Calling all Israeli refugees … of Zionism!

by Barry Weisleder

Sofa Landver, Israel’s minister of immigrant absorption, is trying to lure at least 15,000 former citizens of Israel from around the world to go back home. She spoke in Toronto on November 24, after campaign stops in New York and Boston.

Why? To stop the ‘brain drain’ from the ‘Jewish state’, said Landver, a speech pathologist who moved with her dentist husband from the former Soviet Union to Israel in 1979. But why are so many Israelis, especially the scientists and professionals now being targeted to return, leaving in the first place? Toronto, alone, has some 50,000 Israeli expatriates.

Opposition parties in the Knesset say it is due to low wages, with doctors earning as little as the equivalent of $6 an hour, said one politician to The Jerusalem Post this month. To counter that, Landver is pitching tax breaks, health insurance and free tuition for higher education to win them back.

But the problem may not be only economic. Physical insecurity is real in a state that was founded on ethnic cleansing, buttressed by racist laws. While that state continues to expand by means of physical displacement of an indigenous population, and is surrounded by nations composed of hundreds of millions people hostile to its apartheid and expansionist practices, the prospects for peace are slim to none.

Instead of a haven for historically persecuted world Jewry, Israel is more and more evidently a death trap for the Jews there, millions of whom would rather be somewhere else. Zionism produces wave upon wave of refugees, and not all of them are Palestinian.

French Workers Continue to Resist

by Richard Wagman, Paris, 7/11/10

Since the beginning of September the French labour movement has been mobilized in a series of strike actions and demonstrations, demanding the withdrawal of legislation modifying the national pension plan. This reform enacted by Sarkozy’s right-wing government is part and parcel of the neo-liberal agenda drawing back on social acquisitions and making the workers (and only the workers) pay for those social rights which still remain.

Sarkozy’s law increases the legal retirement age in France from 60 to 62 years, for those who have paid into the national pension fund with 40 years of employment, allowing them to retire with full benefits. This is not the case for those who haven’t worked for that length of time, that is millions of French people who have been jobless at some point in their career and especially women, the first victims of unemployment, as well as parents (usually mothers) who have taken years off their career to raise children at home. For this part of the population, the legal retirement age allowing them to draw full benefits is increased from 65 to 67 years of age. Statistically, most blue collar workers who have difficult or dangerous jobs don’t live much longer than that.

On the basis of demographic trends (families with fewer children, increase in overall life expectancy, a larger proportion of the elderly as opposed to the active working population with full-time jobs), the government proposes to finance the national pension plan by increasing the contributions and/or the number of years on the job required, but only for employees. Employers are not asked to make an equivalent effort — all in the name of keeping French companies competitive. This is on top of Sarkozy’s unpopular “tax shield”, guaranteeing that the very wealthy will not have to pay more than one half of their income in taxes (one of the lowest rates in industrialized countries for the most privileged sectors of the population). In France, increases in social deductions – notably for Medicare, welfare and the national retirement fund – come from employee pay checks but not from capital gains. Not only is financial income exempted from such expenditures, but the current government has multiplied discretionary exemptions for the business community (often to the benefit of the biggest companies, not the smallest ones), resulting in increased deficits in social budgets and the public treasury. But that’s not all. The Minister of Labour mandated to pilot this reform – Eric Woerth – was also the treasurer of UMP, the party in power. He was forced to resign from this position due to criticism for conflict of interest. His wife was hired by the firm managing the fortune of Liliane Bettancourt, the inheritor of the cosmetics giant L’Oréal and the wealthiest woman in France. Mrs. Woerth helped Bettancourt expatriate part of her fortune to Swiss bank accounts where it is sheltered from French tax obligations. All this started years ago when Eric Woerth was Minister of the Budget. As such, part of his job was to… fight against tax fraud! As if that wasn’t enough, Eric Woerth decorated his wife’s boss with the Légion d’Honneur, France’s most prestigious distinction. All this financier did to merit such an award was to make generous donations to UMP, of which Eric Woerth was the treasurer.

