Category Archives: Analysis

Defeat Legault’s Racist Bill 21

The Quebec government of Francois Legault is bringing forward a bill that would outlaw the wearing of “religious symbols” by public employees. Legault’s Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) holds a majority of seats in Quebec’s National Assembly. Bill 21 would target judges, police and prison guards, as well as teachers.

Premier Legault argues the law is needed to defend “laicité”, the separation of church and state, claiming even-handedness, since the crucifix which was installed 85 years ago in the chamber of deputies during the Duplessis era will be removed from the National Assembly.

In reality, the law is primarily aimed at Quebec’s Muslim community and will overtly discriminate against women with a hijab (head covering) or the smaller number of women wearing the burka (veil). When asked to justify excluding hijab clad women who want to become teachers, Legault replied arrogantly “they will just have to find other jobs.” Removing a face covering would be required to receive public services, even something as simple as riding public transit.

If the law is ultimately declared unconstitutional, Legault will likely invoke the notwithstanding clause. This was famously used to protect Bill 101, Quebec’s language law, a measure that enjoys much greater public support than the victimization of minority women enshrined in Bill 21. Banning head coverings and veils has more support in rural and small-town Quebec. Antipathy to these repressive measures is strongest in Montreal, where most cultural and religious minorities are concentrated.  

Quebec society has been roiled by Islamophobia for over ten years. First cultivated by the right wing populist predecessors of the CAQ, it was then taken up by the Parti Quebecois which tried to foist a “Charte des Valeurs” on the province in 2013. In 2017, a young man immersed in the white racist milieu opened fire at a Quebec City mosque, killing 6 and wounding 19 defenseless worshipers. 

As prospects for Quebec independence have dimmed, there has been a rise of identarian white nationalism giving an opening to right wing populist parties like the CAQ and in turn feeding more extreme manifestations of xenophobia.

Quebec Solidaire has not been untouched by Islamophobia, but in a welcome move it came out against Bill 21 at its recent National Council meeting.

An anti-racist campaign in defense of the rights of Muslim women is gathering steam. Defeating this racist and anti-woman bill will strengthen struggles against cuts in public services, attacks on wages and working conditions, and the ongoing environmental degradation and corporate plunder of Quebec’s natural wealth which is the hidden agenda of Legault’s pro-business administration.

Robbie Mahood, reporting from Montréal  

Labour rallies downplay job action to stop Ontario Tory agenda

by Sam Cheadle

Over 800 labour activists from across the province responded to the call of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) on March 25 to attend a “Take Back Ontario Conference” at the Metro Convention Center, just a few blocks from the Toronto Stock Exchange. The event was billed as a discussion to initiate a coordinated fightback against the Conservative Doug Ford government. But it was not a decision-making body — more like a public forum. Since Ford’s election last June labour and activist groups like Socialist Action have been calling for an emergency OFL convention where elected delegates could set policies and make plans for a general strike. With the “Progressive” Conservatives holding a majority of seats in the Legislature, many on the left emphasized that we cannot afford to wait until the next election to challenge this government directly. It is imperative that labour make the province ungovernable and thwart the hard-neoliberal austerity agenda, before irreparable damage is done. SA members Julius Arscott and Barry Weisleder spoke early from floor mics to argue for escalating actions towards a general strike to oust the Tories. Many folks applauded. To deflect this sentiment, former UNIFOR staffer and current OFL President Chris Buckley asked “Can we mobilize 100,000 people tomorrow in Ontario to fight the Ford government?” But isn’t this the wrong question? What we need to know is: How do we prepare to mobilize 100,000 people? Sending activists back to their communities, to have tea with their neighbours, is not going to reverse the Ford agenda. An effective response from labour is needed. It is time to draw a line in the sand, to unequivocally state that the movement will defend every union local and every public service from further privatization and theft. That means when Ford tells teachers “don’t even think about strike action”, the response should be “See you on the picket line!” It means when a PC politician’s office is messed up, don’t make sappy apologies; double down and denounce the violence inherent in taking over $3 billion in wages away from Ontario workers when the planned $1/hour increase in the minimum wage was cancelled just before Christmas. It also means putting resources into community groups to engage in direct actions, not telling rank and file activists to go build the movement, while the labour brass thinks about getting on board. The labour leadership has been putting the rank and file to sleep for the past 30 years. Now witness the full consequences of that.

