Photos of the 24th Annual Toronto Socialist Action May Day Celebratio

Here are some pictures taken at a wonderful evening of spoken word, music, songs and solidarity at Toronto’s Free Times Cafe. Over eighty people crowded the venue in downtown Toronto’s traditional working class garment district to celebrate International Workers’ Day. It was the 24th Annual Toronto Socialist Action May Day Celebration.

On stage, as shown in the pix, were: Elizabeth Byce, SA’s federal treasurer and M.C. for the evening; Jose Soberon, Cuba’s Consul General in Toronto; Ali Mallah, V.P. of the Canadian Arab Federation and Canadian Labour Congress V.P. (Alternate); B.C. Holmes of the Toronto Haiti Action Committee; Lesley Wood, representing the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, and Barry Weisleder, federal secretary of Socialist Action / Ligue pour l’Action socialiste. The next pictures show the very talented musicians and singers who entertained and inspired the gathering: Jon Brooks, Marianne Girard, Smokey Dymny and Glen Hornblast. Elizabeth, who earlier read greetings from the Venezuela Consul General (summoned to duties out of town, at the last moment), also distributed raffle prizes (bottles of Cuban rum and Italian amaretto, union posters, T-shirts, CDs, books, a CLC back-pack, and a week end pass for one to the international educational conference Socialism 2010, May 20-23 at OISE U of Toronto.

Mark your calendar now for the 25th anniversary celebration of the Toronto SA May Day in 2011!

The next event you don’t want to miss is the international educational conference Socialism 2010, May 20-23 at OISE U of Toronto.

Vale Inco Workers stand firm

by Barry Weisleder

After eight months on strike, workers in Sudbury, Ontario overwhelmingly rejected contract demands from the Brazilian-based nickel giant Vale Inco on March 12.

More than 88 per cent of members of United Steelworkers Local 6500 voted down a five-year deal that would phase out defined pension benefits, cut special bonus pay, reduce employee work place rights, allow more contracting-out and provide no assurances some would return to their jobs. Despite the hardship of members losing thousands of dollars in pay, the percentage of workers voting against the concessions ‘offer’ is higher than when they opposed the initial company position and walked off the job last July.

In the meantime, Vale hired scabs and sued the union for allegedly engaging in unlawful activity and property damage. The USW is counter-suing, but concentrating on strengthening picket lines and rallying support from far and wide.

Over three thousand people marched and rallied in the streets of the nickel capital on March 22 to show they back the embattled workers. Socialist Action correspondent Judy Koch joined hundreds who boarded buses in Toronto and other cities to attend the boisterous gathering. She reported that “participants in the march were very enthusiastic”. Avid interest in socialist ideas was reflected in sales of SA newspaper (a bundle of 40 copies sold quickly) and by the warm welcome for an SA strike support leaflet. At the same time, workers across Canada are coming to appreciate the significance of the current struggle.

Nickel miners in Sudbury, and at other Vale operations from the sandy shores of Lake Erie to the north-eastern wilderness of Labrador, are setting a powerful example of solidarity and determination to resist the kind of concessions that have devastated workers’ collective agreements in manufacturing and natural resource industries.

The dispute in Sudbury, where the USW represents about 3,000 employees, is nearly as long as the 8 ½ month strike by 11,700 workers in 1978-79, which holds the record for most worker-days lost in Canadian history.

Management has generated much bad blood since Vale bought Inco for $19.4 billion (U.S.) in 2006. Workers filed 4,900 grievances in the three years prior to the walkout.

This marathon strike, the use of scabs in a hard core union town, the company’s gross arrogance, and the sheer value of the industry all serve to drive home the point: it is high time to nationalize Vale Inco, without any compensation to the biggest shareholders, and operate it under workers’ and community control.

NDP Moral Morass

by Barry Weisleder

It was a tough winter for the labour-based New Democratic Party. Federal Leader Jack Layton is bravely battling prostate cancer (we wish him a full and speedy recovery). Without missing a beat, he kept hammering the Harper Tories over more billions of dollars in giveaways to the giant banks and big polluters, drawing special attention to the $2.8 billion in profit over a three month span reported by the Royal Bank and the TD Bank in early March.

But the federal party and the Ontario NDP had less success with important policy issues like Palestine, the public funding of Catholic schools, and upholding the ONDP constitution.

Confusion and contradiction reign amongst NDP federal MP s and in the Ontario NDP legislative caucus. When a motion was presented by a Conservative MP in the House of Commons to condemn Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW, March 1-7) and to try to stifle debate on Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people, NDP House Leader Libby Davies opposed it. But right wing NDP MP s Judy Wacylycia-Leis, Pat Martin and Peter Stoffer, supported it. Layton tried to skate around it. But the NDP’s continuing participation in the so-called Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism, which equates anti-Zionism with anti-semitism and wants to ban criticism of Israel, really speaks volumes.

