Category Archives: Analysis

Greece is the Future of Europe – A Report on the June 17 Election and the Resistance to Severe Capitalist Austerity

by Barry Weisleder
Greece has perhaps the most politicized population in Europe. 11 million people. Half of them live in Athens/Piraeus. Greece is 80% mountains, 20% agricultural. It won its independence in 1830 after 400 years of occupation by the Ottoman Empire/Turkey.

Greek workers freed their country from Italian fascist and German Nazi occupation during WW2 by means of a guerilla war, led by the Communist Party. A civil war between the left and the right continued through the 1940s. In 1958, opinion polls showed that the KKE had the support of 25% of voters. This worried Washington to no end.  It backed the Colonels’ military coup in 1967. The Greek military dictatorship lasted until 1974.

Through the 1980s PASOK and New Democracy took turns at governing. In the late 1970s and early 1980s Greece enjoyed prosperity, fueled by tourism, shipping and a growing service sector. It has many agricultural exports as well (olive oil, cotton, fruits and vegetables).

In the early 2000s, a capitalist overproduction crisis went into overdrive. More cars, appliances and homes were created than could be sold for a profit. Workers’ wages had stagnated for decades. To keep the economy from going into recession, governments around the world (USA, Canada, Japan, Europe) ran large deficits. The government deficits derived not just from spending, especially spending on the military, but resulted from reductions in taxes on profits and personal wealth. Corporate and personal credit was greatly extended.

The Greek government borrowed from German banks, at high interest rates — with much encouragement from the EU. Greeks went into debt, just like Americans, Canadians, Irish and Spaniards, etc., to indulge in the consumerism that the rulers said would save the economy from recession. Another big factor for Greece was the very costly arms race with Turkey.

It’s important to understand the nature of the European Union, and its various charters. The best comparison we can make is to the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement, and to NAFTA. These deals are not about sharing the wealth, sharing the fruits of development, much less about sharing the burdens of a downturn. They are about freeing Capital from constraints. Those trade agreements are mainly a charter of rights for big business. They entrench the deregulation of labour markets, the lowering of environmental standards, and the privatization of public services. They enable the most developed economies and sectors to prey upon the less developed ones. In this way, northern Europe lay siege to Europe’s southern, eastern and western rim.

When the world capitalist bubble burst, Greece was highly exposed. Its corporations and its rich people were taxed very little, and they ignored the taxes they owed. Is it any wonder Greek shopkeepers and workers didn’t feel like paying taxes either? But Greek workers are not lazy or unproductive. Greek workers log more hours at work than workers in most countries. But the wealth they created was looted. Profits were invested abroad, leaving many cupboards bare. The economic crash in 2008 hit Greece very hard, especially tourism and shipping. It followed devastating forest fires and a huge Olympic debt. Still, the rich demanded their pound of flesh. Under capitalism there is only one way to restore private profits, and that is to squeeze labour. The EU Commission, the European Bank and the IMF (the ‘Troika’) demanded sharp austerity measures. Their main targets were jobs, wages, pensions, and raising government revenue via fees and tax hikes, especially through regressive taxes on consumers. In Ontario the Harmonized Sales Tax is 13%. The Greek VAT is 23%.

The series of severe measures imposed a 40% cut in the living standards of workers and their families. Greece went from ‘prosperity’ to 25% unemployment. It is over 50% for young people. Everywhere businesses are closed, stores abandoned. People are losing their homes. Greece went from the lowest rate of suicide to one of the highest. In 2010, statistics show an 18% rise in the number of suicides. In 2011, Athens alone saw a 25% increase over the previous year. These worsening conditions sparked 12 general strikes, and many riots, just in the past two years.

The parties most identified with austerity, most guilty of compliance with the horrendous bail-out conditions imposed by the Troika, are PASOK and New Democracy. They lost a lot of support. SYRIZA, the so-called coalition of the radical left, rose from 5% to 18%.

2011 was a tumultuous year, especially October. A mass uprising unfolded. Rebellion seized the streets. But the main demand of the opposition parties, including Syriza, was ‘Elections Now!’

The election in May 2012 was inconclusive. No party could form a government. The election on June 17 saw the right wing vote gravitate to ND. The left wing vote moved to SYRIZA. Syriza is not a party; it is a coalition, and not a very radical one, despite what the business media says. The dominant party in Syriza is Synaspismos. Synaspismos is a right wing split from the KKE of more than 30 years ago. And what about the so-called Democratic Left, which is now part of the ND-dominated, pro-austerity, pro-Memorandum government. It too emerged in a split from Synaspismos.

Over the past year, and especially after the May election, Syriza modified its policies towards a solidly ‘pro-Euro zone’ stance. To stay in the Euro means paying the usurious debt, not reneging on it. ‘Re-negotiate the debt’ means delaying full payment, not abolition of the rip-off. Also, Syriza is staunchly electoralist. That means it sees strikes and popular rebellion as a threat to its electoral ambitions.