What are some highlights of the conference? Injured workers issues were discussed, the idea of an OFL rapid response network was promoted, and one speaker, migrants’ rights activist Preethy Sivakumar laid out some stunning truths that are not often aired in official union gatherings. She spoke about the connections between racism and inequality, how right wing political leaders use racism to divide the working class and maintain economic equality, and how union members are not immune to these types of narratives. She maintained the number one job of unions is to “eliminate competition between workers and lift the floor for everyone.” Massive support was pledged for a health care rally on April 30 at Queens Park. Attacks on the construction unions were analyzed. Again, for effective actions to come from these discussions we need uncompromising leadership. Organizers of the April 30 rally should look to shut down Queen’s Park and fan out from the lawn, stop traffic, push aside the barriers, and take over the front steps. Who knows, workers might decide to address the legislature. Union leaders representing members in the construction trades who tacitly supported Ford during the June 2018 election need to be replaced.

The OFL conference was followed by an evening “Stewards Assembly” convened by the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, with attendees seated by electoral district. While it was interesting to connect with local area activists, the assembly severely limited cross-city input (there were no mics on the floor). By the end of the evening the mood of disappointment was palpable. Chris Buckley gave another tiresome speech, dolling out a few contradictory and self-serving phrases. After the event organizers released a statement that accurately reported the “massive turnout for yesterday’s Stewards Assembly spoke volumes about the appetite to get organized and build solidarity.” But the nearly one thousand rank and file activists in the room received little more than platitudes. Exceptional was a speech by author Linda McQuaig and some short videos featuring rank and file activists who are battling austerity within their workplaces.

Nonetheless, the small opening offered by the labour bureaucracy should be seized. Resolutions passed in community and labour groups that call for mass action are needed. Support striking workers. Defy back to work legislation. Confront and shut down alt-right and white supremacist groups where they appear. Occupy spaces that are under threat from the Thug Ford government. The slogan of ‘educate, agitate, organize’ must take on a more radical meaning, and come to life, to spark mass resistance and force an entrenched labour bureaucracy to join us on the street as we confront the major assault on the working class in Ontario that is taking shape at breakneck speed.

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.

‘Progressive’ Trudeau government attacks Venezuela

by John Clarke

Anyone who still entertains any illusions in the ‘progressive’ nature of the Trudeau Government of Canada, would have been shocked to witness the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chrystia Freeland, assembling a collection of regional representatives of the Washington Consensus in Ottawa, on February 4, to further the coup plot against Venezuela. The so called Lima Group that she brought together dutifully issued a statement calling for the “national armed forces of Venezuela to demonstrate their loyalty to the interim president in his constitutional functions as their commander in chief.”

Despite the progressive pretensions of the Liberal Government in Ottawa and the ill-deserved reputation that Canada has for ‘peacekeeping’ and for being a moderating influence in international affairs, the present course under Trudeau and Freeland is quite consistent with the country’s role as the other G7 power in North America, a global exploiter in its own right.

Canadian Imperialism

In truth, when Freeland adopts the tone of U.S. Manifest Destiny and speaks of Latin America and the Caribbean as Canada’s “neighbourhood” she is only being a little more public than others might be about a perspective that dominates the thinking and behaviour of Canadian government and Big Business. The rapacity of Canadian mining operations in Latin America is without rival. The promotion of business interests has led to major Canadian involvement in the suppression of democratic rights and the imposition and preservation of compliant right-wing regimes. Canada was heavily involved in the 2004 coup that overthrew the democratically elected Aristide Government in Haiti and the horrors that followed this. A similar pattern exists with regard to the suppression of democracy in Honduras. Canadian Government leaders express fake outrage over the supposed denial of democratic rights in Venezuela even as they maintain a stony silence on continuing repression in Honduras.

