By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Let me confess at the outset that, sadly, I have come to regard “freedom” as a tell for the expression of today’s brand of sociopathic and therefore highly adaptive libertarianism. So, when I see “the Canadian truckers” (as I will call them) branded as a (highly replicable) “Freedom Convoy,” my back teeth start to itch. However, any popular outbreak on such a scale deserves an account, which I hope to give in this post. I’m going to try to avoid most of the current coverage, since the news flow is so polluted it’s almost impossible to parse. (I wish there were labor reporters like Kim Kelly, Mike Elk, or Jonah Furman on the ground; that there are not is interesting in itself; though perhaps crossing the border is still too hard.) Hence, I will avoid, in no particular order, triumphalism (“The Truckers Fighting Dystopia“), huffiness whether from Canada’s great and good (“We’ll lift our anti-COVID restrictions when elected governments decide, not street mobs“) or our own diplomats (“US Groups Need to Stop Interfering in Canada: Ex-US Envoy“), liberal aghastitude (here), heart-tugging stories (“EXCLUSIVE: Unsettling photos show heavily bruised great-grandfather, 78, after being forcefully handcuffed by Ottawa cops for honking his car horn to support Freedom Convoy as family says he is suffering from PTSD“), and all digital evidence, whether of tactics (here), honking (here), flags (here), funding on Facebook (here, here, here), or press conferences by the truckers themselves (here, here, here). I will not consider truckers as a putatively international movement; yellow jackets do not gilets jaunes make. Having damped down the triggers and the noise, I will look for the following signals: The likely class composition of the truckers (from industry statistics), the demands of the truckers (as documented by them), the response to the truckers (from Canadian reporting), and the leadership of the truckers (again from Canadian reporting).
First, however, I should state my position on what has come to be the truckers’ policy demand (distinct from what I regard as their central demand, documented below). Initially, the truckers’ protests are said to have come into being as the result of a mandate for a two-week quarantine after crossing back into Canada from the United States; not so easy, if you are accustomed, say, to moving auto parts from Windsor to Detroit more or less daily. This morphed into a demand for an end to vaccine mandates, and to an end to pandemic emergency orders generally (more on this shortly). For clarity and before I go on, allow me — my vaccines are “up to date,” in case that’s relevant — to express my views on vaccine mandates. If I were a judge, I would make a vaccine mandate pass one test: Is the mandate motivated by public health concerns? None of the vaccines are sterilizing, and so do not prevent harm to the public in the form of contagion. Of course, if the Biden Administration — and the Western world, generally — had not settled on a disastrous vax-only policy, we would not be in lethal and demoralizing position, because we would have other mitigations to bring the case count down.
That said, let us proceed to realpolitik. To support a demand is not, after all, to support one who makes it. First, the class composition of the Canada truckers.
Class Composition of the Canadian Truckers
When I concluded that the Capitol rioters were not working class but petite bourgeoisie, I had real data in the form of arrest records and newspaper accounts. We have no such data for the Canadian truckers. We do, however, have some useful data on the Canadian trucking industry. From Trucking HR Canada (PDF), “The Road Ahead: Addressing Canada’s Trucking and Logistics Industry Labour Shortages” (March 2020):
In recent years, there has been an average of just over 300,000 truck drivers working in Canada, equivalent to 1.7% of working Canadians. One out of every 60 working Canadians is employed as a truck driver.
There are two kinds of trucker:
• Long-haul truck drivers: Drivers spending at least one night away from home each week.
• Short-haul truck drivers: Drivers being home every night unless exceptional circumstances prevent them from returning home.
Drivers are distributed as follows:
1. Truck drivers are fairly evenly distributed between long-haul and short-haul drivers.
2. Employees are more common than owner-operators, accounting for 64% of drivers in both the long-haul and short-haul segments.
If we ask ourselves what sort of trucker is able to drive their rig to Ottawa, stay there for days, and even render their truck dysfunctional, the answer is clear: Owner operators (that is, (100% – 64%) * 50% = 18% of all truckers). Without real data, it’s impossible to be certain, but I’m not the only one who’s come to this conclusion. From Passage:
It’s safe to assume that the people who made the trek to Ottawa aren’t the same people filing labour violation claims with the federal Labour Program. Rather than exploited workers in a deregulated industry, my guess is that the ‘truckers’ actually present in Ottawa were by and large self-employed owner-operators: the small contingent of wealthier small proprietors who have made out quite well in the new wild-west of for-hire trucking. It was a ‘revolt’ of the petit-bourgeoisie, financially backed by wealthy right-wing grifters.