Emphasizing electoral solutions put a damper on rebellion, and it contributed to demoralization. This is reflected in the lower voter turnout each time, most recently down to 61%..

It has another consequence, a much more terrible one. The sense of helplessness, the crisis of leadership on the left, emboldens the far right. That accounts, at least in part, for the rise of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party. From close to zero for decades, it rose to 7%, and it held its vote share in June. The neo-Nazis don’t just talk about crushing leftists, immigrants, gays and visible minorities; they engage in violent, sometimes deadly attacks on their targets, in the plain light of day. The urgent need to deal with the fascist threat poses a real challenge to the workers’ movement today. Unfortunately, Syriza downplays the problem, or it seeks a ‘legal’ solution (the possible outlawing of Golden Dawn). And the KKE refuses to work with anyone else on this issue, or on any issue.

Fortunately, there is a coalition of revolutionary political organizations. It is called ANTARSYA. It is composed of 10 Trotskyist, ex-Stalinist and Maoist groups, including the SWP and the OKDE-Spartacus, Greek section of the Fourth International. ANTARSYA was formed in 2009. The acronym means “anti-capitalist left cooperation for the overthrow”. The actual word “antarsya” means “mutiny”.

So, what is the meaning of the June election results?

The election of June 17 occurred because after the elections of May 6 no parties were able to form a coalition government. The result, not unexpectedly, was a “victory” for the right wing New Democracy (ND) with 29.7% (compared to 18.9% from May 6). The left alliance SYRIZA rose from 16.8% (May 6) to 26.9%, but was again only the second strongest party. Thus, the 50 “extra” seats in parliament, decisive for the formation of a government, were captured by the now leading pro-memorandum-party ND. ND was forced, however, to form a coalition government with the greatly diminished and discredited ex-social democratic PASOK, the third strongest party with 12.3% (a decrease of 0. 9%). DIMAR, the right wing split from the SYN-party (the leading force in SYRIZA), is also involved in the new government. DIMAR polled 6.3% (+0.2%) and is thus the sixth strongest party. For the first time DIMAR openly takes responsibility for the memorandum policies. The “Independent Greeks,” a spin-off of ND, who reject the memorandum, achieved a fourth place finish, with 7.5% (- 3.1).

The neo-Nazi gang of Chrysi Avgi (“Golden Dawn”) is now in fifth place with 6.9% (- 0.1). The stabilization of the neo-Nazis is even more remarkable since their terrorist character was openly revealed in the weeks after the May 6 vote, with brazen attacks on immigrants and leftist politicians using knives and clubs – in full public view. Nobody can say any longer that the voters do not know what they were voting for. The permanent presence of the Nazis in the Greek Parliament – along with almost daily terrorist attacks on the streets of Athens and elsewhere – is the most striking result of the elections. The KKE received just 4.5%. It lost 4% compared to May. All parties below the 3% threshold on May 6 had big losses, including LAOS with 1.6% (- 1.3), “Dimourgia Xana” with 1.6% (- 0.6), the “Green Ecologists” with 0.9% (- 2.0) and ANTARSYA with 0.33% (- 0.9). The valid votes cast represented 61.5% of the electorate (- 1.2), again significantly lower than ever before.

A closer look at the election result shows that the shift between “right” and “left”, compared to May 6, is not very big. The right-wing parties (from ND to GD) together polled 47.3%. The percentage of PASOK as a “new” right-wing party should be added to this. The left received altogether 39% taking into account also DIMAR and the Greens. The pro-memoranda-parties, ND, PASOK, and now DIMAR too, scored together 48.3%. They have a majority in Parliament. In accordance with the rules of bourgeois parliamentarism this might be interpreted as providing a “democratic mandate” for the continuation of the memorandum policies. Nevertheless, this “mandate” is, even in a formal sense, quite weak.

ND’s ”success” must be partially attributed to the unprecedented propaganda campaign of the memorandum parties and the mass media in Greece and other European countries, according to which an electoral victory of the left would have meant Greece’s immediate exit from the euro, the absolute economic ruin of the country, the termination of all payments, etc. In addition, ND was able to attract most of the traditional right electorate that was very fragmented on May 6. Nonetheless, the election results of ND are generally weak, reflecting a historic downward trend that will continue now with ND’s role as the leading government party. On the left, the SYRIZA alliance could establish itself as the leading force primarily because had it come in first. This offered the possibility of a “left government”.

What are the prospects for the Left?

The slogan “Elections now!” issued by the two leading reformist parties, i.e. KKE and SYRIZA, especially since the great general strike of October 2011, represents a strategic failure. It was not possible to stop the memoranda policies by parliamentary means. The relative strengthening of the Left as a whole in the two elections was the result of the large mobilizations of social resistance from May 2010, with its high points of June and October 2011, as well as on February 12. But the resistance was not strong enough to bring down the memoranda policies. Thus it is not accidental that the strength or weakness of the entire left in the elections reflects the real balance of power between the main classes in Greek society. In this respect the election results are the political expression of the temporary defeat of the resistance movement.

