Report from May Day in Vancouver
On May 1st of 2004, a small anarchist contingent joined about 10,000 workers at the May Day march and rally in downtown Vancouver which was organized by the BC Federation of Labour. The May Day Anarchist Organizing Group had come together and made a call-out for an anarchist contingent at the march, since we did not want to allow the union bureaucrats to totally co-opt and corrupt the spirit of May Day. Our goal was simply to have an anarchist presence at the event, with respect to May Day’s anarchist history, to unify our forces and connect with rank-and-file workers. We also took the initiative to organize an independent, anti-capitalist May Day parade on Commercial Drive later in the day.
In the week leading up to May Day, health care workers across the province had gone on strike and defied the government’s back-to-work legislation. Union and non-union workers in both the public and private sectors of the economy had gone on wildcat strike in solidarity with the health care workers and in response to the generalized attack of the Liberal government on all working and unemployed people in BC. This naturally added a lot of energy and potential to this year’s May Day.
About 10 masked-up anarchists gathered at the beginning of the BC Fed event, with black flags and arm shields which also served as percussion. Union marshals stood around next to the anarchists and then began to follow them as the march began. Some unknown comrades had spray-painted ‘General Strike’ slogans on walls near the meeting point, and a large banner with the words ‘General Strike. Solidarity is our Weapon.’ was hanging from some trees.
Another small crew of anarchists with black-and-red flags met up with the first group and formed a contingent. Together they initiated chants such as ‘General Strike’ and ‘What’s the solution? Revolution!’, while also using their batons and flag poles to bang on newspaper boxes. Another ‘General Strike’ banner was spotted hanging from a building along the route of the march.
There were a few negative comments from some demonstrators towards the anarchist contingent, but most people were either curious (and asked questions) or showed signs of support (thumbs up etc.)
Towards the end of the march the anarchists burned an effigy of Prime Minister Paul Martin which a union worker had handed to them. This attracted the attention of a bike cop who said something to the effect of ‘Nice to see you guys. Now leave.’
Since the anarchists were uninterested in listening to the union bureaucrats’ speeches they dissolved into the rally at the Art Gallery and left the scene.
Later in the afternoon, about 60 people took part in the un-permitted anti-capitalist May Day parade on Commercial Drive, chanting ‘We can’t wait until the next election! General Strike! Insurrection!’
In reference to the recent police ‘crack down’ in the area, and the string of attacks on the neighbourhood’s Community Policing station, the demonstrators chanted ‘No more pigs in our communities! Burn ’em down!’
A comrade also made a couple of short speeches during the march, reminding us of May Day’s anarchist roots and the police repression that Chicago anarchists faced more than 100 years ago.
A few angry motorists attempted to drive through the crowd, but were blocked from doing so. The march stopped at major traffic intersections to maximize disruption, but unfortunately there were no direct actions carried out along the route. Nonetheless, an angry and rebellious spirit was evident and several new faces took part (the majority of those in the march were not anarchists, but were people from the neighbourhood). There were no marshals, media spokespeople or police liaisons appointed. The event was organized autonomously. It was also the first specifically anarchist-organized May Day event in years. Previously, anarchists had simply participated in May Day marches put on by other organizations.
The following day, a group of anarchists returned to the picket lines at St. Paul’s hospital that they had been supporting for several days. Railway workers walked off the job and everyone was preparing for the General Strike which was supposed to take place the next day.
A General Strike was called off at the last minute by the BC Federation of Labour. A deal cut between the BC Fed and the Liberal government enforced 15% percent wage cuts, 600 layoffs, and a longer work week for health care employees. The unions and the government collaborated at the workers’ expense.
On May 3rd, the town of Quesnel was almost totally shut down by wildcat strikes. Cross-picketing by hospital workers in Nanaimo, Victoria, and on Salt Spring Island disrupted bus and ferry services. Teachers in Victoria walked off the job, and hospital workers in Kelowna tore up their picket signs and threw them at their union representative. Hospital Employees Union offices were picketed by union members in Burnaby and Victoria.
An anarchist group waved black flags outside the Vancouver General Hospital and passing motorists honked in support and yelled ‘General Strike!’. As the day went on, workers came out to the line and expressed their anger at the union bureaucrats and politicians. This rage was restated at a noon rally on the front steps of the hospital, during which workers aggressively pushed corporate journalists out of the area.
On May 4th, eight high school students in Prince Rupert walked out of a class and marched to City Hall and the local hospital in solidarity with health care workers.
At 8am on the morning of May 7th, union members and their supporters set up a hard picket line at the entrance to the BC Federation of Labour office in Burnaby, preventing bureaucrats from entering the building. On the other hand, workers (including postal employees) respected the picket line and bus drivers honked in support.
Despite their best efforts, the unions have not succeeded in completely crushing workers’ resistance. The possibility of ongoing worker self-organization and wildcat action is on the horizon.