Category Archives: Analysis

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.

The Future of the Occupy Movement

On November 23 police enforced an Ontario Superior Court order to Occupy Toronto to vacate St. James Park, a few blocks from Canada’s corporate financial hub. Occupy camps around the world, from Oakland, California, to London, England, from New York to Vancouver, are also under seige. Whether re-locating, or clinging to home turf, the physical encampments inspired a mass movement against social inequality and injustice. They put proponents of the dysfunctional capitalist system on the defensive.

Whatever happens next, the challenge is clear: Spread this movement from the parks and city squares to the sites of social production, distribution and exchange.

On November 13, I spoke to a rally at Occupy Toronto on this theme:

“I’ve been asked to describe how the work of Socialist Action relates to the Occupy movement, and how we can grow and develop our work together.

“The first order of business is: congratulations! Congratulations to everyone who initiated the Occupy movement. From Tahrir Square in Cairo, to our sisters and brothers in Athens, and in Wisconsin. From Wall Street to London to Madrid to Toronto. What began with the Arab Spring, and spread like wild fire to over 1400 cities worldwide, cannot be extinguished. It is the voice of the voiceless. It is the cry of unemployed youth. It is the cry of dispossessed aboriginal peoples. It is a beacon of hope for the victims of ethnic cleansing, women’s oppression, class exploitation and environmental plunder. No matter what the clowns at City Hall may do, Occupation is here to stay. Dismantle it in one place, and it will sprout again, like a sea of dandelions.

“That’s because Occupy expresses a seismic shift. It is the shift from ignorance and complacency, to awareness and action. It points not only to gross economic inequality and injustice. It points not only to the greed and malfeasance of the ruling 1 per cent. It points to the need to rid this planet of capitalism — the toxic system responsible for the social ills that ail humanity.

“Socialist Action is proud to have been part of this movement from the beginning. Our comrades in the U.S., in New York, in Hartford, Conn., in Boston, in Philadelphia, in Chicago, in Minneapolis, in Phoenix, in Oakland, and many other cities are participants and advocates. Have a look at our newspaper, Socialist Action, and see how we work to win support in the labour movement, and to defend Occupy against police repression.

“That’s what we must do here: Defend the Occupy movement. Defend it from bozo politicians, from police repression, from the commercial media which inflates the complaints of a few petty bourgeois restaurateurs into a social calamity — the only apparent solution for which is the suppression of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. We say: Hands off Occupy Toronto. It is the best thing that’s happened to this park and to this city in a long time.

“That brings us to a bigger challenge: how to extend the Occupy movement to the factories and offices, to the mines and mills, to the stores and schools, to work places and to communities across this city and across this country. We can draw a lesson from Quebec where, this past week, over 200,000 students shut down schools and occupied the streets to oppose tuition increases and to demand free, quality, public post-secondary education. We can take encouragement from the Orange Wave (NDP surge) last Spring that marginalized the discredited Liberal Party in its wake. We are inspired by environmental activists whose actions forced US President Obama to delay construction of the Keystone XE pipeline.

“These events underline a compelling truth: Occupy is a powerful symbol, a resilient rallying point. It has changed the channel. It has ignited a conversation of millions. But to win, to truly win human liberation and save civilization from the ravages of the profit system, we need to shut capitalism down. We need to re-boot production on a green, democratic basis, and build a cooperative commonwealth.

“That’s what we in SA mean by socialism, a democratic cooperative commonwealth, where production is wholly owned and controlled by working people, where the military is reduced to a rescue and disaster relief corps, where the 1% are expropriated, and where the state is transformed into the servant of the 99%. That’s what socialism will look like.

“What stands in our way? If it was just the 1 per cent, it would be easy, and it would have been done long ago. Standing in the way of economic democracy is a gigantic apparatus of minority rule. The cops, the courts, the bought-and-paid-for media, religious institutions, the managerial elite, and the capitalist political parties. How can we clear a path to majority rule? The same way we defend and spread the Occupy movement. We tell the truth, we build alliances, and we fight the forces that stand in the way of liberation.

“Before the workers’ and popular movements can go forward, we need to remove the obstacles within. I refer to the labour, NGO and NDP bureaucracies. Donations of food, tents and port-a-potties are good. But they are no substitute for organized resistence to labour concessions in the work place. They are no substitute for a battle over the lack of democracy in many unions and the NDP. Rather than walk away from the problem, we need to dig in and fight for socialist policies and democracy from the bottom up.

“That’s what Socialist Action does. We build support for Occupy Toronto, and we organize a fighting opposition to labour mis-leaders who go along with cutbacks, with privatization, with layoffs in the public service (such as advocated by the Drummond commission at Queen’s Park). We argue for a General Strike to stop the cuts. We oppose government contracts to build jet fighters and war ships, to construct pipelines for dirty oil, and to invest in nuclear energy. We demand a steeply progressive tax on big wealth, on inheritance, and on corporate profits – not just an end to recent corporate tax cuts, not just abolition of the HST, not just a Robin Hood tax, or a Tobin Tax. We demand public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy under workers’ and community control.

“We don’t think that we, or any individual or small group can accomplish this alone. For that reason Socialist Action devotes most of our efforts to building coalitions, alliances, broad unity in action. That is why we play a leading role in the NDP Socialist Caucus, a broad alliance of anti-capitalist party members who seek to win the 4.5 million NDP voters to a Workers’ Agenda. That is why SA plays a leading role in the Workers’ Solidarity and Union Democracy Coalition, which is now fighting layoffs, and opposing OPSEU leaders’ threat to quit the Ontario Federation of Labour. That is why SA initiated the October 15 Coalition of 11 organizations that marked the 10th anniversary of the imperialist war and occupation of Afghanistan with a rally and march that concluded right here, in St. James Park. That is why we sponsor educational conferences, concerts to raise money for workers on strike, an annual May Day celebration, and Rebel Films, which attracted close to 500 people to the latest Rebel Film series at OISE.

“We don’t have all the answers. But we do know this: To win in the face of corporate state power requires a revolutionary perspective. It requires a conscious mass base in the working class. The revolutionary battle for hearts and minds takes place in the existing mass working class organizations. That is where we are fighting to build solidarity, to build the Occupy movement, to spread it to unions, to the NDP, to work places and communities, and to put an end to the cancer of capitalist minority rule.

“We are with you 100%. We invite you to work with us, to join SA and Youth for Socialist Action. Together we will win, much sooner than later.”

> The article above was written by Barry Weisleder.