TD Moves Into Florida

by Barry Weisleder

While most of us have been trying to cope with the ongoing ‘Great Recession’, Canadian bankers have been busy with their own expansion plans. Showing that Canada’s banks weathered the crash better than their American counterparts, TD Bank (formerly the Toronto-Dominion) bought three insolvent Florida banks to establish its retail presence in the U.S. southeast.

TD’s purchase of Riverside National Bank of North Florida, First Federal Bank of North Florida, and AmericanFirst Bank is a low-risk venture since the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. agreed to share 50 per cent of the loan losses up to specific thresholds at each bank, beyond which the FDIC would handle 80 per cent.

TD is getting 69 new branches in Florida, bringing its total there to 103. It already has a major presence in New England and New York, and owns 40 per cent of TD Ameritrade, a discount brokerage based in the U.S. Midwest.

One elite’s loss is another’s gain. That’s why we call it inter-imperialist rivalry, sometimes the stuff of wars. But this one is still well under control as high-finance operators make the average Jill and Jack pay the price in lost homes, jobs, and pensions.

Meanwhile, as bank profits in Canada soar, and corporate taxes decline, consumer debt is rising fast. In Canada, disposable income growth has been going down, and in the year ended last February, household debt went up more than three times faster than income growth. Canadians have seen their liabilities rising twice as fast as their assets over the past two years—despite the rebound in stock valuations and the recent surge in home prices.

“Canadian consumer fundamentals are weaker than they have been in almost 15 years,” reported CIBC economist Benjamin Tal on April 1. When will the next bubble burst, and who will pay the price?

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.

Ligue pour L'Action Socialiste