Economic crisis harms health

Health, as well as wealth, is taking a beating in the current economic crisis. A Canadian Medical Association survey, reported on August 17, shows that while 57 per cent of Canadians are worried about their financial security, nearly an equal number, 52 per cent, worried about their health.

The poll found many Canadians, especially those in lower income brackets, are cutting corners on health spending to make ends meet.

Specifically: 32 per cent said they are spending less money on food; 25 per cent said they cancelled or delayed a dental appointment; 23 per cent reported sleeping less than normal due to financial anxiety; 22 per cent said they had cut recreation or sporting activities to pinch pennies; 16 per cent admitted to skipping meals; 14 per cent said they had delayed or stopped buying their prescription medications for lack of funds; ten per cent indicated they cancelled or delayed a doctor’s appointment.

In every example, the less household income, the less education a person has, the harder hit s/he appears to be. For example, 28 per cent of those with annual income under $30,000 said they had skipped meals, compared to 8 per cent of those with family income above $90,000.

The poll, exposing the links between the economic depression and health, was conducted by Ipsos- Reid, which surveyed 3,223 adults online between June 25 and July 11.

While the Canadian Medicare system covers all citizens and permanent residents, it does not include prescription drugs, dental procedures, visual or hearing aids, and a growing list of treatments and services. Clearly, now is the time to expand medicare, not starve it through inadequate funding and cuts that promote the not-so-hidden corporate/capitalist government agenda of privatization. – Barry Weisleder

SA Fall Calendar

In solidarity with the Inco strikers
A Concert to Celebrate
the music of Phil Ochs
featuring Zachary Stevenson

sponsored by: Socialist Action

Friday, September 25 8 p.m.
(doors open at 7 p.m.)

OISE Auditorium, 252 Bloor Street West
@ St. George Subway Station

tickets at door: $20 waged; $10 non-waged.
For more information: 416 – 535-8779
www.zacharystevenson.com
www.socialistaction-canada.blogspot.com

A representative from the United Steelworkers’ Union will speak during the intermission.
A portion of the concert proceeds will go to the union local whose 3,500 members are on strike against the concessions demanded by mining giant Vale Inco in Sudbury and Port Colborne, Ontario and at Voisy’s Bay, Labrador.

_____________________________________


– Toronto Socialist Action Presents –
Rebel Films

Friday, October 2 – 7 p.m. Che – part 1 134 minutes, 2009. This widely acclaimed film by Steven Soderbergh, shows how Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara (Benicio Del Toro) and a force of Cuban exiles led by Fidel Castro mobilize an army and, together with other social movements, overthrow the regime of U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista and launch the first socialist revolution in the Americas. Following the screening there will be a commentary by Jorge Soberon, Cuban Consul General in Toronto.

Friday, October 9 – 7 p.m. Haiti: We Must Kill the Bandits
Kevin Pina’s 80 minute documentary is a searing condemnation of the 2004 ouster of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and its aftermath. It shows how the coup was actually an attempt by Canada, the United States and other so-called “Friends of Haiti”,”to destroy the people’s movement for change through violence.” A representative of the Toronto Haiti Action Committee will speak following the film.

Friday, October 16 – 7 p.m. You, Me and the SPP is a 91 minute documentary by Paul Manly that reveals how the Security Prosperity Partnership (SPP), negotiated in secret by the USA, Canada and Mexico following the shock of 9-11, is the latest version of corporate plans to control the social, political and economic destiny of the world.

Thursday, October 22 – 7 p.m. Flow: For Love of Water
84 minutes, 2008. Irena Salina’s award-winning documentary investigates what experts label the most important political and environmental issue of the 21st Century — The World Water Crisis. Salina builds a case against the growing privatization of the world’s dwindling fresh water supply with an unflinching focus on politics, pollution, human rights, and the emergence of a domineering world water cartel.

