Socialist Action Speech to May Day Celebration 2016

Good evening, sisters and brothers, comrades and friends. What a year it has been. We finally got rid of Stephen Harper. Let’s hear it for putting out the trash. Removal of the reactionary regime in Ottawa was not an isolated act. It was part of a global trend. We saw the fortunes of left-populist parties in southern and western Europe soar. In Britain, life-time socialist and anti-war militant Jeremy Corbyn was elected Leader of the Labour Party. This happened after he recruited thousands of new members. For many months now, Bernie Sanders has been gaining millions of votes for what he calls a political revolution. Though mired in the Democratic Party, a prime tool of Wall Street rule, Sanders has put socialism back on the map in America. It’s quite an achievement. On a smaller scale, we took part in a revolt at Edmonton three weeks ago. More about that in a moment.

But it’s hard to be thrilled about the new government in Ottawa – unless you’re a hairdresser or a yoga fan. Justin Trudeau’s promises for real change are falling like autumn leaves. He talks about reconciliation with indigenous peoples, but there’s no plan for economic restitution. Young people in Attawapiskat, who lack clean water, decent housing and recreation facilities, are committing suicide in record numbers. Meanwhile, DeBeers Corporation mines diamonds from the comfort of an ultra-modern camp just 90 kilometres to the west. Why can’t the price of admission to indigenous lands for rich resource companies be the provision, in advance, of good infrastructure, jobs and services for indigenous peoples?

Trudeau’s theme is “sunny ways”. Judging by media coverage, the sun shines out of every orifice of the Prime Minister. But his priorities are not so bright. He offers a marginal increase in the child benefit, but not a national childcare programme. His budget thinly spreads spending on transit and housing over four years, rather than taxing big business and the super-rich to fund a serious economic recovery strategy. The money for it certainly exists. The Panama Papers show that billions in untaxed profits sit in offshore accounts and dummy corporations.

Inequality continues to grow. Wealth concentrates at the top, while over 50% of workers in the GTA are trapped in precarious jobs. More than 43% of Chinese restaurant workers in Toronto earned less than the minimum wage, $11.25 an hour. Debt is crushing students, the unemployed and working people.

According to the World Economic Forum, it will take 118 years to close the wage gap between women and men if present trends persist.

Male CEOs may not be overly concerned. Royal Bank chief David McKay last year received $10.9 million in total compensation. BMO’s William Downe got $10.2 million. His salary alone would pay for 200 nurses. Is a big bank CEO worth 200 nurses? Is he worth even 1 nurse?

Trudeau signed agreements to reduce green house gas emissions, but he promotes construction of an Energy East oil pipeline. The Liberals found the money to send hundreds more Canadian soldiers to Iraq, maybe even join a NATO invasion of Libya, but cannot find the cash to restore postal services cut by the Harper government. Justin talks about lifting the cloak of secrecy, but he won’t rescind repressive police powers law C-51. He talks about a more democratic electoral system, but won’t commit to PR, and he harbours the regressive idea of a ranked ballot. A judge just dismissed 32 charges against Senator Mike Duffy. He said: “No rules were broken because there were no rules to break.” So, instead of shutting down that political Jurassic Park of corruption and entitlement, Trudeau is packing it with so-called non-partisan experts — accountable to no one. Justin is legalizing marijuana. But don’t let him blow smoke up your ass-umptions.

The current world situation is marked by a deepening economic, social and political crisis. Capitalism is in decline, a decline accelerated since 2008 with the outbreak of the Great Recession. The world economy never recovered from that recession and now faces an imminent, even worse, recession. We see increasing rivalry between the imperialist powers, the USA, EU, and Japan, and their growing confrontation with Russia and China over Ukraine, the South and East China Sea, Africa, and Latin America. Working people face an intensifying wave of attacks by the ruling classes – austerity programs, police state measures, and imperialist wars in the Middle East. There is heroic resistance by the working class in many countries. For example, millions took to the streets and city squares of France to oppose anti-labour laws and cutbacks.

But workers’ struggles are seriously hampered by the crisis of leadership. The current leaders, consciously or unconsciously, mislead and betray. They often support the reactionaries, or take a cowardly neutral position (for example, in regard to Egypt’s General Sisi, the looming coup in Brazil, the Euromaidan regime in Ukraine, the state of emergency in France, the imperialist wars in the Middle East, and the corrupt ANC regime in South Africa).

Fortunately, rebellions keep coming to the surface. Black Lives Matter is one example. Others include Idle No More, the Quebec mass movement against austerity, the anti-austerity strikes at York U and U of T of over a year ago, the $15 now campaign and the fragmented teachers’ resistence to the Ontario Liberal government agenda. Premier Wynne just had her knuckles rapped by an Ontario court decision that she violated teachers’ collective bargaining rights in 2012.