This weekend’s idiotic pageantry was thus a political consequence of the decades-long class project to remake the trucking sector, a project which has dismantled a highly unionized industry, formerly made up of relatively well-paying and stable jobs, and replaced it with a poorly regulated labour market of hyper-competition among small owner-operators and other precariously-positioned workers.
Now, if this were a labor dispute, it would be ludicrous to think that the Canadian truckers (these Canadian truckers could or should represent all truckers, just as it would be ludicruous for labor aristocrats to claim they represnted gig workers. However, this is not a labor dispute; the Canadian truckers are making a demand on the nation of Canada, on behalf (so they say) of the people of Canada. To those demands we now turn.
Demands of the Canadian Truckers
The demands of the truckers began, as we have seen, with quarantines, then morphed into a demand for an end to mandates, and then for an end to all emergency measures. (Now, apparently, we are bitcoin. Fine.) However, the key document is, to my mind, the “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) produced by Canada Unity, a participant in the convoy, which was widely distributed. I have embedded the entire PDF document in an Appendix at the end of the post; here is the first page with some highlights helpfully added:
A word on the document itself: Material like this doesn’t emerge within hours; people have been thinking about this. I will grant that the language is not as cray cray as, say, the Moorish Sovereign Citizens; in fact, Canadian trucking regulations are communicated in the from of “Memorandums of Undertstanding,” so perhaps that’s where the MOU drafters picked up the concept. (One has to wonder, however, about the epigraph from Jefferson (it’s fake). Wouldn’t a Canadian have quoted, well, a Canadian?)
More important is the highlighted legalese: As you can see, the parties to the MOU are “THE PEOPLE OF CANADA”, the “SENATE OF CANADA”, and “THE GOVERNOR GENERAL OF CANADA.” And who, you may ask, signs for “THE PEOPLE OF CANADA”? We flip to the end for the answer, which is highlighted:
Canada Unity signs for “THE PEOPLE OF CANADA.” In other words, the MOU distributed from within the Canadian truckers protest calls for the end of representative government as currently understood in Canada. This is the sort of thing the Bolsheviks might do on behalf of the Soviets, but the Canadian petite bourgeoisie even in its entirety doesn’t have the base to do that, or the party leadership, and the historical conjuncture seems not appropriate. However — just spitballing, here — if I were a squillionaire looking to transform representative democracy into a perpetual plebiscite of AstroTurf, the MOU is exactly the sort of document I would look upon with favor.
Response to the Canadian Truckers
The WSWS summarizes the reaction of the Canadian goverment to the truckers as follows:
In Monday evening’s emergency parliamentary debate on the Ottawa occupation, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a major concession to the armed besiegers of Canada’s capital when he declared, “Pandemic restrictions are not forever.” The significance of this remark was unmistakable, coming just three days after Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Theresa Tam, a Trudeau government appointee, told a Friday press conference that all COVID-19 measures would need to be “re-examined” in the coming weeks because “this virus isn’t going away.”
Within hours of Trudeau’s comments Monday, provincial premiers with jurisdiction over close to half of Canada’s 38 million inhabitants announced an end to all remaining restrictions—either immediately or in a matter of weeks.
Given that democidal elites are a parsimonious explanation for Covid policy in Canada as well as the United States, we can surmise that the Canadian truckers gave Trudeau and the Liberal Party the excuse and the cover to do what they have wanted to do all along. So all things work together for good!
Leadership of the Canadian Truckers
I have left the personalia for the end. Some Canadian reporting in Vice on the Canadian trucker leadership:
James Bauder registered the Canada Unity Facebook page in late 2019, when he was a fervent supporter of the United We Roll anti-carbon tax convoy. Things didn’t exactly take off: In March 2021, his recently-registered website boasted a membership count of 30.
In 2021, Bauder started using his Canada Unity group as a front against COVID-19 measures. He organized his first convoy, headed to Ottawa, in October—long before any vaccine mandates for truckers were put in place….
Bauder and his small group began promoting their “memorandum of understanding.” The plan was to attract as many signatures as possible and deliver the document to Ottawa.
In November, Bauder delivered some of the signed copies to the Senate, to no effect. Undeterred, Bauder kept criss-crossing the country in his RV, extolling the virtues of his campaign and imploring Members of Parliament to endorse the memorandum….
Bauder’s campaign didn’t garner much buzz until this month, when an array of other characters joined the Canada Unity mission.
One of those organizers was Pat King, a former organizer with the Western Canada separatist party Wexit. King gained notoriety after he helped organize a rally in Red Deer, Alberta, that turned violent, and thanks to his repeated attempts to weaponize his misunderstanding of the law to repeal Alberta’s COVID-19 measures. King is a prolific streamer, using his social media pages to warn of “Anglo-Saxon replacement” and to make disparaging remarks about immigrants and the LGBTQ community, per videos cataloged by Anti-Hate Canada.
