All posts by YK

Trudeau’s defective apology to LGBT people

by John Wilson

Some (mostly) good news for a change! One is local to the GTA. Arising out of the effective resistance to a police campaign of anti-queer harassment and arrests in Marie Curtis park, all contested charges have been dropped. This is the result of strong local community organizing in the area, a development that likely would not have been possible even in the recent past. This suggests the growth of self-confidence and willingness to act in the public arena on the part of the local LGBT community and allies, which is really encouraging.

The other victory is in the federal arena: Prime Minister Trudeau’s apology for the decades-long vicious campaign by the RCMP and the military to eliminate gays and lesbians from the civil service and the armed forces. Between the 1950s and the 1990s, the Canadian state conducted widespread spying against queer people, firing numerous people simply on the basis of their sexuality, tried to intimidate them into giving information on others, destroying careers and lives along the way. (There were suicides that resulted from this witch-hunt.)

While Trudeau’s apology is fairly wide-ranging, it is also defective and lacks honesty. He attributes this atrocity to “the thinking of the time.” This was a deliberate and calculated policy orchestrated by the highest levels of the federal state. And the apology is the result of decades of protest organized by queer activists and their allies, not the implied generosity of the government. Money has been allocated to compensate people grievously harmed by this campaign. But it is too late for many. And if compensation is handled the same way as it has been in the case of the atrocity of residential schools, people will wait a long time to see any money. The promised expungement of criminal records involving consensual sex does NOT include convictions for violating the medieval bawdy house laws under which hundreds were arrested, as in the infamous Toronto bathhouse raids.

So, while the apology is a victory for queer communities, it is not an unqualified one, and major issues have not been addressed. Among these is the ongoing prohibition of gay men donating blood and the continuing criminalization of HIV. The struggle continues.

High Expectations confront New NDP Gov’t in British Columbia

by Gary Porter

Victoria, B.C.: After only 120 days in office, the freshman New Democratic Party government on Canada’s west coast had to face delegates elected by the membership of the mass labour-based party at its provincial convention, November 3-5. Expectations were high on the major issues affecting working people, indigenous communities, women, visible minorities, and the impoverished in British Columbia. After 16 years of harsh Liberal Party rule, public services have been slashed, fees increased, the public infrastructure neglected, the environment ravaged, climate change ignored, labour rights attacked and all restrictions on corporate campaign financing were removed — resulting in a wild west show of bought and sold politicians.

In the May 2017 election, the NDP won 44% of the vote, and the Green Party 16%. The parties won 41 and 3 seats respectively out of a total of 87. The two parties came to an agreement by which the NDP formed the government, with Green Party support on key issues.

Almost 800 delegates came from labour unions and riding (electoral) associations, the party youth wing and the women’s rights standing committee. The delegation reflected the true face of BC where over 30% of the population consists of visible minorities, 6% are members of indigenous nations and about 30% of the labour force is unionized. While professionals and some small business operators were present, big business was not in the convention hall.

The NDP Premier, John Horgan and several cabinet Ministers reported on early actions of the government. The list included: increasing welfare by $100 monthly, increasing the amount recipients can earn before social assistance reductions occur, cutting provincial medicare fees in half and promising to eliminate the fee completely over time, increasing the minimum wage (though it will take years to reach the goal of $15/hour), and announcing its opposition to the proposed Texas-based Kinder Morgan pipeline designed to carry bitumen from the Alberta Tar Sands to the fragile Pacific coast. The pipeline would result in an eightfold increase in tanker traffic in the Straights of Georgia and Juan de Fuca, endangering the marine environment, and affecting Vancouver, Victoria, and potentially Seattle.

The Premier announced he was “reviewing”, rather than opposing, the massive Site C power dam project in north-east BC. The project is outrageously expensive, unnecessary and likely to serve primarily to power development of the tar sands in Alberta. Some indigenous people oppose the project while others support it. Some unions, such as United Steelworkers support the project, and other unions reject it. Environmentalists uniformly condemn it.

The NDP government could play a leadership role and counter pose green public energy projects, incorporating equity hiring policies for women, indigenous peoples and visible minorities in a new green energy sector.

In fact, the NDP government faces a huge opportunity to get profit-oriented capitalist businesses out of energy production and distribution by simply expanding the scope and purpose of the government-owned BC Hydro, which distributes electricity to residences and businesses in B.C., and by taking over private energy corporations and operating them solely to meet public need rather than private profit.

