Category Archives: Youth

CFS split would benefit only the right wing

by Tyler Mackinnon and Ben Rostoker
    With the Quebec student strikes still fresh in mind, one would expect a push for solidarity in student unions to fight austerity measures and tuition hikes. Sadly, the opposite seems to be the case. Before the fall semester, students from 15 different universities across the Canadian state campaigned to get their local student unions to leave the Canadian Federation of Students.
    The CFS was formed in 1981. It has been a critical tool for organizing cross-country activities to protest rising fees. Originally the CFS was identified with grass roots actions and advanced working class demands for the abolition of tuition fees. However by the mid-1990’s what was once a meeting place for progressive student activists had turned into a vehicle for careerist liberals. Many of these careerists sought to downplay radical demands and weaken the CFS as a forum for student union organizing. Under an increasingly opportunist leadership, the CFS became riddled with corruption, including such practices as ballot box stuffing. CFS activism shrivelled.
  This altered somewhat in the spring of 2012, when tens of thousands of Quebecois students hit the streets against the tuition increases imposed by the Jean Charest Quebec Liberal government. The CFS rose from hibernation and supported the Quebec students; it even dusted off its old demands for free-post secondary education. As the Quebec student strikes evolved into a general movement against austerity, the CFS claimed it sought to reform its own top-down style of conventions comprised of delegates, and replace it with the Quebecois system of general assemblies that encouraged all students to participate.
  Sadly the promises of the CFS leadership never materialized.It has been over a year and not a single student protest has been organized by the CFS. There has been no move to adopt Quebec’s more democratic institutions. Indeed, the idea of a Quebec-like student strike spreading to English Canada has been condemned by the CFS, which claims it would be divisive, since the student body is “not ready yet.” This is where we see some of the basis for the split emerging. 
    Despite the threats voiced by various spokespersons for the students seeking to disaffiliate from the CFS, it seems unlikely that the 6,000 to 8,000 signatures needed at Ryerson University to cause a referendum on this issue will be gathered.
    Ryerson Student Union President Melissa Palermo expressed surprise that students would even consider such a move. “We have had such widespread support across Ryerson for what we are doing with the CFS,” Palermo told SA. She said that despite the many flaws of the CFS, it still provides post-secondary students with a variety of services, such as the community food rooms. Right-wing students tried to push disaffiliation in 2009, and the RSU is confident it will fail again.  
    However, the last split effort does pose key questions: Why and How can this be done? It seems clear that those who support the split want to form a new student union, but they seem to have no plan to accomplish it. There is no broad, grass roots organization working to unite those who want to create a new union. Part of the problem is the political makeup of the split campaign. At its heart is an anarchist-inspired ‘apolitical’ movement of right wingers, anti-unionists, anarchists, new left socialists, and others who claim that this is a movement that everyone, both ‘right and left’, have their reasons to support. Thus we have right wingers saying that they never wanted to be in a union, and leftists denouncing the lack of concrete CFS solidarity with Quebec students. So the guiding light seems to be ‘let’s break the CFS and let its members spill out into the ether.’
    The prevalence of anarchist misconceptions on organizing without leadership, and so called ‘diversity of tactics’ (which all too often means no planning and condoning the actions of a substitutionist, violent minority) means that there is no plan to replace the CFS with a superior structure. Plus, there is no attempt to build a movement inside the CFS to address the corruption, unaccountability, and lack of internal democracy – even as part of a plan to build a better and separate union. And with no visible organization, or coordination, those wishing to leave the CFS will either be left to their own devices, and substantially weaker. Less effective equivalents to the CFS could emerge, or a disjointed and isolationist political landscape for student unions may result.
    The CFS is a union and it should be treated accordingly. There should be an organized fight within it. Only as a last ditch effort, and provided that there is a mass base for real change, and only if the route to internal democratic change is totally barred, should a split be contemplated.
    Youth for Socialist Action argues that there should be a fight within the CFS to push its leadership to the left, or to replace it and return the CFS to its democratic roots as a bottom up organization. In addition, the local student unions should encourage its members to get involved in campaigns for social justice, such as the ‘drop tuition fees’ and ‘abolish student debt’ campaigns, the Justice for Sammy movement, opposition to war spending and social cuts, and the fight for affordable housing and free mass public transit. Youth for     Socialist Action contends that it is vital to show the connection between the attack on the students’ movement and the corporate austerity drive. To fight inside, as well as outside the CFS, is the only way the students’ movement can hope to win against the capitalist rulers and their anti-student, anti-worker agenda.