Enough is enough. The sense of injustice got people’s blood boiling in these times of high unemployment, low wages and heavy tax bills for low-income families. This scandal came to a head after years of neo-liberal reforms across the board, rolling back acquisitions which were won in epic struggles throughout the twentieth century (1936 general strike, anti-Nazi insurrection during the Second World War and the biggest strike action in French history triggered off by the student revolt in May 1968). All of these acquisitions are going down the drain and the reform on pension rights was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The eighth major day of action since the beginning of this struggle took place on November 6 with 1,200,000 demonstrators taking to the streets in 245 cities and towns across the country. Although these figures may appear impressive, they’re down from former days of action, some of which drew over twice that number in the streets. This was foreseeable, as this reform was voted in parliament on October 27, a step which discouraged a number of people, although it failed to convince them of the government’s position. The Socialist opposition in the National Assembly initiated recourse before the Constitutional Council concerning the legality of the reform and the President of the Republic has yet to promulgate it. And there are precedents in forcing governments to rescind unpopular laws. Youth and the workers’ movement succeeded in doing so in 2006 in the case of previous anti-labour legislation, even though the right had a parliamentary majority. This experience is on everybody’s mind in the current showdown on retirement rights. Sarkozy’s UMP has a majority in the National Assembly but opponents to the reform have a 70% majority in the population, according to numerous opinion polls which attest to the unpopularity of the law.

Some of the mass demonstrations – like the one on November 6 – were held on a weekend to allow more people to participate. Others have taken place during the week, counting on the participation of striking workers. Aside from the eight days of mass mobilization so far, numerous local labour actions have been launched in different sectors. Strategic sectors such as the oil industry (refineries and storage depots), dockers in Marseilles – the country’s biggest harbour – truck drivers and railway workers were accompanied in strike action by Air France employees, postal workers, garbage collectors, teachers and support staff in schools. Not to mention university and high school students who shut down their schools to join the demonstrators. Truck drivers conducted snail operations on highways, railroad tracks were occupied thus stopping trains and striking workers visited neighbouring factories, inciting their fellow workers to join them, thus creating a domino effect in certain industrial zones. Workers are angry and have made that known in no uncertain terms.

France’s six major trade union federations have remained united in their opposition to the reform, although labour’s united front on this issue is starting to show signs of disagreement on tactics and objectives (withdrawal of the law or negotiating modifications thereto). Another period of action is called for the week starting November 22. This tactic is not uncommon in French labour practises (isolated days or weeks of action, followed by a return to work with a series of rotating strikes). The efficiency of this tactic – orchestrated by the top union leadership – has been strongly put into question with calls from the rank and file for an ongoing general strike.

Predictably, the CGT (Confédération Générale du Travail, the largest trade union federation, close to the Communist Party) has been amongst the most combative. Surprisingly, it has shared this vanguard role with FO (Force Ouvrière), which usually has the reputation of being a more passive, apolitical organization. The CFDT (Conférdération Française Démocratique du Travail, close to the Socialist Party) has for many years played the role of a class collaborationist business union and its national leadership has not disavowed that posture in the current struggle. But so far, rank and file pressure for unity has kept the union leadership marching together.

Political observers have been practically unanimous in saying that this showdown could turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory for the government. Even if the parliament and Sarkozy’s cabinet get the last word on maintaining and applying this law, it will not be forgotten overnight. Certainly not before the next presidential election in 2012. Sarkozy wanted to comfort his conservative base in society by showing a tough stand when confronted by the unions. However the unpopularity of the measure has galvanized public opinion in its belief that the current government is a regime that rules for the rich. This leaves a very bitter resentment which will not dissipate soon.

Education for Activists Conference

3rd Annual Toronto Socialist Action Trotsky School
November 19-20, 2010 at OISE, U of Toronto, 252 Bloor St. W. in Room 2-212, just above the St. George Subway Station

Friday, November 19, 7 p.m.

James P. Cannon – Building the revolutionary party under North American conditions
Presentation by Adam Shils, a leading member of Socialist Action-USA, based in Chicago

Saturday, November 20, 10 a.m.

The relevance of the ideas of Leon Trotsky today What is the strategy for fundamental change?
Presentation by Barry Weisleder, federal secretary, Socialist Action / Ligue pour l’Action socialiste

12 noon Lunch break and screening of film “Trotsky and Mexico: Two Revolutions of the Twentieth Century

1 p.m. Marxism versus Anarchism
A debate with Adam Shils, Chicago Socialist Action, and on the other side, Mick Sweetman, a member of the anarchist group Common Cause.