The weakening of KKE in the elections can be partly explained by its resolute “isolation tactics” along with its strict refusal to cooperate with other left forces at any level. This is connected to a complete lack of any plan designed to end the prevailing policy, whether it be by strengthening the resistance movement, or by reliance on the (ultimately illusory) parliamentary path.

The SYRIZA leadership has taken clear steps to carve out space as a “left” alliance for the management of the existing political and social system­i.e. Greek capitalism­at the government level, particularly after May 6. Still, it is obvious that the ruling classes of Greece and the EU prefer to get along without the services of SYRIZA in this regard. The SYRIZA leadership has fully accepted the logic of the Troika credits and their principal legitimacy and thus the debt repayments. At the same time SYRIZA accepts the wage and pension cuts and the general lowering of living standards imposed by the first memorandum, as well as the prospect of remaining in the euro-zone. These things were seen as the primary objective of government policy, thus accepting the “legitimacy” of the extortionate dilemma posed by the ruling classes. In this way, the main demand of last year’s movement “We owe nothing, we do not pay, we do not sell!” was completely diluted, or turned upside down. On the central issue of immigration, the SYRIZA leadership succumbed in large part to the prevailing policies and declared immigrants to be a “problem.” The SYRIZA leadership has not said a word about how the social resistance can be put back on its feet or how the deadly threat posed by the neo-Nazi hordes can be stopped.

For ANTARSYA the election results of June 17 were certainly disappointing, but not surprising. It needs more coherence at the central level, more cooperation and less ego among its various organizations. It needs greater strength in its local committees, an ability to take a stand and respond clearly and convincingly to the central issues. ANTARSYA is now analyzing its setback. It will draw the appropriate conclusions. Only in this way will it be possible for ANTARSYA to develop as one of the main engines of the resistance movement and as the anti-capitalist and revolutionary pole of the left. There is no shortage of starting points for joint actions by the entire left in the spirit of a united front policy. The programmatic perspective for the battles ahead has, to a large degree, been correctly outlined by ANTARSYA. The class struggles will undoubtedly sharpen in the coming months. It is for this that the social resistance must prepare.

Greece remains at the epicenter of the crisis of capitalism. It is the target of the most vicious attack by capital. The youth and the workers of Greece have answered this offensive with a massive mobilization that has discredited the traditional political Greek regime of PASOK and ND. The ruling class no longer controls the situation, but the working class is not yet able to seize power and overthrow capitalism. Spain and Italy are the next targets of the Troïka (then maybe France). The outcome of the ongoing struggle in Greece is decisive for all anticapitalists and revolutionaries throughout Europe, and around the world.

So, what is to be done? Our Greek comrades make the following 4 points: 1. A government that would abolish the memoranda would be a positive step for the workers and their struggles. But how can you abolish the memoranda without abolishing the debt? How can you finance the necessary and urgent measures without socializing the banks? In short: how can you improve the situation of the Greek masses without confronting the capitalist minority’s power over the economy and society? In response to any government that would challenge the program dictated by Capital, clearly the big banks and the EU would immediately halt all sources of financing and all possibility of loans. They wouldn’t hesitate to throw Greece out of the EU. In such a situation, one would be forced either to bow down and return to the same old disastrous policies, or confront the bankers and capitalist powers, by taking back what they stole and challenging their control over the economy.

In terms of measures that need to be taken, a program of confrontation with the Capital is necessary. A program of transitional demands such as a general increase of wages, a radical decrease of working time, the cancellation of the debt, the socialization of the banks and of the key sectors of economy under workers’ control. Such a program implies a clash not only with the Greek ruling class but also with the European bourgeoisie and its institutions.

2- The only way to put in practice a program of struggle against the crisis and a break with capitalism is a general mobilization of workers and the popular masses. It is not just a slogan or an abstract idea. The pressure of Capital is huge. The 24 or 48 hour strikes, the previous sectoral strikes… have resulted in a grave political crisis for the Greek bourgeoisie, but have not been sufficient to stop the capitalist offensive. It is therefore necessary to reinforce the partial struggles, to strive to extend them, and to systematize the elements of self-organization that already exist and, under certain circumstances, that can be the core of a future dual power. It is through a generalization of the struggles, and by federating the organs of self-organization, that a worker’s power will rise and confront the bourgeoisie. It is with the threat of an extension of their struggle to the rest of Europe that the Greek workers will be able to protect themselves from EU’s pressure. The youth and the working class of Greece have the key to current issues in their hands, they are the ones to be counted on to find a solution.

3- In this situation, the slogan for a “workers’ government” becomes relevant. It is not applicable all at once: it is even difficult to imagine its possible composition in the present situation. Nonetheless, it is indispensable to propose an overall political solution and to start to developing an understandable answer to the question: “which class should rule Greece?”

Such a workers’ government would have to implement a program against the crisis, would have to be ready to apply key transitional measures, such as the socialization of banks and strategic sectors of the economy. A government resting on a general mobilization of the workers and based on their self-organization. A government that would unite all forces ready to defend the masses’ demands. Revolutionaries would participate in such a government with other forces on the basis of a confrontational program and of a high degree of workers’ and youth’s mobilization. Because such a government would open the possibility for the workers to seize power themselves.

