Category Archives: Canada

Liberals defeated, PQ untrustworthy Step up the Struggles Against Capitalist Austerity

by Robbie Mahood
Coming on the heels of the mass mobilisations of Quebec’s ‘printemps erable’ (Maple Spring), the September 4 vote result is disappointing. The election of a minority Parti Quebecois (PQ) government brings to an end a nine year Liberal Party (PLQ) reign. Liberal leader Jean Charest went down to personal defeat in his Sherbrooke riding. Beyond that, there was little solace for partisans of working class politics. The federalist bourgeoisie expressed relief that the outcome was a lot less unfavourable to their interests than they feared.
The PQ could muster only 32% of the vote and 54 seats, against 31% of the vote and 50 seats for the Liberals. Pauline Marois, Quebec’s first woman premier, will lead a minority government hostage to the right wing Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) which captured 27% of the vote, but only 19 seats owing to the undemocratic first-past-the post electoral system. In a large number of ridings, the PQ won because the vote was divided by its Liberal and CAQ opponents. Conversely, in perhaps a dozen seats, the PQ lost by a margin equal to the combined totals of its two smaller rivals, Quebec Solidaire (QS) and Option Nationale (a pro-independence split-off from the PQ).
The PQ’s anemic victory can only deepen the crisis of this bourgeois nationalist party which has tried in vain to convince some section of the Quebec capitalist class to support independence, the dream of that bourgeois patriot, Jacques Parizeau, or even the much diluted ‘sovereignity association’ proposed by the revered Rene Levesque.
Under Marois, the PQ has distanced itself ever further from any concrete perspective for sovereignity, while affirming its fealty to the neo-liberal consensus. But this has not diminished the hostility or outright demonization of the party in the corporate media in Quebec, and especially in English-speaking Canada. The assassination attempt on Marois on election nights appears to be the work of a deranged individual. But it cannot be fully divorced from the atmosphere of fear and hatred that has been cultivated for years towards the national aspirations of the Quebecois, especially the goal of independence.
Jean Charest tried to parlay a backlash against the striking students into a victory at the polls, following the example of Charles deGaulle after the May 1968 uprising in France. But the student struggle was relegated to the background, studiously avoided during the election campaign by the other parties, including even the leftist QS.
The politics of the street and the ballot box were never so far apart – almost like parallel universes. The mainstream parties and media sought to shut down the mass struggle and divert it into the electoral arena. The Liberals portrayed any challenge to government outside of elections every four or five years as illegitimate, backing up this narrow vision with the iron fist of Loi 12. For the PQ, elections always take precedence over mobilisation in the streets. Pauline Marois removed her red square when the election writ was issued and called for a moratorium on strikes and demonstrations.
Unfortunately, QS acquiesced to this parliamentary fetishism, failing to follow through on its support for the students by making it a key campaign issue.
In the end, the Liberals retained their firm hold on anglophone and allophone voters, as well as on francophone federalists. Hostility to the striking students was no doubt a factor in buttressing the Liberal vote. But in the end the national question proved once again to be the most important line of demarcation in Quebec politics. Renegade pequiste, Francois Legault, and his CAQ failed to dislodge either of the two major parties. The CAQ is an amalgam of disparate forces. Like its predecessor, the Action Democratique du Quebec (ADQ) (whose remnants it absorbed) its staying power cannot be guaranteed. But its relative success confirms the base for right wing populist anti-working class politics.
On the left, QS doubled its vote to 6% and elected a second member of the National Assembly — a modest advance, but less than expected and limited principally to Montreal. Undoubtedly, QS support was diminished by the pressure for a tactical PQ vote to defeat the Liberals. It is difficult to challenge this lesser-evil logic from a strictly electoralist standpoint. Needed is a patient explanation of the pro-capitalist nature of the PQ and the way it blocks the national and social aspirations of the vast majority in Quebec society. To be sure, the PQ still retains something of a social democratic halo. However, this image is increasingly tarnished, particularly when struggles break out and the PQ’s true class loyalty is revealed.
Unfortunately, QS leaders Amir Kadir and Francoise David muddied the waters towards the end of the campaign by offering to support a PQ minority government to, in their words “pull the PQ to the centre left.” In the end, the vote for the Liberals and the CAQ was too strong, and for the left too weak to give this scheme any legs. What it reveals is the short-sighted electoralism and political confusion of the QS leaders. Most importantly, such proposals nourish false hopes in the PQ and in the dubious proposition that a centre-left option is available in the crisis-wracked capitalist system.
Neither the Liberals nor the CAQ have any such illusion. They are aggressive partisans of the employers’ agenda: decisively weakening the power of the unions, selling off or dismantling the public assets dating from Quebec’s ‘Quiet Revolution’, following the lead of Ottawa in fiscal and foreign policy, and staying within the Canadian federation. They are committed to accelerating the pace of neo-liberal ‘reforms’.
Together these two right wing parties received almost 60% of the vote. Ottawa and the anglo-Canadian bourgeoisie can take some comfort in the strong showing of the Liberals, the PQ’s relative weakness, and the emergence of the CAQ as a kind of back-up plan to ensure Quebec’s compliance with neo-liberal austerity. The PQ’s pledge to rescind Law 12 and roll back the Charest college fee increases goes against this agenda. The demand for free education does even more so. This is the moment to escalate the pressure on the PQ, and to advance a radical new agenda.
Quebecois workers need a party which undertakes the vigorous defense of their class interests by fighting for independence and socialism. Quebec Solidaire is not yet that party, but it is an expression of an emerging class differentiation which has been lacking historically in Quebec politics. The way forward for QS lies in a break with parliamentary manoeuvering, advancing a coherent anti-neo-liberal programme, and acting as a consistent champion of popular struggles such as the mass movement of students and their allies this spring and summer that succeeded in bringing down a hated neo-liberal regime.

