The Myth of State Neutrality

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 1997 ... February 12, 2020
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The Myth of State Neutrality:
Police Violence, Labour, and the Unifor/Co-op Struggle

Jeff Shantz

We are taught at a very early age and socialized throughout our lives to respect and obey the rule of law. British Columbia Premier John Horgan recently invoked, rather infamously, the rule of law in justifying RCMP assaults on Wet’suwet’en defending their territory against imposition of the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline (never mind that his rule of law erases recognition of Wet’suwet’en law on unceded Indigenous territory). Saskatchewan Premier Doug Moe too has invoked rule of law in suggesting that locked out workers, Unifor members in Regina, take down picket barriers at the Federated Co-op Ltd. Refinery (even as police assist scabs getting into and out of the workplace).

These appeals, and associated language such as "enforcing injunctions" seek to remove politics from crucial issues of social and environmental justice and Indigenous sovereignty. They attempt to render issues of great ethical significance as simply legal or technical applications.

The notion of rule of law rests on an even... deeper foundation -- the notion of neutrality of the state. We are told that the state is an impartial, disinterested, neutral arbitrator. It takes no sides, only views and assesses evidence impartially and detached from specific interests. Serving only the rule of law, and thus, why it is granted these special powers.

In times of open labour conflict, strikes and lockouts, picket actions by workers at workplaces -- as in Indigenous land struggles -- we see perhaps most clearly, as everyday appearances are torn away, that the state is not neutral -- it is an interested actor. And we can come to see that throughout Canadian history the state has taken sides, and it continues to do so.

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