All posts by YK

Liberal Federal Budget: Feast for the Rich, Crumbs for the Rest

by Barry Weisleder

Justin Trudeau’s undeserved reputation as a ‘progressive’ is now officially in tatters. His one-day wonder of a federal budget, calculated to overshadow the ongoing SNC Lavalin scandal, quickly shrank to a footnote. Still, there is plenty of fiscal anguish, even in Liberal ranks.

At the Toronto Star, a media pillar of liberalism, there is much hand wringing. The March 20 lead editorial was titled “Morneau’s Budget – Liberals can be bolder.” Star columnist David Olive later wrote, “since it came to power in 2015, the (Justin) Trudeau government’s progressive instincts have weakened… this week’s budget should have Grits worried that their party is losing its soul.”

Well, if there be such a thing as a soul, the Liberal Spiritus Sanctus is comfortably dwelling deep within the Canadian Corporate Corpus. The pre-election 2019 federal budget sprinkles bread crumbs on the sea without raising a ripple against the vessel of capitalist private profit. While the captains of industry and commerce continue to enjoy public subsidies and tax havens abroad for their billions, here are some conspicuous acts of neglect and omission on the domestic landscape.

Pharmacare: About 20 per cent of Canadians are uninsured or under-insured for prescription drugs. One in ten goes without prescribed medications due to cost. The Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates that universal pharma care would save more than $4 billion a year if the government exercised its purchasing power as the sole buyer. (Even more would be saved if a public enterprise did the research, production and distribution of medical drugs.) But Finance Minister Bill Morneau kept such a scheme out of the budget. He prefers to wait for the final report of an advisory body he appointed, which may recommend only filling in the gaps left by Canada’s current hodgepodge of pharmaceutical plans. That would keep Big Pharma happy.

Skills training: The budget says workers between the ages of 25 and 64 will be eligible for a training allowance of $250 a year, to a maximum of $5000. Not much training can be purchased for that paltry amount. Worse, the allowance can be accessed only if the provinces change their labour laws to let workers take re-education breaks without losing their jobs. Furthermore, adults who take time off work for re-training will be eligible for a mere four weeks off the job at just 55 per cent of full pay, and only once every four years. Is this the definition of useless, or what?

Childcare: For just one child it can cost as much as $12,000 a year. The government’s Canada Child Benefit has reduced the child poverty rate, but that doesn’t build any daycare spaces. It doesn’t enable many more women to go to work, or reduce the debt burden that is weighing down so many people. Canadians have accumulated more household debt than the residents of almost any other country. Debt dismay fuels right wing populism.

Housing: Young workers are shut out of the home ownership market. Many are couch surfing, some even living rough and dying on the streets. Trudeau/Morneau’s answer is a “shared equity” mortgage plan. It raises the amount people can borrow from their RRSP (if they have one) to put into a down payment. But the plan effectively caps the price of a home to be purchased this way at around $500,000. Experts say this no help in big markets like Toronto and Vancouver. Queen’s University real estate professor John Andrew calls the move symbolic. “They’re trying to appease the real estate lobby… to appear as though they’re doing something for first-time home buyers.” After WW2, the state built affordable housing to accommodate the baby boom and subsequent waves of immigrants. Socialists demand the creation of a public land assembly and housing construction corporation with a mandate to build 500,000 energy efficient, affordable, quality units within five years. Venezuela built 2.5 million homes in eight years. But hey, that’s a government Ottawa wants to overthrow, not emulate.

Energy – The feds opt for a mix of electric cars and dirty oil pipelines. Seriously. To be precise, the Liberal budget allocates $435 million in incentives for electric or hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicle buyers in order to nudge hitherto unwilling auto makers – after spending $4.5 billion to buy the Trans Mountain Pipeline (and double that to build a new parallel line). Trudeau refuses to convert the extensive Canada Post delivery fleet to electric — much less nationalize job killing GM in Oshawa or Fiat/Chrysler in Windsor to produce the trains, buses, freight hauling and personal vehicles for a green, sustainable future. Environmental scientists say it’s twelve years to irreversible climate catastrophe.