Free PDF is available: Concessions No More! Fight to Defeat Austerity

Below is a copy of “Concessions No More! Fight to Defeat Austerity”, a collection of talks presented at Socialism 2013, the annual international educational conference hosted by Socialist Action / Ligue pour l’Action socialiste, held May 10-12, 2013 at the University of Toronto.

socialism conference book final

UNIFOR – will Action match the Rhetoric?

by Lindsay Hinshelwood,

assembly line worker at Ford Oakville, candidate for Unifor President on August 31, 2013


As a 15 year member of the Canadian Auto Workers Union (CAW) I couldn’t buy the line that my union was merging with the Communication, Energy and Paper Workers Union (CEP) just to have greater strength in numbers. The labour movement already had the numbers; what it needs is greater solidarity in action. So why this merger to form Unifor?

The CAW name was tarnished for many reasons, not just the lack of democracy and vision, or the plague of appointed reps, or nepotism and tokenism. It was also because of the 2009 auto bailouts in exchange for massive concessions, and for not supporting any other workers.

Here are two examples from my own experience. 1) My Local (now Unifor Local 707) President tried to get a court injunction against the CEP-represented workers at the Ford Oakville Assembly Complex, both in 2006 against an information picket line they set up, and in 2010 for being locked out by the company, instead of supporting those workers and blaming the company. 2) The Local invited Lisa Raitt, the former federal Minister of Labour, to the union hall as a guest speaker after her government legislatively broke the strike of Air Canada and CP Rail workers.

The merger also provided an opportunity for the founding unions to rewrite their Constitutions and tighten up their Policies and Procedures. Which is exactly what they did. The new Unifor constitution protects the National Officers a little more, it reduces the role of the Public Review Board, diminishes the appeal procedure for members who want to grieve decisions, and it allows the union to collect dues from laid off workers who have found other jobs to help them pay bills while they are waiting for a return to work call from their employer.

Back in 2009, during the auto industry bailouts, the CAW was not prepared with a plan. It has yet to come up with a vision, other than the Auto Policy Plan which is full of absurdities, often enacted at the expense of other industries and taxpayers. At the Unifor founding convention officials made claims about union renewal and moving forward. So why didn’t the National Officers, who brag about their experience and knowledge, implement a measure of democracy at the initial convention?

It was an opportunity to implement One Member One Vote, and to invite nominations for the new 25 National Executive Board positions elected at the convention. But this didn’t happen. The retiring National Officers declared it wasn’t the right time — an excuse I’ve been hearing for 15 years.

However, I did get nominated by Bruce Allen, Vice President of former CAW Local 199 and one of the most outspoken militants. I proudly accepted. Never in CAW history had the top positions been contested. It was necessary that Unifor’s first National President be elected instead of following the usual practice where people at the top pick and choose the people at the top.

With a modest grassroots leaflet and only 4 minutes to speak, I managed to snag 17.49% of the vote. That sent a strong message that members want change at the top. It hopefully set the precedent that these positions in future will be contested. The other 24 nominees, all promoted by the National Officers of both unions, were acclaimed. Acclamation should be a dirty word in an organizaton that purports to be democratic.

In 2012 many autoworkers were hoping for a strike. But a strike was avoided by hyping threats of plant closures, followed by more frightful concessions. Unifor has since ‘moved forward’ by ratifying the same massive concessions for GM Cami workers. It accepted that the ‘supplementals’ in those bargaining units will now become full time — but with a 10 year phase in period to reach the top pay rate, so these workers will be working nearly 15 years before they achieve it. And they will never receive the same benefits as those on the first tier. This is shameful. Unifor’s new National President, Jerry Dias, was at the Ford Plant in Oakville on September 19along with Lisa Raitt, now federal Minister of Transportation, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, and company executives to celebrate the $135 million in taxpayers’ money to bribe the car bosses to retool for new product lines. Sadly, this P.R. Exercise came on the heels of Unifor Local 707’s fundraising for school supplies.

These latest examples show why the union needs to be independent of, and not a lobbyist for, the government and corporations, because the outcome of subservient lobbying is almost always in favour of the employers and not workers.

Unifor needs to acknowledge the dissension in the rank and file and come up with a vision to bring the ‘supplemental’ and lower waged workers up to a living wage, and address the plight of youth unemployment and underemployment, to truly move forward. It will not thrive if it refuses to lead the fights workers are facing now.