Friday, October 30 – 7 p.m. Unnatural Selection 60 minutes, 2006. A failed GM cotton crop prompts farmer suicides in India. GM pigs are born with ghastly mutilations in the U.S. Wind borne GM canola threatens farms in Canada, forcing one farmer to the Supreme Court. A company breeds giant GM salmon, despite its threat to natural fish populations. Corporations deceive the public, while trying to patent and control the food supply. By Bertram Verhaag and Gabriele Krober.

Friday, November 6 – 7 p.m. Capitalism Hits the Fan 57 minutes, 2008. With breathtaking clarity, renowned University of Massachusetts Economics Professor Richard Wolff breaks down the root causes of today’s economic crisis, showing how it was decades in the making and in fact reflects seismic failures within the structures of American capitalism itself.

Friday, November 13 – 7 p.m. Dr. Strangelove 93 minutes, 1964, B&W. An insane general starts a process towards nuclear holocaust that a war room of politicians and generals frantically try to stop. Stanley Kubrick’s iconic spoof on the arms race makes a powerful case for nuclear disarmament.

Each of the films in this series will be preceded by a brief introduction,
and will be followed by a commentary, and an open floor discussion period.

OISE, 252 Bloor St. West, Room 2-212
at the St. George Subway Station. Everyone welcome. $4 donation requested.

Please visit the SA web site: www.socialistaction-canada.blogspot.com

or call 416 – 535-8779.

NDP Brass Treads Water in Halifax

No new name, No new policies
by Barry Weisleder

Labour unionists, traditional social democrats and radical socialists held off a drive by a wing of the federal New Democratic Party establishment to propel the NDP faster and farther to the right. The effort to re-brand the party as a clone of the U.S. Democratic Party, with a copy-cat name and comparable policies, suffered a humiliating defeat at the NDP convention held August 14-16 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. About 1400 witnessed the gathering, which was broadcast live by the Cable Public Affairs TV channel, CPAC.

Proposals to phase out taxes on small business and to drop ‘New’ from NDP never even came to the floor for debate. The reason was simple. A majority of delegates saw the name gambit as a distraction, or worse, as a move to take a distance from labour while embracing business. In combination with the entire ‘weekend package’ – a tightly-scripted, teleprompter-driven convention in which over two-thirds of the time was devoted to guest speakers, award ceremonies and reminiscences, plus heavy promotion of Barack Obama’s pro-war, Wall Street-controlled Democratic Party USA – it is easy to see why delegates might be apprehensive. What clinched the collapse of the honchos’ game plan was the blatant dominance of image over substance (the Leader’s name and face were eerily omnipresent, prompting one wag to suggest the party should be renamed the Jack Layton Party).

An early sign of trouble for the establishment was the success of a Socialist Caucus amendment to the agenda early on day one. It aimed to add an hour for policy debate by bumping a US Democrat guest speaker into an evening session. The motion carried, verified by two counts. But this small victory for democracy was short-lived. In an unconstitutional move, Toronto MP Olivia Chow (Layton’s partner) proposed that the motion be immediately ‘reconsidered’ (i.e. overturned). The convention chair ignored rule requirements that the mover come from the prevailing side, that there be a one-day notice of motion, and a two-thirds majority vote to pass. Thus, a popular act of rebellion was reversed by a sleazy maneuver and a willful or incompetent chair (she admitted her error when called on it by an SC delegate the next day). Still, the challenge to the establishment made its mark. Layton and the party tops disassociated themselves from the name change, and focused on blocking from consideration anything tainted by controversy.

Unfortunately, they succeeded in precluding debate on leftist proposals to make Capital pay for the capitalist crisis that is ravaging working people and communities. This occurred despite many Socialist Caucus resolutions submitted by riding associations that called for nationalization of key sectors of the economy under workers’ control to facilitate good jobs, a shift to green energy, massive social housing and public transit construction, as well as proposals to abolish student debt, raise the minimum wage to $16 an hour, get Canada out of NATO, and strengthen solidarity with Cuba, Venezuela and Palestine.