Farmers – The supply management system in Canada protects farmers in dairy, poultry and egg sectors by limiting imports from abroad and setting quotas for domestic production and sales. But Trudeau/Freeland signed trade agreements with the EU and the Pacific Rim that opened up these markets to foreign competition. Will the $3.9 billion support program for these farmers keep them operating?

Low income seniors – Folks aged 65+ have been falling behind for decades. The budget promises to spend $1.76 billion over four years to increase the Guaranteed Income Supplement – beginning in 2020. It will also increase the amount of income seniors can make without shrinking the supplement payouts they receive. In other words, low-income seniors are encouraged to keep working. O joy!

Pinch the Rich? — Hardly. In 2017, 2,330 Canadians ‘earned’ more than $1 million and claimed stock options tax deductions (i.e. bought company stocks, only half of which is taxed). The budget caps at $200,000 the use of this tax dodge at large “mature” companies (which exempts millionaires at start-ups). Clearly, this measure does nothing to fund social needs, much less close the gap between the super-rich and the working class. According to author Linda McQuaig, top CEOs receive 2,000 times the earnings of the average worker.

And what about electoral reform? Indigenous reconciliation? Feminism? Better forget about it, so long as Colonel Sanders is in charge of the hen house.

Forgive the pun, but under capitalism, big business greed trumps workers’ needs. “Affordability anxiety” preoccupies 57 per cent of Canadians, according to the Abacus Data polling firm. With appropriate leadership, it could power a challenge to capitalist rule.

The Marxist analysis of women’s oppression

First published in Socialist Action newspaper, August 14, 2014.

By CHRISTINE MARIE

Review of Lise Vogel, “Marxism and the Oppression of Women: Toward a Unitary Theory” (Leiden: Brill Academic Books, 2013; Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2013).

In the late 1960s, more feminist theorists than not assumed that Marxism offered the main analytical tools necessary to understand women’s oppression and, in turn, to chart the strategic course to its elimination.

At the center of their theoretical efforts was the “domestic labor debate.” This debate opened with the publication of a 1969 article by Margaret Benston, titled, “The Political Economy of Women’s Liberation.” The work that women performed within the household became a subject of analysis; this work was understood as “productive,” necessary for the reproduction of capitalist society as a whole.

For the next 10 years, feminists who were socialists began studies to fully theorize domestic labor as an integral part of the capitalist mode of production. As Susan Ferguson and David McNally write in their introduction to the new publication of Lise Vogel’s 1983 text, “Marxism and Oppression of Women,” in dozens of journals they “probed Marxist concepts of use value and exchange value, labour-power, and class for what these might reveal about the political-economic significance” of household work.

In the main, the debate hung up on a few central questions: What kind of value does domestic labor produce? Is it the kind of value produced by workers in capitalist production, i.e. surplus value? If not, and if, according to Marxist theory, domestic labor is not central to the workings of capital in the same way that the work in an auto plant or steel mill is, does this mean that Marxism by its very nature is incapable of providing the central framework for understanding the oppression of women?

There were three main responses to this question. By far the most influential one was “yes.” The most famous articulation of that position in the United States was Heidi Hartmann’s “The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism,” which launched what became known as the dual systems approach, a thesis that posited that capitalism and patriarchy merely functioned alongside each other. Over time, patriarchy began to be treated primarily as the realm of ideology, creating space for non-materialist post-structuralist approaches to women’s oppression.

Other debate participants like Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Sylvia James responded by questioning the weight that Marxist theory placed on surplus value and the strategic approach that flowed from this weight. Contemporary autonomist Marxists who work within this general theoretical approach charted by Dalla Costa and James, such as Sylvia Federici, elevate the social power of unwaged labor and see it as central to the overthrow of capitalist society.