The latest rebellion comes in what many might think is the least likely place – the rather staid confines of the New Democratic Party. It took a dreadful election campaign and a disastrous result last October to awaken the party ranks. The convention became a moment of reckoning for a bankrupt political agenda. The stunning defeat of Leader Tom Mulcair, and the launch of a cross-country discussion of the Leap Manifesto, signaled a shift in the relationship of forces in Canada’s labour-based NDP. The party and the union right wing are now off-balance, and on the defensive.

As over 1,700 delegates gathered for the convention, two things were clear. Firstly, Mulcair did not enjoy big support. Secondly, anti-pipeline sentiment was pervasive, at least outside of the Alberta delegation, and the appetite for action against climate change would prevail.

The conflict over carbon-based energy came to a head when Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley made a provocative gamble. She went on television the night before the convention to demand that a west-to-east pipeline be built, with the help of the federal government. That put Mulcair, who had been wavering, after initially supporting the pipeline East, in an impossible position. He continued to waver, thus sealing his fate.

Former Ontario NDP Leader and U.N. diplomat Stephen Lewis delivered the coup de grace with an electrifying speech on Saturday night. Lewis topped Notley by persuasively arguing that an extensive transition to green energy would be the greatest job creator on earth.

But few, outside of the NDP Socialist Caucus, predicted Mulcair’s precipitous fall. When delegates voted 52 per cent on Sunday morning in favour of launching a leadership race to replace him, the convention and the country were stunned. We predicted he wouldn’t get 70%. But no one saw the 48 per cent sinker ball coming — though the signs were there.

After the Socialist Caucus launched a campaign for Leadership Review in late October, a number of prominent NDP leftist figures called for change at the top. MPP Cheri DiNovo, and former president of the Ontario Federation of Labour Sid Ryan, led the way. NDP district association presidents and local labour council officials added their voices. Then 37 prominent Quebec NDP activists issued an open letter calling for change in the party’s direction. On the other hand, five heads of unions publicly backed Mulcair. And the mass media weighed in, mostly on his side. Party staff held telephone Town Halls, and scores of events to promote “fighter” Mulcair. Those efforts fell flat.

Then Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff predicted that Mulcair would lose. On the eve of the vote, leaders of CUPE and UNIFOR ‘released’ their delegates from a pledge to support Mulcair. This came after the 274-strong Labour Caucus, which met on Saturday morning, took no position on the issue. In the words of Bob Dylan, “It doesn’t take a weatherman to know which way the wind is blow’in.”

The leadership race will culminate in a one-member-one-vote election, and a policy convention, to be held about 18 months from now.

Delegates also voted about 60 per cent in favour of conducting a grassroots discussion of the environmental and social justice proposals in the Leap Manifesto. Toronto Star columnist Tom Walkom describes the document as “middle of the road”. Former NDP star candidate Linda McQuaig asks “What’s with all the ruckus over the Leap Manifesto?”

So, why have the capitalist media and bourgeois politicians been pouring abuse on the Manifesto, and on NDPers who backed it, and who voted to dump Mulcair?

The reason is simple: they fear that the party right wing will lose control. They worry that the left will gravitate towards radical socialist politics that call into question, not only capitalist austerity, but the system itself. The ouster of ‘balanced-budget’ Mulcair, and the warm welcome accorded Leap’s critique of growing inequality, job precarity, and environmental plunder, greatly disturb the Canadian Establishment.

Will the Canadian left turn up the heat, and get to work on an agenda for fundamental change? The answer will come soon as local discussions get underway. But the openness to such debates has rarely been so great. The convention, despite its rigged policy priorities process, was the most open NDP convention in decades.

Party officials granted the Socialist Caucus a meeting room and a display table in the main hallway. We unfurled our huge banner, “For Democracy and Socialism Back in the NDP”, on and off the convention floor without hassle. We distributed 900 copies of Turn Left, and collected over $850 in donations and sales of literature and buttons – no problem.

Over 70 people signed up to join the SC, which worked cooperatively with Momentum – the NDP’s left alternative to austerity, with RENEW NDP, and with New Democrats for the Leap Manifesto. In the weeks prior to the convention, the SC gained wide media coverage. This included in-depth interviews on over a dozen outlets.

There were bitter attacks by National Post writers and by former senior NDP staffers Gerry Caplan and Robin Sears. They claimed the SC has little influence, but this was before Mulcair was defeated, before the Leap discussion was launched, and before various socialist policies won significant support in policy workshops.

