A Tale of Two Mobilizations: South Asian Truckers Build Class Solidarity, “Freedom Convoy” Builds Fascism

Rally against wage theft. Dozens of people with banners outside workplace.
Naujawan Support Network action against wage theft.

At the same time as the far Right Freedom Convoy was organizing and then carrying out its occupations across Canada, other mobilizations of rank-and-file truckers were also taking place which targeted specific companies and making and winning demands that directly benefited truckers. These trucker mobilizations were organized by South Asian truckers (predominantly Punjabi) and they pose compelling models for rank-and-file organizing, and community solidarity, and real working class answers to the questions raised by the Freedom Convoy.

Submitted by greensyndic on February 17, 2022

Jeff Shantz

Over the end of January and into the first weeks of February 2022, the Canadian state’s otherwise sleepy capital, Ottawa, became a focus of international attention as thousands of truckers and their supporters drove into the city as part of a far Right mobilization calling itself Freedom Convoy 2022. That such a large far Right force could occupy the downtown of a major city for weeks raised alarm among residents and observers and kicked of numerous questions and debates among anarchists, leftists, and working class people more generally. What was the makeup of the convoy? Were they actually working class? What did the mobilization say about the failures of unions and the political left? What sorts of organizing was required to counter the growth of the far Right in Canada over the last several years?

At the same time as the Freedom Convoy was organizing and then carrying out its occupation, other mobilizations of rank-and-file truckers were also taking place which targeted specific companies and making and winning demands that directly benefited truckers—with little to no media attention or discussion. These trucker mobilizations were organized by South Asian truckers (predominantly Punjabi) and they pose compelling models for rank-and-file organizing, and community solidarity, and real working class answers to the questions raised by the Freedom Convoy.

A Far Right Road Show
Freedom Convoy 2022 was launched ostensibly as a protest of truckers against government vaccine mandates for border crossings. Along the way it morphed into more catch-all appeals for “personal freedom” and “individual liberty,” against the “globalism” and “tyranny” of the Trudeau Liberal government. Very early on it became clear that the main organizers of the convoy had integral, and longstanding connections with far Right and openly fascist organizations and networks that have been building in Canada over the last several years.

Prominent organizers of the convoy have left social media trails of openly white supremacist, anti-migrant, Islamophobic, transphobic, homophobic and anti-union messaging. A GoFundMe account in support of the convoy was set up by two people with significant ties to far Right and fascist groups.

BJ Dichter spoke at the 2019 convention for the far Right, anti-immigration, People’s Party of Canada. In his address he roused the crowd with rants about the dangers of “political Islamists,” and claimed that the Liberal Party is “infested with Islamists.” In a report by the Toronto Star, Dichter was quoted as saying, “Despite what our corporate media and political leaders want to admit, Islamist entryism and the adaptation of political Islam is rotting away at our society like syphilis.” The other GoFundMe organizer is Tamara Lich, an official with the rightwing Maverick Party in Alberta before stepping down to be in Ottawa.

Another convoy organizer, Pat King, was involved in the far Right Yellow Vests movement, which has organized a previous convoy to Ottawa in 2019 and has espoused racist “white (Anglo Saxon) replacement” views, suggesting white people are being systematically replaced by people of color through planned migration policies. King has taken to Facebook to declare: “The only way this is going to be solved is with bullets.”

The convoy also has direct connections with the neo-fascist Soldiers of Odin (SOO) a street fighting outfit which has been involved in other recent far Right mobilizations, including attacks on anti-racism rallies and unhoused people and allies. Jason LaFace (“LaFaci”), a website admin and the North and East Ontario convoy organizer with Canada Unity, is the vice president of the SOO.

While in Ottawa there were numerous sightings of far Right symbols among convoy participants. These included Nazi and confederate flags as well as more obscure symbols of neo-fascist groups, such as a Three Percenter flag. There were also signs comparing vaccine mandates to the Holocaust.

For further context, it should also be pointed out that previous mobilizations of the convey-aligned Yellow Vests movement have actually targeted striking workers for violence. As I wrote in an analysis for The Bullet, Yellow Vests tried to break a strike of Unifor members at the Co-Op refinery in 2019. These are the forms of “solidarity” shown by convoy participants (solidarity for bosses). This is the type of “working class movement” it is.

The Class Composition of Freedom Convoy 2022
While the Freedom Convoy has presented itself as a truckers’ action, many have asked questions about the class nature of the participants. This includes questions about whether the drivers are working class, working within a wage relationship, or petit bourgeois owner-operators. There have also been questions asked about the involvement of trucking company owners.

In all honesty, answering these questions is not possible without a systematic survey of truckers and confirmed information about their work contracts, ownership, etc. Anecdotally there have been interviews with several truck company owners participating in or supporting the convoy. One is Ben Peters, owner of ADT Transport in Leamington, Ontario, near my hometown, who runs a fleet of 13 trucks that haul injection molds on flatbeds for the automobile industry. He claims that his company has been “affected greatly” by new vaccination, testing, and quarantining restrictions and says that many of ADT’s drivers have chosen not to be vaccinated.

