Family says soldier’s death in Afghanistan “useless”

For once, the corporate media felt compelled to feature an opinion critical of the Canadian military intervention in Afghanistan. It is a view shared by over 60 per cent of the population, but it took the expressed grief of a slain soldier’s family to get it reported.

Jonathan Couturier, a 23-year-old private in the Canadian Forces, in mid-September became the 131st fatality of the Canadian intervention. As his body was being flown back to his home in Montreal (in Quebec, where opposition to the war is over 80 per cent), his brother and sister-in-law lambasted the mission.

“That war over there, he found it a bit useless – that they were wasting their time over there,” Nicolas Couturier told the Quebec City-based daily Le Soleil.

His wife agreed: “(Jonathan) didn’t want to know anything about going there,” said Valerie Boucher. “He didn’t want to talk about it, he stayed positive, but at some moments he said he was fed up.”

Military booster, retired Maj.-Gen. Lewis Mackenzie downplayed the family’s reaction; he insultingly portrayed it as marginal. But Bloc Quebecois defence critic Claude Bachand endorsed the comments of the soldier’s family.

The fact that such poignant criticism of the intervention is prominently reported, even though impugned by militarists, reflects the wavering resolve of Canada’s ruling business and media elite for the failed imperialist occupation of Afghanistan. -Barry Weisleder

Big Canadian banks set for buying spree

While the average person is coping with lost income, a vanishing pension, shrinking benefits, inaccessible unemployment insurance and double-digit joblessness, the Big Five Canadian banks are flush with capital, thank you very much.

And you know what? They’re preparing to go on an international shopping spree.

Canadian bank executives dropped strong hints in mid-September that, having weathered the global financial crisis, they are ready to make some “once in decades” acquisitions – especially in the United States, where more than 90 U.S. banks have been closed so far this year.

Gordon Nixon, chief executive of Royal Bank of Canada, told a bankers’ summit “Over the next few years, there will be significant aquisition opportunities in wealth and asset management.” The RBC has businesses in the U.S. and Caribbean, and global custody and investor services through 50 per cent ownership in RBC Dexia Investor Services.

Scotiabank has operations in about 50 countries, including the U.S., Caribbean and Central America, Europe, Middle East and Asia, with 5.5 million customers, 1,500 branches and 2,660 ABMs. It is eyeing expansion in Chile, Japan and Mexio.

Toronto-Dominion Bank has 1,100 retail locations from Maine to Florida, wholesale bank offices in the U.S., Mexico, U.K., Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and South Korea. Brokerage TD Waterhouse also operates in the U.K.

Bank of Montreal owns Harris Bank, a major U.S. Midwest financial services organization with a network of banks in the Chicago area. It also operates across the U.S. with BMO Capital Markets, its investment banking division. BMO highlighted buying troubled consumer banks to bolster its Midwest footprint.

The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce is in 17 regional markets in the Caribbean through First Caribbean International Bank. CIBC’s wholesale banking division also operates worldwide.

The Big Five apparently didn’t need a government bail-out, but just in case, the feds did initiate a programme to aid them. Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in October said Ottawa would spend up to C$25 billion (US$19.6 billion) to buy mortgages from banks in an effort to keep them lending to homeowners. The size of the program has been increased twice, most recently to C$125 billion.

Workers’ tax money funded aid to banks, auto, forestry and other corporate giants. But we are still waiting to see the public works and job creation spending promised by the federal government last Fall and Winter. -Barry Weisleder

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.

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