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Socialist Digest –  January 2023

By Barry Weisleder. Political line adopted at Socialist Action Central Committee meeting on Jan. 18, 2023.

Canada’s 100 highest-paid corporate executives made an average of $14.3 million in 2021, exceeding the previous record of $11.8 million set three years earlier.  By January 3, the average CEO on that list made $58,800, the amount an average Canadian worker earns in an entire year, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

David Macdonald, CCPA senior economist, told the Toronto Star “It’s worth figuring out who are the winners and who are the losers in our economy…. When we have big crises like the pandemic, like the crisis in inflation, who benefits and who loses from that?”

In 2020, the year the pandemic hit and economic disruption was widespread, CEO pay still went up from the year before because in many cases companies lowered the revenue or profit targets their top executives needed to hit in order to receive their bonuses. In 2021, when rising prices became more widespread, average workers saw their pay decline by two per cent, due to inflation.  The CEOs on Macdonald’s list, meanwhile, saw their total compensation go up by 26 per cent after adjusting for inflation. (For more data on the wealth gap, please see the Oxfam International article “Survival of the Richest.”) However, the burning question, which the CCPA, the NDP and the CLC studiously avoid, is this:  Should the rich be taxed, or expropriated? Clearly, as any negotiator will tell you, in order to obtain your goal, you must try to exceed it. In order to achieve radical tax reform, it is necessary, at the very least, to demand expropriation of the parasite class – which, in any case, they richly deserve.

While high inflation persists, even if it is “stabilized,” many workers face the loss of their home due to the impact of higher interest rates on mortgage payments, and due to the curse of rising rents. The Bank of Canada’s high interest rate policy discourages investment and consumer spending. And those effects precipitate higher unemployment and bring on recession. What would a workers’ government do? It would impose price and profit controls. It would move swiftly to nationalize monopolies that rob the public to pad the bottom line. It would demand: Open the corporate books to reveal who benefits and who suffers from profit-gouging retail chains, telecoms, banks, and the like.

Meanwhile, in the context of capitalist malaise, reactionaries try to deepen divisions in the working class. The attack on the bail system is one example.  Following the fatal shooting of a cop near Hagersville, Ontario, various police forces and Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre urge that bail be curtailed or severely limited. The consequence would be a dramatic increase in the number of incarcerated people, especially those who are impoverished and socially oppressed, accused but not convicted, long awaiting trial in the congested court system. Of course, a distinction must be made between violent re-offenders and other accused, coupled with demands to increase support for social services that have been starved of funding.

It is rare for socialists to endorse any action by the Ontario government, but I agree with those who wrote in favour of pharmacists being able to fill prescriptions. Many druggists know more about drugs than some doctors. Of course, this may increase revenue to Shoppers Drug Mart, as well for independent pharmacies.  Small drug stores constitute over half of the outlets.  But this is not the main issue. Because of ossified, bureaucratic structures that deliver health care, there has been little progress made in delegating tasks to qualified, non-doctor caregivers. Underfunding the public health system is by far the main cause of the current crisis. Still, significant savings can be achieved by removing obsolete, time-wasting elements of the system. The current fee-for service model squanders a huge portion of Medicare budgets and rewards “bad” doctors who bump up their income by scheduling as many short appointments as possible so they can charge more. Most doctors should be on salary, as in the UK, although that won’t soon happen here. Meanwhile, socialists approve change that will save working people time and money. At the same time, we staunchly oppose referring patients to private hospitals and private clinics which will subsidize the rich owners and bleed the public health system of staff and funding.

Is Canada ready for the next wave of disease?  XBB.1.5 is a sub-variant of the COVID-19 coronavirus Omicron strain, the most transmissible variant of concern to date. Other than vaccinations being available, not much is being done about the present pandemic. To the contrary, in the rush to get back to “normal” in the interest of corporations, the Ontario government tried to force everyone (especially school boards) to drop mask mandates. Wearing masks is not remotely equivalent to a lockdown. The fact is that there were more COVID deaths in the summer of 2022 than in the previous summer in Ontario. Abolishing mask mandates almost certainly played a major role. Socialists support mandated masking in indoor spaces, especially on mass transit. Note that seniors and the immune-compromised are in more danger than ever. Recent research suggests that COVID gets significantly worse if you have had it before.

The path forward, indeed the future of society will be determined largely by the outcome of debates in the mass workers’ organizations, and by efforts to free those bodies from the obstacles to rank-and-file control. The glaring democratic deficit in unions and the NDP demands action. It calls for the Workers’ Action Movement to run class struggle candidates and to push socialist policies in upcoming CLC and NDP conventions. 

The potential power of the working class became more apparent when CUPE-Ontario education workers defied a law pre-emptively banning strike action. CUPE and allies, including the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union, forced the Thug Ford Conservative government to rescind Bill 28 and its use of the notwithstanding clause of the Constitution to violate the Charter of Rights.  Then, following two weeks of online voting that ended on December 5, the education workers ratified a four-year deal with the Ontario Conservative government that provides a modest wage rise, but no sorely needed increase in staffing. Even the union’s top negotiators declared the agreement inadequate, but cynically asked their low wage members to approve it. The two-day walkout by CUPE school custodians, educational assistants, early childhood educators and library technicians – who were joined by thousands of OPSEU school support workers – elicited significant support from private and public sector unions. Just minutes before the Ontario Federation of Labour was set to announce a general strike, CUPE agreed to return to work and to the bargaining table. That move drained the momentum to Dump Thug Ford, and blunted efforts to unite vast numbers outraged by other laws designed to undermine local democracy, harm seniors, and ravage farmland while enriching wealthy land speculators.

