Of Senators and Eskimos

Some professional sports teams have racist nicknames. Have you heard of the Edmonton Eskimos, the Atlanta Braves, the Washington Redskins, the Cleveland Indians and the New York Jews? O.K., I made up the last one.

Then there is the hockey team known as the Ottawa Senators. It did pretty well in the Stanley Cup playoffs, being eliminated only in the seventh game, in double overtime, in the semi-final round against the Pittsburgh Penguins. So, what’s wrong with the “Senators”? Wait a minute. Are you serious? Do you really have to ask?

What team would want to be named for an institution made up of corrupt, non-elected, party fund-raisers, elitist influence peddlers, and re-cycled Canadian bourgeois politicians?

But think about it.  The political Senators could field a memorable hockey team.

Let’s start with Don Meredith, a 52-year-old preacher and Stephen Harper appointee who plays right wing.  He really knows how to score on 16-year-old young women.  Meredith just “retired” with a big pension after “playing” only six seasons.

Then there are current Senators Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy, Mac Harb and Pamela Wallin.  Aren’t they terrific penalty killers?  They claimed travel and living allowances for which they were not eligible.  But they played such good defence that they avoided criminal charges.  In fact, of the thirty Senators investigated by the RCMP, only a few re-paid monies they purloined.

Despite everything that’s happened, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants to keep the Senate as a home team on Parliament Hill.  I guess it’s because he has season’s tickets. Personally, I think the Senators’ moniker should be replaced by something more truthful.

How about the “Ottawa Thieves?”

Socialism 2017 really rocks in T.O.

by Barry Weisleder

Over one hundred people attended one or more parts of Socialism 2017, “100 Years of World Revolution” at the University of Toronto, May 12–13.  Conference organizers collected over $900 in admissions, over $500 in literature sales, and sold five subscriptions to SA newspaper.

The conference sessions included “The Relevance of the Russian Revolution Today” with Jeff Mackler, national secretary, Socialist Action USA; Barry Weisleder, federal secretary SA Canada; and Aurélien Perenna, teacher and union activist member of the New Anti-capitalist Party, France;  “Millions on the Move – Behind the Refugee Crisis” with Jaime Gonzales, LUS-Mexico, Sharmeen Khan of No One Is Illegal, Yasin Kaya, SA-Canada, and Nikolas Skoufoglu, a leader of OKDE, section of the Fourth International in Greece;  “Basic Income or Raise the Rates?”with John Clarke, provincial organizer, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, and Jessica Sikora, Executive Board member, OPSEU; “Fake News – Who’s the Real Culprit?”with Yves Engler, author of 8 books on Canadian foreign policy, including “A Propaganda System”, Jeff Mackler, SA-USA, and John Wunderlich, Danforth NDP executive member and privacy consultant: and “Labour Union Revival – What will it take?” with Sid Ryan, past-president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, Aurelien Perenna of NPA-France, and Julius Arscott, Executive Board Member, OPSEU.

SA members recorded all five sessions, now posted on YouTube and on the SA website.

Ten people asked to join SA Canada, and many new friends entered our political milieu.  Lively socials at a nearby pub showed that our party is getting younger and more energetic, with a greater capacity than ever to fight for a Workers’ Agenda, for an eco-socialist and feminist future, and to put an end to the wretched capitalist system that threatens the very survival of nature and humanity.

Beyond optics, towards politics: A report back from CLC Convention

By Joel Harden, CUPE 1281 (Published with permission of rankandfile.ca)

At its best, the recent 28th Constitutional Convention of the Canadian Labour Congress demonstrated how far unions have come on Indigenous rights, Palestinian rights (more on that later), racism, queer or trans rights, mental health, and environmental justice. Delegates made passionate appeals to support these and other important struggles.

Impressive speakers like Angela Davis, Candy Palmater, Cindy Blackstock and Mary Walsh argued unions must champion issues suppressed by powerful insiders. Heartfelt videos acknowledged former CLC President Bob White, outgoing Secretary-Treasurer Barb Byers, the 25-year anniversary of the 1992 Westray Mine disaster, and the ongoing crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. On the fourth day of CLC Convention, a union “street party” occupied Bay and King Streets, the heart of Canada’s financial district.

At its worst, the 28th CLC Convention also illustrated the limited thinking that exists in union circles, particularly at the leadership level. Election leaflets festooned the halls making few, if any, specific promises.

