The Political Situation in Canada Today, and How Revolutionary Socialists Intervene in the Workers’ Movement

Barry Weisleder

[Speech to Kurdish people, April 9, 2017, in Scarborough.]

Ewara bash. (Good afternoon.) Choni? (How are you?) Bigi! (Long live)

Please pardon my poor pronunciation.  You may be relieved to learn that the rest of my remarks will be in English.  As a socialist, I am an internationalist who believes that solidarity knows no boundaries.  My party, Socialist Action, stands in total solidarity with the struggle of the Kurdish people for self-determination.  We condemn imperialism, and all the governments under its influence that have denied the Kurdish people a state you can call your own. National liberation is a precondition for the emancipation of the working class internationally.

My task today is to begin a dialog with you about the present political situation, and how socialists intervene in the workers’ movement in this country to improve living conditions and to advance the socialist transformation of society.

We are living in truly extraordinary times.

Just four days ago, the U.S. Donald Trump administration pounded Syria with 60 Cruise missiles, killing several soldiers and civilians. The U.S. attack occurred without an impartial investigation, let alone proof of who was responsible for the chemical gas fatalities that occurred earlier in the week.

Washington’s travel ban aimed at Muslims in six countries continues despite legal challenges.

In Toronto, racists and fascists openly rally at Toronto City Hall – three times in the past month.  In Quebec City, a Canadian-born racist shot and killed several Muslims at prayer in the mosque.
In the face of growing inequality and poverty, Canadian transportation giant Bombardier gives 50% pay increases to its failing top executives who are in the process of laying off thousands of workers.

We have a severe housing crisis, robots replacing workers, cops who get away with murdering Black and mentally ill people, and a steady stream of lies from our photogenic Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
At the same time, we see a growing appetite for social and political change.  It was reflected in the march of 4 million women and men on January 21 across North America against the Trump agenda.  It is evident in campaigns to defend public postal services, and public libraries, campaigns to keep Ontario Hydro public, and to win $15 and Fairness.  We saw it in the strike victory of the food service workers at York University.

Recently, three socialists in Toronto were elected to the executive of OPSEU, a union of 130,000 workers.  Socialists forced an end to the leadership of federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair who conducted a regressive election campaign in 2015.  Socialists helped to defeat the right-wing leader of the CLC, Ken Georgetti, in 2014.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the issues I mentioned.

Start with the housing crisis.  Winter in Canada without a home is a death sentence.  Dozens die on the streets in this country every year.  In Toronto, the wait list of social housing is over 180,000 people.  The community housing stock requires $2.6 Billion in repairs.
The average home price in Greater Toronto was $916,567 in March, up $228,000 from the same period a year earlier, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board.  Housing costs have outpaced wage increases for decades.  Wages, basically, have been frozen for 30 years for most workers.  Governments are considering a tax on vacant houses and condos to curb property speculation. Instead of superficial measures like that, we need the govt to build 500,000 housing units immediately, under public ownership and workers’ control.

We need to make corporations and the rich pay for improved train and bus service, and offer free mass public transit to get cars off the roads.

Good jobs are scarce, not because of immigration, but due to automation and the cruel neo-liberal capitalist agenda.  According to the NYTimes business section on March 29, “For every robot per thousand workers, up to six workers lost their jobs and wages fell by ¾ of a per cent.”  In the U.S., between 1990 and 2007, robots were to blame for 670,000 lost manufacturing jobs.  In the next few years, robots will quadruple.  But in a rational society, in a socialist society, this would not be something to fear; it would be a good thing to eliminate boring and dangerous work – provided that the fruits of automation are shared.  How?  By shorting the work week without loss of pay and benefits.  Share the available work, increase the quality of work life and production – through democratic economic planning.

Sadly, capitalism is going in the opposite direction.  Big companies are merging, killing thousands of jobs.  Bombardier, which produces trains and airplanes (but not on time), bought a Montreal aircraft manufacturer in 1986, and a Toronto aircraft company in 1992, got $1 Billion from the Quebec govt last year, and $372.5 million from Ottawa, while shifting some of its work to low-wage Mexico. It just gave its failing top executives a 50% pay increase.  Bombardier CEO Alain Bellemare received U.S. $4.2 million last year in salary and bonuses.