Jointly with Momentum, the SC ran 16 candidates for party executive and federal council posts. Our vote results, ranging from 5.2% to 15%, revealed a significant hard core radical left base.

Here is some of what I said to 1,700 delegates, and a national television audience, when I ran for party president:

“It’s time for a Democratic Revolution in Canada and the NDP. We want P.R. in Parliament and membership control of the message the party takes to the electorate. Our fight is for the working class, not what Liberals call the “middle class”. The NDP should stop apologizing for being a labour party. Working people make the country run. Workers should run the country. With real wages frozen for 30 years, and deep in debt, workers need a raise. A minimum wage of $18/hour would be a good start. We need homes, not bombs. We need trains in Canada, not tanks in Saudi Arabia. We need schools and hospitals on the ground, not CF18s in the air. The NDP should fight to make the polluters pay, to build renewable power, not pipelines. Uphold indigenous people’s rights. Demand fair trade. Defeat CETA and the TPPA.

Now’s the time for public and democratic control of the economy. That’s the way to provide useful, well-paid employment for laid-off oil workers, for farmers and fisherfolk suffering from the effects of climate change, for youths and minorities stuck in McJobs, facing a precarious future. Isn’t it crazy to rely on monopoly control by giant banks, greedy telecoms, big pharma, agribusiness and WalMart, and to expect anything other than growing inequality, social decay, and racist police violence?

Our struggle is not for a ‘balanced’ budget. It’s for a Workers’ Budget that puts people before profits. Yes, we will balance the budget – on the backs of Thomson and Irving, the Westons, McCain, Munk, Stronach, Peladeau, and all the non-elected barons of Bay Street.

By taxing their off-shore billions, and by conscripting their trillions in fixed assets, a workers’ government would have no trouble leading the transition to a green and democratic economy, and setting an example that just might save civilization on Earth.

NDP election campaigns should reflect members’ priorities. By devoting more time to policy debate we can reason together. Candidates who have the courage to stand up for Palestinians, and oppose the Zionist apartheid state and NATO, should be praised, not punished.

We need to go back to the future – to our working class roots. Together we can put democracy and socialism back in the NDP, and build the cooperative commonwealth in our time.”

So, what is to be done now? Here are some key tasks for the Canadian left:

  • Promote and advance the discussion on the Leap Manifesto.
  • Emphasize the need for public ownership and democratic control of Big Oil and Gas, and the entire energy sector.
  • Demand justice for indigenous peoples. Economic restitution is the basis for moral reconciliation. Resource corporations and the government must pay.
  • Explore running a socialist candidate for NDP Leader, or support someone like MP Nikki Ashton, Linda McQuaig, or Avi Lewis. We must defeat MP Nathan Cullen who argued for a coalition with the Liberal Party in 2011, and who favours fossil fuels and more resource extraction projects if a “social license” is obtained from First Nations.

The de-thronement of Mulcair occurred less than two years after Ken Georgetti was deposed as reigning Canadian Labour Congress President. It is unprecedented for two incumbents to be forced out of top positions by a major body of working class delegates in Canada. It is a reflection of the keen desire for change. It is testament to the resurgence of socialist ideas in Britain, in the USA, and beyond. It is also a sign of things to come in Canada.

Sisters and brothers, comrades and friends, I urge you to join us in this effort. But let’s be very clear: There is no electoral solution. There is no market solution to the crisis of capitalism. The capitalist market created the problem. Only a social revolution can solve it. Only by taking control of the major means of production, like the Cubans did 55 years ago, only by instituting democratic planning, in harmony with nature, does humanity have any hope of survival.

That’s what Socialist Action is all about: educating, agitating and organizing for fundamental change. That’s why we host Rebel Films, public forums and conferences. That’s why we organize rallies in defence of postal services. That’s why we invite you to walk with us on the May Day march in Toronto tomorrow, starting at Yonge and Dundas at 1 p.m. That’s why you don’t want to miss ‘Socialism 2016 – Crisis and Change”, May 20 – 21 at U of T.

Central to our strategy for workers’ power is the building of a class struggle opposition in unions and the NDP. In this process a mass revolutionary workers’ party will arise. Such a party is the key to a future of freedom and prosperity.

But it cannot be built without you. We need you to get involved. You may say it’s hard to find the time, but you can certainly make the time. Besides, it’s a lot of fun – in fact, it’s the most fun you can have without taking off all your clothes. So, please join Socialist Action today. Together we can make the world a place fit for human beings.

Long live the international working class. Long live the fight for socialism. Have a wonderful, red May Day weekend!