Rick Wall owns Richland Transport in Reinfeld, Manitoba, a fleet of 30 trucks, mostly owner-operators who haul open decks cross-border throughout the US and Canada. Wall calls himself a “God-fearing man” and a “proud Canadian.” He has called for restrictions to be lifted, using the language of personal freedoms: “Everybody’s tired of our rights and freedoms being taken away from us. We feel it’s our time to stand up.” He too says the owner operators do not want to take the vaccine.

Not at all surprisingly, these truck company owners are concerned entirely about their own profits, not the health and safety of workers. If their trucks cannot cross the border because a driver is unvaccinated, then their profits are lost.

There is also the issue of funding for the convoy. Before it was suspended by GoFundMe, for violating rules around violence, the account had gained over $10 million in donations, most of which involved large donations from anonymous donors (one as high as $215,000). A significant portion was said to come from US donors.

Similarly, there has also been a substantial degree of support from prominent ruling class figures, including Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr. along with at least one Texas Republican member of the House of Representatives. None other than Ted Cruz took to social media to chastise Vancouver’s mayor for not welcoming a convoy in solidarity with the Freedom Convoy into that city. The American social media platform Gab, which supports Trump and which has been associated with promoting antisemitic and other far Right views, stepped into the GoFundMe breach and offered something of a workaround for those wanting to continue donating to the Freedom Convoy. Rarely has an action claiming to be working class garnered so much vocal and publicly stated support from ruling class figures.

Not, I Repeat, Not, a Wildcat Strike
Despite some self-identified leftists arguing that the Freedom Convoy is a wildcat strike and should be supported on that basis, there is no evidence for it. First, no employers have been struck, none have even been identified as targets. While there can be political wildcats against government policies, that is not the case here.

In fact, the most negatively impacted targets of the convoy have been working class people. And they have been targeted with violence. Health care workers have faced threats and intimidation as have local service workers. Incredibly, in a real show of state victim blaming, public officials put out warnings suggesting health care workers not dress like health care workers in public and that people take their masks off in neighborhoods near the truck occupation.

Secondly, and even more importantly, the Freedom Convoy does is not a collective action of workers in or across workplaces. Wildcat strikes are collectively undertaken actions of workers rather than an agglomeration of random individual actions. If one or two workers from several different workplaces decide individually to stay home from work, it does not make a wildcat strike.

Truckers have raised concerns precisely about who is organizing the convoy and why. One Ontario trucker, Tom Chevvers, has said that there is a problem with the politics of the whole thing. In his view:

“I’m vaxxed. That was my choice. I don’t like that many of my fellow truckers can’t work regularly because of their choice, but I’m not there (in the protest) today because I just don’t agree with some person I’ve never met getting over $4 million. This is going to end wrong and a lot of truly and legitimately concerned people are going to get screwed over, maybe with no way home.”

Another, Jeremy Ivany, a western Ontario trucker who has been driving trucks for 14 years, called the convoy a major inconvenience for truckers. In his words: “I followed through, got vaccinated and yet these steering-wheel-holding clowns are holding up traffic, the border, emergency lanes. To prove what? Because they demand satisfaction? You're not making a difference, you're causing a scene.”

Notably, the Freedom Convoy has not raised, let alone brought the public attention it has gained, to the numerous real issues facing truckers, many of which have been deepened under COVID. Some of these include health and safety conditions, work hours, wage theft and lack of proper overtime pay, unpaid detention time with shippers and receivers, lack of safe parking, dangerous road conditions, and bathroom breaks and facilities on northern and rural roots. These are serious and cost truckers their lives and livelihoods.

Yet the Freedom Convoy has been silent on these and not raised them among their many demands. Even while having the stage to ramble about a host of disjointed or unfocused complaints like vaccines, QAnon conspiracies, unspecified tyranny, and COVID “holocausts.”

As a final note on the matter, it might be added, regarding vaccines as a truckers’ issue, that according to the Canadian Trucking Alliance, more than 85 percent of the 120,000 Canadian truck drivers who regularly cross the Canada/US border are vaccinated. That is in line with the number of Canadians five years and older who are fully vaccinated, which is 82 percent at the time of writing.

And of the workers who have been involved, there is a certain demographic sameness to the convoy which does not reflect the diversity of truckers—they are overwhelmingly white (not surprising given their white supremacist foundations). In particular, the convoy does not reflect the large proportion of South Asian truckers in the industry. While the Freedom Convoy has taken up much media time and energy, there are groups of South Asian truckers who are also mobilizing, on a rank-and file, direct action basis to meet the needs not only of truckers but of other precarious workers, community members, migrants and students. While the convoy gets the heat, the Naujawan Support Network is shedding light on significant forms of working class organizing and relationship building—of working class solidarity.