The third major grouping of responses was expressed by individual Marxist feminists who insisted on the strategic importance of waged labor, and remained optimistic about the possibility of Marxist theoretical advances that would more adequately explain women’s oppression. These voices, however, were generally lost in the great void created by the waning of the mass feminist movement that nurtured previous such theoretical work, and a corresponding lack of attention from within the socialist movement.

One of those voices, that of Lise Vogel, has recently been given the attention she deserves. A new version of “Marxism and Women’s Oppression,” updated with essays by Vogel from the 1990s, has recently been issued in hardcover by the academic publishing house of Brill and in paperback by Haymarket Press. The re-publication of Vogel’s book is both reaction and stimulus. The current crisis of capitalism—characterized by the most extreme attacks on the social wage, an increasing awareness of the role of women in global capitalist production, and an ever more obvious shift in the way that the reproduction of labor is organized in the United States—has created a new sense of urgency regarding such theoretical work. The rediscovery of Vogel by sections of the socialist movement, in turn, has provided a basic foundation on which Marxist feminist theoretical work can more easily begin again.

Vogel’s book is divided into four sections. Part One reviews the theoretical debates that took place during the second wave of feminism (ca. the 1970s) in a kind of chronological and thematic organization, summarizing critiques of Juliet Mitchell’s iconic work “Women: The Longest Revolution,” Margaret Benston’s “What Defines Women?,” Peggy Morton’s “Women’s Work is Never Done, or: The Production, Maintenance and Reproduction of Labor Power,” Mariarosa Dalla Costa’s “Women and the Subversion of the Community,” and the work of Nancy Holstrom and Maxine Molyneux.

She also notes the contributions and weaknesses of radical feminists such as Shulamith Firestone and Kate Millet. She argues that the work of this period accomplished several important things. It firmly established the project of analyzing women’s oppression as having a material, and not just political or ideological root. Secondly, they exposed how inadequate were economic determinist approaches by highlighting the psychological and ideological factors enacted in the family.

In the end, while most were certain that the concept of “reproduction” linked women’s oppression to the Marxist analysis of production, a truly unitary theory that embedded women’s oppression in Marxist theory of capitalist production remained undeveloped.

Part Two focuses on the views of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels over time and in their historical context. She easily dismisses facile or dishonest mis-readings of the two giants of socialist thought and traces the development of their thought on this question, but does not hesitate to pinpoint moments when the thoughts of Marx and Engels on the place of woman in class society is incomplete or contradictory.

Vogel reviews the theoretical importance of both Marx’s “Capital” and Engels’ “Origin of the Family Private Property and the State,” but devotes a considerable amount of space to some of the inconsistencies of the latter owing to Engels’ rush to get out a materialist rebuttal to August Bebel’s “Women and Socialism.” Marx’s work in “Capital” on social reproduction, which becomes the anchor of her own theoretical work, she finds especially suggestive and useful for the coming effort construct unitary theory.

In Part Three, Vogel shows how the weaknesses of Bebel’s 1879 work, stemming from his incorporation of some of the ideas of Utopian socialist Charles Fourier and liberal individualism, led to great confusion in the era of the Second International. Then, as in the 1970s, the “woman question” and the class question were treated more often than not as parallel rather than intertwined phenomenon in capitalist society. The Bolsheviks attempted to correct these reformist tendencies, as they did other errors of the German social democracy, but their theoretical work was shaped by the crisis and challenges of their specific historical moment.

Vogel concludes this section by stating, “In the long run, the experience of the Russian Revolution raised at least as many questions about the relation of women’s oppression to socialist transformation as it answered. … history had posed a specific woman-question, distinct from those thrust forward by capitalist relations of production.” Unfortunately, Vogel suggests, the more advanced positions of Clara Zetkin and Lenin on the root of women’s oppression failed to make a lasting impression on the Left as a whole, and the weak legacy of the Second International remained dominant.

