Category Archives: Statements

Solidarity with Kurdish Workers’ uprising

Socialist Action stands firmly in solidarity with Kurdistan workers who are demonstrating en masse for payment of long-delayed wages, for freedom of political prisoners, for an end to vicious repression, and for dissolution of the corrupt Kurdistan Regional Government.

In recent days, tens of thousands of people in Sulaimaniyah and Halabja provinces of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq filled the streets to demand the dissolution of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) due to 26 years reckless, corrupt, and authoritarian practices. KRG security forces responded to the protests by arresting demonstrators and journalists, seizing TV stations, including the independently-owned NRT, and firing into the crowds of unarmed protestors with heavy weapons supplied to KRG forces by the Global Coalition Against Daesh.  The Canadian state is a participant in the GCAD.  The number of reported deaths has reached 20, and injuries at least 70.  Those numbers will rise as the massacre of demonstrators continues. The use of violence against innocent civilians is a grave violation of human rights.  It is incumbent on Ottawa and its Coalition partners in Iraq to take immediate action to prevent additional injuries and deaths. The dominant parties in the KRG, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), have ruled the Kurdistan Region as a private fiefdom for 26 years. Since 2003, the United States has supplied the militias commanded by these two parties with weapons, training, and financial support. The Canadian Ministry of Defense and the Liberal government looked the other way as partisan militias shuttered the Region’s democratic institutions and party elites enriched themselves — while failing to provide citizens with basic services like water and electricity. The KDP and the PUK squandered the Region’s budget through their corruption and mismanagement, and failed to pay the salaries of 1.4 million public service workers and retirees –over 75% of the KRG’s population– causing deep and widespread poverty. Journalists and activists who expressed dissatisfaction with the reckless abuses of power, were harassed, kidnapped, tortured, and killed. The ruling parties relied on external support to sustain their “legitimacy”.

As a result, Canada is directly responsible for the corruption, the private accumulation of power, wealth, and weapons which they now use against their own people.

We call on the Government of Canada to demand that the KDP and PUK:

  1. Immediately cease attacks on civilians;
  2. End military operations in the cities of the Kurdistan Region;
  3. Release political prisoners and detainees;
  4. Re-open the NRT TV station in Sulaimaniyah.

We urge the organizations of the working class across the Canadian state to demonstrate solidarity with the mass protests and just demands of our sisters and brothers in Kurdistan.

Socialist Action / Ligue pour l’Action socialiste

Photo Credits: Reuters/Stringer

¡Heather Heyer, presente!

On Sunday August 13, Socialist Action members gathered in solemn solidarity with about 200 like-minded people outside of the United States Consulate to participate in a "Vigil for Charlottesville Anti-Fascists". The event was hosted by the Toronto International Workers of the World General Defence Committee. The group listened to a few short speeches and sang "The Red Flag" and "Solidarity Forever" before marching off to City Hall while angrily chanting "Whose Streets – Our Streets", "Refugees In, Fascist Out", and "Nazi Scum Off Our Streets".

The event was a memorial for Heather Heyer, the young woman who was murdered by an ultra-right terrorist, who drove his car into a crowd of anti-fascist protesters during an August 12 counter-demonstration against the “Unite the Right” rally. In addition to Heather being fatally run-down, more than 30 anti-racist protesters also sustained serious injuries during the course of the day. This attack was preceded by an August 11 torchlight march on the campus of the University of Virginia. The white supremacists and fascists chanted: “White Lives Matter,” “You Will Not Replace Us,” “Jews Will Not Replace Us,” and “Blood and Soil.” The fascists also attacked a smaller group of counter-protesters,using the torches, sticks, pipes, and brass knuckles, while police stood by and just watched.

This terrorist violence and murder is the latest in a series of violent acts from the far-right. In cities across North America, Nazis, white supremacists, and fascists have been going on a violent offensive to attack Muslims, Jews, African-Americans, queer and trans people, as well as left-wing militants. These attacks have been emboldened by the hateful rhetoric spewed by President Donald Trump. All the while our own Prime Minister Trudeau just watches quietly on the sidelines. Enough is enough!

We say:

  • Fascism is not to be debated – it is to be smashed!
  • Build a United Front to stop and defeat the fascists!
  • Solidarity with the brave fighters in Charlottesville and all the victims of fascism!
  • An injury to one is an injury to all.

Heather Hayer, rest in power!

Supplementary items:

Reading recommendation: Socialist Action USA article by Steve Xavier.

On August 14, Socialist Action members attended an anti-fascist rally of about 60 people on University Avenue, across from the U.S. Consulate in Toronto. Many carried signs or wore T-shirts with slogans; and they chanted:

  • Hey, hey, ho, ho, Donald Trump has got to go.
  • Nazi scum off our streets.
  • Smash racism.
  • No Platform for Fascists.