Watch video of Lindsay Hinshelwood candidate speech for President of UNIFOR:

Disarm the Cops! Abolish the SIU. Fire Blair

billblair    Bowing to enormous public pressure, the Special Investigations Unit of the Toronto Police Service on August 20 charged Constable James Forcillo with second degree murder in the death of 18-year old Sammy Yatim, three weeks after the shooting on an empty streetcar.
    While the charge is a nod to the power of street protest, including a July 29 march of nearly 1,500, it falls far short of justice for Sammy, a young Syrian immigrant to Canada, or for the many victims of violent Toronto cops.
Outrageously, Forcillo got bail in record time (less than ten hours). He remains suspended with pay ($106,800 in 2012) while the case slowly makes its way through the court system. It will undoubtedly take years. None of the 22 ‘witness officers’, so designated by the SIU, are charged.
    So, is the indictment of Forcillo merely a pressure release valve? Is it an exercise in distraction? Would there even be an arrest if not for the video-gone-viral showing nine shots fired by one cop at Sammy, followed by another’s use of a taser gun on Sammy’s motionless, prone body?
    The SIU is itself a distorted product of mass protest. Created in 1990 with the Police Services Act in Ontario, the SIU was a response to widespread social discontent arising from a series of police killings of civilians, predominantly in Toronto’s Black community. Black Action Defense Committee leader Dudley Laws (deceased, March 2011) gave voice to the movement for accountability and for an end to racist policing practices.
    In its 23 years, the SIU has conducted 3,400 investigations into police actions causing serious harm or death. Only 95 led to criminal charges, only 16 to convictions, and only three to jail time.
    Const. Forcillo is just the second cop in over two decades to be charged with causing a death while on duty. Since 2011 alone, Toronto police have shot at least 15 people, seven of them fatally. No Toronto cop has ever been convicted of murder in an on-duty killing.
    Lawyer Peter Rosenthal, who is representing the family of slain Toronto man Michael Eligon at an upcoming coroner’s inquest, said the video in Yatim’s case could make a difference.
    Rosenthal goes a step further. He says it’s time to consider disarming front-line police officers. With “lesser weapons”, Rosenthal argues, street patrol police might be more inclined to talk to potential arrestees, especially people exhibiting mental issues, with the option of calling in the armed emergency task force should that appear to be necessary. He notes that regular police in Britain do not carry guns.
    Without any illusions that such a step would fundamentally change the nature of the police force, socialists support the call to disarm the cops.
    Why? Because it would save civilian lives, it would boost grassroots movements that demand an end to racist policing, and it would marginally weaken the repressive capacity of the state.
    Recent events dramatize the urgency of building social protest movements – organizing that could lead to self-policing by poor and working class communities, in alliance with labour unions.
    During the infamous G20 Summit in Toronto in June 2010, authorities spent nearly $1 billion turning the downtown core into a police state. Arbitrary beatings and detention in inhuman, makeshift facilities ensued. ‘Kettling’ entered the lexicon. Despite 1,118 arrests, only 308 were charged, and 6 convicted of any offence – and no police have been punished for their transgressions.
    In the Fall of 2011 police harassed protesters and forcefully uprooted the Occupy Toronto site at St. James Park.
    Also in 2011 a Toronto police spokesperson told a York University audience that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”. That cop’s brazen sexist declaration sparked the defiant, international ‘slut walk’ movement.
    Such misogynist musings give rise to the question: What do police have to say about the hundreds of missing and murdered aboriginal women?
    Quebec provincial and Montreal city police savagely attacked students and their supporters at marches and picket lines during the mass movement against university fee hikes in Spring/Summer 2012. They arrested thousands, enforcing a law that made it illegal for more than three people to gather in one place.
    Add to this the police practice known as ‘carding’. It involves detaining and prying personal information from people, stopped on the street because they appear suspicious. Police admit this investigative procedure disproportionately targets black and brown racial minorities, as well as youths and the poor. It is estimated that Toronto cops are ‘carding’ 400,000 annually; some young people report being carded up to 20 times in the past two years.
    So why is all this happening, and what’s the solution?
    Liberals and social democrats tend to argue that the main problem is a lack of training; that police lack sensitivity, and are not provided the necessary social work tools.
    Certainly social expenditure cutbacks, and chronic lack of attention to the needs of mentally and emotionally challenged people, aggravate the situation. But let’s not miss the forest for the trees. Dealing with human needs has never been a priority for the police or the establishment – nor can it be in a world increasingly characterized by gross inequality and deteriorating living conditions for the vast majority. The Great Recession only aggravates these failings. The system has less room for manouver, while it drives more people to desperation.
    The Toronto police motto ‘To serve and protect’, really means to serve the bosses and protect the rich. Notwithstanding other duties, like traffic control, search and rescue, dealing with illegal drugs, minor thefts and assaults, etc., the primary police function is the protection of major private property, and the repression of political challenges to the profit system. Police attacking workers’ picket lines, indigenous peoples’ blockades, anti-capitalist marches and racialized youths is commonplace. Their role flows from the class nature of the state in capitalist society.
    The state is never neutral. It serves the interests of the class that owns and controls the major means of production, distribution and exchange. Today that’s the 0.1 per cent. At its core, as Frederick Engels explained over a century and a half ago, the state consists of “special bodies of armed men.” The police, the courts, the state bureaucracy and the military are guardians of the social status quo. Some well-meaning people enter those occupations hoping to make ‘improvements’. But soon they are overwhelmed by the major material determinants: the controlling force of wealth and power in class-divided society.
    Sexism, racism, homophobia, and police brutality are inherent features of capitalism, crucial to its rulers’ divide and conquer strategy. Austerity measures, including the current round of attacks on public services and union liberties, foment wider social discontent — which the state confronts with mounting surveillance, its propaganda for more ‘security’ spending, and blatant repression.
    While the bosses claim there is no money to fund social services and youth employment, on August 27 Madelaine Meilleur, Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, announced that the Ontario Liberal government approved the wider use of Tasers. Her aim is to provide all 26,000 police in Ontario with the lethal devices, at a cost of $1,500 apiece. It is fatuous to claim that this is a ‘safer’ alternative to guns and bullets given how frequent and widespread the use of Tasers will be.
    The response of socialists is to reject more weapons for the cops, and to pose the need for workers and oppressed communities to take control of policing. We say refrain from reliance on the bosses and their state. Promote mass mobilization of the ranks of labour, the labour-based NDP, and progressive social movements. Fight for a Workers’ Government and a Workers’ Agenda.
    Socialists demand: Reverse the social cuts. Money for decent jobs, for quality health care, child care, education and environmental protection, not for war.
    We say: Disarm the police. Jail killer cops. Abolish the SIU. Fire Toronto Police Chief Blair. Free political prisoners and unjustly detained immigrants and refugees. Stop the harassment of Arabs, Muslims and people of colour. Justice for Sammy and for all victims of state violence.