When a Tory motion against IAW came before the Ontario Legislature, ONDP Leader Andrea Horwath denounced it as “divisive” and “unhelpful” — just after NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo had spoken for it.

While Horwath took no action against DiNovo, the Leader did stifle another member of her Ontario caucus. She ordered MPP Michael Prue to pull out of a public hearing on the topic of Ontario funding of Catholic separate schools on March 12 in Toronto. The event was sponsored by the NDP Socialist Caucus and attracted close to one hundred participants to a University of Toronto auditorium. Prue agreed back in December to address the hearing, which the NDP socialists organized to promote rank and file in-put into the official policy review on school funding mandated by the ONDP convention in March 2009. The Socialist Caucus calls for an end to public funding of religious and private schools. So does the federal NDP, as a result of an SC resolution debated and adopted at the party federal convention in 2004. Horwath’s interference did not sit well with party members.

Neither does what came next.

The ONDP Executive proposed in March to postpone the Ontario NDP convention for a year, citing cost and effort that it thinks should be devoted to the provincial election in 2011. However, several problems arise. The ONDP constitution requires a provincial party convention every two years, not three. An election scheduled by law to occur nearly twenty months from now is hardly an unforeseen emergency.

But it gets worse. The Executive conducted a mail-in ballot vote of the 257 members of the ONDP Provincial Council on this issue – instead of bringing it to a debate and vote at the next council meeting in May. Problems with a site booking could have been overcome; there are many unionized, spacious, available hotels in southern Ontario. Finally, the number of councillors who actually voted (95-23, with no scrutineers present from those opposed to the cancellation) would not constitute a quorum at a properly convened provincial council meeting. While the Executive is ploughing ahead, it may face a shit storm in May.

As the Socialist Caucus has often observed, if the NDP wants to overcome the capitalist democratic deficit, both in terms of foreign and domestic affairs, it must first get its own house in order.

Rebel Film Series

Toronto Socialist Action Presents –

Friday, March 26 – 7 p.m. Capitalism: A Love Story 2009, 127 minutes. A documentary directed, written by and starring Michael Moore. The film centers on the financial crisis of 2007-2010 and the recovery stimulus, while putting forward an indictment of the current economic order in the U.S. and capitalism in general. Topics covered include Wall Streets’ “casino mentality”, for-profit prisons, Goldman Sach’s influence in Washington, the poverty-level wages of many airline pilots, the large wave of home foreclosures, and the consequences of “runaway greed”. Commentary by Socialist Action co-editor Barry Weisleder will be followed by an open discussion period.

Thursday, April 1 – 7 p.m. War Made Easy 2008, 72 minutes. This study reaches into the Orwellian memory hole to expose a 50-year pattern of government deception and media spin that has dragged the United States into one war after another from Vietnam to Iraq. Narrated by actor and activist Sean Penn, the film exhumes remarkable archival footage of official distortion and exaggeration from LBJ to George W. Bush, revealing in stunning detail how the American news media have uncritically disseminated the pro-war messages of successive presidential administrations. Jim Deutsch from Science for Peace will lead a discussion.

Friday, April 9 – 7 p.m. The Age of Stupid 2009, 92 minutes. British film by Franny Armstrong, director of McLibel and founder of 10:10, and first-time producer Lizzie Gillett. The film is a drama-documentary-animation hybrid which stars Pete Postlethwaite as a man living alone in the devastated world of 2055, watching archive footage from around 2008 and asking “Why didn’t we stop climate change when we had the chance?”

Friday, April 16 – 7 p.m. American Casino 2009, 89 minutes. This new documentary by Andrew and Leslie Cockburn is about the mortgage crisis in the US and the effect that it has had on African-Americans living in Baltimore. They explain how sub prime mortgages were repackaged and spread across the financial system, creating more risk and putting the US financial system in jeopardy. The Cockburns argue that the mortgage companies were essentially engaged in predatory lending. Families who thought their mortgages would cost $800 a month suddenly found that they cost $2000 a month. The results were devastating. Entire neighborhoods were hollowed out and some of the Baltimore residents interviewed in the film (all of whom had jobs) wound up homeless. Commentary by Socialist Action member Christian Whittall, followed by open discussion period.

Friday, April 23 – 7 p.m. Crude: The Real Price of Oil 2009, 105 minutes. This is an inside look at one of the largest and most controversial legal cases on the planet, the infamous $27 billion “Amazon Chernobyl” case in Ecuador. CRUDE is a real-life high stakes legal drama set against a backdrop of the environmental movement, global politics, celebrity activism, human rights advocacy, the media, multinational corporate power, and rapidly-disappearing indigenous cultures. Presenting a complex situation from multiple viewpoints, the film examines a complicated situation from all angles while bringing an important story of environmental peril and human suffering into focus.