Montreal march: A celebration that demands more!

by Barry Weisleder
About two thousand people braved persistent rainfall and cool temperatures on September 22 to celebrate the recent partial victory of the Quebec students’ movement. They rallied at Parc Lafontaine and marched through the streets of downtown Montreal, flanked by riot police armed with shields, truncheons and rifles. The cops arrested two people for ‘launching projectiles’, and used pepper spray on some demonstrators.
Speakers at the opening rally, organized by the largest students’ federation, CLASSE, emphasized that the struggle for free post-secondary education continues. This was in the wake of the Parti Quebecois minority government decision to annul the five-year 75 per cent fee hike imposed by the Jean Charest Liberal Party regime defeated in the September 4 provincial election. Premier-elect Pauline Marois said her government would substitute inflation-indexed fee increases – counter to the demand to eliminate fees.
The PQ voted in Cabinet to rescind Law 12, with its heavy fines for demonstrations without police permission, for picketing near colleges and universities, and its threats to decertify students’ unions that fail to comply.
Sadly, two student federations did not endorse the September 22 demonstration. Union banners were scarce too. But Professors Against the Hikes, along with several civil rights, feminist, environmentalist and political organizations were highly visible. They were joined by a troupe of drummers who enlivened the somewhat soggy procession.
Seven members of Toronto Socialist Action / Ligue pour l’Action socialiste travelled to Montreal to participate in the action. They distributed hundreds of leaflets in French urging a continuation of the campaign for free education. Socialists also demand that charges be dropped against the over 3,000 people arrested in the Spring and Summer student protests. The LAS stresses the need to mobilize against the bosses’ agenda at all levels. This was clearly expressed on its bright yellow banner bearing the slogan “A bas l’austerite capitaliste. Pouvoir aux travailleurs / travailleuses !” (Down with capitalist austerity. Power to the workers!)
The LAS held a public forum, conducted mostly in French, on the Saturday evening. A number of Quebecois activists attended and signed up to learn more about the Pan-Canadian revolutionary organization.
The PQ moved quickly in its first days in office to announce the closure of Quebec’s only nuclear power facility, to end shale gas development, to cancel a loan to reopen the province’s last asbestos mine, and to remove a health care premium. But the PQ budget, expected in early 2013, will show how the bourgeois nationalist government actually chooses to relate to the interests of students and workers. Pundits predict major cuts to social expenditures, and more subsidies to business. Thus the struggle for a just, equal, democratic and sovereign Quebec continues.

Hands Off Iran! Restore diplomatic relations! Dismantle all nuclear weapons, starting with those of the USA and Israel!

