Cancel F-35 jet fighters! Money for human needs, not war

In a summer of abnormally high temperatures, a season hot with federal scandals (the Census form dispute, G20 policing issues, the ongoing Afghan prisoner torture cover-up) a big controversy surrounds the Harper government’s plan to purchase 65 new F-35 jet fighters from Lockheed Martin. Buying these “flying cadillacs” would make the acquisition of the CF-18 fighter jets by the Trudeau government, and the EH-101 helicopter procurement by Brian Mulroney (subsequently reversed by Jean Chretien), look prudent by comparison – though all are a horrendous waste.

The price tag for the F-35s is $9 billion, plus $7 billion in maintenance over a 20 year period – without competing bids. That happens to be four times what the government is spending in its infrastructure stimulus fund. That fund was designed to cushion the blows of the economic crash and the ongoing global recession. Now federal spending is being curbed in compliance with the G20 Summit prescription. It’s called ‘recovery through austerity’. (Kind of reminiscent of “Arbeit macht frei”, minus the ‘arbeit’.)

For Canada’s rulers and their military apparatus the new jets are integral to playing a role in ongoing foreign wars of intervention. What about the present war in Afghanistan? Its economic price tag, according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s report, will reach up to $18.1 billion by 2011 — excluding the cost of diplomatic efforts, danger pay for soldiers, and military equipment bought under accelerated procurement. This places the financial cost to Canadian taxpayers for the ‘mission’ extension past February 2009 at up to $6.8 billion. The $10 billion Ottawa expends every year on the military could otherwise make post-secondary education free and it could eradicate student debt. It could house the homeless, eliminate child poverty, and provide free public transit in the largest urban areas. Given a choice, what do you think most people would prefer?

In the eight years the Canadian state has been part of the imperialist occupation of the mineral-rich country, home to a potential gas pipeline route, over 27,000 Canadians have been deployed, and 151 have died. This is the most of any Canadian intervention since the Korean War, the highest in Afghanistan for foreign troops, proportionately greater than U.S. and U.K. fatalities there. More than 400 have been injured by improvised explosive devices (IEDs), mines, rocket attacks and direct combat. At least 1000 have suffered severe psychological trauma.

More than one in five Canadian soldiers and police officers who spend time in Afghanistan leave the force with psychiatric problems, a number that has rapidly risen in the last 24 months.

And this is to say nothing about the devastation caused to Afghanistan and its people. Nearly eight thousand Afghan civilians have died from insurgent and foreign military action, 50 to 60 per cent killed directly by NATO forces. In addition, up to 20,000 Afghan civilians died as a consequence of displacement, starvation, disease, exposure, lack of medical treatment, crime and lawlessness resulting from the war.

Presently, Canadian Forces are so stretched that many of its soldiers have done four and five tours of duty in Kandahar. Canadian Generals are now begging for a one-year hiatus to follow the 2011 announced withdrawal date. But the hiatus will not be forthcoming because the ruling Conservatives, pushed by the opposition Liberal Party, are looking for excuses to extend the ‘mission’. What is the alternative? It is for the anti-war movement to get back into the streets to force the government to stick to the 2011 evacuation plan, if not exit sooner, and immediately cancel the purchase of the F-35 jet fighters. -Barry Weisleder

Smash the G20 agenda! Demand Labour enquiry into police repression

The mass movement for an independent, full-spectrum, public enquiry into G20 Summit policing continues. About 3,000 rallied at Queen’s Park on Saturday, July 10, then they marched and held a rally beside the CBC building, right across from the Metro Convention Centre, scene of the G20 elite gabfest two weeks earlier. On July 17 up to a thousand gathered again in front of the Ontario Legislature. Many blew bubbles and otherwise mocked some of the behaviour that prompted police to arrest 1070 people.

Proof of the still-mounting public pressure for government and police accountability, and the dropping of all charges, are the four enquiries reluctantly launched. Unfortunately, none of them is full, open and independent. The Toronto Police Services Board, which includes the police chief alongside appointed city councillors and civilians, will operate within narrow and establishment-controlled confines. (Note: Toronto City Council voted unanimously on July 7 to “commend the outstanding work” of Chief Bill Blair and his force. Rather than stand up against this outrage, cowardly social democratic councillors abstained or were absent.) The Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin promises an enquiry, but only into the additional police powers secretly granted by the Ontario Liberal Cabinet prior to the G20 Summit. The Toronto Police and Ontario Provincial Police are conducting their own investigations — need we say more? And Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty have both rejected calls for a public inquiry.