Under the present circumstances, and given the character of Syriza, a Syriza-government would be a left social democratic parliamentary combination. That is not the same as a workers’ government. Therefore a revolutionary political instrument to prepare this confrontation and to popularize the program is needed.

4- If a government led by Syriza took measures favorable to the workers, such as putting into question the memoranda, it is obvious that revolutionaries would support those measures. However, such a critical and conditional support for a Syriza government does not in any way imply that the anticapitalist and revolutionary left (mainly represented by Antarsya) should renounce its political and organizational independence.

Needed is an independent party, whose center of gravity would be the class struggles, not the parliament and the bourgeois institutions. A party able to embody a visible political pole, not only in elections, but in the mass struggles, is necessary to defend the only perspective for Greek workers to avoid the catastrophe. Needed is a party both able to have a united front policy towards the other forces in the workers’ movement, and able to defend its own political perspective: the break with capitalism and the seizure of power by the workers. We assess that, under the present situation, the creation of such a party depends mainly on the developments within and around Antarsya, despite its limitations. This project may also include common actions with anticapitalist minorities in Syriza and with small revolutionary organizations that work independently.

Crisis footnotes:

  • graffiti everywhere
  • public transit – no one pays fares
  • while watching a Euro cup match on TV at a pub in the Exarcheia district of central Athens, we saw fans of the Greek soccer team drive through the area sporting the flag of Greece. They were suddenly besieged by dozens of anarchists who tore the flag from them. Police patrol only the outskirts of the area.

What’s next?

  • a major anti-racism festival in Athens in July
  • ‘social kitchens’; anti-poverty, immigrants’ rights work, anti-fascism work
  • Euro elections
  • major class battles are coming this Fall, including over the issue of ‘fire sale’ privatization of public enterprises

La révolte estudiantine québécoise se poursuit


par Robbie Mahood

Le 19 mai 2012, le gouvernement libéral du Québec a adopté une loi draconienne, la loi 78, dans le but de mater la grève massive des étudiants qui secoue la société québécoise depuis plus de quatre mois. La bien nommée Loi Matraque s’en prend aux droits de réunion, de manifestation et de liberté d’expression. La loi suspend la session académique de tous les collèges et universités affectés par la grève, interdit les lignes de piquetage aux abords des institutions d’enseignement, force les professeurs (qui sont majoritairement favorables à la grève) à se présenter au travail lorsque les cours reprendront en août, permet de prélever des retenues à même les cotisations de toute association d’étudiants jugée responsable d’avoir perturbé les cours, et rend illégale toute manifestation qui n’est pas préalablement approuvée par la police. Les associations d’étudiants réputées enfreindre les clauses de la loi seront punies au moyen d’amendes pouvant atteindre cent-vingt-cinq mille dollars par jour.

Le 22 mai, deux cent mille personnes sont descendues dans la rue pour s’opposer à cette loi répressive et soutenir une entente négociée. Plus tard le même jour, le premier concert des casseroles destiné à exprimer le ressentiment populaire envers la loi a été organisé grâce au bouche-à-oreille par internet. Les battements de casseroles, un emprunt aux masses argentines, se sont transformés en activité vespérale récurrente dans de nombreux quartiers de Montréal. (Le 31 mai, des ralliements et défilés solidaires de casseroles ont eu lieu dans plusieurs villes de par le Canada anglais, dont plus de deux mille participants à un bain de foule tintamarresque du secteur centre-ouest de Toronto. NDLR)

La police a choisi d’user de ses nouveaux pouvoirs de manière sélective et guette le moment d’agir. N’empêche, plus de deux mille arrestations ont eu lieu depuis le début du conflit (quatre fois le nombre d’arrestations effectuées pendant l’application de la Loi sur les mesures de guerre en octobre 1970). Plusieurs étudiants ont été blessés gravement par les armes policières. À n’en point douer, les manifestations monstres des 22 mars, 22 avril et 22 mai se sont déroulées pratiquement sans incident puisque tant la police que les provocateurs se sont inclinés devant la loi des grands nombres.

Les étudiants se sont attiré l’admiration générale pour leur courage, leur ténacité et leur créativité. En dépit de cela, le gouvernement reste inflexible. Pourquoi ?

Bien évidemment, quelques réactions indésirables n’ont pu être évitées. Trente années de « rétro-libéralisme » ont eu un impact sur la conscience populaire. D’aucuns croient que les étudiants devraient « payer leur écot », tant l’austérité semble inévitable. Ces gens veulent que l’ordre se rétablisse.

Les médias dominants font bien évidemment la promotion de cette vue et tentent de dénigrer les étudiants en magnifiant chaque incident violent (en évitant soigneusement d’en dire autant de la violence policière). À noter à ce chapitre l’écart de ton entre les médias francophones et anglophones. Ceux dont la plume est la mieux trempée dans du vitriol pour décrire les étudiants sont les médias de droite de l’extérieur du Québec ; tandis qu’à l’intérieur du Québec, les attitudes sont en corrélation très nette selon la langue maternelle.

