Below is a copy of “Concessions No More! Fight to Defeat Austerity”, a collection of talks presented at Socialism 2013, the annual international educational conference hosted by Socialist Action / Ligue pour l’Action socialiste, held May 10-12, 2013 at the University of Toronto.
The fight against capitalist austerity and union concessions requires rank and file organization in all the unions to promote mass job action to win a Workers’ Agenda.
Rank and file organization should be based on policies, not personalities. It should actively strive to replace the current mis-leaders on political grounds. Abstention from struggle in the union arena, or giving political support to this or that wing of the bureaucracy, are a betrayal of the fight against austerity and concessions.
To change the overall direction of our unions, it is necessary to build a cross union, class struggle left wing. This has been the approach of revolutionary socialists in the unions in Canada and the USA since the 1920s, pioneered by the Trade Union Education League. The TUEL, which was active prior to the Stalinist degeneration of the Communist Party, provides an example that every worker-socialist should study.
by Bruce Allen
At the end of August 2013 a new union, called Unifor, will be launched in Canada with a membership of over 300,000 workers. At a convention in Toronto, the Canadian Autoworkers (CAW) and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers (CEP), will officially merge, creating the largest private sector union in the country.
Ostensibly, Unifor will be more powerful and influential than either of its founding parts. It will have more members and more resources at its disposal. But that means only that it has potentially greater power and influence. The merger in no way guarantees that these qualities will be fully realized. Size is certainly not synonymous with effectiveness. In fact, increasingly there are compelling reasons to view this merger with considerable apprehension. In fact, the more one sees of this merger and the process giving rise to it, the more there is cause for concern.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the merger process. A short time ago CAW National President Ken Lewenza, when interviewed by the Windsor Star, had the audacity to claim the merger process could not be more open and transparent. If he actually believes that, he has a unique concept of openness and transparency. CAW rank and file members have next to no idea what is going on. Even local CAW leaders have largely been left in the dark until very recently. Many readily acknowledge this.
The merger process has in fact been driven from the very top of the two unions downwards and effectively shaped behind closed doors. Few even know who are the people on the committees which have been assembling the terms of merger of the two unions. Certainly the rank and file have not in any way shaped the process, nor have local union leaders. The bureaucracies of the two unions have exclusively shaped the process. Only now are they engaging, in a very limited and controlled way, local union leaders and members via a series of information meetings and a conference call. The membership has essentially been told they can’t just show up at a meeting of their own union to discuss the new union they are about to become members of, and pay union dues to, and be profoundly affected by.
Consider the following. Initially, fourteen information meetings about the merger were scheduled to take place across Canada. Half were in Ontario. Only one meeting each was held in the provinces of B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. None was held in Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador. This was hardly conducive to accessibility and transparency.
But the most damning thing is that neither individual members nor local unions can send resolutions to the founding convention of the new union. What this effectively means is that the bureaucracy of these two unions is going to present a complete merger package to the delegates to the founding convention. Basically, the delegates will be told to take it, in its entirety, or leave it. Thus, the delegates chosen by the membership will have a choice between rubber stamping the entire merger package, or voting against it and effectively scuttling the merger.
This is not the worst of it. When the critical vote is held, if brutal past experience is indicative, there will be an element of intimidation at work. The person chairing the convention will likely make it a standing vote. Delegates vote by standing up to vote, rather than by raising a hand — never mind having a secret ballot. Thus, delegates who want to vote against the merger package will find themselves having to stand up with the eyes of everyone in the room glaring at them.
These things must be stressed because the process reveals that there will be a real absence of democracy in the new union which structurally, and in practice, will perpetuate the absence of meaningful democracy — which has been absent in the CAW at the national level since its inception, exemplified by the fact that, at the CAW’s national council meetings, not one recommendation of the national president has been voted down since 1992.
Consistent with all of this, another thing is noteworthy. Back in 1985, when the then Canadian Region of the UAW broke from the UAW to form the CAW, large general membership meetings were held where the union’s rank and file could go to microphones and express their views without facing a wall of intimidation. They actually debated the issue of forming a new union, and then voted on it. The vote was by a show of hands, not forcing people to stand up to vote. Nothing comparable is happening this time around.
What this reveals is a considerable regression in terms of there being democracy within the union. What this shows is that rather than moving towards a stronger, more influential and democratic organization, what is emerging is one big unaccountable, self-perpetuating, privileged bureaucracy over which the rank and file will have very little control.