Our view is that the labour organizations that endorsed the “July 10 Day of Action for Civil Liberties”, including the Canadian Labour Congress, the Ontario Federation of Labour, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, Steelworkers’ Toronto Area Council, and the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, should initiate a truly full, open and independent enquiry. It should be designed to get to the bottom of the wasteful expenditures on ‘security’ and the arbitrary and excessive use of force by police, as well as to expose the anti-human, eco-cidal agenda of the G20 political and corporate elites.

The crowd that coursed through Toronto’s downtown on July 10, under brilliant sunshine, was lively, boisterous – and yearning for truth and accountability. Thousands chanted “Whose streets? Our streets!”, “This is what democracy looks like”, “No more police over-time. No more police state”, “No justice, no peace”, and “Wasted, wasted. One billion dollars”.

Union flags and banners bobbed in the demonstration amongst anti-war, community and socialist banners. Ten individuals carried giant white letters to spell out “G20 ENQUIRY”. Huge walking puppets caricatured Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Horns, drums, and megaphones kept up a steady cadence of slogans. Marchers seemed to notice the intense heat only when pausing. One pause lasted fifteen minutes or more as hundreds of protesters sat down at the intersection of Queen and Spadina. There, on June 27, police kettled 300 innocent people during a two-hour driving rainstorm, arresting scores of them — just to show who’s boss.

Notwithstanding bitter recollections of police-state tactics, let’s not forget the global capitalist agenda that is the reason for all the G20-related deceit and repression. The richest countries’ bosses promised to cut their budgetary deficits in half by 2013, and to cap their cumulative debt as a proportion of GDP by 2016. If attempted, without taxing big corporations and the super-rich, such actions would choke off jobs, services and investment in production. They would plunge economies into crisis, and billions into misery – which is to say nothing of the consequences of worsening pollution, climate change, and ongoing brutal wars of occupation. The only way for humanity to change course, to avoid deeper catastrophes, is for the working class, in each country, to expropriate industry and plan the economy democratically, and ecologically. Instead of cutting vital services, increasing the age of retirement, slashing pensions, freezing wages, reducing supports for farmers, and hiking sales taxes, socialists say: Tax big business and the rich. Nationalize the banks. Rescind the war budget.

Socialist Action participated in all the pre- and post-summit protests, and once again had a prominent presence at Queen’s Park on July 10 and 17. A colourful literature display attracted a steady stream of interest. Many people signed up to receive more information. SA members greeted rally participants with leaflets, newspapers and buttons.

Dozens joined the SA contingent during the two-hour walk-a-thon on July 10. SA youths and supporters carried their own handmade signs that read: Resign Chief BLiar! For a FULL, independent, public enquiry! Repeal the Public Works Protection Act! Smash G20 agenda of Social Cuts! Money for Jobs and Education, not war and police repression! Fight for Socialism!

The NDP Socialist Caucus marched too with its banner held high. Supporters distributed copies of the SC tabloid “Turn Left”. Its headline proclaims “Time to put Capitalism on trial”. What a contrast to the many NDP politicians and labour leaders who wrung their hands over petty property damage for a fortnight, and now merely echo the cry for civil liberties and police accountability. Still, it is good that Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath backed the call for a full, open public enquiry at the July 10 gathering. Likewise, that federal New Democrats are pushing for the House of Commons committee on public safety and national security to hold public hearings on a wide range of issues.

What’s next?

Continue to build the mass movement for civil liberties. Challenge Labour and the NDP to fight the neo-liberal agenda of social cuts, privatization and environmental abuse, as well as state attacks on human rights. This struggle is far from over.
Alone, one cannot do very much. But united we can move mountains. Together we can win a world fit for humanity, in harmony with nature. -Barry Weisleder

Ontario unions reject wage freeze plan

Public sector unions in Canada’s most populous province reject Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan’s call for a two-year wage freeze. The question remains: what will workers and their unions do to stop Duncan and the Liberal government at Queen’s Park from imposing a freeze, along with cuts to public services?

Duncan insists that reducing the province’s $19.7 billion deficit is a priority. Since salaries account for 55 per cent of all government programme spending, for him the target seems obvious – the very same point he made in his March 25 budget. But the facts he ignored then, still remain. CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn hit the mark when he asked how the government “can square the circle of giving a corporate tax cut that will equal $4.6 billion out of the economy” and then tell workers to accept less pay. And what about the bail-out money Ontario gave to manufacturers and resource firms since the 2008 crash, to say nothing about sky-high CEO salaries funded by the province, and the permanent tax holiday enjoyed by speculators and the rich?

