Summits of Farce and Repression

by Barry Weisleder

In the end, the global rulers got what they wanted – massive propaganda for social cuts, plus a brutal demonstration of police power. As for the working class, we got the bill, $1.3 billion and counting — just for ‘security’.

During the G20 Summit in Toronto, police arrested over 900 people. That is nearly double the number incarcerated in the October 1970 Quebec crisis, under the auspices of the infamous War Measures Act. Most caught in the latest sweep were released, many without charges, after being held in filthy cages, in a makeshift ‘jail’, for up to 24 hours without adequate water, food, medication, toilet facilities, privacy for females, or access to legal aid. Police charged hundreds, and still hold a few.

The business media worked feverishly to spin the threadbare results of the G20 meeting (held on the heals of the G8 Summit in Huntsville, Ontario), into a tapestry of triumph, an ode to worldly consensus and to Canadian hospitality. But plainly, it’s a hard sell — especially in light of the city core lock-down, and the acts of petty vandalism that police permitted (or planned) to occur, before resorting to the use of tear gas, pepper spray, beatings and mass arrests. Many peaceful protesters, working journalists, downtown shoppers and curious on-lookers were snared by the cop tactics. And so, illusions in bourgeois democracy and in ‘officers of the peace’ fell like a multitude of bowling pins.

Meanwhile, inside the media bubble of the world capitalist summit, there was minimal agreement on detail. This betrayed the actual farce of the high level gathering, which could have been conducted on Skype for free — minus the mini-police state imposed on Torontonians.

To the extent that the G20 leaders agreed to do anything, the measures they endorsed could hasten a global depression, and quicken the descent into environmental disaster.

The rich countries’ bosses promised to cut their budgetary deficits in half by 2013, and to cap their cumulative debt as a proportion of GDP by 2016. If attempted, without taxing big corporations and the super-rich, such actions would choke off jobs, services and investment in production, plunging economies into crisis, and billions into misery.

But Japan is exempt. Italy is not expected to meet the deadline. While Britain and Germany have announced Draconian cuts, Harper is not saying, and Obama is walking a tightrope. Just to reveal the blatancy of their class bias, the G8 and G20 rejected a tax on financial institutions (proposed by the more desperate French, Germans and British), and they put off until the next G20 summit in Seoul, South Korea any discussion of bank regulatory reforms.

Concerning climate change, the summiteers agreed to contemplate cuts to the subsidies paid carbon-emitting oil and gas industries. Of course such contemplations are subordinate to “country-specific strategies”. Canada’s federal government, for instance, is increasing its overall subsidies to the Alberta tar sands. Even the language on climate change from this summit is weaker than that agreed at the previous G20 gab-fest.

What about the G8? “The gap between the G8’s compassionate rhetoric and its readiness to help was especially striking” said the June 27 Toronto Star lead editorial. While hundreds of thousands of women, and nearly 9 million children die needlessly every year, the $50 billion in aid promised at the Gleneagles summit in 2005 “fell a breathtaking $20 billion short”. “This is a shabby performance for a rich club that generates close to $40 trillion in wealth”, stated the Star. Canada’s largest circulation daily failed to mention the source of this enormous wealth — the stolen natural resources and exploited labour of workers globally, especially in the Third World.

The G8 leaders went out of their way to caution the United Nations against hoping for much more from them, notwithstanding the ‘Millennium Development Goals’ which aim to reduce world poverty, hunger and disease by 2015. And really, isn’t that the whole point of the G8 and the G20? There the richest elites do not run the risk of getting outvoted by the 172 other countries represented at the U.N. — which can be mildly embarrassing, even if U.N. votes change few economic facts on the ground.

On ‘security’ issues, the G8 endorsed a five-year exit plan from Afghanistan (which can always be extended). They denounced Iran and North Korea (without any commitment to eradicate the largest stock piles of nuclear weapons, which happen to be held by the USA, Russia and Europe). And they called for an ‘easing’ of Israel’s blockade of Gaza, rather than demanding an end to the siege, let alone the dismantling of the Israeli apartheid wall, or recognition of the right of return for all Palestinian refugees.