When it comes to Venezuela, the official line of the Canadian Government is that efforts to destabilize the Government of that country only began with Maduro’s call for a Constituent Assembly in July 2017. This, however, is a complete falsehood as an article by Yves Engler amply demonstrates. Links to right-wing opposition forces go back to at least 2005 and “Canada is the third most important provider of democracy assistance,” as support for those working to return Venezuela to a place within the Washington Consensus is ironically described. However, during the past eighteen months, the orchestrated economic problems in Venezuela, the belligerence of the Trump Administration and the right-wing tide in much of the region have created a much greater resolve in Canadian ruling circles to intensify the attack on the Maduro Government and to try to open the country to unbridled plunder and exploitation.

Canada Takes Leading Attack Role

When Washington’s carefully groomed and well trained puppet, Juan Guaido, staked his claim to the role of ‘interim president’, the Trudeau Liberals in Ottawa were as ready as the Trump Administration in Washington to play their part. Canadian diplomats worked to unify the opposition forces, to line up as much international backing for their appointed stooge and leading Canadian politicians did all they could to present Guaido’s blatant violation of the Venezuelan Constitution as a legitimate quest for the ‘restoration of democracy.’

The most important role of Canada, however, lies in the fact that it’s track record of exploitation and domination in Latin America, while considerable in its own right, is not as massive or infamous as the conduct of U.S. imperialism in its self declared ‘backyard.’ The Canadian Government was, therefore, less compromised and better placed to co-ordinate the key role of compliant, right-wing regional regimes. The Lima Group was formed in 2017, with Canada playing a leading role and the U.S. staying out of the affair. It brought together the governments of those Latin American and Caribbean countries that were ready to openly attack Venezuela to an extent that the Organization of American States (OAS) could not be won over to. Foreign Affairs Minister Freeland has played a tireless role in trying to recruit new members to her nasty little club.

When Freeland assembled the representatives of the governments of Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Saint Lucia in Ottawa on February 4, she worked to craft an artful final statement that would avoid any call for direct military intervention from outside Venezuela while working to strengthen internal opposition and maximize the possibility of the military changing sides. As stated at the outset, a direct call to the military was featured in the statement. News reports show how this is now being followed with a strategy designed to draw sections of the Army into conflict with the Maduro Government. Two days after the Lima Group meeting, a provocative ‘humanitarian aid convoy’ approached the Columbian-Venezuelan border where it was blocked by troops. “The main goal now is to look to break the military – and the humanitarian aid is basically the Trojan horse to try to do that,” observed one commentator, aware of the effort to generate tensions between Maduro and the military leadership.

Regime Change Plan Proceeds

As the unholy alliance of imperialist powers and compliant regimes deepens the attack on Venezuela, the Trudeau Government can be expected to play a leading and despicable role in the affair. Within Canada, there is opposition. Some elected members of the social democratic New Democratic Party (NDP) have expressed a level of criticism of the Liberal Government’s conduct. The top leadership of the Party, however, has played a sad role. As I write this, the NDP Foreign Affairs Critic, Hélène Laverdière, has openly supported Washington’s puppet president and claimed she speaks for the parliamentary party. NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh, continues to take the less than impressive public position that he doesn’t know who the rightful President of Venezuela is. Trade union support for the people of Venezuela and their struggle in the face of threat is significant in Canada and the media is furiously attacking trade unions that show such support. There have been protests in solidarity with Venezuela and the meeting of the Lima Group itself in Ottawa was directly confronted by protesters.

Chrystia Freeland and the Trudeau Liberal Government are part of a systematic effort to ensure that the same agenda of austerity, privatization and environmental despoliation that has made gains in other Latin American countries is imposed without pity on Venezuela. Yet, resistance to the role of super exploited powerlessness has a long history south of the Rio Grande. Masses of people in Venezuela know that the ‘democracy’ the Trump Administration wants for them is too horrible to submit to. They know that the battle cry for freedom and democracy in their part of the world is ‘Yankee Go Home!’ They are also learning to their cost that the Ugly Canadian needs to be driven off at the same time.

This article first published on the Counterfire website.

John Clarke is a writer and leading organizer for the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP).

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.