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Class War Rages On in British Columbia (2002)

Furia y guerra de clases en la Columbia Británica

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Class War Rages On in British Columbia

On Wednesday, August 7th, 2002, the Anti-Poverty Committee (A.P.C.) of Vancouver held a rally, march, and action for “Welfare on Demand” and against the current economic restructuring of neo-“Liberal” government of B.C; an escalation in the war on the poor that has translated to cuts to welfare rates, and a new 3-week-waiting period for new welfare applicants. This is taking place at the same time as massive government and corporate lay-offs, and in the wake of a new 6-dollar “training wage” (2 dollars less than the minimum wage in B.C.).

The excluded class (the poor, the homeless, the unemployed, welfare recipients etc.), the most oppressed sector of society, is facing the most serious and painful consequences of these increasing attacks. In response, there has been an unsurge in self-organization, militant direct actions against the State, and the developement of “base structures” – anti-poverty organizations that struggle to provide the excluded with basic needs through direct intervention, and ultimately, to dismantle this government through campaigns of economic disruption.

The Anti-Poverty Committee’s rally began at the Burrard Street Skytrain station at 1 p.m. with a few speakers, media interviews, and the handing out of legal rights cards with phone contacts in case of arrests. A speaker announced the A.P.C.’s demands, and the crowd of about a hundred people made a short march through the financial district to the regional executive welfare office. Once reaching the office the crowd attempted to push through a line of police to gain entry to the building. A banner was dropped from a balcony by two people who had gained entry prior to the march. Several people managed to gain access to the inside of the building through side-doors and attempted to push open the front entrance doors from inside. This meant that the police had people pushing on the doors from both sides at once. At one point a door was forced open and a scuffle broke out as the crowd continued to try to force their way into the office. One cop used his bike to push the crowd back, but the demonstrators held their ground. Many people put up stickers that called for an end to the 3-week-wait all over the outside of the building . Through negotiating two A.P.C. members were granted a meeting with the office. The crowd rallied outside until they returned, and then dispersed.

A large and diverse group of organizations endorsed the A.P.C.’s demands and their march, including the Hospital Employees Union of B.C., the B.C. Government Employees Union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees B.C., the “Prepare the General Strike Committee”, as well as many community groups. While this is a welcome and positive developement, there was a visible lack of rank-and-file union workers at the demonstration, in contrast to the presence they have shown at previous rallies in opposition to the B.C. Liberal government. Several factors may have contributed to this, including the mid-day timing of the demonstration as well as it’s focus on welfare rights, rather than broad opposition to the Liberals policies as a whole. Although grassroots networking efforts by radical and community groups is important, the initiative should fall to the rank-and-file union workers, to show solidarity with the most oppressed sectors of the province. The illusions held by many regarding the trade unions must be broken, and an autonomous movement of rank-and-file workers that fights in true solidarity with the excluded must be developed.

Later on Wednesday night hundreds of thousands of citizens gathered at the beach near downtown Vancouver for a fireworks display that ended with the crowd blocking off major streets downtown, the intervention of police who arrested several members of the crowd, an attempt by the crowd to charge the police line in response, and attacks on vehicles and store-front windows. There are conflicting reports of police using pepper-spray to disperse the people who confronted them. This incident points to the always-present potential for class conflict at all large gatherings of people, particularly ones with an overwhelming and agitational police force. For insurrectionaries, this incident should illuminate other-than-traditional avenues for our own intervention and agitation.

From an insurrectionary viewpoint, the increasing willingness of anti-Liberal demonstrators in B.C. to directly confront the Capitalist State, and its enforcers; the police, is a positive development that should be expanded upon.

From our observation, this increasing militancy has become possible not only because of the deepening of class contradictions under the Liberal governement, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, but also because of the conscious efforts of radicals and militants to move away from symbolic protest and towards intentional conflict and direct action.

The context of the current class war in British Columbia includes –

– An attempt by B.C. Government Employeees Union (B.C.G.E.U.) members to charge into a hotel on January 23rd, 2002, where Premier Gordon Campbell was set to speak.

– Illegal wildcat strikes in late January by the B.C. Teachers Federation (B.C.T.F.) and the B.C.G.E.U.

– A tent-city occupation by street youth and students on the front lawn of the provincial legislature building in Victoria in February which ended with it’s dismantling by riot police

– The fire-bombing of Premier Gordon Campbell’s office on the night of February 21st.

– A B.C Federation of Labour rally at the legislature in Victoria by more than 20,000 people, at which a group of about 10 anarchists intervened by attacking a security barrier and throwing rocks at the legislature building.

– An anti-poverty Snake March in Victoria on March 25th that went through a mall and several corporate stores, leaving splatters from paint-bombs and graffitti behind.

– An anti-poverty march to one of Premier Gordon Campbell’s homes in Vancouver on April 1st.

– An all-womyn anti-poverty brigade’s occupation of a “Member of the Legislative Assembly” office in Victoria on April 25th that was broken up by riot police who pepper-sprayed several demonstrators.

– A May Day demonstration in Vancouver against the 6-dollar training wage that included a half-hour blockade of a McDonalds restaurant (one of the businesses using the training wage, and a major contributor to the Liberal’s election campaign.). After the end of the demonstration a masked group charged through a downtown mall and carried out small acts of vandalism and sabotage.

– A July 14th demonstration at the opening of a gallery show at the Vancouver Art Gallery at which the Premier was scheduled to speak at, but failed to show his face in public – because of “security concerns” caused by hundreds of angry demonstrators who attempted to dismantle a security fence, spat on police officers, and were then pepper-sprayed.

In conclusion, direct action is the only hope for the excluded, the only means available for survival and dignity. Our strategies for moving this struggle forward must focus on three areas –

– Conscious attacks on the institutions of oppression

– Propaganda

– Continuing efforts to organize affinity groups and base structures with explicitly revolutionary goals.

…Until the final victory…

Insurrectionary Anarchists of the Coast Salish Territories (British Columbia, Canada)