Despite this generally bleak picture, there is some reason for hope. That hope lies in the fact that this union is being arbitrarily cobbled together by the bureaucracies of the two unions with huge unresolved issues.
Foremost among these is the question of political action, which centres on the future relationship to the NDP. They have no answer for this question and it is certain to spark intense debate.
I am hoping this debate will lead to what veteran CAW and socialist militant Joe Flexer used to call “an outbreak of democracy.” The task then will be to pour gasoline on the fire and break things wide open. That opening should include challenging the longstanding embrace of contract concessions by both organizations, and the tepid, selective support given to social movements resisting the austerity agenda.
Only if these things are done will the merger constitute a historic step forward for the labour movement. It is imperative that they are done.
Since May 31, Turkey has been the scene of a popular uprising. As of June 5, numerous protests have spread across 77 of the 81 major provincial cities. More than a million people protested in the streets of Istanbul, hundreds of thousands in Ankara, Izmir, Adana, Bursa, and Hatay.
The revolt grew rapidly after the Turkish police brutally attacked protesters in Taksim Gezi Park, an urban green space that the Metropolitan Municipality of Istanbul wants to demolish and replace with a shopping mall. The protests spread to the other cities in the following days as they have become popular upheavals against the increasingly anti-democratic AKP government. The masses won a partial victory when the police had to retreat from Istanbul’s central Taksim Square on June 1. Gezi Park has become a festive place where the protestors meet in solidarity and discuss the course of events. Clashes with police continue in other parts of Istanbul and in other cities. According to the Turkish Medical Association, 43 civilians were severely wounded and two protestors were killed as of June 4.
Is this the Turkish Spring? Is Taksim the Turkish Tahrir Square? Not until the workers’ organizations actively take the lead. The left-wing labour union confederations, KESK and DISK launched a solidarity strike. And leftist protestors call for a general strike. Important meetings are held to mobilize the progressive, as well as conservative, labour unions that have issued timid statements, at best. There were numerous but fragmented strikes in several sectors and workplaces, like the Turkish Airlines strike, before the revolt. Uniting and politicizing these struggles with popular demands and helping the workers to initiate a strike wave remains a central task. Not surprisingly, the leadership of the biggest union confederations and of the largest unions are holding back. In Turkey, unions are organized on a national scale along occupational / sectoral lines. In most cases, there are two or three competing unions which are members of different confederations, and these did not actively support the protests as they are controlled by Erdogan’s AKP (Justice and Development Party). The labour bureaucracy is an obstacle in the path towards organized labour joining in the revolt and fostering a Turkish Spring.
The broad movement lacks a political leadership. In other words, no political organization in Turkey is ready to lead such a massive movement with a wide social base. The main opposition, CHP (Republican People’s Party) is a bourgeois party. It supports the movement against Erdogan’s AKP. More specifically, it’s decision to cancel its previously arranged mass demonstration set for Taksim was a significant factor in the police retreat from the square. But the CHP is concerned about the protests posing a challenge to capitalist rule. This was the worry when the Istanbul Stock Market crashed on Monday, following the flight of short term foreign capital. CHP softened its rhetoric and joined the chorus warning the masses against ‘marginal groups’ and ‘provocations’. Nevertheless, CHP leadership does not fully control the militants in its rank and file. There is a huge possibility that its militants will to break away from the bourgeois CHP if the revolt advances.
The movement embodies a strong secular outlook. There has long been a tendency to equate secularism with Kemalist elitism and anti-democratic militarism. But now, the links between democracy, freedom and secularism are being re-established. Although some segments of CHP and the ex-Maoist (now Eurasianist) Workers’ Party (Aydinlik) raise pro-military and Kemalist slogans to appeal to secular people, secularists seem to be slipping from their grasp. That said, seeing many portraits of Mustafa Kemal, and hearing chants like “we are Mustafa Kemal’s Soldiers’ is no surprise.
The banners of ODP (Freedom and Solidarity Party), EMEP (Labour Party), TKP (Turkish Communist Party) and the other left organizations now decorate Taksim Square, displacing commercial signs. However, these parties are small and they are far from leading the movement. In numerical terms, the largest left party is TKP. Like its sister party in Greece, the KKE, TKP followed a sectarian path until the revolt. For example, when thousands were fighting with the brutal police to try to gather in Taksim Square, the TKP held its own May Day rally in a different square. TKP militants are now with the masses. This illustrates a historical tendency for the rise of mass movements to marginalize sectarianism.
