B.C. NDP hands Campbell a victory

A lackluster, rather conservative campaign by the provincial New Democrats handed Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell a third consecutive majority government in the May 12 British Columbia election. The result was close to the one in 2005, except that voter turnout plunged from 62 per cent to only about 50 per cent this time.

The Liberals won 49 of the 85 seats in the B.C. Legislature, with 46 per cent of the votes cast. The NDP took 36 seats and 42 per cent support, and the Green Party won zero seats despite attracting eight per cent of the votes. In the second B.C. referendum on electoral reform, the complicated and undemocratic proposal for a Single Transferable Vote (STV) system was defeated by an overwhelming 61 per cent. Unfortunately, this may sideline the effort to win proportional representation for a long time to come.

Instead of fighting for socialist solutions to the economic crisis, the NDP, led by Carole James, posed as tough on crime and taxes, and took its distance from the labour movement in the west coast province. This cleared the path for Campbell’s right wing Liberals, an amalgam of staunchly conservative big business forces in B.C., to defend their cutbacks and their anti-labour, anti-aboriginal record – even their regressive, fake green, carbon tax.

Labour and the NDP converged visibly only on the demand for a $10/hour minimum wage, and that issue was soft-pedalled. The NDP opposed STV, and like the Liberals, advocated the electoral status quo. Campbell had a quiet, rather easy going time, in contrast to life on the usually volatile BC campaign trail, thanks to the NDP and labour tops who stifled militancy.

James led the BCNDP to a significant recovery from the 2001 election when it was reduced to only two seats, then winning 33 in 2005. But a decade of right wing drift, so clearly out of step with social needs in the current economic depression, took a serious toll on the NDP. The disastrous result, which weighs heavily on working people all across the country, underscores the need for a thorough re-examination of the course of the labour-based party. -Barry Weisleder

Bankruptcies skyrocket

Bankruptcies in Canada soared by over 50 per cent in March from a year earlier as the rising unemployment rate left more people unable to pay their bills, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy Canada.

Although business bankruptcies declined, the skyrocketing personal declarations of insolvency, 10,578 across the country in March alone, produced a staggering overall increase. In Ontario the rate jumped 60 per cent, but the biggest year-over-year rises came from the western provinces, with Alberta’s nearly doubling and British Columbia’s up by 78.4 per cent.

In March the jobless rate rose to 8 per cent, officially, its highest level in seven years. But when discouraged workers, those waiting for a recall to work, and the involuntarily part-time are included, the real rate of unemployment across Canada is closer to 12 per cent.

A 2008 report on the financial state of Canadian households, sponsored by the Vanier Institute of the Family, warned that ‘the current recession’ would be disastrous for debt-ridden consumers. It blamed financial institutions, retailers and governments for encouraging Canadians ‘to live beyond their means’. As for the profit system with its toxic cyclical crises, its growing income inequality, and the super-rich who run it all, the Institute had nothing to say. -Barry Weisleder

High food prices push world to the brink

Food riots, millions of starving refugees fleeing war zones, and devastating droughts are pushing the world towards chaos. At a time of global economic crisis, the world’s poor have been hit with a triple whammy. While jobs have disappeared and commodity prices have crashed, food prices have continued to spike.

“For the first time in human history one out of every six people on the planet is going to bed hungry,” said Josette Sheeran, executive director of the $5 billion annual United Nations World Food Program.

“Over the past five years when food prices were going up, national (food) purchase budgets were not. That drew down the stocks, and they became dangerously low around the world.”

Combined with job losses, shrinking family incomes, trade deficits and plunging remittances sent to the poor from relatives abroad, increasingly unaffordable food prices are taking the world to the tipping point of what is sustainable, said the Rome-based Sheeran to the Toronto Star during a visit to Ottawa in early May.

Whatever happened to the capitalist ‘green revolution’ that was supposed to transform third world agriculture forty years ago? Clearly, it takes more than a limited application of fertilizer and machines to overcome huge concentrations of land ownership, to defeat the power of transnational corporations that dominate world commerce, promote expensive genetically modified seeds, and engage in ‘free trade’ surplus commodity dumping practices.

Just ask the debt-wracked, despairing farmers of India, where 1000 a month commit suicide — over 200,000 since 1997, according to the National Crime Records Bureau in India. -Barry Weisleder

A memorable May Day Celebration in Toronto

Scores of people crowded into the Free Times Cafe on Saturday, May 1 for the 23rd annual Toronto Socialist Action May Day celebration. The politics, the music, the diversity of the gathering fittingly fulfilled the theme “Solidarity Against the Crisis”.