Socialist Action Policy on Basic Income

We are seeing a revival of the concept of basic guaranteed income (BI or GAI), both in Canada and internationally. The Ontario Liberal government is about to launch a pilot project. Prince Edward Island will do likewise, while other provincial administrations have expressed interest. Finland initiated a basic income experiment in 2016, and The Netherlands is soon to follow.

Basic income has its supporters and detractors on both left and right. Free-market and libertarian ideologues like Milton Friedman and Charles Murray see the possibility of eliminating publicly funded entitlements in favour of impoverished members of the working class having to purchase those services in the market. On the other hand, many conservatives fear a disincentive to work.

Positions on the left also vary. Basic income has been promoted as a solution to precarious work in the gig economy, as a way of liberating impoverished people from an oppressive welfare bureaucracy and as a panacea for the work-less world that some predict will result from robotization. But there are many who believe basic income in the current context is illusory.

Some on the left propose a ‘progressive’ version of basic income that would provide a net advance over existing benefits. No one wants to defend the current system of social assistance with its paternalistic bureaucracy and grossly inadequate level of support. A socialist society would guarantee decent social provision for all. The question of what form this should take remains hypothetical at this point.

Those advocating a ‘progressive’ version of basic income are acting from genuine concern for the impoverished, and frustration with the injustices of the current social welfare system. But in the harsh world of actually existing capitalism, basic income schemes offer the illusion of improvement in the lot of marginalized people while streamlining the existing social welfare system so as to diminish state responsibility and push individuals to purchase their needs privately.

Absent a socialist transformation, basic income schemes will reflect the priorities of capitalist governments. They will be grafted on to an austerity and privatization agenda. The aim is to move the impoverished into low wage precarious employment, provide a wage top-up to employers and give governments an exit route from services they currently provide. Ontario Liberal Premier, Kathleen Wynne sees basic income as a way of reducing government expenditures in housing, health care and other supports for the poor. Finland’s centre-right wing government will judge its basic income experiment on whether it moves the chronically unemployed into taking low wage jobs.

Labour has been on the defensive for almost 50 years. The relationship of class forces does not favour significant democratic or egalitarian policies orchestrated from above.

Labour’s traditional approach has been to fight for full employment at union rates, for a significant rise in the minimum wage, for adequate social assistance and unemployment benefits and for social entitlements that apply to the whole working class including impoverished and marginalized people. The labour movement has recognized the danger in means tested programs that break with the principle of universality.

It is naive to think that basic income can circumvent the capitalist labour market or transform the use of leisure time.  The real transitional demand here is for a reduction in the work week with no loss of pay and a sharing of work. Within that framework, massive retraining and expansion of unionized employment in green and socially useful occupations is the route to go.

Some sort of income guarantee would be integral to a socialist society. But this would not be the principal mechanism for social provision. Cuba gives us a glimpse. Basic needs such as housing, transport, health care and education are provided out of central state revenues and are free for every Cuban at the point of use or in some cases as a subsidy. There is a big difference between social programs as universal entitlements provided out of a collective pooling of resources, and services obtained by individuals from private providers as a market transaction. Both may exist, but any aspiring socialist society would and must try to limit the commodification of basic services.

If introduced by capitalist governments, as looks increasingly likely, basic income schemes will require the labour movement and socialists to respond.  Socialist Action will evaluate any specific basic income program according to:

  1. whether it lifts the beneficiaries out of poverty representing a net gain over existing social assistance benefits;
  2. whether it will have a positive effect on wages and job quality not acting as a wage subsidy to employers and accelerating the trend to bad jobs at low pay and
  3. whether it will protect existing services to which the impoverished are entitled, and provide the scope to expand access.

In formulating its position. Socialist Action should not lag behind the most advanced elements in the labour movement who are highly critical of basic income (see John Clarke’s and David Bush’s arguments and the positions adopted by CUPE Ontario and OPSEU).

To summarize, for the foreseeable, basic income will be initiated from above by capitalist governments requiring a response on our part. But we believe the main battles lie elsewhere.  What the working class gains, it has to fight for. We look to advances in the class struggle to better conditions for the impoverished. Battles for unionization, higher wages and benefits, mobilizing to obtain decent social housing, to abolish barriers to higher education, to win free public transit and defend the most vulnerable and exploited workers – that is the way to strengthen the confidence, self-organization and unity of working people and change the balance of forces in society.

July 2017

Policy on Proportional Representation adopted at the 2017 SA/LAS Convention

The Trudeau Liberal government in Ottawa has reneged on a promise to reform the electoral system by introducing some variant of proportional representation (PR) that would replace the long-in-the-tooth Winner-Take-All system (aka First Past the Post – FPTP). PR was put in the Liberal program when the party was languishing in third place and needed to draw votes especially from the NDP. This was classic bait and switch.

Electoral reform is off the immediate agenda but it is not likely to go away.

But why proportional representation?  Aren’t there more pressing issues in the class struggle?