Manning sentenced to 35 years


By ANN MONTAGUE – Socialist Action USA

U.S. Army whistleblower Pfc. Chelsea (Bradley) Manning has been sentenced to 35 years in prison for giving hundreds of thousands of secret military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks. The military judge, Col. Denise Lind, offered no explanation for her sentence. As military guards conducted Manning from the courtroom on Aug. 21, his supporters shouted out, “We will keep fighting for you!”

The response to the sentence was swift. Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower who released the Pentagon Papers in 1971, stated, “The only person prosecuted for the crimes and abuses uncovered in the WikiLeaks’ releases is the person who exposed them. That alone proves the injustice of even one more day in prison for Bradley Manning.”

Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, said, “This is a sad day for Bradley Manning, but it’s also a sad day for all Americans who depend on brave whistleblowers and a free press for a fully informed public debate.”

“It seems clear,” Wizner noted, “that the government was seeking to intimidate anyone who might consider revealing valuable information in the future.”

Three and a half years will be credited to Manning’s sentence for time served. This will include time for the period that the judge ruled he was mistreated at the Marine Corps Brig at Quantico, Va., before being moved to the prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Throughout his time at Quantico, he was designated a “maximum custody” detainee and locked up alone for at least 23 hours a day. He was forced to sleep naked for several nights and required to stand at attention naked in the morning. He will have to serve one-third of the sentence before he is eligible for parole.

Manning faced a possible 90-year sentence. The government had denied him a whistleblower defense and the right to describe intent or to show that his actions harmed no one. U.S. prosecutors asked for a sentence of 60 years while acknowledging Manning’s youth. But it was clear that the true motivation for the prosecution’s request for the extremely long sentence was to deter future leaks. Prosecutor Capt. Joe Morrow stated, “There is value in deterrence.”

“Pfc. Manning was one of the brave Americans who was not willing to remain silent,” defense attorney David Coombs told the media. “Instead he decided to provide us with information that he believed would spark reform, would spark debate and he provided us with information that he believed might change the world.”