South Asian Truckers and the Naujawan Support Network: Class-Wide Solidarity
While the Freedom Convoy was garnering international attention and commentary, another mobilization of truckers, made up of working class truckers, was busy fighting bosses and supporting precarious workers. And doing so with minimal media attention and far few discussions among the Left about what it meant for organizing in the current context. These truckers represent a substantial part of truckers in Canada, a section of workers conspicuously underrepresented in the Freedom Convoy.

The last 25 years of Canada Census data show that on the whole, almost one in five (17.8 per cent) of Canada’s truck drivers have South Asian backgrounds. The numbers are higher in major cities. In Vancouver, South Asian migrants presently make up the majority (55.9 per cent) of drivers, while in Toronto, numbers are similar, at 53.9 per cent. And they are among the most abused workers in the industry, facing wage theft, job misclassifications, predatory employment conditions, assignment to poorly maintained trucks, and, of course, racism.

In a recent mobilization of class solidarity, South Asian truckers in Brampton, Ontario, have organized as m embers of Naujawan Support Network (NSN) to end these and other abuses for workers in a range of industries from trucking to food service.

The group started off 2022 by targeting Gagandeep Dhaliwal, the owner of Canadawide Logistics, over wage theft. According to NSN, Dhaliwal owes 10 former drivers more than $40,000 in wages. They have also accused him of insulting workers’ families & the Sikh religion. On New Year’s Day, they took their action right to the boss’s home demanding he pay the former drivers. They also hand-delivered letters to two employers demanding three drivers’ wages.

This followed actions in October 2021, in which NSN assisted a food service worker in his struggle against Al-Madina Halal Meats, which had withheld his wages. They held an action outside of Al-Madina which led to the worker receiving the $8,879 owed in wages. NSN has also done work supporting international students over issues of education and employment.

They are innovating in tactics and in building solidarity among workers across industries and targeting specific employers in ways that bring pressure literally to their doorsteps. Effectively blending social media and direct action show possibilities for rapid response class struggle mobilization akin to flying squad networks—beyond specific workplaces or sectors and outside of formal union structures. They are building collective power.
And they have been effective in a short period of time. Since July 2021, NSN, has recovered more than $60,000 of stolen wages.

This rather than the Freedom Convoy shows a way of addressing some of the issues facing working class people in the COVID context and beyond. Flying squads, working groups, direct action networks of mutual aid and community defense, bringing together workers across industrial, workplace, and job divides. Good old-fashioned syndicalism you might say.

There are certainly many reasons for great anger right now, as governments and capital have maneuvered to intensify exploitation of workers, restructure the economy to additionally benefit capital, and transfer billions of dollars of wealth upwards. The Freedom Convoy is no working class answer. It further advances forces of reaction that divide and weaken working class communities already under siege.

Rather than wringing hands over how to connect with those drawn to the Freedom Convoy (especially owners) despite its obvious and open far Right basis—as some of the Left are now doing—we need to orient toward working class people who have been and are being most negatively impacted under COVID conditions. And to be clear, this means Black and Indigenous and migrant workers—the very workers also being targeted for aggression by the so-called workers’ convoy. Service workers, gig workers, and, yes, logistics workers. Precarious workers. Those who have endured awful conditions in farms and food industry workplaces, where some of the largest COVID outbreaks have occurred.

We can begin, or expand, along the lines of the NSN—doing solidarity work to directly get what workers need directly from employers or landlords who have been using COVID to further exploit workers and tenants and make them more precarious in preparation for the “rebuild.” We can also step up efforts in building flying squads—rapid response teams to support working class people, confront bosses, landlords, and government bureaucracies. To carry out collective mutual aid to support and sustain people suffering right now but also to ratchet up struggles going forward on a more durable basis.

Rank-and-file union members need to step up efforts to secure and release the union resources that we ourselves have collectively built up—working class resources—and wrest them from control by union bureaucracies and limited contract management. For some, one of the real stories of COVID has been the ineffectual action of many of the so-called social unions (Unifor, CUPE, for example) as COVID conditions worsened, decimating working class communities.

It is worth noting, that different ad hoc groups came together in Ottawa during the weeks-long convoy occupation to provide safety patrols for health care workers, Black and Indigenous neighbors, queer and disabled people—those targeted by convoy participants.

As another example in real time, relatively small clusters of people gathered in Vancouver to block a convoy that tried to enter the city in a show of solidarity with the Freedom Convoy. These counter-actions were organized quickly over social media, from a less than obvious channel—a reddit discussion. In rather classic Vancouver fashion, many brought bikes which were used as mini barricades. And it worked, stalling the convoy before it could reach its destinations of nearby hospitals.

Imagine if standing flying squad networks were formed that could be mobilized quickly for various community defense and community building actions. These are potential infrastructures of resistance. Venues for building and expanding anti-capitalist and anti-fascist resistance and providing foundations for durable, proactive (rather than reactive) offenses going forward.