By Stuart Parker, September 19, 2023
Over seventy minutes of my life I will never get back, I listened to an unauthorized recording of a Zoom call featuring trade union executives from across Canada. The (lengthy!) call laid out the details of what is being misleadingly called a “counter-protest,” against this Wednesday’s “1 Million March 4 Children”.
Where do I even begin in addressing the lies, misinformation, and other concerning details that came to light during the call?
Firstly, the call is a stark reminder that today’s trade unions bear little resemblance to the unions of yore, which formed organically to address working conditions in the trades and industrial sectors. This is rooted in the rise of the (often hereditary) “labour aristocracy”, a class that has grown increasingly removed from the workers they purport to represent. Today, there are third- and fourth-generation labour aristocrat grooming their heirs for the same role.
Unions, like every other vestige of the traditional left, were further transformed by the second-stage austerity of the 1990s (known as Blairite austerity in the UK). Whereas in the earlier Thatcherite austerity, profitable state assets were sold off to private industry in exchange much-needed cash, Blairite austerity was more insidious. Non-profitable parts of the state were spun off into private charities and non-profit societies, which accordingly transitioned from the advocates of disadvantaged groups to their full-time caregivers.
Meanwhile, management consulting and government relations took off, spurring boutique services. Lobbyists with union and non-profit connections found themselves in demand, as did consultants skilled at dividing an increasingly multiethnic labour movement (i.e.: through mandatory DEI trainings).
These changes gave rise to a new class of professionals: the “Progressive Courtier Class” A given progressive courtier may chart a career path from NDP deputy minister, to trade union vice president, to lobbyist. The most enterprising of the bunch end up in the C-suites of prestigious charities (take, for instance, former WWF Canada head Gerald Butts) and cushy endowed professorships.
So, while this Zoom call was ostensibly a meeting of “trade union leaders”, it included few (if any) actual workers.
One of the most striking things about the call was that, in seventy minutes, there wasn’t a single mention of what the 1 Million March was really protesting (which can easily be ascertained from the group’s website). Instead, speaker after speaker focused on what the organizers “really mean” when they use terms like “gender ideology” and “sexualization”. Speakers took, as a given, that the “hate groups” behind the planned protest sought to harm members of the 2SLGTBQIA community.
Which brings me to a second problem: no such “community” exists. Rather this word salad refers to a series of incommensurable, unconnected categories. For instance, the “I” stands for “intersex,” a small group of people with rare genetic defects. They are no more likely than the rest of us to be attracted to members of the same sex or to enjoy cross-dressing.
To muddy the waters even further, racism was (predictably) thrown into the mix. “This is far more than a far-right transphobic protest,” opined one speaker, a graduate student at Carleton University. “They are fundamentally racist and they are going to come for us.”
But even the ‘anti-racists’ on the call were forced to acknowledge the involvement of Muslim Canadians in the 1 Million March; undoubtedly a reflection of the community’s own adverse history with female genital mutilation (FGM). (Muslim parents are understandably concerned about their daughters undergoing similar procedures under the guise of “gender-affirming care”.)
Following the lead of the prime minister, the speakers parroted the progressive talking point that the ostensibly organic involvement of “parent, religious faith and ethnic communities” was, in reality, just a ruse to obscure the fact that (white) far-right actors were the ones pulling the strings behind the scenes. Some on the call even took to infantilizing Muslims and other minority groups involved in the movement; one asserted that, “hate can come in a lot of forms and it often comes from ignorance.”
Sadly, I was not at all surprised by their dismissive and haughty attitude toward ethnoreligious minorities who don’t fit the progressive script.
I come from a long line of protestors, dating back to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. I’ve seen (and participated in) dozens of counter-protests; more than enough to know that this is not a counter-protest.
The Quaker faith’s idea of “witness” helped to define counter-protests for centuries. Quakers sought to bring about social change through encounters in which people witnessed the “inner light” inside another person and were drawn together to share their light. For that reason, it is important that people be able to engage in dialogue with ‘the other side’ and, ideally, find common ground. Counter-protesters understand that the people they are confronting are their fellow citizens (and moral equals), who, accordingly, are entitled to the exact same freedoms of expression and protest they are.
But progressive courtiers do not see people like me in that way. Because I deviate, just a little, from their orthodoxy, I am understood to be a fascist, racist, transphobe, above all, an enemy who must be silenced. As such, I have forfeited all those protections, as have the thousands of comrades who will join me on Wednesday. Any opinions we express will, axiomatically, be “hate speech,” because it falls outside of the bounds deemed acceptable by the omniscient courtiers.
This explains how, with no trace of irony, the courtiers complained that we were becoming harder to spy on, intimidate and dox. In the same breath, they discussed their plan to jot down the license plate numbers of protestors for storage in a central database of “hate groups”.
This truly is the Age of the Counterfeit. Whatever these monsters are that are shambling around in the flayed skin of the trade union movement are, they are not trade unions. They are organizations that engage in the monitoring and harassment of parents whose only crime is being concerned about their children’s safety at school. They have become the enemy of the workers, the workers’ tormenters.
Stuart Parker is a Vancouver-based writer and broadcaster who serves as president of Los Altos Institute, a socialist think tank.