80th Anniversary of the On-To-Ottawa Trek: Mass Struggle is still the Key to Victory

Special Resolution on the 80th anniversary of the On to Ottawa Trek, adopted by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Canada, June 13-14, 2015

This meeting of the Central Committee CPC salutes the 80th anniversary of the 1935 On to Ottawa Trek – one of the most iconic episodes in the history of the working class struggle in Canada. On this occasion, we pay tribute to the leaders of the Trek – Arthur “Slim” Evans, Robert “Doc” Savage and other working class heroes who fearlessly took on the bosses, the police, the military, and right-wing politicians.

At the same time, we stress the need to understand the lessons of the past in today’s context.

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The On to Ottawa Trek was initiated by the communist-led Relief Camp Workers Union at the height of the Great Depression, after five years of vicious ruling class attacks on the living standards and rights of the working class across the country. Today we are experiencing another period of economic crisis for the capitalist system, which has seen a rebound of corporate profits since 2008, but no real economic recovery for working people. Once again, the gap between the ultra-wealthy and the mass of the people has increased sharply, reflecting the intensified exploitation of workers as bosses use the “reserve army of labour” to drive down wages and impose austerity cuts.

The Trek was an outstanding example of the capacity of the working class to mobilize militant resistance and win broad support for immediate demands. These included the famous slogan of “work and wages” and closure of the “20 cents a day” slave labour camps, but also the eight-hour day, unemployment insurance, old age pensions, access to health care, the right to organize into trade unions, an end to police state repression, and much more. The generation of radical working class activists who took part in the Trek and other labour battles of that decade were in the forefront of mass labour and democratic movements around these issues from the late 1930s through the post-WW2 era. Their struggles were a decisive rebuff to the earlier domination of narrow craft unionism, and to the class collaborationist strategies of opportunist labour leaders who failed the working class so completely during the early years of the Depression.

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We also note another important historical parallel – the role of far-right Conservative federal governments, which act as the political arm of the most reactionary and aggressive sections of the capitalist class. The On to Ottawa Trek was a key event in the mass struggles leading to the defeat of R.B. “Iron Heel” Bennett’s Tories, who had ordered the brutal police attack on the Trekkers and supporters on July 1, 1935 in Regina’s Market Square. That attack blocked the Trek from advancing eastward, but it did not stop other Workers Unity League members in Ontario from heading to Ottawa to confront the Bennett government. Today, the labour movement and its allies can and must play a leading role in mass mobilizations to drive the Harper Tories out of office, and then to help build a broad, powerful, mass extra-parliamentary movement which could compel a new government to reverse the neoliberal austerity policies imposed over the last three decades.

In all such struggles, both historic and present day, the element of revolutionary working class leadership is a crucial factor. For over 90 years, Communists have led many important battles for labour rights, social justice, democracy, equality, and solidarity. The renewed growth of the Communist Party and the Young Communist League in the recent period is proof that in hard times, a successful fightback requires militant, class struggle strategies.

(To mark this occasion, the Communist Party will hold wreath-laying ceremonies on July 1 at the gravesite of Arthur “Slim” Evans in Burnaby. For information, call the Party’s Vancouver office, at 604-254-9836)

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