Wild Fires, a Troubling Mutiny, and Class Struggle Politics

July 11, 2023 | by Barry Weisleder, Federal Secretary | Socialist Action

First, I warmly welcome all the new and returning members of the SA Central Committee, and other party bodies elected at the June 11 SA convention.  Together we will face the big challenges of our time, advance the class struggle, and build a revolutionary workers’ party to change the world.

We are saddened by the recent loss of two great international figures of our movement, Hugo Blanco, Trotskyist peasant leader and Eco-socialist based in Peru, and Esteban Volkov, the grandson of Leon Trotsky who headed the Trotsky Museum in Coyoacan, Mexico.  Hugo Blanco y Esteban Volkov, presente!

Today, air quality warnings are in effect across Ontario and Quebec.  Canada surpassed the record for area burned by wildfires in a single year, on Monday, as hundreds of fires continued to blaze in almost every province and territory.  Currently there are 490 fires, with 255 of them considered out of control.  Thousands of people have been driven from their homes.  As a result, the mega tonnes of carbon pouring into the atmosphere add enormously to the unfolding tragedy of climate change.  The Liberal federal government pledged billions to mitigate this unfolding disaster, but according to major media close to half the money is unspent.  In other words, Trudeau’s promises appear to be a smoky mirage.  Only expropriation of the major polluters can begin to address the current crisis.  We demand that labour and the NDP break with the lying Liberals and lead the fight for an Eco-socialist agenda.

Developments in the war in Ukraine are equally alarming. The rebellionled by the Wagner mercenary chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, reveals the fragile state of the regime of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. While Prigozhin soon agreed to stand down, and ordered his mercenary army to halt its advance on Moscow, the warlord-led uprising highlights the imminent and existential risk of nuclear Armageddon.

Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022—and especially since it became clear that Putin would not secure the quick victory he apparently expected—a nightmare scenario loomed. Putin could be driven from power, leaving behind a fragmented Russia where various ‘warlords’ compete for power—including control of the world’s second largest nuclear arsenal.  Clearly, NATO expansion across Eastern Europe, its violation of the Minsk agreements, and Kyiv’s deadly assault on the Donbas peoples since 2014, precipitated this crisis.  But the Kremlin’s invasion and wanton bombardment of central and western Ukraine, and Putin’s crude denial that Ukraine is a nation, has stoked reactionary nationalist sentiments on all sides of the conflict.  The claim that Russia is strong is belied by the fact that the Kremlin felt the need to hire multiple mercenary forces to wage war in Ukraine after hundreds of thousands of military draft-age Russians fled the country.  Instead of building an international anti-war movement, the Kremlin’s reliance on tanks and rockets has grown the membership of NATO, ballooned the profits of the leading war industries, and poisoned western world public opinion.  We witnessed that in Canada when a venue for anti-war speaker Dimitri Lascaris was cancelled by OPSEU in Toronto, and by another group in Winnipeg, due to agitation by Ukrainian nationalists.  Socialist Action remains committed to building an anti-war movement to demand negotiations to end the inter-imperialist war.  Urgently needed is a mass movement to seek nuclear disarmament starting with the USA and its allies, Canada out of NATO, the dissolution of NATO, self-determination for the peoples of Donbas and Crimea, and the release of all anti-war prisoners.

One of the consequences of war and boosted military spending is high inflation. While Canada’s inflation rate decelerated to 3.4 per cent in the year up to May, according to Statistics Canada that was due to sharply lower gasoline prices.  But many facets of the cost of living are still increasing rapidly.  Grocery prices went up by almost 9%. That is barely lower than the 9.1% pace set in April, and is still almost three times the inflation rate. Food prices have been increasing faster than the official inflation rate since late 2021.  And so have the profits of the grocery store giants.  But putting food on the table isn’t the only household expense that’s getting harder to do. The cost of keeping a roof over one’s head continues to rocket higher, too.  The mortgage interest cost index rose 29.9 per cent in the year up to May. That is the fastest pace on record, and it is happening because the Bank of Canada has been aggressively hiking its lending rate in an attempt to cool demand.  The solution of the Bank of Canada for our current woes is a recession.  Socialists offer a democratic solution, starting with price controls and public ownership.