Firstly, because PR has become a contentious issue across the political spectrum. The labour movement and the small minority of socialists within it should not abstain from this debate. The issue cannot be left to the opportunists, neither the Liberals nor NDP governments that have never pursued electoral reform.

We don’t choose the battles we fight according to some preconceived schema. Discontent will focus on this or that injustice, opening cracks in the façade of the ruling order.  Canada’s undemocratic First Past the Post (FPTP) system is just such a fissure.

Confidence in bourgeois electoral politics is faltering. Voter apathy based on the correct perception that most votes don’t count, a suffocating ideological consensus, the under-representation of women and racialized minorities – these are among the manifestations of a gathering crisis of legitimacy.

Parliamentary majorities are now routinely constructed on less than 40% of votes cast based on scarcely more than 25% of the electorate.

The second point is that electoral reform including proportionality has been a consistent demand of the labour movement internationally.  The unions as well as the NDP and its predecessor, the CCF, spearheaded the struggle to extend the franchise, first to working men then in the battle for women’s suffrage and in support of the vote for aboriginal peoples and youth. PR is a continuation of the struggle to democratize the electoral system.

Many forms of proportional representation have been proposed or implemented.  The following are the most relevant to the Canadian context and our discussion:

  • Party-list PR (used in 85 of 94 countries that have PR). Parties present lists in large regional or even provincial multi-member constituencies. The lists can be closed or open.  This system achieves the greatest degree of proportionality and situates representation firmly in the party orbit.
  • Mixed Member Proportional Representation (MMP) is used in 7 other countries. The NDP has supported this option and it figures prominently in the campaign of Fair Vote Canada.  It is a hybrid, two tier system that is at least semi-proportional. Voters would cast two ballots, one for a single candidate elected by plurality voting and the other for a party list. This would involve multi-member constituencies larger than current electoral districts. The idea is to achieve a compromise by amalgamating winner-take-all and PR.
  • Single Transferable Vote is a system used in parts of the English-speaking world, notably Ireland, Scotland (local elections) and Australia (the Senate). It involves a ranked or preferential ballot in multi-member districts.
  • Former Liberal MP and Cabinet Minister, Stephane Dion, has put forward his own version of STV which he bills as preferential, personalized and proportional (P3). It too involves a ranked ballot with transfer of 2nd choice votes. Its main effect would be to strengthen representation across the country for the major parties while disadvantaging or eliminating smaller parties.

PR systems also establish a minimum threshold of popular vote a party must attain before it can win seats. This ranges from 10% in Turkey to 0.67% in The Netherlands. In Germany, it is 5% and in Israel it was 1% but has been raised to 3.25%.

Our preference is for a fully proportional party-list system. In Canada, this would have to be broken down by province or large regions within a province.  We want to preserve the party identification of voters based on political program and ideology. We also argue for a low threshold of 2% of the popular vote to qualify for seats because it will encourage smaller parties and stimulate democratic debate.

Party-list PR can be based on open or closed lists. Closed lists mean the political party has pre-decided in what priority candidates will be allocated a seat. Voters have no influence on the party-supplied order in which candidates are elected. If voters have some influence by registering their preference then we refer to it as an open list.

Closed lists can be used to include women or minority group candidates.  On the other hand, open lists may favour more social or ideological diversity than a closed list pre-determined by the party brass.

In the absence of a fully democratic internal process for selection of party candidates, we prefer an open party-list system.

We are less enthused about the Mixed Member Proportional model even though this is the one the NDP supports. There is a sacrifice of proportionality in deference to the lone sitting MP whose role is to intercede with government on behalf of his or her constituents.  In New Zealand which has a mixed member system, some have observed that the MPs elected by plurality tend to be long-standing party hacks while party list candidates are more dynamic and diverse in their backgrounds and political commitments.

Advocates of STV cite voter choice within or between parties, local representation and encouraging “common ground” as advantages. To the extent that this system would reduce the influence of political parties especially small ones, we see it as a disadvantage. It is also not fully proportional. However, a version known as STV+ adds a variable number of top-up seats to achieve better proportionality.  In such a case, we would favour a high ratio of top-up seats, as in the Scottish local assembly elections where there are 2 top-up seats for every 3 seats.

A reformed electoral system for Canada must accommodate diverse regional and national realities. But it is a myth that voters are united by mainly local concerns. The “honourable member” is increasingly a relic of a bygone era. Better to strengthen democratic participation in political parties and engage voters in issues of society-wide and planetary significance which of course have their local and regional dimension. This aim would be facilitated by a voting system that is fully proportional, that is, one based on party lists.

The Trudeau Liberals are facing justifiable censure for their electoral reform betrayal. At this point, with no government legislation on the table or indeed the horizon, the purpose of this resolution is more to guide us in discussion and debate with other forces advocating Proportional Representation.

Adopted at the Convention of Socialist Action/Ligue pour l’action socialiste, May 14, 2017.