OPSEU president Smokey Thomas set the right tone in a message to his 125,000 members on July 20 when he wrote “Do not assume that you must accept zeros. Do not assume you can only bargain “non-monetary” items… We negotiate strong contracts when our members are ready to back their bargaining teams.”

Thomas went on to address the economic crisis: “OPSEU members did nothing to create the economic meltdown that caused the provincial deficit. It is absolutely unfair to single out people to pay for that deficit just because they happen to be public employees. It is even more unfair that rich individuals will not pay one penny extra towards the deficit… profitable corporations are getting massive tax breaks. Based on their expected profits of $20 billion in 2010, Canada’s Big Six banks will see their Ontario corporate income taxes fall by at least $200 million this year alone.”

“If you accept a wage cut, the money you give up won’t go to save public services. It will pay for tax cuts for the banks… the McGuinty Liberals aim to cut wages and cut jobs at the same time. Public services will suffer, and the families and communities we serve will suffer as well. In addition, cuts will undermine our economic recovery, just when households and communities need every dollar they can find. This fight is a fight against bad public policy. We will not hesitate to take whatever action is necessary to get what is fair and to get what OPSEU members need.”

Ontario Federation of Labour president Sid Ryan called the proposed wage freeze “a horrible idea”, but the tone he set for fighting it was, at best, confused. “We’re not even close” to discussing any sort of general strike or other job action, he told the Toronto Star. It would have been better for Ryan to echo the pledge of Smokey Thomas, “to take whatever action is necessary”, or just to keep quiet. Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath’s comment was less than helpful too when she said it is important to ensure that Bay Street shares the same pain as Main Street. Shifting the pain, rather than sharing it, is what working people really need.

Doing ‘whatever is necessary’ will definitely require extensive political education and massive job action. No one union, not even the entire public sector on its own, can win alone. There are lessons to absorb from the private sector, including where unions don’t cave, but fight back. Despite a valiant, year-long strike by 3,100 United Steelworkers against Brazilian mining giant Vale SA, workers gave concessions on pensions for new hires. The traditional bonus tied to the price of nickel is also reduced in a five-year deal that does contain wage improvements. Clearly, it would have been much worse had the miners not struck. But the point is that Labour as a whole should have actively joined the fight – instead of postponing the day of reckoning and further weakening the movement.

United, mass job action against the Duncan wage freeze, against the social and environmental cuts, against military expenditures, against the G20 austerity agenda is urgently needed. That is the concept that should be on the table everywhere in time for Labour Day, September 6, 2010. -Barry Weisleder

Census ‘reform’ aims to disappear the poor

The federal Conservative government is taking much heat this summer for its decision to scrap the mandatory long-form census, and replace it with a voluntary survey. Hitherto, twenty per cent of the adult population was required to complete the long-form.

Statisticians agree, starting with Statistics Canada head Munir A. Sheikh who resigned on July 21 in protest, that a voluntary survey will result in less reliable data collection because it is less likely to be filled out by poor Canadians, immigrants and Aboriginal peoples.

And that suits the Tories just fine: if people are unaware of the extent of poverty, they may be unconcerned about policies that fail to address the problem, or that make it worse.

The census ‘reform’ has nothing to do with “protecting privacy” as Industry Minister Tony Clement claims. It has everything to do with implementing the G20 austerity agenda. For the ideologically-driven Stephen Harper it is also an extension of the 1990s campaign of the ultra-right Fraser Institute which sought to discredit the way StatsCan calculates poverty, arguing that children are not poor as long as they have food and shelter, even if they lack books, toys and school supplies.

The latest gambit to disappear the poor is marketed by the Tories as a way to reduce state repression – even though no one has ever gone to jail for refusing to fill out the long census. The ruse of freedom from intrusion and punishment is merely a cover for enforcing economic repression and the tyranny of the market. The discreet charms of late capitalism seem to require such camouflage. -Barry Weisleder

UNAC Registers Anti-war Unity

by Barry Weisleder

Anti-war unity in action got a major boost from a gathering of over 800 peace and social justice activists, held July 23-25 in Albany, New York. The United National Antiwar Conference was the largest of its kind since 2001. It had the backing of thirty national organizations across the United States, including the National Assembly Against U.S. Wars and Occupations, US Labor Against the War, Arab American Union Members’ Council, Black Agenda Report, Code Pink, International Action Center, Iraq Veterans Against the War, National Lawyers’ Guild and Progressive Democrats of America. People came from as far away as California and Texas. Several activists from Canada attended too, including a War Resisters’ Canada rep., leaders of the NDP Socialist Caucus, and six members of Socialist Action/Ligue pour l’Action socialiste from Toronto and Montreal.