The basis for continuing to advance Marxist theoretical work on women’s oppression, Vogel argues, is stepping beyond the bounds of the domestic labor debate as it unfolded during the 1960s and 1970s. To begin, she says, we first have to look at Marx’s Capital and the notions of labor-power and the reproduction of labor power. From the theoretical point of view, the reproduction of labor power is not invariably associated with private kin-based households, as the old domestic labor debate assumed.

Child rearing and the private care of workers in families is only one way that capitalism organizes the reproduction of labor power. At certain moments, for example, capitalism can choose to import immigrant labor, enslave them, house them in barracks, work them to death and import more, etc.

The system of using a kin-based unit to reproduce labor power is clearly advantageous as it has been normative at moments of capitalist stability. At the same time, the countervailing tendency of capitalism to reduce necessary labor in favor of surplus labor is always at play. In our own time, the reduction of domestic labor through technological means offers capitalists the hope that profit-making can increase.

If these theoretical assertions about capitalism provide at least some of the tools with which we begin to do concrete historical investigation and contemporary economic exploration, Vogel argues, we will be back on the route toward a unitary theory of Marxism and women’s oppression. All people who are striving for social change should take advantage of the road map created by this pioneer of Marxist feminist thought.

The Gender Wage Gap – Still

Women in Canada still earn 31 per cent less than men annually. In fact, Canada ranks fiftieth out of 149 countries when it comes to wage equality for similar work. This is according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report for 2018.

The Justin Trudeau Liberal government in Ottawa claims to be feminist – though not so much for equal pay. It winks at Canada Post management which refuses to raise the largely-female Rural and Suburban Mail Carriers to equality with their urban counterparts. It has blocked pay equity, even denied compensation for the agonizingly long delayed payment of workers in the federal public service.

Just as bad, Trudeau and his bosom brethren in the corporate elite have no plan to institute or fund public, affordable, quality childcare services that would enable mothers to get back into the workforce. They refuse to boost family income and reduce child poverty by taxing the rich and relieving the burden on the working class. Ontario Conservative Premier Doug Ford goes one worse by stalling implementation of legislation aimed at increasing wage transparency in the province – which he denounces as a “challenge” for business. Likewise, last summer Ford cancelled the rise in the minimum wage to $15/hour set for January 2019. That move cost low wage workers about $2,000 each.

The rulers’ policy on women goes beyond shameful. Besides, the rich have no shame – they have only profit goals. Theirs is a corporate agenda — part and parcel of a system that deserves to be eradicated.

– BW

Report: Cop Racism in Thunder Bay, Ontario is “institutional”

The widely held view that police have racist attitudes towards Indigenous people was confirmed by Ontario’s independent police watchdog following a two-year investigation. A searing 200-plus-page report by police review director Gerry McNeilly states that systemic racism exists within the Thunder Bay Police Service “at an institutional level.” It says that police in the city on the north shore of Lake Superior did not carry out proper investigations of dozens of Indigenous deaths that occurred under suspicious circumstances because of deep-seated racism. The implication is that police mistreatment of Indigenous people is commonplace.

The commercial media cites McNeilly’s report as a wake-up call to police across the province and beyond, especially in cities like Winnipeg, Manitoba and Regina, Saskatchewan, which have large Indigenous populations. The report, titled “Broken Trust”, comes on the heels of another study, released in early December, that found Black people were “grossly over represented” in incidents between 2003 and 2017 where Toronto cops used force, resulting in injury or death.

The liberal elite is worried more about the loss of cop credibility — loss of “Trust” — than about achieving justice for Indigenous people, for all racialized minorities, and for the working class. The naming of a new police chief in Thunder Bay, and the hiring of the first Indigenous chair of the city’s Police Services Board, are not going to reverse centuries of dispossession and marginalization. That’s where racism is rooted. Instead of agitating for pipelines, if politicians wanted meaningful change they would attack poverty and target obscene concentrations of corporate wealth.

They would join socialists in demanding: Restitution before Reconciliation.

What are the chances?