Now is the time to draw the lessons, regroup forces, and organize to replace cynical leaders with bold, militant grassroots workers.

The Vote Socialist campaign in Vancouver, and the Municipal Socialist Alliance candidates across southern Ontario, tapped a growing appetite for radical change. The VSV obtained more than 45,000 votes, and the MSA garnered nearly 15,000. The MSA has formed a “Shadow Council”, and the VSV may follow suit, to track the elected politicians and to press for a socialist working class agenda. Currently, the MSA is busy opposing the 2023 budget of Toronto Mayor John Tory. The MSA demands that funding for police be drastically cut (not increased by $48 million). It opposes the increase in property taxes, TTC fares, and city service fees, and insists on a stiff tax increase on the properties of giant landlords, retail chains, big banks, land developers, speculators, manufacturers, and telecoms.

The disqualification of the momentous leadership bid of Eco-socialist Anjali Appadurai by the BC NDP executive continues to reverberate across the labour-based party. Emerging is a theme, Fight for Democracy! that may dominate the NDP federal convention set for Hamilton, Ontario in October 2023. 

Marit Stiles, the NDP MPP for Davenport, won the uncontested race to lead the ONDP on December 5.  She succeeds Andrea Horwath, who led the NDP since 2009.

Several New Democrat MPPs had pondered a run, including Chris Glover (Spadina—Fort York). He reportedly tried to raise the required $55,000 entry fee as late as December 4. Five other MPPs considered running too. The corporate media and other parties at Queen’s Park had a field day with the non-race. Increasingly, Eco-socialist, anti-war, and pro-Palestine NDPers who strive to be the party’s candidate at federal and provincial elections are blocked from seeking nomination, or are subsequently disqualified. Ontario party tops cast another deep chill into the proceedings by pressing unjust claims of anti-Semitism against Ottawa Centre MPP Joel Harden and past York-Simcoe candidate Jessa McLean.

It is not a lack of interest or talent, but a lack of party democracy that limited the Ontario NDP leadership race.

What should be done about that? Youth, labour, equity seekers, and electoral district NDP members should demand a new leadership race now, with rules that make it accessible to all. 

Members should vote NO on the February 4 Ontario NDP leader “confirmation” ballot, and continue to demand socialist policies. A well attended NDP Socialist Caucus Conference on December 10 voted unanimously to formulate socialist resolutions and to field socialist candidates for the NDP federal executive and to demand that the October 2023 convention be both online and in-person. An SC conference will be held in February to advance those plans.

The Workers’ Action Movement is seeking candidates it can run for the top four positions in the Canadian Labour Congress at the CLC convention, May 8-12 in Montreal. Do you know someone who’d make a good class struggle candidate?

Environmental devastation and the escalation of military conflicts pose the direst threat to humanity and all life forms. COP27 did nothing to curtail greenhouse gas emissions. The conflict in Ukraine, instigated by NATO, but in which the USA and Russia are criminally culpable, only adds more hunger, displacement, and disease to the woes of the world working class. Socialists remain in the forefront of anti-war and anti-militarist action. In Canada that means mounting strong opposition to Ottawa’s decision to purchase new Fighter Jets and war ships. We say: Canada Out of NATO. NATO Out of Eastern Europe.

NDP National Defense critic Lindsay Mathyssen took issue with Trudeau’s decision to buy 88 F-35 fighter jets for $19 billion (with a lifecycle cost of $70 billion). On what grounds? Primarily, that it would not ensure “Canadian jobs for defense contracts.” Shame.

We continue to stand in solidarity with the movement in Iran for women’s rights and against mass arrests and the execution of individual activists. Imperialist Hands-Off Iran. Down with theocratic rule. Workers to power!

We uphold Haiti’s right to self-determination. Canada Out of the Core Group. Imperialist Hands-Off Haiti.

Turning to SA plans for the period ahead, we begin with the Annual SA Fund Drive.  Its aim is to support production of more promotional materials and to meet growing staffing needs. The goal is $7,000.  The drive runs from December 20 through February 28.

The SA/LAS convention will take place on Sunday, June 11. The Pre-Convention Discussion period opens on March 1 and concludes on June 11. The deadline for policy resolutions and constitution amendments is two weeks before convention, that is, on May 28. The Spring SA Education Conference, one week before convention, will be held on Sunday, June 5. The convention will be a hybrid event, that is, both in-person and on-line. The education conference is to be on-line only.

Presently in the works is the Political Situation and Tasks Resolution, which aims to provide analysis, policy, and a plan of action for the party. Members’ in-put is much appreciated. Please accept my best wishes to all for a happy, healthy, and revolutionary New Year!