As a result the convention was reduced to rewarming a number of old NDP policy chestnuts. These included eternal positions on child poverty, pay equity, aboriginal rights, national child care, violence against women and arts funding, plus calls to reduce high credit card rates, to protect pensions and expand employment insurance.

It prompted business media pundits to observe that while NDP staff went to the great effort of parading veteran Manitoba NDP Premier Gary Dewar, newly minted Nova Scotia NDP Premier Darrell Dexter, and Obama senior strategist Betsy Myers, each of whom argued for ‘professionalism’, fiscal conservatism, and a further shift to the right, no substantive ‘new vision’ emerged in policy terms.

Of course, the rub here is this: should the NDP be foolish enough to fully follow the pro-business perscription, the same bourgeois columnists and editorialists would then insist that the NDP has outlived its purpose and should join the Liberal Party to be better able to defeat the Conservatives – a more toxic version of ‘strategic voting’. After all, the aim of the ruling class is to keep socialism off the agenda by crippling its source – independent labour politics.

Sadly, the rulers are but one small step ahead of the Layton leadership which demonstrated a lust for junior cabinet positions in a federal Liberal coalition government last winter. We could see a repeat of that episode, either as tragedy or farce, following the next federal election. A vote may occur as early as this Fall or next Spring, depending on when the Conservative minority government of Stephen Harper is defeated in the House of Commons.

While contentious resolutions were kept off the agenda, contention was not absent at the floor microphones, in media interviews, and even on the main stage. Former federal leader Ed Broadbent told the delegates “not to abandon the core values that have guided the party since the 1960s”. Alexa McDonough, who led the party in the 1990s, told the Globe and Mail “There needs to be change as the world changes around us. But what isn’t going to change is our basic values, and most of our policies simply build on those values.”

Although such views express an enduring commitment to the utopian concept of reforming capitalism into a humane alternative, they do conflict with the direction articulated by such party operatives as UBC professor Michael Byers, former Layton staffer Ian Capstick, and MPs Brian Masse (Windsor) and Paul Dewar (Ottawa) who would ‘professionalize’ and ‘modernize’ the party to such a degree that it would disappear as a force for independent working class political action.

Layton himself cultivated the bourgeois ‘modernizers’. But he retreated when he saw their message snubbed by affiliated unions, as well as by rank and file riding and youth delegates. (Hundreds of delegates wore a small orange button, distributed by the Steelworkers’ Union, bearing the letter ‘N’, to show opposition to dropping ‘New’ from the name.) Still, there is a lesson here for those with illusions in the federal Leader.

At the November 2001 Winnipeg convention, the New Politics Initiative garnered nearly 40 per cent of the vote for a proposal to launch a new party. The NPI was dissolved by its founders, writer Judy Rebick, economist Jim Stanford, and former MP Svend Robinson, on the strength of their stated belief that Jack Layton would build a social movement-based party committed to an anti-globalization agenda. Now we can see what Layton did when left to his own devices, once left wing activists stopped organizing, and sidestepped the fight for socialist policies.

The NDP Socialist Caucus, launched in 1998, implored the NPI to adopt a clear socialist program, and to place no confidence in the NDP tops. The Socialist Caucus continues to fight in that spirit today. It had a strong presence at the Halifax convention.

SC speakers at the microphones argued forcefully for socialist solutions to the economic and environmental crises, and for solidarity with struggles of the oppressed in Honduras, Sri Lanka, Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and beyond. Delegates repeatedly referred to the dozens of Socialist Caucus-initiated resolutions that came from NDP riding associations across the country. Even though the party establishment blocked these from floor debate (via an elaborate priority screening process imported from the Saskatchewan NDP), the ideas contained did raise awareness and attracted many delegates to the SC display table where quite a few joined the radicals.
The NDP Socialist Caucus grew markedly by signing up over eighty new members amongst the one thousand delegates. The Caucus recruited new SC federal steering committee members in Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario (Sault Ste. Marie and Sarnia), Manitoba, Saskatchewan (Prince Albert) and B.C.