Now let’s look at the world economy.  Global inequality is growing. Half the world’s wealth is now in the hands of just 1% of the population.  The so-called ‘middle classes’ have been squeezed at the expense of the very rich, according to research by Credit Suisse.

“Middle class wealth has grown at a slower pace than wealth at the top end. This has reversed the pre-crisis trend which saw the share of middle-class wealth remaining fairly stable over time.”

About 3.4 billion people – just over 70% of the global adult population – have wealth of less than $10,000. A further 1bn – a fifth of the world’s population – are in the $10,000-$100,000 range.

Each of the remaining 383 million adults – 8% of the population – has wealth of more than $100,000. This number includes about 34m US dollar millionaires. About 123,800 individuals of these have more than $50m, and nearly 45,000 have more than $100m.
The report said: “Wealth inequality has continued to increase since 2008, with the top percentile of wealth holders now owning 50.4% of all household wealth.”

At the start of 2015, Oxfam had warned that 1% of the world’s population would own more wealth than the other 99% by next year. Mark Goldring, Oxfam GB’s chief executive, said: “The fact it has happened a year early – just weeks after world leaders agreed a global goal to reduce inequality – shows just how urgently world leaders need to tackle this problem.
“This is the latest evidence that extreme inequality is out of control. Are we really happy to live in a world where the top 1% own half the wealth and the poorest half own just 1%?”

Inequality is the great concern of our age. So why do we tolerate rapacious, unjust tax havens?

The gap between economic growth and the well-being of Canadians widened considerably since the 2008 recession.  That is the conclusion of the Canadian Index of Well-being (CIW) which released its third national report on November 23.
This comes as no surprise to millions of people who personally experience precarious work, longer commute times, or rising rates of diabetes, and yet feel none of the promised benefits of a re-surging gross domestic product.  Now we have statistics that shatter the myth of “trickle down” prosperity.

From 1994 to 2014, Canada’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by 38 per cent, while national well-being rose only 9.9 per cent. The Great Recession hit living standards hard, further depriving many of leisure, of volunteer time, even sleep.
Based at the University of Waterloo, the CIW examines 64 indicators across eight domains pertinent to quality of life.
While the GDP measures money circulating in the economy, the CIW identifies changes in community vitality, political involvement, education, environment, health, leisure and culture, living standards and time use.

Over the past 21 years, the image that emerges is a GDP rebounding from the crash, but with ordinary Canadians paying the price. From 1994 to 2008, the living standards segment rose 23 per cent. Then it plunged almost 11 per cent and has yet to recover. Gains previously made in employment were lost.

Income inequality is rising. While median family incomes have risen, millions struggle with food and housing costs.
And when living standards drop, social, cultural and political engagement do too.
Business pundits argue that the GDP is fragile, that governments cannot afford to worry about well-being.

The truth is that society cannot afford ongoing environmental degradation. It cannot afford the human and economic costs of poor health. It cannot afford the decline in equality and fairness.
And yet, it seems, that’s about all that late capitalism has to offer.

What’s next?

I will conclude this talk on the fight that lies ahead, and on what it will take to win.

To save civilization, humanity, and life on Earth, capitalism must be eradicated.  It will take a revolution to do that.  There can be no revolution without a revolutionary party. A revolutionary party is not self-proclaimed. It must earn recognition as such by millions of workers.  It takes more than slogans to change society. But a full programme is necessary, and sustained revolutionary practice in support of it is absolutely required.

Central to our programme is the fight for Climate Justice and a decent, democratic and sustainable future for humanity.  This includes the following elements:

  • Declare a Climate Emergency. Create a New Climate agenda that begins with nationalization of key sectors such as Finance, Energy, Resource industries like Big Oil and Gas, Transportation, Agri-business and Auto.
  • Restructure the economy fundamentally, with planning by workers, scientists and environmentalists, and management by elected worker representatives.  The top priority should be the rapid replacement of fossil and nuclear fuels with clean, renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, hydro, geothermal and biomass.  Stop the privatization of Ontario Hydro.  Phase out the Alberta Tar Sands.  Defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and abrogate the previous ‘free trade’ deals.  Dismantle the polluting, wasteful, and dangerous war machine used to support imperialism.
  • Close all foreign military bases, send home all soldiers and military contractors.
  • Get Canada out of NATO.  Halt and reverse land-devouring urban sprawl by renovating urban cores.  Restore wetlands, forests and farm land wrecked by irrational capitalist ‘development’.  End dependency on the car by greatly expanding clean, safe, free and convenient mass transit.  Support working farmers and farm workers with livable wages and benefits, and shift away from chemical to organic agriculture.