By-elections took place on June 19 in four federal ridings.  Voters elected new members of Parliament in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce–Westmount, Que., Oxford, Ont., Portage–Lisgar, Manitoba, and Winnipeg South Centre.  The Liberals held on to the two ridings they won in 2021 and the Conservatives kept the two others.  The turnout was low, which NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh blamed for the approximately 10 per cent drop in his party’s vote.  The Peoples Party of Canada vote in Portage, where far-right PPC leader Maxime Bernier ran, shrank by 4 per cent, despite a big effort.

In the June 26 Toronto mayor by-election, former NDP MP and city councilor Olivia Chow ran as an independent.  She won with the exceedingly vague slogan “We can build an affordable, safer and caring city.”  She captured 37.17 per cent of the votes cast, topping former city councilor Ana Bailao at 32.45 per cent.  Chow enjoyed the support of the soft pro-capitalist left, and some unions, while Bailao was backed by prominent Liberals, former mayor John Tory, the Toronto Star, and a few other unions.  Voters repudiated the hard right wing, which was divided between former police chief Mark Saunders at 8.6 per cent and Toronto Sun columnist at 4.9 per cent.  Voter turnout was 40 per cent, up from the all-time low of 29 per cent at the civic general election in October 2022.  Chow, largely based on name recognition, led at the start of the campaign in early May, and held on against a crescendo of attacks by Ontario Conservative Premier Doug Ford and Toronto establishment figures, even though Chow posed no political threat to big business control of City Hall.  

The only organized party or coalition of forces that challenged the corporate agenda and the capitalist system is the Municipal Socialist Alliance.  The MSA candidate for mayor, Kiri Vadivelu, uniquely campaigned for public construction of mass social housing, seizure of vacant habitable spaces, expropriation of giant landlords, steeply increased taxation of properties over $3 million in assessed value, de-funding of police by at least 50 per cent and re-allocation of resources to meet community health needs, and for a grassroots participatory budget process, not “strong mayor” powers.

Kiri Vadivelu, the first Tamil-Canadian to run for the office, faced the largest array of contenders ever.  Out of 102 candidates, he came in 29thplace, surpassing several prominent social activists, a person who ran fourth in 2022, and a former Liberal MP.  Having a surname that begins with the letter V, and being listed #97 on the ballot paper, didn’t help, but it does mean that virtually every vote for Kiri was a hard-earned, class-conscious vote.  For the MSA, which aims primarily to organize workers and the oppressed, including non-citizens, youths, and marginalized people, building a movement for revolutionary change matters far more than sheer numbers and votes garnered.  The MSA received several group and individual endorsements and sizable financial contributions.  At the same time, most of the so-called socialist and communist organizations stood aside, ignored its appeal for unity in action; or worse, they endorsed the sub-reformist Chow. The MSA put socialism and a workers’ agenda on the ballot.  It did that by running ten candidates across Ontario in the October 2022 civic elections.  It will continue to fight for the working class, for tenants, immigrants, racialized and oppressed people every day, not just at election time.

Back on the federal scene, the NDP-Liberal Pact is rapidly withering on the vine.  The marginal gains in promised public dental care, and the staggering sacrifices in terms of big war spending and broken environmental promises are sure to be a lightning rod for discontent at the NDP federal convention, October 13-15 in Hamilton, Ontario.  The NDP Socialist Caucus, with an expanding base of members across the country, approved and circulated dozens of policy resolutions.  It has assembled a large team of good candidates for federal NDP executive positions. Please consider what you can do to propel the work of the SC forward.

In the labour movement, including at the Canadian Labour Congress convention in Montreal in May, socialist militants are seen as leaders of the unofficial opposition.  I am pleased to report that the Executive Board of the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union recently donated $2,000 to the Workers’ Action Movement.  Also, take note, that leaders of the Ontario Federation of Labour, President Patti Coates, and Vice-Present Janice Folk-Dawson, are not seeking re-election at the OFL convention, November 20-24 in Toronto.  That creates a wide-open election in which the Workers’ Action Movement can run candidates for the top positions in the OFL, draw the lessons of the near general strike in late 2022, and fight for a militant, democratic labour movement.  The task is to find the best candidates for a powerful WAM slate.Monday, September 4 is Labour Day.  While socialists prefer May Day to celebrate the gains and goals of the global working class, we are inclined to take every major opportunity to address workers wherever they gather.  Think about what is happening in your city or region on Labour Day.  Consider what socialists can do to raise their profile and speak to the issues that matter on that occasion.