Socialist militants are more vocal than ever. They feel less isolated as millions join them in chanting their slogans against the AKP’s authoritarianism. For many, this is their first political action. They are receptive to new ideas, including the socialist ones. Nevertheless, Foti Benlisoy (activist and blogger) warns against sectarian agitation, stressing the importance of practically engaging in the concrete issues now facing the revolt.
The revolt in Hatay has a particular significance, and not only because the police killed a young militant there. Hatay is near the border with Syria. Its residents are increasingly affected by Erdogan’s war drive aimed at Syria. Only a couple of weeks ago, many died in a terrorist attack, which is thought to be a consequence of Erdogan’s aggressive foreign policy.
Currently, Erdogan is on a tour of North Africa. In his absence, AKP officials, and President Abdullah Gul, who used to be an AKP big shot, half-heartedly apologized for the police brutality. The bourgeois press shifted gears. It now tries to calm the masses, instead of simply ignoring them. However, the business media increasingly point fingers at the so-called ‘marginal groups’ and ‘provocateurs’. Videos of non-uniformed cops with clubs attacking people illustrate who the real provocateurs are. On June 5 scores of young people were arrested — for sending twitter messages. If the movement loses momentum, there is a risk of heightened repression. The police can target and arrest key militants like their counterparts did in the aftermath of the Quebec student strike in the Fall of 2012.
The revolt is far from being over. Already it has enabled the masses to realize their political power. It is now at a crossroads: its demands can be co-opted by the bourgeois rulers (which is the current trend) and remaining protesters can be marginalized Or the revolt can regain its momentum by challenging not only the rule of the AKP, but the corporate agenda. Its success depends on engaging organized labour and the Kurdish national liberation movement.
This popular uprising underscores the urgent need for an independent mass labour party in Turkey. It demonstrates how obstructionist the corrupt labour bureaucracy can be. If the working class had its independent and organized political voice, this revolt could grow enormously and effectively to challenge the rule of capital.
This popular upheaval also demonstrates that social/political revolt is not a thing of the past. And when revolts begin, time accelerates! Turkey is already a different place than when my plane landed at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport on May 30. But such upheavals require a revolutionary leadership equipped with the knowledge of history, and the experience of social movements, and a concrete programme and strategy, in order to claim political power and abolish capitalism. As we say to our friends in Canada, and around the world, such a party should be built prior to the revolts, because during a revolt there often isn’t sufficient time to build the necessary party capable of uniting protesters around radical demands and leading them forward with correct tactics and a revolutionary strategy for power.
By BARRY WEISLEDER
MONTREAL—Despite the move to water down the reference to socialism in the Federal New Democratic Party Constitution, the word remains, as does the working-class nature of the party. Indeed, socialism is still both a very lively topic and an active movement within the NDP.
The party leadership certainly pushed hard to limit debate and to re-shape the party in its own image. But socialists had a higher profile at the NDP convention in Montreal, April 12-14, than in recent years.
To be sure, the convention was a kind of love-in for NDP chief and Leader of the Official Opposition in Parliament, Tom Mulcair. The appetite for the perks of government office fueled a wave of opportunism and attracted an array of party boosters and young career-seekers.
It was the biggest-ever NDP federal convention. Over 2000 delegates registered. Typically, about 1200 were on the convention floor to vote on motions. Despite media hype about the inevitability of the NDP choosing to “moderate” its message, and the high cost of a delegate’s credential (up to $400), it was surprising to see the extent of the support for the radical left.
Twenty-eight per cent of the delegates present for the election of NDP Treasurer voted for Socialist Caucus candidate John Orrett. Sixteen per cent voted to retain the constitution preamble, with its call for social ownership of the economy, with its insistence that “production and distribution of goods and services be directed to meeting social and individual needs” and “not to the making of profit.”
The Socialist Caucus received massive mainstream media coverage for its initiatives and policies. SC spokespersons were frequently interviewed by CBC, Global, CTV, CPAC, Sun Media, Huffington Post, La Presse, Toronto Star, National Post, Globe and Mail, Rabble.ca and others.