Ottawa’s decision to cut diplomatic ties with Iran is a desperate political move to try to sustain a reactionary and unpopular policy. Nothing to do with any Iranian threat to global peace and security, it is designed to counter the nearly total isolation of Israel and US policy in the Middle East.

Clearly, Iran has the right to defend itself by any means necessary from the imperial predator states, especially the USA which engineered the overthrow of the democratically-elected government in Iran in 1953, fueled the cruel Reza Shah Pahlavi dictatorship for decades, and sponsored a devastating war against Iran (1980 – 1988). The lack of evidence that Iran is nuclear-weapons capable does not deter Washington and Tel Aviv from making accusations and threats, just as George W. Bush did in 2003 to rationalize his invasion of Iraq, resulting in the death or displacement of millions of Iraqis. Self-defense is for victims, not victimizers.

Whether Iran has ‘the bomb’ or not, the major threat of nuclear annihilation stems from the USA and its attack dog in the Middle East, the apartheid Zionist state. Washington has by far the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear weapons, and it is the only state to use the barbaric weapon (twice against Japan in 1945). American presidents have repeatedly threatened to deploy ‘the bomb’, chiefly in pursuit of their corporate interests in the Middle East and Asia, but as seen in the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, not exclusively so. Israel’s nuclear arsenal is the only one in the vast Arab region, signalling the ultimate price the Zionist establishment puts on terminating its illegal occupation of Palestine.

What is so galling for the White House and the Pentagon is the public relations coup Tehran scored by hosting the conference of the Non-Aligned Movement, in late August, attended by representatives of 120 countries (two-thirds of the United Nations Assembly). Could Washington and Tel Aviv attract that kind of solidarity without coercion?

Stephen Harper’s hard-boiled Minister of External Affairs John Baird cites the repressive character of the Ahmadinejad regime. He accuses it of using diplomatic personnel to promote its interests and to intimidate Iranians living in Canada. To be sure, the Islamic Republic is deeply undemocratic and repressive. So is the Saudi regime which extended its repressive force into Bahrain to quell an Arab Spring uprising. Recall also that the Harper Conservatives intervened in the 2006 election in Venezuela by funnelling money to the right wing opposition.

Socialist Action / Ligue pour l’Action socialiste condemns all forms of oppression and exploitation. At the same time, we defend the right of oppressed nations to national self-determination. We believe it is the task of the workers and farmers of Iran to settle accounts with their ruling class, to replace the tyranny with a vibrant, pluralist, socialist democracy.

Canada’s rulers could not be less interested in facilitating grass roots democracy in Iran. Their interventions in Afghanistan and Haiti attest to that. NATO bombing of Libya, in which Canadian Forces played a despicable leading role, resulted in U.S.-engineered regime change. But it did not prevent the murder of the U.S. ambassador in Benghazi on September 11. Should Washington and Ottawa now break relations with the government they helped to install in Libya? Do they have a similar political ‘make-over’ in mind for Syria? Protests this week across the Muslim world show what is in store for the western powers if they continue to bomb, invade and occupy foreign lands.

Socialist revolution from within, not imperialist intervention, is the road to genuine democracy and social justice. NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair is wrong to pause, wrong to invite Harper to further explain his reactionary diplomatic move. International working class solidarity starts with opposition to the schemes of our own ruling class and their state, and by clearly opposing the war drive of the western powers. A crucial task in this regard is to strengthen the broad, united front, action-oriented anti-war movement, and to appeal to the Iranian community to be a prominent part of it. Demonstrate the opposition of immigrants, workers, youths, women, seniors, NDPers and the entire labour movement to the impending blood bath.

Hands Off Iran! Restore diplomatic relations now! Canada Out of NATO! NATO out of Afghanistan! Disarm the war makers, starting at home! Money for public health, education, housing and good jobs, not for war! Workers to power, from Iran to Egypt, and beyond!

