our misleaders are already taking to prevent it –

  9. Feral Finster

    I dunno Occupy Wall Street were decentralized to the point of self-parody, and that didn’t stop them from meekly allowing themselves to be rolled up like a rug.

  10. VietnamVet

    The truckers protest cannot be separated from the failed response to the coronavirus pandemic which was caused by the western empire’s rulers (i.e. USA, Canada & UK) not giving a damn about the fate of their citizens and issuing mandates to increase the number of for-profit injections or get fired, not the public’s health. This is not unlike the 18th century’s famine in France due to Iceland’s volcano eruptions.

    The number of COVID Deaths is averaging around 2500 a day in the USA; same number as the highest number of American combat deaths on one day on D-Day 1944. The number of deaths in the current Omicron BA.1 surge is the second highest in the coronavirus pandemic so far and has yet to peak. Yet, five blue state governors relaxed mask mandates, like it is over. Plus, only god knows, what Joe Biden trying to do. He is appears to be playing “wag the dog” and inciting a European War in Ukraine.

    The western establishment simply does not care how many of the under-caste they kill in wars, hospitals or at home. Food shortages have started.

    There is a right wing underground of truckers who got the freedom convoy going; but it is the loss of the dream of a better life that propels those going to the protests. The truckers drove in front of the crowd. The overriding arrogance and indifference of the Overclass while extracting their hard won earnings is the prime cause of the protests. It was mostly craftsmen and store owners who lived in Paris who stormed the Bastille.

  11. Ché Pasa

    There appears to be an active effort in the media, both mainstream and alternative, to normalize the Truckupations as some kind of honorable, timeworn economic boycott action — even somewhat “leftist” — designed solely to get rid of Covid pandemic restrictions and protocols so that we can “get on with our lives.”

    In other words, there’s nothing threatening about it. We should thank the “Truckers” for their service and go back to work, school, and shopping. Life returns to Normal thanks to them.

    This is pretty sophisticated psychological manipulation. As FeralF says, there are no “leftist” truckers. All the ones I’ve known (half a dozen or so) have been decent enough hard workers, politically right-wing, and deeply cynical about The World. Some are strongly evangelical following the rightist political persuasions of their grifter-pastors.

    The idea that somehow the Truckupations are being done out of kind consideration for the well-being and freedom of all is absurd, or should be, but propaganda can burrow deep, and if it is repeated widely and often enough, it becomes Truth.

    This could well be the tip of the spear leading to the long-sought right-wing populist/fascist takeover of government — and not solely in Canada or the United States. Note, it’s not being opposed by libertarians. And the thoughtful people who are questioning this inorganic “movement” and waving red flags about it are incapable of stopping it.

    Long ago, when the US/NATO was imposing a nightmarish version of “democracy” on Iraq, I suggested it was going to come home to roost and that sooner or later the very idea of “democracy” would be discredited here and more or less everywhere throughout the world. That, I thought then, was the intent of the makers of the Iraqi “democracy.”

    Are we there yet?

  12. praxis

    The first nations were/are quite capable of flexing their muscle (shut down of trains etc).

    I think you nailed it that centralized left leadership is easily cowed or loyal to the pmc, not its base.

  13. Leopold Loeb

    I seem to be wired to focus on different things. FDR never said it. It’s not just that nobody has been able to document it– it’s that the same quote has been cited by all sorts of people– but the people involved are always different.

    This article (the section headed “Making of a Myth”) has links to a bunch of accounts:

  14. Ian Welsh

    That’s why I said, “but only allegedly.”

  15. marku52

    One of your commenter said, I think astutely..
    “The old institutions are collapsing right before our eyes, Something new will replace them. Only the Fascists have the energy to do it.”

    It surely won’t be the “left”.

  16. StewartM

    Are the truckers doing this just on their own using their own resources? Maybe not:

    At least some billionaire money is going to them. And if it’s true that ‘half of the money is coming from the US’ (Trudeau) then as the US is now the world headquarters of laundered money, there could be more billionaires involved.

  17. different clue

    I have read that in Ottawa, some of the Truckupationists are relying on food brought in and others, in nasty abusive groups, are entering restaurants, etc., harrassing the staff over masks and so forth, and getting fed that way.

    I have wondered if a form of ” frozen earth cold war” might be possible. Are there several million Canadians outside of Ottowa who support social decency and covid containment? Could they all raise the money to meet every last single cost that every merchant of any kind within the Ottowa Truckupation zone would have to pay if they all shut down every single business throughout the whole area? Just locked up and stayed home? Could several millions Canadians keep raising enough ongoing money for the Occupied Ottowa Resistance to shut everything down so the Truckers get no more food, water, anything else in order to starve them out and freeze them out?

    Could such a plan actually work?

  18. different clue

    Here is another little video-talk from Beau of the Fifth Column as of Feb. 11, about the Trucker Events in Canada. I have only watched a little and then stopped the video to write this comment offering link to it.

    So far Beau has started discussing some of the Truckers grouping up into something resembling the Sovereign Citizens movements that Beau remembers from 10 years ago in America. Before resuming watching it, I suspect that Beau may note similiarities between these Truckers and people in America like Clavon Bundy, Amon Bundy, and other such. If I am right about that, ( and if, in the event that that’s what he says , Beau is right about that), then Canadians might want to analyze the meaning of the fast emergence and arisal of a Sovereign Citizens movement in their midst.

    Here is the link.

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