The UNAC heard from dozens of high profile speakers, including a video-recorded message from best-selling author and professor of linguistics Noam Chomsky, an audio message from world-renown political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal on death row, and written greetings from the unjustly jailed (and recently re-sentenced to 10 years) civil liberties lawyer Lynne Stewart. The proceedings were live video-streamed via the inter net by The Sanctuary for Independent Media, which received thousands of hits during the weekend.

Following extensive discussion, with debate and voting on scores of amendments and additional proposals, the UNAC adopted a plan of action for the year ahead. The plan includes a wide range of activities, culminating in mass demonstrations in New York and San Francisco on April 9, 2011 in support of the following demands: “Bring the troops and military dollars home now!” and “Money for human needs — for jobs, education, housing, pensions, health care, and the environment — not war!”

Disillusionment with Barack Obama and visceral anger over the deepening and widening war in Asia drove many activists to the conference. But the spirit of unity against the war machine was not devoid of controversy. How many issues and causes should the movement seek to encompass and express?

Most think that the time has come to place Palestine at the forefront, despite resistance by some labour leaders. Thus, UNAC agreed to incorporate demands on the U.S. government to end all U.S. aid to Israel, denounced the occupation of Palestine, and approved the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, along with challenges to the Israeli blockade of Gaza and the murderous attacks on the Freedom Flotilla.

On the subject of Iran, the conference rejected by a wide margin a call for sanctions, taking the view that the enemy is at home (U.S. imperialism) and that it is up to the people of Iran to determine issues of democratic governance and nuclear power development in that country.

Stimulating, intense and animated discussions at over 30 work shops filled the weekend. The hottest topics included: “Is a two-state solution Possible or Desirable (in Israel-Palestine)?” and “The Rise of Right Wing Populism and the Tea Party: Do We Need a Right-Left (anti-war) Coalition?” Over a hundred people attended each of those sessions.

Close to sixty joined a panel discussion on Foreign Policy and the Economic Crisis, which included a presentation by this writer on Canada’s war in Afghanistan. Another forty or so witnessed a debate on “Electoral and Legislative Strategies against Militarism, War and Empire”, which featured left-Democrats, Greens, and the Socialist Action candidate for US Congress in Connecticut, Christopher Hutchinson.

Following the nearly unanimous adoption of the Action Plan, the UNAC voted to establish a Continuations Committee “to help coordinate and implement the decisions”, consisting of one rep and one alternate from each of the UNAC co-sponsoring groups that choose to participate. Jerry Gordon, who served as conference secretary, agreed to continue in that capacity, subject to future decisions on structure and personnel. A fund raising rally collected over $8,500 to continue the work of the gathering, announced the rally chair Jeff Mackler.

At the adjournment of the conference, about two hundred participants marched to the New York State Capitol building to demand freedom for Muslim political prisoners in America, for Mumia Abu-Jamal and Lynne Stewart, and for an end to the U.S. wars of occupation abroad.

The demonstration then walked for about a mile into Albany’s Black and Muslim communities, ending at Masjid As-Salam. The local mosque was the scene of a police raid about two years ago that led to the arrest and jailing of two congregation members falsely accused of ‘terrorism’ despite the absence of any disclosed evidence or of any illegal materials on site. The rally inside the mosque denounced the unjust incarceration of dozens of Muslims being held at Fort Dix, New Jersey and of hundreds more across the U.S. held under the provisions of the infamous Patriot Act — scapegoats in the ‘war on terrorism’ being waged by Washington.

The so-far modest, but real revival and re-convergence of elements of the U.S. anti-war movement also pose a challenge to the movement across the Canadian state. After a two-year hiatus, and in the wake of the revelations by WikiLeaks of the sheer ugliness and poisonous nature of the Afghan quagmire, it is time to mobilize anti-war opinion, the majority opinion in Canada, back onto the streets. Best to begin now, with educational events in the Fall, and an international day of anti-war action on April 9.

Ligue pour L'Action Socialiste