A 5 per cent pay increase (indexed to inflation) was approved for CLC leaders who currently earn over three times the average wage in Canada, despite stiff opposition from convention delegates. UNIFOR (the largest private sector union) and Local 113 of the Amalgamated Transit Union continued their public feud after an attempted raid by UNIFOR failed earlier this year. Premier Rachel Notley arrived to celebrate achievements made by the NDP government in Alberta, but ended with a pitch for export-driven oil pipelines, the impact of which would undermine current efforts in Canada to meet global climate change targets. 

At a time when organized labour faces existential challenges, these optics at union conventions leave many cold. Before going to the 28th CLC Convention, I canvassed my Facebook contacts to see who else was attending, and this reply earned the most praise: “I’ll be raking leaves in my yard during CLC Convention, which is likely to add more to the class struggle.” Ouch.

While such cynicism is understandable, I’ll offer another perspective here. Yes, union conventions are spaces where top-down strategies get used for particular outcomes, but they are also moments where activists can shift beyond optics to politics. With the right strategy, activists can organize, appeal for support, and advance important work. Two examples from the 28th CLC Convention help illustrate this point.

The first was an emergency resolution urging the CLC to support a hunger strike of 1500 Palestinian prisoners in Israel that started on April 17, 2017. At the CLC Convention, this resolution was promoted by a network of delegates and earned 15 endorsements, including the CLC’s Canadian Council (a decision-making body that meets daily at the CLC Convention, and four times a year). When the resolution hit convention floor, it was attacked by some as anti-semitism, and an unfair targeting of Israel. But after a spirited debate, the resolution passed. CLC President Hassan Yussuff’s ruling on this outcome was challenged from the floor, but the challenge was defeated.

Thanks to grassroots organizing, the CLC took a clear position on a Palestinian-led human rights campaign for the first time in its history. It also joined the International Trade Union Confederation (representing 176 million workers worldwide) and other unions to send a clear message to Israel, and the corporations involved in Israel’s prison system.

In a related effort, union activists inspired by the Leap Manifesto organized a forum over lunch after Premier Notley addressed CLC Convention. Their intent was to discuss ideas that ensured no worker was left behind by climate change, and to seek alliances with energy workers in doing so. People wanted specific proposals for green jobs (beyond general concepts like “just transition”), and were concerned Premier Notley’s push for pipelines might divide union activists concerned about the climate crisis.

The Leap forum drew fifty participants, many of whom intervened later during the convention’s panel on green jobs. In that debate, Ken Smith (President of UNIFOR Local 707A, representing 6000 energy workers in Fort McMurray) declared he was “undecided” on pipelines, but was convinced “there are no jobs on a dead planet.” Carolyn Egan, President of the Steelworker Toronto Area Council, said “transition [to a new energy economy] is inevitable, but justice is not”.

Kim Fry, an elementary teacher activist in Ontario, declared it was time for unions to fight for a new energy future, and that starts by rejecting the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure.

Interestingly enough, Fry ran into Premier Notley later that afternoon, and wrote about their conversation on Facebook:

This exchange demonstrates the importance of grassroots unionism, and how it can impact larger forces. When Premier Notley spoke at the Federal NDP Convention last year in Edmonton, her pipeline pitch earned a standing ovation. At the CLC Convention last week, it drew tepid applause.

The work of climate justice campaigners is a major factor, along with the continued evidence of climate change. The climate drivers behind recent floods in Ontario and Quebec were on peoples’ minds, as were the deplorable conditions in many Indigenous communities impacted by fossil fuels projects. Delegates at the CLC Convention entered that context with grassroots organizing, and this contributed to a shift in opinions of Premier Notley’s plans for Alberta. Notley is now publicly campaigning to ensure the BC government doesn’t become a pipeline opponent.

All of which is to say: union conventions matter, and how they are utilized by activists and movements matters. The unions our grandmothers and grandfathers built must not be left to those concerned only with optics, however sincere their intentions may be. Our unions need better politics, and activists prepared to fight for them.

This article first appeared at this address


Another Delegate’s Comment:  The Missing Ingredient

by Julius Arscott, OPSEU Executive Board Member, and organizer, Workers’ Action Movement.