Cela ne suffit cependant pas pour expliquer la posture rigide du gouvernement qui consiste à ne pas faire de concession. Le parti libéral du Québec est dans une vaste mesure le parti de la classe des capitalistes au Québec, et Charest leur lieutenant. La bourgeoisie québécoise trépigne d’impatience à l’idée d’imposer l’austérité, dans une vaine tentative pour améliorer la position concurrentielle du capital québécois. Les années passées au pouvoir pour les libéraux ont été consacrées à mater l’héritage de la soi-disant « Révolution tranquille », savoir, les gains que les soulèvements ouvriers des années soixante et soixante-dix ont entraînés pour les ouvriers québécois et pour la nation québécoise dans son ensemble. En fait, le gouvernement a été en mesure d’arracher des concessions majeures aux syndicats du secteur public québécois en 2005 et 2010. Il importe de noter qu’en 2005, les libéraux se sont vus forcés de battre en retraite devant la mobilisation des étudiants au moment de leur première tentative de faire avaler à ceux-ci une hausse des droits de scolarité. Aujourd’hui, le gouvernement Charest est déterminé à parvenir à ses fins.

Pour l’emporter contre un adversaire aussi tenace, les étudiants auraient besoin du soutien du mouvement ouvrier, pas seulement des ressources dont les syndicats ont fait don, mais la préparation et l’organisation d’au moins une grève générale d’une journée. Les chefs syndicaux ont refusé d’envisager cette possibilité. Las ! bien que l’idée d’une « grève sociale » soit dans l’air, aucune force politique de taille ne semble disposée à présenter une telle demande aux syndicats et à se battre pour en voir la matérialisation.

Peu importe le résultat de la grève, les jeunes étudiants québécois ont ébranlé le statu quo néolibéral jusque dans son socle. Le combat pour le gel des droits de scolarité, lié au but d’atteindre la gratuité de l’éducation supérieure, a touché un point sensible. Deux visions différentes de la société nous sont présentées : d’un côté, la marchandisation implacable des ressources tant naturelles qu’humaines au bénéfice de quelques-uns et l’amoindrissement du niveau de vie du plus grand nombre en dégradant l’environnement, de l’autre, le contrôle démocratique collectif de la chose publique de manière à garantir une vie décente pour chacun et la promotion de la responsabilité de gérance de la planète, plutôt que sa ruine.

(Robbie Mahood est membre de la Ligue pour l’action socialiste à Montréal.)

Rejoignez les rangs de

Ligue pour l’Action Socialiste et

Jeunesse pour l’Action socialiste Tel. 514 – 737-7645 ou 416 – 535-8779

International Workers’ Day

Socialist Action Speech to 26th annual Socialist Celebration of International Workers’ Day

May Day is our day. Like workers around the world, we take the measure of our forces, consider our challenges, and re-dedicate the movement to socialism.

2011 was an historic year of revolt. Revolutions spread across the Arab world, general strikes across Europe, a massive campaign to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, student strikes in Chile, huge demos against land seizure in China, and big working-class fight backs in Wisconsin and Ohio. It was the year of the Orange Wave, catapulting the NDP into the Official Opposition in Parliament. The Occupy movement captured world attention, spreading to over 1,700 cities.
In 2012, the ruling class shows no sign of departing from its austerity agenda. But workers and students are continuing to fight back. From the deepening revolution in Egypt to the battle against austerity measures in B.C. and Ontario. And something special is happening in Quebec, rich in lessons for every one of us.

On April 22 over 250,000 people marched through Montreal in Quebec’s largest ever Earth Day demonstration. They raised many demands: an end to tar sands and shale gas development, opposition to the Quebec government’s Plan Nord mining expansion (which many critics in Quebec call “Plan Merde”), support for radical measures to protect ecosystems, and other causes. Many wore the red felt square, as we do here tonight, to show support to students fighting the Liberal government’s 75 per cent increase in post-secondary education fees over the next five years. The Earth Day march was the largest mobilization to date in a growing wave of province-wide protest.

In the vanguard are the students. Now in the eleventh week of a strike that has effectively shut down Quebec’s universities and junior colleges, they have battled court injunctions and mounting police repression. Their resilience has astonished many Quebecois and inspired wide support.

Many students demand more than a tuition freeze. They demand free education. When asked by the media “How would you pay for that?”, one student leader answered with the following statistics:

Annual cost of Canadian monarchy: $49 million (Monarchist League of Canada, 2011)

Harper’s financing of oil companies since 2009: $3.5 billion (Suzuki Foundation, 2012)

Tax evasion of the five biggest Canadian banks (1993-2007): $16 billion (Lauzon and Hasbani, 2008)

Canadian military expenditures: $490 billion (Canada First Defence Strategy, 2008)

So, what is the lesson from Quebec so far? The lesson is that social protest movements should exercise their autonomy. It is that the student movement, by taking a bold initiative in action, can act as a detonator to explode submission to the ruling class agenda. Did the students wait for Quebec labour or NDP or PQ approval? No. And because the students took the initiative, they were able to appeal to unions and win enormous support. It also shows the power of Quebecois national aspirations.