“Perhaps the biggest crime was that he cared about the loss of life that he was seeing and couldn’t ignore it, and was struggling with it.”

The forensic psychologist who testified in Manning’s defense, Capt. David Moulton, told the military court, “Manning was under the impression that his leaked information was going to really change how the world views the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and future wars. … It was his opinion that if through crowd sourcing that enough analysis was done on these documents, that it would lead to greater good.”

Three days before Manning was sentenced, British authorities made their own effort to intimidate whistleblowers when they detained David Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, and confiscated his laptop. Greenwald has been writing articles based on leaked information from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Officials told Miranda that he was being held under Britain’s Terrorism Act, and threatened him with prison if he didn’t “cooperate.”

It was reported recently that the NSA has no idea what or how much information Edward Snowden has in his possession.  Clearly, the United States and Britain are terrified about what information might be revealed next concerning their war machines and surveillance networks.

Manning downloaded the leaked material to his computer when he was deployed as an intelligence analyst in Iraq in 2010. What did he actually reveal? The most widely seen information was seen in the “Collateral Murder” video, which showed an Apache helicopter attack on a group of people walking in a Baghdad street in 2007. Two of the victims were employees of Reuters news agency. A member of the helicopter crew yelled “dead bastards!” at those they killed. They also blew up a van of civilians who had stopped to help the initial victims of the first round of gunfire.

The “Reykjavik-13 Cable” was the first leak to be published by WikiLeaks; it describes frank discussions of meetings between the U.S. embassy chief in Reykjavik and members of the Icelandic government. The scornful attitude of the U.S. representative towards their nation in the middle of its banking crisis so angered activists in Iceland that they edited the “Collateral Murder” video, which was soon released worldwide.

The “Iraq War Logs” were 75,000 Army documents that detailed U.S. nighttime raids with reports from U.S. troops on the ground. These reports have been used to track civilian casualties that officials previously had said were not available.

The “Afghanistan War Logs” were 75,000 pages of documents that The New York Times described as “a ground level picture of the war in Afghanistan that is more grim than the official portrayal.”

The “Guantanamo Files” included 700 detainee files and 250,000 State Department cables detailing CIA extraordinary renditions, in violation of international law, of people suspected of “terrorism.” Shane Kadidal, a lawyer for the Center For Constitutional Rights, believes the volume of the material is part of the importance of these leaks: “It is one thing to tell a few anecdotes based on a few items, but to be able to say across the board that most of the men that are there shouldn’t be there and are people that could be safely released, that is pretty staggering.”

The leaks also showed the hypocrisy of the U.S. collaboration with Arab dictators while proclaiming a commitment to democracy.

The Bradley Manning Support Network will continue to keep the spotlight on Manning. They have organized international support through education and activism about his case as well as raising $1.4 million for his defense. Even as the sentence was handed down, the network announced that they were teaming with Amnesty International to launch a petition asking President Obama for a pardon.

At the same time, Manning’s attorney, David Coombs, is preparing to bring the case to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals to address violations of due process rights. Manning was detained without trial for more than three years in violation of his Constitutional right to a speedy trial. He was only awarded four months off of his sentence for the psychological torture he suffered while in solitary confinement for more than nine months.

The U.S. Marine Corps was never held accountable for Manning’s treatment. Also, President Obama declared Manning guilty in April 2011, more than two years before the trial began. This constitutes unlawful command influence, in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The Center For Constitutional Rights has made clear that all of the supporters of Bradley Manning must continue to struggle for his freedom and raise the demand that President Obama issue a pardon for Manning.

[Update: Aug. 23] The campaign to free Manning immediately showed that the push for a presidential pardon will be more aggressive than simply a legal maneuver and e-mail petitions. On Aug. 22 Ursula Rozem and Amelia Ramsey-Lefevre interrupted President Obama’s speech at Henninger High School in Syracuse by raising a sign saying, “Free Bradley Manning,” and shouting, “President Obama, you must free Private Manning. With all due respect sir, Private Manning exposed war crimes. Private Manning exposed torture. Private Manning aided the public, not the enemy. Private Manning is a hero.” The two women were then escorted off the premises. They then issued a longer statement about why they had interrupted the president and detailed his record of prosecuting whistleblowers.]

[Update: Aug. 23] This article was written immediately after the sentencing, on Aug. 21. The next day, Manning provided a statement to the press, “As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible.”  In future articles, Socialist Action will respect Chelsea Manning’s wishes, and refer to her using female pronouns.