The SC candidate for federal treasurer, Thornhill NDP President John Orrett, received over 22 per cent of the votes cast, running against Rebbeca Blaikie, daughter of former Winnipeg MP Bill Blaikie. (Peggie Nash was elected party President with 92.4 per cent of the votes, easily fending off a challenge by disability rights advocate Kevin Kinsella who was not endorsed by the SC.)

Nearly a thousand copies of an attractive 12-page edition of the SC publication Turn Left, edited by Oakville NDP activist Sean Cain, were snapped up by delegates and observers. It is posted on the web site: www.ndpsocialists.ca A number of people donated to offset costs (more money is still needed) and urged that Turn Left be produced more often.

Socialist Caucus candidates ran for federal positions in the Atlantic, Quebec and Ontario caucuses, attracting 42 per cent of the votes in the Atlantic region, and winning a Quebec seat on the party’s federal council.

About forty delegates attended two Socialist Caucus lunch time forums. One featured economist Mathieu Dufour and John Orrett on “Capitalist Economic Crisis – Socialist Solutions”. The other forum was titled “Canada: Peacekeeper or Imperialist state?”, with Public Service Alliance of Canada V.P. and Ottawa Haiti solidarity activist Larry Rousseau, and this writer, sharing the panel. These talks were video recorded and will be posted.

On the last day of the convention, CPAC TV interviewed SC treasurer Elizabeth Byce, and separately, yours truly. Thousands of viewers were thus presented with a socialist analysis of the economic crisis, the urgency of public ownership under workers’ control, and told how the NDP can meet the needs of the vast majority by being more democratic and rejecting distractions.

So where was the rest of the radical left, at least from English Canada? Sadly, most of it boycotts the NDP, preferring to conduct its business in a proverbial phone booth rather than fight for a Workers’ Agenda across a mass working class political party.

The main exception is Socialist Action, which helped to found the Socialist Caucus and plays a leading role in it. SA members found a strong resonance for Marxist ideas at the convention. Over $400 in sales of literature, buttons and subscriptions was one indicator. The literature mostly consisted of 17 different small booklets on topics ranging from Marx Was Right, History of Imperialism, Women in the 21st Century, and The Cuban Revolution, to Profits versus the Planet, plus Yves Engler’s latest work “The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy”. Scores of people sported socialist buttons with the slogans “Canada Out of Afghanistan” and “To survive, the NDP must Turn Left”. Delegates bought ninety individual copies and six year-long subscriptions to the monthly newspaper Socialist Action.

Another socialist group present at the convention was Fightback, known for its support for Hugo Chavez in Venezuala and for its opposition to French language Law 101 in Quebec. Apart from press sales and tabling (until they were asked to leave the building, due to not having paid for a display table), its members did not say a word in any debate or at any session of the NDP convention (although they reportedly did play a role at the NDY convention that preceded the party convention).

Similarly, at least two members of the International Socialists were present at the NDP convention, ostensibly as delegates or media reporters, but they did not intervene in any of the convention or work shop debates, nor did they offer their press for sale, or staff a literature display table. No members of the Communist Party, the Socialist Project or Socialist Voice were evident. A member of the New Socialists did speak at a Socialist Caucus forum.

On Sunday morning, delegates gave Jack Layton an 89 per cent vote of confidence. That means 11 per cent asked for a leadership review. That exceeds the 8 per cent margin of discontent at Quebec City in 2006. Was that a vote against coalition with the Liberal Party? Was that a partial measure of support for the SC? If so, that’s not bad for a grass roots movement that operates on a shoe-string budget in a party with over 100,000 members.
While clearly the SC did not change the direction of the NDP, it did have a strong presence and a positive impact on procedural and policy debates. That impact can be magnified when other organized and independent leftists decide to work together to fight for a Workers’ Agenda inside the only mass, labour-based political party in North America.