On Saturday, April 21, about 15,000 union members and their supporters rallied in front of the Ontario Legislature at the call of the Ontario Federation of Labour and 80 community groups. We rallied to condemn the Liberal minority government’s austerity budget. The banner ‘Defeat the Budget By Any Means Necessary’, produced by Socialist Action, was possibly the most photographed banner at the rally. Our slogan ‘Vote it Down’ was repeatedly chanted by the crowd, including during the speech by the Ontario NDP Leader.

On April 24, Andrea Horwath and her 16 NDP MPPs abstained in favour of the Ontario budget, thus preserving the Liberal minority government. The NDP supported a budget that slashes services and jobs, freezes wages, attacks pensions and curtails collective bargaining rights in the public sector – in exchange for a paltry 1 per cent increase in welfare, and a minuscule tax increase on incomes above $500,000 (with the new tax money going to reduce the debt, that is, going to the banks). This is seen by bourgeois pundits as a brilliant maneuver, as smart parliamentary gamesmanship. But how is it seen, and felt, by poor people, by workers now, or soon to be, unemployed, by workers who will have reduced pensions, and by students heavily in debt? It is widely seen in progressive circles as a big betrayal. The question now is: Will workers and their unions challenge the cuts and fight the attack on labour liberties in the work place and in the streets? Who should we follow? Andrea’s NDP caucus, or the Quebec students?

The recent federal and Ontario NDP conventions are rich with lessons too. They show that the NDP’s ruling faction does not want to mergewith the Liberal Party. It wants to become the Liberal Party. But the top brass has a problem. The NDP is still a labour-based party, a working class party, despite its programme. And labour wants to resist pro-capitalist measures. We saw that in Hamilton two weeks ago when OFL President Sid Ryan approached the Socialist Caucus for assistance. Together, we successfully changed a resolution that praised Andrea and was soft on the Liberal budget. Our win set the tone for other Socialist Caucus gains at the convention. We are sure to see more labour-socialist cooperation in the fight against capitalist austerity, and against violations of democracy in the NDP. Deep down, the NDP ranks know that socialism is not an anchor – it’s a rocket!

Keep in mind that we are still in the worst economic downturn since the 1930’s. Despite all the business media hype about recovery, it’s not happening. Despite some modest stock market blips, there’s ongoing mass joblessness and misery for working families and the poor.

The chief economist for Moody’s recently said “what capitalists need to do is restore their declining rates of profit.” “It’ll take years of savage spending cuts, wage cuts and welfare and pension reform to eventually grow out of the debt situation in Europe.” Those are the words of an honest bourgeois economist. (Is that an oxymoron?).

Where did the cutbacks money go? It went to the bailout of the big banks, investment firms and auto giants. From where is the money coming? It is coming from the squeeze on workers’ wages, health care, trade union liberties, social services, public education, and pensions. It is coming from cuts to corporate taxes, and also from just printing more money (which is called ‘monetary easing’). The permanent loss of good jobs at home flows from the bosses’ conscious decisions to move production to low wage countries, to speed-up production here, to use temporary or contract workers or migrant workers, to out-source unionized work to non-union cut-throat contractors, to push for mandatory overtime, and more. All of these measures are designed to counter ever-declining profit rates at home.

Why a declining profit rate? Pundits say we aren’t ‘productive’ enough, that we are too greedy, living foolishly beyond our means. The Greek working class is their dart board. So are the workers of Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy, etc. But those are lies, and the resistance is sharpening. This week the Dutch government fell and French President Sarkozy is on his way out.

The main means by which the system strives to cope with the overproduction of useless things, and maintain the rate of profit, is the generation of waste in the form of military spending and advertising. Debt also can mask these contradictions, even delay a crisis, but it cannot eliminate them. Add highly toxic debt, criminally sold and re-sold, and it leads to the crash of 2008.

The capitalist ‘solution’ is to slash the cost of labour and shrink social benefits. Expect their class struggle ‘from above’ to intensify. There is simply no other way for Capital at present. And in the age of austerity, democracy is just an obstacle to recovery – recovery of capitalist profits, that is – so democracy must go too.

The Harper Conservatives have taken us pretty far down that road. Robo calls and electoral fraud, the trashing of collective bargaining rights, de-funding of progressive organizations, gutting environmental protection, lying about wasteful spending on jets and jails. This is the new normal. And don’t forget, Tory rule was preceded by a decade of savage social cuts, environmental treachery, a stepped-up war drive, and nauseating corruption. That was courtesy of the Jean Chretien and Paul Martin Liberal majority governments. 4.5 million voters said ‘enough is enough’. Let’s try something new. Let’s give the NDP a chance as the Official Opposition.