SC floor interventions, firstly to amend the convention agenda in favour of providing more time for policy debate, and later, to alter a resolution on ‘pipeline safety’ to include opposition to any new pipeline construction, failed to get much traction. But another SC referral motion produced a high point for the left.
Etobicoke Centre youth delegate and Youth for Socialist Action chairperson Tyler MacKinnon argued for a party campaign to abolish all post-secondary tuition fees. He called for solidarity with movements demanding an end to fees and a halt to the police repression they faced in the streets of Quebec in 2012. Tyler’s motion carried, but only after a delegate demanded a “standing count,” which showed over 60 per cent in favour. While the referred (amended) resolution did not come back to the floor for approval, the vote registered a stinging rebuke of the party establishment.
Delegates and observers showed a keen interest in socialist ideas. They snapped up over 1100 copies of the glossy, full-colour SC magazine Turn Left, and donated over $200 to support it. They spent another $200 on individual copies of Socialist Action newspaper, as well as associated radical buttons and booklets.
A bright orange banner proved to be a lightening rod for protest against the pro-capitalist party tops. The Socialist Caucus displayed a wide cloth antiwar slogan on the concourse Saturday morning, and again at lunchtime. It galvanized opposition to the appearance of invited guest speaker Jeremy Bird, National Field Director for the U.S. Democratic Party, who headed President Barack Obama’s re-election bid in 2012.
The banner proclaimed, in English and French, “Stop Obama’s Drone Wars.” Scores of supporters, notably South Asian and visible minority delegates, defended it in the face of persistent efforts by officials to remove it. SC comrades and other delegates held their ground against threats of all kinds, including that security personnel and police would be asked to intervene. The three-hour standoff backfired on the party brass, who were seen as petty control freaks by the bemused national media.
It wasn’t the only example of undemocratic measures deployed by party controllers. They allowed no display booths on site, except for the social democratic Broadbent Institute, and a group of party authors promoting a book. Participants witnessed the stacking of the Persons With Disabilities Caucus, one of many equity-seeking group meetings, with non-disabled voters who arrived just moments prior to its election of reps to the federal party executive and council. Was this just to defeat an SC candidate?
A top party bureaucrat temporarily “lifted” this writer’s delegate credential for being one of dozens booing Jeremy Bird when the latter was introduced on stage. National Director Nathan Rotman reversed himself when MP Niki Ashton, who had addressed the SC forum on Friday evening, protested his punitive move, and after the mass media got hold of the issue. Rotman did not apologize for exceeding his authority, so more nonsense in this vein can be expected.
Most of the resolutions adopted at convention were strictly non-controversial. Indeed, many passed unanimously. These included: putting a halt to tax havens, promoting farm commodity supply management, reversing cuts to employment insurance, enshrining a pro-active pay equity regime in law, and providing more predictable funding for VIA Rail.
SC resolutions (on pipelines, corporate trade deals, Iran, Palestine, public ownership of banks and industry, Quebec self-determination, etc.), some submitted by multiple district associations, were ranked so low they would not be debated. Even the issue re-prioritization panels on the Friday morning were stacked deep by pro-establishment delegates.
Tellingly, a resolution on the rights of sex workers, submitted by a Vancouver district body, made it to the floor, but was referred to federal council for more study by MP Libby Davies, ostensibly to avoid “a divisive debate,” a move that disgusted many progressive activists.
The Socialist Caucus held three public forums at the Convention Centre during meal breaks. The topics were “Quebec and the NDP, and Why Quebec Students are in the streets again,” “The Fight to keep Socialism in the NDP Constitution,” and “Canadian Military intervention in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean—Where does the NDP stand?” The meetings attracted 30 to 70 delegates. Thirty-six people signed up to join the socialists at the convention. A similar number applied to join the leftist caucus via the internet.
With a general election expected in 2015, delegates gave Mulcair a 92 per cent approval vote. The 8 per cent who nonetheless voted for a leadership review can be considered the hardcore base of the SC, with support for the organized left reaching 20 to 30 per cent for certain initiatives and candidates. This is not inconsiderable, if projected across an NDP membership of 120,000 countrywide.
Overall, the NDP continues on its liberal policy course. Justin Trudeau, who was crowned Liberal Party Leader in Ottawa that same weekend, mocked the direction of the NDP towards his own Bay Street-backed party when he referred to it as a case of “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”
To be sure, the new pro-market preamble is a setback to labour and the left. But the NDP, which was never socialist, has not changed its stripes. It remains a labour-based reformist party to which millions of workers look—still the only game in town for independent working-class electoral/political action. And within that game, socialism is very much a player, looking for reinforcements from the social protest movements and from the leftist political sidelines.