The NDP leadership, however, is not socialist. It is social democratic — committed to reforming capitalism, not replacing it. Even so, social democratic parties have undertaken ambitious nationalization programs.

The convention delegates participated energetically in convention floor debates, although a mere five hours was devoted to dealing with resolutions submitted by unions and local party associations.

Socialist Action supports the NDP Socialist Caucus, which is open to all NDP members. The SC advocates social ownership and democratic workers’ control of the principal means of production, distribution, transportation, communication and finance. It advocates a dramatic reduction of work hours, with no loss of pay or benefits, to ensure that the working class obtains the benefits of automation. The SC calls for nationalization of polluters, the right to self-determination for indigenous peoples, fair trade, and for swiftly putting an end to Canada’s participation in imperialist military alliances such as NATO and NORAD.

Socialist Caucus speakers at the mic ripped the federal Justin Trudeau government’s tolerance of the utterly unfair tariffs on BC lumber imposed by the Trump administration, proposing that Canada cease buying American war planes, which would result in a loss of hundreds of billions of dollars to the U.S. arms industry. The SC advocated an annual cost of living increase to keep pace with the minimum wage, and argued for free tuition for all post secondary students to make education truly accessible to working class families and other low income British Columbians
These ideas won substantial, even wildly enthusiastic support, although none were formally adopted. The reason for that is simple: amendments can not be moved directly from the floor. Only motions of referral, with specific instructions to the resolutions committee, are accepted. Typically, referred motions never return to the floor due to the lack of adequate time for policy debate.

The convention did adopt resolutions for the reestablishment of a Human Rights Commission in BC, measures to fully restore union collective bargaining rights, for proper funding of the infrastructure, for much improved public transport in BC. The gathering called for halting the seizure of indigenous children by the child welfare system and instead demanded efforts to help indigenous families deal with the issues of drug addition, poverty and joblessness, and a plan to build 1700 affordable public residential rental units. Delegates mandated repairs to the infrastructure of the BC Hydro corporation and the BC Auto Insurance Corporation, badly undercut by the previous government which opposes publicly owned services on principle.

In addition, the closure of the wild west show, of unlimited corporate donations was approved. Party and candidate donations will be restricted to individuals only and to a maximum of $1200 annually. Unfortunately, this puts an equal sign between unions and private for-profit corporations, which mis-educates workers, limits the political intervention of workers’ organizations, while capitalists with enormous resources will always find a way around the rules. The NDP government pledges to introduce a system of proportional representation in BC, and to increase training for child care workers, expand childcare facilities and charge only $10 daily per child. The convention demanded that the Trudeau federal government establish a framework to add pharma care and dental care to existing medical coverage for all.

When the convention endorsed the $15/hour minimum wage, BC Federation of Labour President Irene Lanzinger said labour is patient, but not too patient — insisting that the measure be fully implemented before the end of 2018. The palpable tension between popular expectations and bureaucratic opportunism is a sign of things to come.

Photo Credits: Joshua Berson Photography

OFL opts for Political Action

by Julius Arscott *

The Ontario Federation of Labour convention, held in Toronto, November 20 -24, saw several large affiliates that withheld dues for four years rejoin the House of Labour in Canada’s most populous province.  The dues strike by OPSEU, SEIU and ONA, actuated by a factional battle between conservative union bureaucrats and the progressive past president of the OFL, Sid Ryan, crippled the federation, forcing it to sell its headquarters building. The right wing coup replaced CUPE’s Ryan with UNIFOR’s Chris Buckley.

Many workplace and equity issues were discussed at the convention, but the OFL brass exerted every effort to keep ‘divisive’ issues off the floor.  Several resolutions submitted in support of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the Israeli apartheid state, as well as for the eco-socialist LEAP Manifesto, were buried at the back of the resolutions book.  Convention guest speakers included former Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis, current ONDP leader Andrea Horwath, and Black Lives Matter activist Desmond Cole.