For now, unionists and leftists registered a limited, defensive victory by blocking a further leap to the right by the party. We did not score any positive gains, such as at Quebec City in 2006, where the Canada Out of Afghanistan policy was fought for and won.

To its shame, at Halifax, the party establishment squandered a golden opportunity to put capitalism on trial and to adopt policies urgently required to advance the interests of working people still in the throes of the deepest economic crisis of world capitalism since the 1930s.

That remains the challenge facing the socialist, labour and NDP left.

Time for the NDP to Put Capitalism on Trial

Capitalism isn’t working. The proof is overwhelming. Across Canada, 1.5 million are unemployed, not counting discouraged workers and the under-employed. The numbers are expected to rise well into 2010. The International Labour Organization warns that the number of jobless worldwide could reach 239 million this year, and that young people will be the hardest hit. The system’s spin doctors are trying to fool the public by talking about ‘recovery’. But when pressed, the big shots admit it is a ‘jobless recovery’.

The failure of Canadian and global capitalism is evident in advancing climate change, impending environmental disaster, and the spread of drought and famine. It is apparent in the brutal imperial wars of occupation, in the growing gap between rich and poor, and in the assault on democratic rights wherever popular resistance takes to the streets.

Clearly, years of cuts, concessions, privatization, and tax breaks for giant corporations did nothing to solve the biggest problems facing society. They simply made the rich richer at the expense of workers. They emboldened the ruling elite to demand more, stimulated corruption in the highest places, and extended the life span of a dying, wasteful and outmoded system that puts profits before people every time.

Even if ‘recovery’ from the current world economic depression occurred tomorrow, the fact remains that capitalism condemns humanity to recurring cycles of recession/depression. It sentences us all to endless crippling wars, eco-disasters, glaring inequalities and obscene oppression.

So, why continue to make excuses for the system? Why continue to tinker with the mechanisms of a death machine? Why keep Capital on life support at the expense of Labour? As former NDP MP Svend Robinson famously said, “Capitalism is like a rabid dog that should be put down.”

The time has come to stop scratching at the surface. We need to expose the fundamental flaws, the deep-rooted contradictions of the system, and to fight for a socialist alternative.

It’s time for the NDP to put capitalism on trial. That’s the task facing delegates at the party’s federal convention, August 14-16, in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

We can easily demonstrate that capitalism is killing the planet and its inhabitants in a multitude of nefarious ways, and that to survive the working class and its allies are compelled to replace the system root and branch. It’s the truth that needs to be told, with the power to conquer misinformation and fear, and to give voice to millions.

The NDP can lead the fight for a future worthy of humanity, but not if its leaders mince words and make opportunistic concessions to the powers that be. NDP support in the 2008 election campaign peaked at 22 per cent, compared with 15 per cent now. The idea of entering a coalition government with the big business-controlled Liberal Party dealt a severe blow to the NDP’s independence as a party of the working class. Since then, the party leadership has echoed the lame lamentations of the labour brass, when what is desperately needed, in addition to fixing E.I. and saving pensions, is a bold campaign to turn government bail-out money into public equity — towards the nationalization, under workers’ and community control, of auto, steel, oil and the big banks. Make Capital pay for a massive public works effort to convert to green energy, to repair roads, bridges, railways and ports, and to build social housing. That is the way to defend and expand employment, and to meet human needs by democratizing and planning the economy.

As the NDP Socialist Caucus has argued since its foundation in 1997, and which we re-state today with greater conviction than ever, to survive the NDP must turn sharply to the left. Increasingly, this is an argument for the survival and prosperity of humanity as a whole. If you agree, please join us in fighting for socialist policies. Please visit: www.ndpsocialists.ca -Barry Weisleder

Obama’s spin doctor has no business at NDP convention

The decision by New Democratic Party officials to feature Barack Obama’s director of communications, Anita Dunn, at the NDP federal convention, reveals a major misconception.