Opposing the attack on Socialism in the NDP
The floor debate on the amendment to the NDP Constitution was terminated on Sunday morning after only four speakers, two pro and two con. This farcical exercise meant that most of the arguments against the change were not heard, including the following one:
The amendment must be rejected for three reasons. It is undemocratic. It is unprincipled. And it obscures our roots.
Nearly two years ago, in Vancouver, where convention delegates spurned the attempt to remove socialism, party officials promised extensive consultation and debate. What happened? Nine days before convention this amendment was foisted upon us. Apparently, the consultations did not extend beyond the backrooms.
Principles belong in a constitution. But it’s hard to find any principles in this text. Oh, it says we are for “a society that shares its benefits more fairly”. It says we “believe in freedom and democracy”. Could it be any more vague? Is this the party of Tommy Douglas or Justin Trudeau?
The new text doesn’t talk about the real world. It doesn’t mention the widening gap between the super-rich and the 99%. It doesn’t relate to a world still reeling from economic depression, at risk of environmental disaster, and on the brink of nuclear war.
The amendment offers platitudes in place of solutions. It calls for “a rules based economy.” But what about the rule of big business? What about empowering the majority to run the economy so that production can be democratically planned to serve human need rather than private greed?
The closest this feeble statement comes to proposing a strategy is its promise “to address the limitations of the market.”
Well, sisters and brothers, I ask you this. When Barrick Gold poisons the lands of indigenous peoples in Canada or Peru, is that just a limitation of the market? When luxury condo towers crowd the waterfront while thousands are homeless, is that just a market glitch? When Big Pharma robs medicare, when RBC outsources work to depress wages, when the right to strike exists—except when workers try to use it, is that just a market error? When banksters and bosses stash their cash, and replace factories with casinos, is that just a flaw in an otherwise benevolent system? Or do all those things, in fact, reveal the very essence of capitalism?
One of the most popular NDP MPPs ever, Peter Kormos, never shied away from naming the enemy, and he never hesitated to call himself a socialist. The same was true for Dan and Alice Heap. Svend Robinson famously called capitalism a rabid dog that should be put down. Tommy Douglas said our goal is “public ownership and development of our basic resources in the interest of all.”
New Democrats want a constitution that has goals that inspire us to rise above ourselves. The motion before us is a sham. Let’s defeat it. Let’s keep the principle of social ownership at the heart of the NDP.
An attempt to amend the Convention Agenda in favour of more time for policy debate, not for a pro-war regime
Sisters and brothers, from across this huge country we have come to set a course for the NDP, to discuss and adopt policies in the interests of working people, and to continue the struggle for social justice. Sadly, less than half of the plenary time of convention is devoted to policy debate by our grassroots delegates.
It would be a shame to squander precious convention time by hosting an election strategist for the American political party responsible for delivering trillions of dollars to Wall Street and the Pentagon, and filling America’s jails with Blacks, Latinos, Arabs, and Muslims.
Party officials made this mistake in Halifax in 2009, and they’ve done it again. It is an insult to the founders of the party, and to all of its activists, to import and feature an apologist for the pro-war, pro-corporate bailout Obama administration in Washington.
Saying Mit Romney was worse than Obama does not make Obama a friend of the working class or oppressed minorities. Obama’s “gift” to workers and the poor is austerity, and an “economic draft” that perpetuates U.S. military occupation and drone wars around the world. In 2000, the Pentagon had less than 50 drones. In 2010 that number was 7500—an increase of 15,000 per cent.
We don’t need Jeremy Bird, Obama’s National Field Director and re-election strategist, to lecture NDPers on the virtues of the American bi-partisan political system. If delegates want to hear Bird, they can tweet him.
The NDP and labour are not here to take instruction from the political hacks of the White House. But we do have some good advice for our American sisters and brothers, for our dear American fellow workers. Follow the example of the NDP. Form an independent political party based on your unions. Break with the Democratic Party, the graveyard of every progressive social movement since the days of Lincoln.
Fight for a Workers’ Agenda. Join us in the effort to put an end to capitalist recession, to wars and environmental destruction. Together, let’s create a global cooperative commonwealth.