Now that presents us with a challenge. With the election of Thomas Mulcair as NDP federal leader the challenge is to prevent another Bob Rae moment in history. Remember when the NDP betrayed its base, making workers pay for a crisis we did not create?

The labour leadership has failed us too. In January 2011, ten thousand workers marched in Hamilton to oppose the plans of U.S. Steel to wreck pensions. But there was no follow up, no general strike, no demand for public ownership. So the union gave major concessions.

It came on the heels of a year-long strike in Sudbury where Brazilian-owned Valle Inco got similar concessions. Last summer postal workers said No to Canada Post demands. But the Harper Conservatives ended the rotating strikes and legislated wages lower than management offered. The NDP filibustered in Parliament, but the CLC did not call for mass job actions to defend collective bargaining.

As revolutionary socialists we actively urge a vote for the NDP. We do so without illusions, painfully aware of the party’s limitations. We understand the task we face as workers, poor people, students, seniors and youth. That is, to replace the Liberal-look-alike policies of the NDP with socialist policies to meet the needs of the vast majority.

To that end, Socialist Action advocates a number of concrete measures, policies in the interest of working people and the vast majority of NDP voters. They include public ownership of big business under democratic workers’ and community control. Phase out nuclear power and tar sands. Convert to green energy. Repair our disintegrating roads, bridges, sewers, railways and port facilities. Steeply tax corporations, speculators, and the rich. Abolish the HST. Uphold aboriginal land claims and local self-governance. Abolish the Senate and the monarchy. Demand direct Proportional Representation in Parliament.

Stop the deportations. Full rights for migrant workers. Impose boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israeli apartheid. End the occupation of Afghanistan and Haiti. Hands off Syria. Defend revolutionary Cuba. Free the Cuban Five. Free Mumia Abu Jamal and Leonard Peltier. Reduce the Canadian military to a disaster-relief and rescue force. Get Canada out of NATO now!

There is no market solution to the recurring crises of capitalism. The capitalist market created the problem. Only a social revolution can solve it. Only by taking control of the major means of production, like the Cubans did 50 years ago, only by instituting democratic planning, fully in tune with nature, does humanity have any hope of survival.

Clearly, the right has made gains by moving to the right. The left, to make gains, must move to the left. We should fight for a Workers’ Agenda and a Workers’ Government, and organize to win that programme inside the unions and the NDP. It means fighting for freedom for oppressed nations, for eco-socialism, for feminism and LGBT liberation.

That’s what Socialist Action is all about: educating, agitating and organizing for fundamental change. That’s why SA hosts Rebel Films, public forums and conferences. That’s why we organized a demo on the 10th anniversary of the NATO occupation of Afghanistan last October, and led it directly to Occupied St. James Park. That’s why we invite you to join us at City Hall on May 1 and to join in the next Occupation. That’s why you don’t want to miss ‘Socialism 2012 – Fighting for the 99%”, June 1, 2 and 3 at OISE U of T.

Central to our strategy for workers’ power is the building of a class struggle opposition in unions and the NDP. SA aims to remove the pro-capitalist bureaucrats and to lead the fight against the bosses’ agenda, and for socialism. In this process a mass revolutionary workers’ party will be formed. Such a party is the key to a future with freedom and dignity. But it cannot be done without you.

So, please don’t wait for the next economic crash. Don’t wait for the next environmental catastrophe. Rebellion is in the air, from Egypt to Quebec, from Venezuela to Palestine. Join Socialist Action today. Join the Youth for Socialist Action. Together we can make the world a place truly fit for humanity.

Have a wonderful, festive, red May Day!

Ottawa ignores Kyoto

A previous Liberal government cynically entered into it, and systematically violated it. The present Conservative government thumbed its nose at it from the start, and unceremoniously quit the treaty on Dec. 12. Despite its abject weaknesses, including low targets and unenforcability, the Kyoto Protocol still signifies the need to address escalating carbon emissions, climate change, and the dire threat they pose to civilization.

A previous Liberal government cynically entered into it, and systematically violated it. The present Conservative government thumbed its nose at it from the start, and unceremoniously quit the treaty on Dec. 12. Despite its abject weaknesses, including low targets and unenforcability, the Kyoto Protocol still signifies the need to address escalating carbon emissions, climate change, and the dire threat they pose to civilization.