On Jan. 18, Bauder and King appeared on a livestream together to promote the Canada Unity website as “our official convoy page.”
Bauder made it clear this was not a leaderless movement: He said there were five organizers across the country, including himself and King, who were behind the convoy. He insisted they already had “tens of thousands” of participants signed up..
At the same time, King—who just a month before warned that “the only way that this is going to be solved is with bullets”—began pressing the idea that the movement had to be squeaky clean. It had to “make sure that we come off on this as professional as can be,” he said on one livestream, “because the whole world’s eyes are gonna be on us.” (Other organizers have tried to distance themselves from King, but he continues to lead a segment of the convoy coming from the West.).
Jason LaFace is an Ontario organizer for the convoy…. LaFace was previously linked to Soldiers of Odin, an anti-immigrant group, by anti-racism researchers. (Those researchers obtained an apology letter from LaFace, saying he dismantled the local chapter.) LaFace did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Benjamin Dicher, whose name is listed on the GoFundMe page, which has surpassed $6 million, is a People’s Party activist who has warned that the Liberal Party is “infested with Islamists.” Another of Operation BearHug’s [a name for the convoys] regional organizers is a former candidate for the arch-social conservative Christian Heritage Party.
And plenty more. A mixed bag, to say the least. Or perhaps not so mixed. I mean, I’m an animist at the most, the very most. I don’t believe in Odin.
The savage irony of the Canadian trucker convoy is that the vulnerability of the supply chain to its workers was first worked out on the left. That’s the thesis of labor historian Kim Moody’s On New Terrain (2017). Here is Moody in “Labour and the contradictory logic of logistics” (2019):
This article will argue that the system of logistics that has taken shape in the last two or three decades is deeply affected by contradictions inherent in capitalism that magnify the potential power of labour to disrupt supply chains. Among these are: the tension between the desire for the seamless movement of goods and the disruptive reality of competition and the fight for value appropriation up and down the supply chain; the push by both retailers and manufacturers for ever faster delivery of goods to market; the burden of high fixed costs that underlie the structure of contemporary logistics; and the growth of huge ‘logistics clusters’ concentrating tens of thousands of manual workers in important metropolitan areas. It will be argued that . While such actions have been relatively rare so far, community-based pre-union organising in some major clusters, such as Chicago [or Detroit-Windsor –lambert], is laying the basis for a future upsurge in worker organisation.
Moody is, apparently, a prophet without honor on the left. So we have a ginormous “upsurge” that forces auto manufacturing to shut down. Led by whom? Petite bourgeoisie who believe in Odin and Anglo-Saxon replacement theory, that’s who. It’s enough to make a cat laugh. From the Monthly Review:
This vacuum on the left–ranging from weakness to betrayal–is wind in the sails of those who wish to co-opt legitimate disaffection in service of a turn to authoritarian capitalism. It’s not a stretch to say there is no left to speak of on the current political landscape. If organized labour is to have any relevance in the era of COVID, it must mobilize to counter and even stop far right protests around the country, and make aggressive demands that speak to the basic needs of working class people, such as housing security. But if unions and social democratic organizations aren’t willing to meet this threat with the organized will and response it requires, then new organizations are urgently needed that have the energy and vision to do so.
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.
 See Andrew Ditmer’s prophetic series, “Journal into a Libertarian Future,” which seemed a lot funnier in 2011 than it does today. In short form: “Freedom is how a libertarian says ‘f*ck you,'” as in p*ssing in the pool, infecting closed spaces, and so forth. I imagine libertarianism and Wesley Yang’s successor ideology will at some point clash directly, a battle I hope leaves both mortally wounded.
 If the argument is that we should vaccinate to prevent the health care system from being overloaded, then we might ask ourselves why we did not start doing that long ago by building slack into the system, and by, say, deprecating high fructose corn syrup.)
 Hitler, after all, was a vegetarian.
 Toronto Star: “Some trucks [sic] have removed their tires or split their brakes to make them completely immobile.”
 This may not be true for the Windsor protest: “Canada’s bridge blocking trucker protest is short on semis.”
 To be fair, Canada Unity withdrew the MOU, perhaps because people figured out what it really meant. I think the MOU is a bell that can’t be unrung.
 Such as it is: “‘You’re dealing with a bit of a leaderless group,’ Mayor Drew Dilkens said at a mid-day news conference with the city’s police chief. ‘It’s not like there’s one person you can go to and try and find a resolution.'”
APPENDIX: The Memorandum of Understanding
Here is the complete MOU:Combined-MOU-Dec03