Statement issued September 15, 2012 by:
Socialist Action / Ligue pour l’Action socialiste (Canadian state)

 

CAW needs action plan to Stop Concessions to Detroit 3

by Bruce Allen, Vice-President of CAW Local 199, and V.P. Niagara Regional Labour Council (writing in a personal capacity)

 

     Just prior to the start of the 2012 Canadian Auto Workers union (CAW) Collective Bargaining and Constitutional Convention, held in Toronto August 20-24, the Chrysler Corporation sent the CAW a clear and unequivocal message concerning this year’s contract negotiations with the Detroit 3 (which includes Ford and General Motors). Chrysler tabled the demand that the CAW give up ’30 and out’. This means that Chrysler demands that the CAW give up autoworkers’ right to retire with a full pension regardless of their age after 30 years of credited service.

     This is particularly significant because nothing better exemplifies the historic gains achieved by North American autoworkers over the last century than this contractual right. Chrysler’s position attests to its audacity and boldness going into this year’s negotiations. It shows the aggressive stance being taken by the Detroit 3 towards the CAW.

     Prior to 2012 none of the Detroit 3 would have dared to table such a demand. Furthermore the tabling of it illustrates the self-confidence of the auto bosses and their sense of a new found ability to attack workers’ pensions. Clearly Chrysler has noted the recent successes of Vale Inco and U.S. Steel in rolling back pensions in their collective agreements with the United Steelworkers’ union and wants to follow suit. Regardless whether Chrysler actually succeeds in eliminating ’30 and out’, the very attempt to do so constitutes a watershed development. But should Chrysler actually have any success in this regard it will give added momentum to the onslaught against pensions, not only at companies like Vale Inco and U.S. Steel, but also by the Stephen Harper Conservative federal government’s move to raise the eligibility age for Old Age Security from 65 to 67.

     Thus it is imperative that the CAW beat back the demand to end ’30 and out’ by any means necessary, including by industry-wide strike action. Moreover, such action by the CAW should be couple with a serious campaign of mass action to halt the Harper government’s raising of the age of eligibility for OAS, since it will hit autoworkers especially hard. This is because the supplements to their pensions which are integral to their retirement income, end at age 65, because the current eligibility age for Old Age Security is 65. Raising the eligibility age to 67 will cost retired autoworkers thousands of dollars in lost income between the ages of 65 and 67.

     These developments put the proceedings of the Collective Bargaining Convention into perspective. The convention was bathed in militant rhetoric and good policy papers detailing the breadth and depth of the attacks CAW members are facing. But the proceedings were detached from the everyday realities faced by CAW members who are being relentlessly attacked with no clear prospect of a serious fightback in response. Indeed the deliberations at the convention marked no significant shift in direction for a union that has been in retreat for many years, particularly in the all important auto industry. The CAW has allowed the auto bosses to set the trajectory of contract negotiations by permitting them to impose concessions in exchange for promises of new investment. As long as this approach continues, autoworkers will endure the effects of taking ever more contract concessions.

Indeed, the top CAW leadership stubbornly refuses to acknowlege this trajectory, never mind put a halt to it. The outcome of the convention effectively reinforced this recipe for continuing retreat.

     Finally, the CAW’s planned merger with the Communications, Energy and Paper Workers, sealed by unanimous vote of the nearly 1,000 delegates, promises more of the same. It will produce a larger, better-resourced labour organization. But those advantages will be of little consequence unless there is a decisive shift to the left in both the collective bargaining and political strategies of the CAW. Neither is on offer with this merger. The very few critical voices on the left in the CAW are consequently tasked with relentlessly making the case that more of the same is not acceptable and will lead to even greater retreats.

United Church votes for Israeli boycott

     The general council of the United Church of Canada, the country’s largest Protestant denomination, voted in mid-August to support a boycott of goods produced in Israeli settlements on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.
     The 350 delegates to the United Church council, which according to Statistics Canada represents nearly three million Canadians who identify with the church, spent close to six hours debating the boycott recommended by an internal report that named the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory as a major obstacle to a two-state settlement of the conflict.
     Increasingly, a one-state solution is seen as the only just and effective path by Palestinian, labour and human rights bodies. But the boycott idea itself is enough to raise the ire of pro-occupation forces and to expose the growing isolation of the Zionist apartheid state.
     In the months preceding the council vote, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (the ultra-conservative body that displaced the former Canadian Jewish Congress), and a group of nine Canadian Liberal and Conservative senators, heavily lobbied U.C. members against “taking sides” on the issue. But after hearing long arguments on all sides of the controversy, the church council voted to take a side, against the occupation.