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.

For more info call 416 – 535-8779.

Harper’s environmental deficit is out of sight

by Barry Weisleder

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he had to prorogue (suspend) Parliament for three months in order to “re-calibrate” his minority Conservative government. What he meant by that became depressingly clear in the 2010 federal budget presented on March 4.

In it the Conservatives vow to freeze or scale back operating budgets, which entails cutting federal services and jobs, and possibly cancelling negotiated wage hikes. The only federal department that will see an increase is the military, which in 2008 was promised an annual 2 per cent boost. While there’s no new money for job creation, workers will pay higher employment insurance premiums. Absent is any aid for seniors living in poverty, any national child care programme, or any boost for social housing construction – indeed, the latter will be cut. Air travellers will shell out more in security charges on round-trip flights.

In sharp contrast is a $47 billion tax break for business. Tory Finance Minister Jim Flaherty bragged to MP s that Canada will have “the lowest corporate income tax rate in the G7 by 2012.” No wonder Ottawa has record-high deficits and debt. In the play book of capitalist governments, red ink is just a convenient excuse to cut public services, de-regulate business and make working people pay for the global crisis we did not create.

But the worst news was in the fine print. Budget 2010 is overwhelmingly negative on the environmental front. It contains no action to fight climate change and no efforts to create green jobs. Instead, its primary focus is on facilitating and accelerating the operations of the oil and gas industry.

In a dramatic move, the Budget takes environmental assessments for energy projects away from the Environmental Assessment Agency and turns responsibility over to the industry-friendly National Energy Board (NEB) or the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). The close relationship between the NEB and the oil and gas industries, combined with the ability of the Minister of Natural Resources to appoint up to six temporary members, would seriously diminish Canada’s environmental protections. The CNSC has also been criticized for a lack of independence following the politically-motivated firing of former Chair Linda Keen over the medical isotope crisis.

It also fails to renew the ecoENERGY for Renewable Power program which provided a production incentive for renewable electricity of one cent per kilowatt, despite the fact that 90% of wind power development in Canada has occurred since its inception.

The budget confirms that the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Science will not receive additional funding to continue its vital research, thus wasting expertise and resources that took years to develop. The Foundation’s numerous projects at universities across the country, which are seen as key to understanding the dynamics and implications of climate change, are already being dismantled. Young scientists, trained at substantial taxpayers’ expense, have begun leaving the country in search of work.

After a one-year increase of $105 million, Environment Canada will have $53 million cut from its budget over three years in a strategic review that includes a proposal to end all Environment Canada reporting that is not required by law.

While it offers no systematic plan to reduce greenhouse gases and effectively ends major federal investment in renewable energy, the Budget does contain a few eco-tokens. It sets aside $100 million over four years for a Next Generation Renewable Power Initiative to advance clean energy technologies in the forestry sector – less than 1/7th of the $750 million that the industry asked for, and too small to make a significant impact. The Budget also contains an additional top up of $80 million for the popular ecoENERGY Retrofit – Homes program, which provides home and property owners with grants up to $5,000 per unit to offset the cost of making energy efficiency improvements.

On the conservation front, the Budget provides $8 million per year to protect the Great Lakes and cover administrative costs pertaining to international waters agreements, but offers no long term action plan to safeguard Canada’s waters and watersheds. It contains no funding to extend the Federal Response to the Mountain Pine Beetle Infestation in British Columbia.

Natural Resources Canada will suffer a $100 million cut over the next three years, making it one of the hardest-hit departments. The Budget also sets aside $11 million to accelerate the Northern regulatory review process for resource projects, in keeping with the Speech from the Throne’s theme of dismantling the “daunting maze” of regulations faced by industry. In addition, a 15% tax credit for mineral exploration was extended for one year.

In terms of the nuclear industry, the budget reconfirms that CANDU (Canada Deuterium Uranium reactor), the commercial side of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, will be sold in the course of restructuring and it provides $300 million for operations in 2010-2011, much of which is to cover losses incurred during botched retrofits and repairs to the Chalk River, Ontario facility. Last year’s spending on AECL ended up being more than double what was budgeted, raising questions about what the final figure will be this year.

Finally, the cap on foreign aid spending at 2010-2011 levels will likely impact Ottawa’s willingness to pay its share of the $10-billion-a-year international fund agreed upon at Copenhagen to assist poorer countries in reducing emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change. Harper’s deadly environmental deficit is soaring out of sight.

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