4 p.m. What it means to be a Revolutionary Today
Presentation by Julius Arscott, Executive member,
Toronto Socialist Action

6 p.m. Social event at a nearby pub

Conference Registration: $10 for the weekend, $4 per session (or pay what you can). For more info e-mail: barryaw@rogers.com or call: 416 – 535-8779

FORUM: Why Canada lost its bid for a U.N. Security Council seat

Toronto Socialist Action Presents –
Why
Canada lost its bid for a U.N. Security Council seat

Did the U.N. say No because Liberal leader Ignatieff questioned the merits of the bid? Or was it due to the obnoxious positions of present Conservative and past Liberal federal governments on climate change, aboriginal rights, aid to Africa, blatant support for Zionist Israel, interference in Haiti and the ongoing war of occupation in Afghanistan? What should be done about Canada‘s foreign policy?

Guest speakers: Yves Engler

Montreal-based activist, researcher and writer, author of “Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid”, “The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy” and “Canada in Haiti” (co-written with Anthony Fenton).

Khaled Mouammar
President of the Canadian Arab Federation

Q & A, and discussion period will follow the presentations.

Friday, November 12 7 p.m.
OISE, 252 Bloor St. West, Room 2-213
(at the St. George Subway Station)
Everyone is welcome. $4 donation requested or PWYC.
For more information, visit the SA web site at:
www.socialistaction-canada.blogspot.com or call 416-535-8779

Fall Rebel Film Series

– Toronto Socialist Action Presents –
REBEL FILMS


Friday, September 24 – 7 p.m. Plunder: The crime of our time 2009, 100 minutes. A documentary directed and written by veteran journalist Danny Schechter, a multiple Emmy award winner and former producer for ABC News and CNN. The film looks into how the economic crisis developed, from the mysterious collapse of Bear Stearns to the shadowy world of trillion-dollar hedge funds. Insiders tell the story. Plunder also shows how hastily arranged U.S. government bailouts did not revive the economy and may have lost billions. Commentary by Canadian Auto Workers’ economist, and Globe and Mail columnist, Jim Stanford, will be followed by discussion.

Friday, October 1 – 7 p.m. Poor No More 2010, 53 minutes. Hosted by TV and film star Mary Walsh, Poor No More offers an engaging look at Canadians stuck in low paying jobs with no security and no future. It looks at the economic and anti-poverty policies of Ireland and Sweden. The film offers hope to those who have to work two jobs a day and to those who cannot find work. The film’s executive producer David Langille, and Socialist Action federal secretary Barry Weisleder, will lead off an audience discussion of the documentary.

Friday, October 8 – 7 p.m. Petropolis: Aerial Perspective on the Alberta Tar Sands 2009, 43 minutes. This short, hallucinatory documentary by Greepeace, Canada, takes us on a helicopter flight over the vast area containing the world’s second largest oil reserve that is being despoiled, possibly forever, to separate bitumen from sand. Also see NFB film “Watch Downstream”, 2009, 33 minutes.

Friday, October 15 – 7 p.m. Blood Coltan 2008, French, with English sub-titles, 51 minutes. The West’s demand for Coltan, used in mobile phones and computers, is funding the killings in Congo. Under the close watch of rebel militias, children as young as ten work the mines hunting for this black gold. Meet the powerful warlords who enslave local populations and the European businessmen who continue importing Coltan, in defiance of the UN. Guest speaker Steve Soloman will talk about the campaign to aid the people of Congo.

Friday, October 22 – 7 p.m. The Yes Men Fix the World 2009, 87 minutes. The prankster duo Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, posing as their industrious alter-egos, expose the people profiting from Hurricane Katrina, the faces behind the environmental disaster in Bhopal, and other shocking events.

Friday, October 29 – 7 p.m. Modern Times 1936, 87 min. Charlie Chaplin’s last ‘silent’ film, filled with sound effects, turns against the alienation of labour in modern society. Firstly we see him frantically trying to keep up with a production line, tightening bolts. He is selected for an experiment with an automatic feeding machine, but various mishaps lead his boss to believe he has gone mad, and Charlie is sent to a mental hospital. When he gets out, he is mistaken for a communist while waving a red flag, sent to jail, foils a jailbreak, and is let out again. We follow Charlie through many more escapades. Commentary by SA member Carol Bailey, followed by discussion.

Friday, November 5 – 7 p.m. South of the Border 2010, 78 min., is a film directed by Oliver Stone. Writer for the project Tariq Ali calls the documentary “a political road movie”. The film has Stone and his crew travel from the Caribbean down the spine of the Andes in an attempt to explain the “phenomenon” of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, and account for the continent’s recent leftward tilt. It features Venezuela‘s Bolivarian movement and Latin America‘s political progress in the 21st century.

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: www.socialistaction-canada.blogspot.com or call 416 – 535-8779.

Ligue pour L'Action Socialiste