– BW

In Canada, the Right to Strike Exists… Until you Try to Use it

Postal workers, power workers, teachers and bus drivers are recent victims of a disturbing trend – loss of the right to strike. In the case of members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, federal Liberal back-to-work legislation on November 27 put a halt to five weeks of rotating strikes. Up to then, no cross-country work stoppage occurred, and there was only a minor mail backlog. On December 20, the Conservative Ontario government passed a no strike law aimed at 6,000 Power Workers’ Union members who run hydroelectric stations and nuclear plants; this occurred before any job action began. Back in the Spring, a Liberal Ontario regime broke the strike of teaching assistants, members of CUPE Local 3903, at York University. In May 2015, Queen’s Park stopped secondary school teachers from exercising their ‘right to strike’ at three school boards. In 2009, the government imposed a back-to-work law on striking Toronto Transit Commission workers.

According to the Canadian Foundation for Labour Rights (CFLR), a serious erosion of the fundamental and universal human right to organize into a union, and to engage in free collective bargaining is spreading. Federal and provincial governments in Canada passed 224 pieces of legislation since 1982 that have limited, suspended or denied collective bargaining rights.

Authorities restricted the right of unions to organize. Collective agreements have been torn up. Negotiated wages and benefits have been taken away. Employers’ proposals have been legislatively imposed on workers and the right to strike removed. Both the private and the public sectors have been hit.

The CFLR finds that:

There has been a major change in the frequency and severity of back-to-work legislation in Canada in recent years. Since the early 1980s, the number of instances of back-to-work legislation is higher than any other period in the history of labour relations in Canada. In the last three decades, the federal government alone passed 19 pieces of back-to-work legislation while provincial governments across the country have enacted 73 pieces of back-to-work legislation.

Most of this legislation (50 of the 92 pieces of legislation) not only forced workers back to work after taking strike action, but also arbitrarily imposed settlements on the striking workers. In 2011 postal workers were locked out, then had terms and conditions imposed on them.

A common phenomenon in the public sector throughout the 1980s and 1990s has been the suspension of collective bargaining rights. With the exception of Saskatchewan, public sector workers across Canada gained the right to collective bargaining in the decade between 1967 and 1977. In the three decades that followed, most public sector workers have had their collective bargaining rights suspended anywhere from three to ten years.

There have been 53 pieces of legislation passed in the federal Parliament and provincial legislatures that have suspended the collective bargaining rights of public sector workers.

Since 1982, there have also been 80 instances where federal and provincial labour laws have been amended to further restrict unions’ ability to organize and bargain collectively. Nine pieces of legislation have actually denied certain categories of workers the right to join a union and nine pieces of legislation have restricted the certification process hurting the labour movement’s ability to organize the unorganized. There have been 62 instances where the federal and provincial governments passed legislation that restricted the rules and/or scope of bargaining, denied the right to strike and limited the mechanisms available for settlement of disputes or allowed for greater government and/or employer interference in internal union matters.”

In a recent news release, Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario asked:

When are we going to see ‘back to the bargaining table’ legislation forcing employers to deal with workers’ representatives fairly and appropriately?

Clearly, the bosses’ agenda is not about bargaining. It is about squeezing workers, and using the law to deprive workers of a legal recourse. Thus, what pressure can workers hope to apply?

Traditionally, less than two per cent of collective bargaining led to a legal strike. Today, even that low incidence is being reduced to a rarity.

Why? Because the capitalist rulers have fewer crumbs to offer. They seek to solve their deep economic problems on the backs of working people. Conservative labour leaders and cowardly social democrats compound the problem by acquiescing to concessions demanded by management. General Motors, after milking the public for billions of dollars in aid, is planning to shut down auto production in Oshawa – and seems to be getting away Scot-free.

What is the solution? Workers should look to history to see how the first unions were built, and how improvements were won. May 1, 2019 marks the 100th anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike.

A general strike – now there’s an idea whose time has come again. History teaches that struggle decides, not the law.

(The above article was compiled by Barry Weisleder.)