Missing at the CLC convention was a critical element:  an organized class struggle left wing.  Such a radical caucus could unite militant workers, speak to issues, try to amend resolutions, even run candidates on a socialist platform. 

Some small break-time meetings did occur.  One was a forum hosted by Avi Lewis to discuss the pro-environmental, anti-capitalist LEAP Manifesto.  Another, organized by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, discussed creating links between organized labour and community grassroots organizations — a theme addressed by the CLC bureaucracy the next day. Neither of these meetings, however, led to any effort to form an organized left wing in the labour movement to challenge the status quo.  In fact, in the latter case, organizers asked that the actual convention proceedings not be discussed as it might upset some union officials.  

Needed now more than ever is an organized left wing, similar to initiatives on a modest scale in OSSTF and OPSEU, to oppose concessions bargaining and the austerity agenda of the Bay Street political parties, as well as to fight for democracy in our labour movement. 

Efforts by Socialist Action during the convention were well received by delegates who bought over 100 copies of SA newspaper and accepted many more Turn Left magazines.  The SA booth in the Exhibitors’ area, alongside affiliated unions and labour allies, welcomed many visitors.

Poverty and Homelessness in Canada: Kurdish Socialists Host John Clarke

Members of Socialist Action joined about 30 Kurdish socialists and supporters gathered at the East York Civic Center on June 4 to listen to John Clarke, provincial organizer of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, talk about Poverty and Homelessness in Canada. The event was sponsored by Voices – an independent Kurdish Online publication.

John exposed the root causes of poverty in Ontario and described the heroic role of OCAP.  He told the audience how every night over 4000 people crowd into shelters, how tens of thousands have been forced by the government’s neo-liberal austerity policies to use food banks, and how since last year there have been over 100 tragic homeless deaths on the streets— the most ever recorded in Toronto!  He illustrated how disgraceful it is that this can happen in a city with such immense wealth. He also aptly defended OCAP’s use of direct action tactics, without seeking permission from the cops or anyone.  Clarke noted that while workers can withdraw their labour and go on strike, the unemployed and homeless can use only direct action as their weapon to fight against the system. His talk was animated by very moving personal anecdotes about the many people that OCAP has helped over the years.

During the discussion period, Barry Weisleder, a leader of Socialist Action, stressed that the only way to end poverty is through a revolutionary break with the existing class system, that is, by a socialist transformation of society. Such a transformation has at least two pre-conditions for it’s success: a working class that is rising in anger about the unacceptability of current conditions, and a revolutionary leadership in the unions and other working class organizations that will fight for a program to fundamentally change society.

This is not a matter of charity.  It is a struggle for justice and a revolt against unacceptable conditions for humanity and the environment. He urged members of the audience to join with Socialist Action in order to help build a strong and resolutely revolutionary party.

Socialist Action demands immediate action as follows:
• Mayor Tory: Immediately expand Toronto’s shelter capacity.  Open the armories!  People have been waiting long enough!

• Build decent housing for all, starting with a crash programme to create 500,000 new housing units by means of a publicly owned land development and construction industry.

• Provide immediate support and resources for those suffering mental health issues and drug addiction!

• Stop the war on the poor! Tax rich property owners, land developers, giant corporations and banks!


We Have 10 Questions

In the Fall of 2016 left wing activists in the labour-based New Democratic Party of Canada launched an independent campaign to draft Sid Ryan, past president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, to run for Leader of the federal NDP.  On a website, the campaign team posted a 17-point socialist policy platform to serve as the basis for his candidacy, and to influence all registered candidates in the race for NDP Leader.  Over 20,000 people visited the site to read the policies and to see videos featuring Sid speaking on political issues.
For personal reasons, Sid decided on April 26, 2017 not to run.  We respect his decision.

Still, the need for socialist leadership and a new direction for the NDP is urgent.  Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the new Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer, and most of all, the big business ruling class must be challenged from the left.

To advance that prospect the NDP Socialist Caucus decided to pose 10 Questions, to challenge the registered candidates to state clearly where they stand on those issues and the 17-point platform.  Based on the responses we get, the Socialist Caucus will seriously consider whether to support one or none of the contenders.

At the same time, the SC continues to protest the undemocratic entry fee and rules imposed by NDP officials that unduly restrict who can run.