None of the ‘decisions’ of the G8 and G20 were actually made at the summits, which serve a rubber-stamp and photo-op function for pre-negotiated policies, steeped in diplomatic vacuity. Thus, working people, the poor and all oppressed sections of society had good reason to protest long before the summits. After all, we live daily under disaster capitalism.

So, protests proliferated in the week of June 20. This followed the People’s Summit attended by over 1,500 at Ryerson University. It continued with demonstrations for aboriginal rights and against the rising tide of poverty, and culminated in the massive rally and march of 30,000, despite persistent rainfall, on Saturday, June 26. The sponsors of the main demonstration, which set out from Toronto’s Queen’s Park, included the Canadian Labour Congress, the Ontario Federation of Labour, their major union affiliates, as well as the Council of Canadians, Greenpeace, Oxfam, the Canadian Federation of Students, the Ontario Health Coalition, Amnesty International, and numerous feminist organizations. The demo was peaceful and spirited. Chants of “Whose streets? Our streets!” and “This is what democracy looks like” echoed down University Avenue’s ‘hospital row’, and up through Chinatown on Spadina Ave.

But the huge parade never made it onto prime time news. Mainstream media coverage fixated on a tiny breakaway group. The so-called Black Bloc, animated by self-described anarchists, went on a window-busting rampage that hit about 40 businesses, and torched four police squad cars. No one was killed or seriously injured. The only injuries were caused by the police, afterwards.

The anger of the Bloc-istas against the social injustices perpetuated by the G20 is understandable. But their tactics are worse than deplorable. They proved the straight men for Harper’s all-too-predictable punch lines about how ‘security’ spending was justified. The Bloc-istas also gave the cops ammunition to brutalize and jail over 900 innocents, using expanded police powers of search and arrest granted by a secret Ontario Liberal Cabinet decision just weeks prior to the summits.

Now that a majority of the 900-plus detainees have been released without charge, questions are multiplying. Why did 20,000 cops, including literally hundreds of them within spitting distance of burning vehicles and shattering store windows, just let it happen? Was it an exercise in policing or PR? And if cop claims are true that they had infiltrated the Bloc-istas, how many police were involved in prompting, as opposed to just spying on, the planners of mayhem?

Anger over the hundreds of arbitrary arrests, and the de-humanizing treatment meted out by police to detainees, spurred over 3,000 people to rally outside Toronto Police Headquarters on June 28. They demanded a full, independent public inquiry. Thousands proceeded to march to City Hall and back to the Legislature at Queen’s Park. Many in the youthful throng chanted “Wasted! Wasted! A billion dollars!”, “No justice, no peace!”, and the now emblematic cry “Whose streets? Our streets!”

Socialists were prominent in all of the peaceful, mass protest actions, and received a very positive hearing from the crowds which included many young women and men attending a demonstration for the first time. Dozens walked behind the Socialist Action banner inscribed with the words “No corporate bail-out. Make Capital pay for the crisis! Nationalize Auto, Steel and Banks – under Workers’ Control”.

SA members received over $550 in sales of anti-capitalist, anti-war and eco-socialist buttons, and SA newspapers in a span of four days. We distributed 1,000 trilingual statements against the agenda of the G20 (presenting the policies of our Canada/Quebec, American and Mexican sister parties). Over 40 activists attended an SA public forum at the People’s Summit, dozens more came to our display table at the Ryerson Hub, and we received applications from five individuals seeking detailed information about, or membership in SA.

Harper and his global partners in crime have stirred a giant from slumber. Will this youthful giant master the policies, strategy and organization needed to seize the time? No one can say, but socialists have an indispensable, and evidently welcome role to play in this still unfolding drama.