The legislation that broke the community college teachers’ strike, passed in the Ontario Legislature on the eve of the convention, hung over the proceedings like a foul cloak. The teachers’ battle against precarious work and for workplace democracy evoked great admiration and support, tinged by bitterness at the outcome.  Outrageously, at a march of a few hundred of the 1,100 delegates led by Buckley to Queens Park there was no mention of the strikebreaking legislation; only praise for the labour law reform Bill 148.  Important gains in the form of better union organizing rules, and a rise to a $15/hour minimum wage by 2019, cannot justify turning a blind eye to Liberal government strike breaking and the lasting blow it deals to collective bargaining.

Try as it did, the OFL leadership was unable to prevent a debate on a motion to endorse the union-based New Democratic Party in the next provincial election. The amendment to the official Action Plan carried, but was challenged the very next day. The challenge, orchestrated by the pro-Liberal right wing, and ironically backed by supporters of the Communist Party, was soundly defeated, bucking the trend of so-called ‘strategic voting’, a not so modern version of Samuel Gompers’ “reward your friends, punish your enemies” brand of labour opportunism.  The weakening of the party of the unions only fostered illusions in the Liberal side of Bay Street, and served to reinforce the austerity agenda of the state. The role of socialists and labour militants within the NDP is not to be cheerleaders, but to fight for the interests of the working class against capitalism and its labour lieutenants.

A CUPE rank and file activist, Barry Conway, ran for OFL President against Chris Buckley, on an stridently anti-austerity and anti-fascist platform. Conway gained a respectable 18% of the ballots cast despite the lack of an organized effort.  It was a sign of a growing rejection of status quo unionism in Ontario.

At a lunch break, the leftist Workers Action Movement hosted a well attended public forum titled “How to Fight Austerity – lessons from the College faculty strike”.  Guest speakers came from the college academic division, as well as from UNIFOR and Latin America.  During the entire convention, Socialist Action sold dozens of copies of its press, and staffed a well stocked literature table which attracted interested delegates from across the labour movement.

An emergency resolution, reaffirming organized labour’s right to collectively bargain and strike, was passed on the last day of the convention.  Mike Palecek, President of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, said that labour should be prepared to defy anti-worker legislation and build the general strike which is needed to defeat the bosses’ strikebreaking, austerity agenda.

* Julius Arscott, a member of the Executive Board of the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union, was a delegate to the OFL Convention.

Liberals break Ontario College Teachers Strike – with hardly a peep from union tops

by Barry Weisleder

After 86 per cent of 12,000 Ontario community college teachers rejected Management’s last offer in a forced vote, the Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne broke their strike with a law pushed through the Ontario Legislature on Sunday, November 19.  Conservative MPPs welcomed it.  Only the labour-based New Democratic Party opposed the strike-breaking law.

Sadly, the President of the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union, Smokey Thomas, expressed relief that the strike was ended.  He actually told the media that if he was in Wynne’s position, he’d have done the same thing.

No section of the labour bureaucracy urged defiance of the blatant assault on the principle of free collective bargaining and the right to strike.  There may be an OPSEU-initiated court challenge, but that will take years for a decision to be issued on the constitutionality of the law.

No union leaders called for mass job action to demand that the colleges’ Management be forced, by an act of the Legislature, or otherwise, to accept the teachers’ requests for more full-time jobs (right now, 70 per cent of all the teaching positions are part-time), and for ‘academic freedom’ to properly teach and grade their students.

The issues in dispute, that fomented months of negotiations and sparked a five-week strike, now go to arbitration.  Meanwhile, students and teachers will have to shoulder an intense work load as the school year is extended by about four weeks.

Photo Credits: Adrian Wyld, The Canadian Press

Tough choices for low-wage families

A report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative found the richest half of Ontario families raising children took home 81 per cent of earnings in 2013-2015, leaving the bottom half to share 19 per cent.

The gap has widened from a 78-22 ratio, in 2000 to 2002.

For families in the bottom half, the rise in precarious and low wage work has meant touch choices.

“If your kids have a field trip, you’re in trouble, if your kids have a growth spurt, you’re in trouble,” said Isabella Daley, whose daughters are now 19 and 24 and living at home.

Even trips to the grocery store can mean choosing between shampoo and household cleaning supplies, said Daley, who advocates for living wages through the Hamilton Round-table for Poverty Reduction.

Bill 148, the so-called Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, proposes raising the minimum wage from $11.40 to $15 by 2019, along with changes supposedly to make it easier to join a union.  Socialists advocate $18 an hour minimum wage now, and automatic union certification in every work place where over 50 per cent of the employees sign up to join a union.