Please understand that we demand nationalization of Big Oil and Gas not to continue drilling for fossil fuels, or to make pipelines ‘safe’.  Our aim is to conscript the wealth accumulated by the energy pirates, and to devote it to rapid green energy conversion.  It happens to be one of the only ways to fund the energy transition that is so urgently needed on a global scale.  The green energy transition will cost trillions.

Now here’s the key to unlock the door to liberation. Such a programme must be advanced and won inside the mass working class organizations.  Why?  Because that is where we can create the political basis for a Workers’ Agenda, a Workers’ Government, and a socialist revolution.  The Leap Manifesto opens the door.  The NDP Socialist Caucus clarifies the goal.  And a revolutionary party will go the full distance.

At this stage, activists are needed who understand the goal, and the means to get there.  The fight to win anti-austerity and eco-socialist policies will take place primarily in the unions and the NDP.

Let me give you a short profile of Canada, utilizing a Marxist, class analysis.

  • The population of Canada in 2015 was 35.7 million. 85% of the 36 million are workers, including children and other dependent family members.  Less than 15% are petty bourgeois, self-employed and/or top professionals. Less than 1% own the major means of production, distribution and exchange.
  • With a work force of about 20 million, approximately 30% belong to unions.  About 4 million workers belong to unions affiliated to the Canadian Labour Congress, which in turn is linked to the New Democratic Party, founded in 1961, the result of a merger of the CLC and the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, the left social democratic predecessor of the NDP.
  • In the October 2015 election, 25.6 million were eligible to vote.  17.5 million voted, a 68.5% turnout.
  • The NDP received 19.7% of the votes, about 3.4 million votes.
  • The capitalist parties, the parties of Bay Street, got the rest of the votes.  The Liberals got 39.5%, the Conservatives 32%, the BQ 4.7% and the Greens 3.5%.

That summary shows part of the task facing the working class.  We have to win over a large part of the 80% that still vote for capitalist parties.  But that’s only part of our task.  Inside the workers’ movement we face agents of the bourgeoisie.  We face the labour lieutenants of Capital, the labour and NDP bureaucrats who collaborate with the bosses, vote for cutbacks, vote for military spending, and who prop up the rotten capitalist system.  The bureaucrats put their personal petty interests, their personal careers within the state apparatus, ahead of the interests of the working class as a whole.  They undermine the class political independence of workers at every step, except when we force them to do otherwise. The pro-business bureaucrats must be replaced by class conscious revolutionary workers.  Workers will develop class consciousness only in the fight against the bosses, and against the agents of the bosses in the workers’ movement.

That is why Socialist Action is engaged in struggle inside the mass working class organizations.  You won’t find many groups that call themselves socialist engaged in that struggle today in this country.  Most of them stand on the sidelines, watching and talking to themselves.

Socialist Action has a working class orientation.  Building a disciplined working class party inside our class is the heart of our strategy for revolutionary change.  We fight for socialist policies and run candidates for executive office in unions and the NDP.  We just won such a position in OPSEU.  In that union, in my teachers’ union, and others, our goal is to build class struggle, rank and file bodies.  In the NDP, we are leaders of the Socialist Caucus, which has won many policy victories at big party conventions.

We are involved in the federal NDP leadership race, where we hope that leftist union leader Sid Ryan will run for Leader.  We are advancing socialist policies and running a team of candidates for the provincial executive at the Ontario NDP convention, April 21–23 in Toronto.  We will distribute a thousand copies of Turn Left magazine, and play a big role in the floor debates.  You should be there with us.  Come and see how socialists fight for a Workers’ Agenda where it really matters.

This battle for socialism, for public ownership and workers’ control, must be waged.  Everything depends on it. The future of humanity depends on it.  Will it be easy?  No. But take heart.  You are not alone if you join the socialists who are already actively doing it.  That is why you should join Socialist Action today.

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