Negotiators from nearly 200 countries spent two weeks in Durban, South Africa trying to reach an agreement on a new climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires at the end of 2012.
The original treaty was a concession to the mobilizing power of the global environmental movement. Its limitations reflect the class nature of that movement, its failure to collectively articulate a socialist agenda—the prerequisite to democratic control and economic planning in harmony with nature.
The Harper Conservatives seem not to be troubled that their unilateral exit of Kyoto violates domestic law. The Kyoto Implementation Act, adopted by Parliament in June 2007, remains on the books. It was not rescinded. The latest Tory decision was not even debated. The law still requires Canada’s environment commissioner, Scott Vaughan, to inform Parliament annually of the government’s progress in meeting its targets under the climate accord. That is bound to be a bitter pill the government will want to ditch a.s.a.p.
After six years of Conservative rule and $9 billion budgeted to curb green house gases Canada’s output remains very high. Even if Prime Minister Harper keeps his promise to cut emissions by 2020 in lock step with the U.S., by 17 per cent from 2005 levels, Canada will continue to generate some 600 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent annually. That is the same as in 1990, the Kyoto benchmark year.
Skepticism about the pledges made at the United Nations conference in Durban is no excuse for inaction at home. The United States, China, and India, the world’s biggest carbon spewers, pledged to negotiate a common binding agreement in the next few years. Even if they do, it won’t have much impact until 2020, which means another wasted decade in the drive to cap the rise in Earth’s temperature to a barely tolerable 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial era, instead of a disastrous 3.5 degrees.
But at least those governments acknowledge the problem and set themselves a target. Ottawa, on the other hand, closes its eyes and sticks its head into the dirty oil sands, failing even to provide tax incentives for renewable energy, or measures to curb coal-fired electricity, and car and truck emissions.
Liberal MP Justin Trudeau was certainly justified in denouncing Tory Environment Minister Peter Kent when Kent blamed an NDP MP for not attending the Durban conference. It was Kent who had barred opposition MPs from the Canadian delegation to Durban.

So, Trudeau was right to call Kent “a piece of shit.” But the same can be said for the whole Canadian establishment, from the hypocritical eco-posturers to the climate change deniers. The world is in a soggy mess, and time is running out, not only on capitalism but on the human species. 

> The article above was written by Barry Weisleder.

Will 2012 be year for Labour fightback?

The big business Conference Board of Canada predicts that 2012 will be a year of major labour-management strife across the Canadian state. 
The big business Conference Board of Canada predicts that 2012 will be a year of major labour-management strife across the Canadian state.

In a report released in early December, the Board points to Toronto, where the right-wing administration of Mayor Rob Ford has been waging a war on workers to cut costs, and to privatize city services. The report also noted that the Toronto District School Board is set to negotiate a new collective agreement with teachers in 2012 “on a course of bargaining that is unlikely to be resolved peacefully.”
In 2011, Canada Post workers staged rotating strikes, got locked out by management, and were ordered back to work by the federal government, which imposed a wage rate lower than management’s last offer. The threat of legislation kept Air Canada workers from striking, despite workers voting twice to reject management’s position.
According to McMasterUniversity labour relations Professor Charlotte Yates, governments aren’t just trying to keep deficits in check; they are cutting for political reasons. Unions, per se, are the target. They believe they can succeed at this time knowing that the bosses are permitted to cut jobs without any real challenge from the working class, including its unionized sections. When postal workers challenged the Stephen Harper Conservative government agenda, the labour movement across the country failed to back them up with job action. The NDP filibuster in the House of Commons made many workers feel good, but it did not threaten to deter the government’s course of action.
The Conference Board is now worried that the potential for strikes in the public sector will be greater in 2012 because those workers gave concessions at the outset of the recession/depression in 2008. Rank-and-file frustration is rising. The average public sector raise will be 1.5 per cent in 2012—below the predicted inflation rate of 2 per cent. In contrast, private sector workers will earn an average raise of 2.3 per cent. Overall, workers’ wages have been falling or stagnant for over 30 years.
Health care workers in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba will be negotiating new collective agreements in 2012, as will employees at the Canada Revenue Agency.
By alerting its well-heeled members to potential labour conflict, and by countering the arguments that unions make (for example, that government revenues are down due to corporate tax cuts and concessions to the rich), the Conference Board is helping to get the Canadian capitalist class ready for the big fight ahead. But what is the labour leadership doing to get workers ready for this fight?
The Ontario Federation of Labour, at its November biennial convention in Toronto, promised to expose the one-sided class war being waged by bosses and their governments. But OFL leaders have no plan to challenge the rulers’ agenda with mass action in the streets and work places.
There is talk about a possible merger of the Canadian Auto Workers Union and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers’ Union. A democratically conducted merger would be good. Much better than a raid, which too often is the resort of shrinking unions. But a merger is no substitute for organizing the unorganized, much less for an anti-concessions strategy.
Can workers fight back? Transit workers in York Region, north of Toronto, show that we can. Those employees of private bus companies that pay $7 an hour less than what Toronto transit workers earn, are in the third month of a strike for a wage and benefits catch-up. Their weekly mass pickets and bus occupations are attracting tremendous attention and inspiring considerable hope in broad sections of the working class.
They show the way forward—to a coordinated labour struggle against the bosses’ “austerity” agenda.
If 2012 is to be the year for a labour fight back, now is the time to start talking up the idea of a general strike. Nothing less than escalating, mass job actions are needed to stop the attacks on jobs, public services, and workers’ rights. And that’s what we need to win nationalization of the banks and big business under workers’ democratic control—to lay the basis for an economy that serves the majority.> The article above was written by Barry Weisleder.