The NDP Socialist Caucus, founded in 1998, is the organized left wing of North America’s only mass, working class political party.  The SC has hundreds of members and supporters across the country who actively participate in the NDP at all levels. It persuaded the party to demand Canadian Forces out of Afghanistan in 2006.  It played a pivotal role in launching the leadership review in 2016 that is forcing NDP federal Leader Tom Mulcair to step aside at the conclusion of the present leadership race in October 2017.  The SC got the party at its 2016 federal convention to launch a national discussion of the Leap Manifesto.  In April of this year it successfully pushed the Ontario NDP, at its convention, to embrace public pharma care, dental care, the re-nationalization of Hydro One, and free post-secondary education.

In a federal leadership race dominated, so far, by the politics of identity, a race in which the political differences between the candidates are often blurred, the SC endeavours to put the focus on policy and on issues that matter most to the working class — to marginalized, alienated and disenfranchised people.  To that end, it calls on all the registered candidates for Leader to answer the 10 Questions, directly, clearly and without delay.

Here are the 10 Questions.  Please copy and share them widely:

1.The benefits of robotization and new technologies generally should be shared, not utilized to make the owners super rich and to drive more workers into poverty. Do you commit that under your leadership the NDP will fight for a reduction in the work week without a loss in pay or benefits?

2. About 235,000 Canadians become homeless every year, with 35,000 sleeping in shelters and on the streets on any given night. 1.7 million are unable to afford adequate, suitable shelter.  Do you commit that under your leadership the NDP will demand the construction of half a million quality social housing units by means of a publicly-owned land assembly and housing construction enterprise?

3.   For decades, NDP leaders have gone along with the New Cold War against Russia and China, and backed western military intervention abroad, including the bombing of Libya. Do you commit that under your leadership the NDP will demand that Canada get out of NATO immediately?

4.   Do you commit that under your leadership the NDP will actively support the worldwide campaign backed by unions and parliamentary bodies to effect Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the Zionist apartheid state until its occupation of the West Bank ends?

5.  Do you commit that under your leadership the NDP will demand a steeply progressive tax system, including the following measures:

a) Tax Capital Gains Income at the same rate as employment income, bringing in $8 billion dollars

b) Increase the Corporate Tax rate from 15% to 21%, bringing in $9 billion dollars

c) Eliminate corporate stock options as a benefit, with a net savings of $600 million

d) Cut Justin Trudeau’s “middle class tax cut” and enhance the Guaranteed Income Supplement and Child Benefits,   and

e) Increase income tax for earners with income over $200,000 to 40%, and for earners with income over $900,000 to 50%.

6.  Do you commit that under your leadership the NDP will demand greatly expanded public ownership and economic democracy to include Canada’s railway system, major hydro, oil, gas and other energy corporations, the giant telecoms, and at least two of the major banks?

7.  Do you commit that under your leadership the NDP will fight for a Green Industrial Revolution to shift rapidly from carbon and nuclear energy towards safe, clean and renewable energy technologies, and that this rapid transition be funded by conscripting the profits of big oil and gas, and put a high priority on the employment of displaced, indigenous and young workers?

8.  For indigenous peoples, it’s time not just for “reconciliation” but restitution.  If diamond mining corporations in the north can provide their employees world class housing, food, healthcare and recreation, they should do no less for Canada’s original peoples who deserve to share the wealth that has been plundered, or the resource extraction firms should face expropriation.  Do you agree with that, and commit to a policy of No More Pipelines?

9.  The NDP should be transformed from a mainly electoral machine into a vast social movement that fosters greater democracy.  Do you commit that under your leadership the NDP will partner with unions and social justice groups, ensure more time for policy debate at its conventions, and make them more accessible rather than use them chiefly as a fund-raising exercise?  Do you commit to end the present practice that allows party leaders to ignore adopted policies?  Do you commit to increase funding of Electoral District Associations and put an end to top-down interference with local candidate nominations?

10.  Do you commit that under your leadership the NDP will fight for a national Pharmacare and Dental Care programme, and a national $10 a day quality childcare service, to be funded by steeply progressive taxation?

We want answers.  The NDP Socialist Caucus is posing questions to the registered candidates for federal NDP Leader because we think that party members deserve to know where the candidates stand – beyond vague generalities and broad slogans.  Do you agree?  Would you like to help?  See the SC’s 17-point platform for socialist leadership at:  http://www.ndpsocialists.ca/   Call us at:  647-986-1917.

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