As the world descends deeper into economic depression, defiant slogans urged an alternative to labour concessions: Nationalize the auto giants, the big banks and the big oil/gas companies under workers’ control! Create jobs for all through public ownership, democratic planning and a shorter work week without loss of pay or benefits. Convert industry, transportation, and homes to green energy efficiency. Fund health care, education and the arts, not imperialist wars of occupation. Hands off human rights and migrant labour. For a workers’ government. No to any NDP coalition with capitalist parties.

Speakers included: Jorge Soberon, Consul General of Cuba in Toronto, John Clarke, Organizer, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, Anitta Satkunarajah, NGO relations co-ordinator, CanadianHART, Tamil community, Nchamah Miller of the Communist Party of Colombia,
Ali Mallah, Vice-President of the Canadian Arab Federation, member of CUPE, and V.P. (Alternate) of CLC, Niraj Joshi of the Toronto Haiti Action Committee, and Barry Weisleder, Socialist Action federal secretary. The event was chaired by Elizabeth Byce, federal Treasurer, NDP Socialist Caucus, and retired member of the Toronto Local, Canadian Union of Postal Workers.

Wonderful, world-class singers and musicians entertained the crowd. The performers included: Jon Brooks, 2008 Porcupine Winner ‘Mac Beattie Award’, 2007 Canadian Folk Music Award Nominee ‘Best Songwriter’; Marianne Girard, roots/alternative country singer-song writer who debuted selections from her new CD ‘Pirate Days’; Bill Heffernan, activist, teacher and song smith; Glen Hornblast, folk singer on the social justice scene; and Smokey Dymny, an IWW rebel troubadour. – Barry Weisleder

CAW concessions to Chrysler wipe out decades of gains

[by Barry Weisleder]

Thousands of Canadian Auto Workers’ Union (CAW) members at Chrysler plants in Toronto, Brampton, and Windsor, Ontario, approved another batch of labour concessions by 87 per cent on April 26.

Given the deluge of propaganda by big business media and politicians in favour of the rollbacks, it is surprising that as many as 13 per cent overall voted to reject it. Indeed, at Brampton, Ontario’s CAW Local 1285, 24 per cent of production-line workers who cast a ballot gave it a thumbs down.

The new deal delivers the cost savings of $19 per hour demanded by Chrysler and the federal Conservative government. Although no jobs and no new ‘green’ vehicle products are assured, and while Chrysler may still seek bankruptcy protection, the federal government pledges to give the company billions of dollars in aid.

The latest concessions wipe out decades of labour gains. They include reduced paid relief time, cuts to supplementary unemployment benefits, increased prescription drug fees, an end to semi-private hospital coverage, and the termination of car purchase and tuition rebate programmes. In addition, the wages of new employees will increase more slowly, and there is provision for the hiring of more part-time and contract workers at Chrysler plants.

These concessions occur on top of cuts already swallowed by the CAW at General Motors in a deal reached in March. That agreement freezes wages until 2012, reduces paid time off by 40 hours per year, scraps an annual $1700 bonus, cuts company contributions to union-sponsored programmes, and requires CAW members to pay $30 per month towards their health benefits.

Breaking from the pattern set with GM is a major departure for the CAW, which usually negotiates similar deals with all three of the Detroit-based auto firms. The CAW split from the U.S.-based United Auto Workers’ Union in late 1984 over the UAW’s contract concessions.

The race to the bottom is far from over. Now GM wants the same breaks Chrysler got. And bosses outside the auto industry are wetting their lips.

So, what’s a union to do? Avoid following the CAW example of late. Since before the global market crash last fall, CAW officials have lobbied for protectionist barriers against Asian car imports, and demanded more government money for the shrinking North American auto giants. To that end, the CAW backed the Liberal Party in most ridings in the last two federal elections.

Once regarded as ‘progressive’ and ‘militant’, the CAW tops have uttered not a peep about demanding public equity for public investment in the car companies, let alone call for nationalization of the auto industry under workers’ and community democratic control.

Socialists and rank and file workers should sound the alarm and generate a big fight for public ownership as the alternative to subsidizing the corporate elite – before union concessions descend to deeper depths.

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