Socialist Digest –  February 2023

By Barry Weisleder, presented at the SA Central Committee Meeting on February 22, 2023.

Discontent with the capitalist status quo is spreading rapidly. At the forefront are mobilizations in France against President Emanuel Macron’s reform of the country’s retirement law. Under Socialist Party President Francois Mitterrand and up to the 1990s the legal retirement age with full pension was 60 years. Since then, right wing governments have pushed it up to 62 years. Macron announced a move to raise it to 65 years, but backed down. He now proposes age 64. Mass action involving strikes and demonstrations, one day at a time, usually once or twice a week, have followed the parliamentary calendar. More militant sectors in the union movement have been calling for renewable strikes from one day to the next, towards a general strike. This may occur on March 7. If the government does not back down earlier, actions will most likely be renewed the next day, International Women’s Day, especially since women workers will be the biggest losers under the current legislation. Average pensions for women are currently 40 per cent lower than for men (given time taken off to raise children and the lower wages that prevail in occupations dominated by women). The last big demonstration took place on Saturday, February 11, to enable those who could not go on strike during the week to participate in the movement. 500,000 demonstrated in Paris and 2.5 million throughout France, according to the CGT. For the first time since May 1968 all the union federations are united in the strike movement. Another interesting phenomenon is the mobilization in smaller cities, even in small towns, reports our comrade Richard Wagman.

Underscoring the urgency of system change is the tragedy unfolding in Turkey and Syria.  Well over 44,000 people have perished.  Earthquakes are common in this region where tectonic plates constantly clash. Sadly, common also is the grossly irresponsible policy of the Erdogan regime, whose slow and chaotic response to the devastation, and general unpreparedness must be characterized as Social Murder. Socialist groups and progressive individuals do not have the resources needed to aid earthquake victims (nor those worldwide who suffer from war, displacement, starvation, etc.) in any meaningful way.  But we do demand that governments send enormous help directly to the sufferers, open borders to the homeless, and lift the sanctions imposed on Syria. Thankfully, some unions have made large financial contributions to reputable refugee support and disaster recovery bodies.

The world economy limps along. It is beset by high inflation, and interest rate policies designed to curb investment and stoke joblessness. As a result, millions are pushed downward into dire poverty.
Capital, which enjoys record profits in key sectors, benefits from distraction. For big business, any diversion from the carnage it causes to nature and humanity is welcome. Sometimes, an unidentified China weather balloon will do, at least for a day or two. Revealing is how quickly Justin Trudeau signaled support for Washington’s over-reaction to the meteorological eyes in the sky. The Liberals’ next move was to send Canadian naval warships to the waters surrounding Haiti to prop up the current appointed government, thus reminding everyone that Ottawa helped to kidnap and expel from office Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the last elected President. Haitians are still paying dearly for the 1791-1804 revolution that overthrew the French slavocracy. Socialists say: Hands Off Haiti. Canada Out of the Core Group and NATO. Cancel the purchase of new fighter jets and war ships. Disband NATO. Negotiate, Don’t Escalate the inter-imperialist conflict over Ukraine.

French workers are not alone.  Across the U.K., train workers, firefighters, public service employees, teachers, border security personnel and many others are engaged in rotating strikes. They are fighting austerity, job cuts and government attacks on the public health service. In Portugal, strikes are rapidly spreading. They demand a catch-up on wages and improved working conditions. An SA Canada correspondent will be in Paris soon to report on the current strike wave and its implications for the global working class. Our task is to explore every means of generating workers’ solidarity now.

Environmental devastation and the escalation of military conflicts pose the most dire 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. As our predecessors did during WW1, socialists remain in the forefront of anti-war and anti-militarist action.

The path forward, indeed the future of society, will be determined largely by the outcome of debates in the mass workers’ organizations. The future will be shaped by efforts to free those bodies from the obstacles to rank-and-file control. The glaring democratic deficit in unions and the NDP demands direct action.  It is incumbent on the Workers’ Action Movement to run class struggle candidates and to push socialist and anti-war policies in the upcoming Canadian Labour Congress convention, May 8-12 in Montreal. The support of major unions and the NDP for war spending, for muscle flexing in the Caribbean, and for NATO aggression, are dark, bloody stains that must be removed from the banner of labour solidarity.

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 — although the sorely needed increase in staffing was not achieved by the union. That was a tragedy. The ensuing farce was the Ontario NDP leadership race to replace Andrea Horwath. High financial barriers to candidates resulted in only one contestant, Marit Stiles. A vote of ONDP members to “confirm” Stiles concluded on February 4 — but party officials refuse to reveal the numbers: How many members voted? How many voted yes, or no? The silence is rubbing salt in an already wounded workers’ democracy.

Democracy, albeit the pallid, porous bourgeois version of it, is an endangered species at Toronto City Hall.  Mayor John Tory, exposed for an illicit sexual relationship with a much younger member of his staff, resigned from office in disgrace.  But he did so only after bullying council into adopt his pro-business, pro-cop budget — with “strong mayor” powers at the ready to veto potential amendments.
The Municipal Socialist Alliance, which garnered nearly 15,000 votes in local elections across Ontario in October, formed a “Shadow Council” to track elected politicians and to press for a socialist working class agenda. The MSA strongly opposed the 2023 John Tory budget. It welcomes the resignation of Tory, for an abundance of reasons. The Alliance should seize the opportunity to run a candidate in the by-election expected in the summer. The MSA demands that funding for police be cut by at least 50 per cent.  It opposes the increase in property taxes, TTC fares, and city service fees. It insists on a stiff tax increase on the properties of giant landlords, retail chains, big banks, land developers, speculators, manufacturers, and telecoms.

Socialists strive to expand democratic rights. The ruling class, and their well-paid ‘experts’, act in the opposite direction. A case in point is the ruling by Ontario Justice Paul Rouleauk. He determined that the use of the Emergencies Act by the Trudeau government was warranted. Although Rouleau cites “police dysfunction, stubborn politics and a failure of federalism (that) turned last winter’s “Freedom Convoy” protests into a national crisis”, he exonerates the capitalist state actors. Ignored is the reality that many local, provincial and federal cops sympathized with the racist, sexist, anti-vax crowd, hence their refusal to take the measures that they routinely deploy against workers on picket lines, pipeline opponents and social justice seekers. Despite Rouleau’s performative stated “reluctance” to endorse the idea that the Liberal government met the “very high threshold” to trigger the Act and create a host of extraordinary police powers to quash the protests, he comes down firmly on the side of enforcement of a law designed to crush democratic rights that will be employed, more often than not, against labour and the left. Socialists call for mass action against racist, homophobic and fascist movements, and demand the immediate repeal of the Emergencies Act.

The Socialist Action Annual Fund Drive is nearly completed. Its aim is to support production of more promotional materials and to meet growing staffing needs. The goal was set at $7,000. So far, donors have paid or pledged $7,430. The drive ends on February 28. There’s still time to invite your friends and co-workers to contribute. Let’s go way over the top!  

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. Thank you in advance.  Please accept my best wishes.