The Democratic Party, USA, is no friend of working people anywhere. The invitation to Dunn only clouds the horizon and compromises the independence of the NDP from the corporate rulers on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.

While the election of Obama was a blow against racism, he is a willing captive of Wall Street and the Pentagon. That much is clear seven months into his presidency.

Although Obama promised to end the occupation of Iraq, close the Guantanamo prison camp, take steps to reverse global climate change, help working people overcome the economic crisis, and extend health care coverage, his actions belie his words.

Obama accepted George W. Bush’s policies on military tribunals and indefinite detention. He repudiated torture, but he won’t prosecute any torturers. Gitmo remains open. His ‘cap and trade’ bill allows corporate polluters to exceed limits on carbon-based emissions by buying government-backed credits to compensate. According to the Wall Street Journal’s David Wessel, 85 per cent of the energy credits would be given away to business through 2026. In any case, the market-based gambit will not reduce emissions.

The bail-out of the banking system is an extension of Bush’s Wall Street rescue plan – a huge transfer of wealth, involving trillions of dollars, from working people to Capital.

Obama’s health care ‘reform’ spares the venal and all-powerful health insurance industry. His plan, like Hillary Clinton’s earlier version, will force individuals to buy insurance. At best, it will offer a ‘public option’ that would compete with private insurance. Excluded from consideration is a government-run, single-payer health care system, like the one in Canada and virtually every other industrialized country.

In terms of foreign policy, the U.S. President is simply re-booting the imperial project that will plunge America and south-west Asia into a multi-year commitment even more disastrous than the US invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Obama sent 17,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. Some 130,000 U.S. combat soldiers remain in Iraq, re-classified as non-combatants and trainers, entrenched in massively fortified bases and airfields. In addition, 150,000 or more U.S.-paid American mercenaries perform their deadly deeds unimpeded, the largest privatized army in U.S. history. In June, Congress approved $100 billion in “supplementary” funding for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars – contradicting the claim that stability and victory of the U.S. and its puppets is imminent. The 10,000 more troops requested by U.S. General McKiernan could soon be on their way to the Pakistan border.

‘Af-Pak’ is already Obama’s war, like the Vietnam quagmire belonged to the 1960s liberal Democrats Kennedy and Johnson.

How can one explain these moves?

Obama is a cagey opportunist who campaigned to the right of his Democratic primary opponents. His bail-out of the banks, while forcing insolvent, unionized auto companies into bankruptcy, and compelling workers to sacrifice wages and benefits, shows the Democrats are the party of Wall Street, not of Main Street.

American big business gave millions of campaign dollars to Obama and the Democrats to offer cosmetic change, to introduce modest and temporary reforms if necessary, and to preserve corporate rule and the private profit system at any cost. The Democrats want to replace the Republicans as the preferred party of the business class for the foreseeable future, and they act accordingly.

Is Obama the same as Bush? Clearly not. But he and his party do not represent the change most Americans want and need. Moreover, the Democratic Party has proven itself, for nearly a century and a half, to be the graveyard of social protest movements in the USA.

As the global capitalist crisis deepens, it is evident that working people need an independent political voice – a labour party based on the unions and popular organizations of the oppressed. In English-Canada, working people made a class break with the Liberal Party and the Canadian establishment by founding the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation in 1932, and the NDP in 1961.

Regardless Anita Dunn’s putative ‘insights’ into campaign techniques and media manipulation, Obama’s spin doctors and handlers have no business at an NDP convention. Labour unionists, social change activists and New Democrats should confront the tools of corporate rule, expose their rotten policies and practices, and fight for working class political independence from the parties of Capital, north and south of the 49th parallel. -Barry Weisleder

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