Make Potash Public

by John Orrett and Barry Weisleder

In the future, if the human race survives, it will look back at the concept of individual ownership of natural resources, that took nature millions of years to form, as an absurdity. It will seem only sensible that the richest potash deposit in the world would be owned and controlled by the people who work in the mine and who are affected by its operation.

Totally unacceptable will be the idea that a stock-holding CEO like Bill Doyle could make over $400 million if he sells his shares in Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan. Such a bonanza from flipping shares in a resource so valuable to a growing, increasingly hungry world population, would be anathema. It will be obvious that the fate of the massive reserve of potassium and phosphorous, the two key ingredients of fertilizer that reside in the prairie province (23 per cent of the world supply), should be determined democratically, and that the revenue derived from its sale should be put to social purposes for the good of agriculture and the working people of Canada and the world.

But commercial media ‘experts’ and editorialists seem to be wearing blinders, unable to see beyond the priorities of the capitalist profit system. A Toronto Star editorial of August 22 cannot envision the Bank of Canada coming up with the investment capital needed to retain and develop an extremely lucrative resource industry, should such capital be lacking. The Star’s business commentator David Crane cries that the sale of the company to foreign interests may have adverse effects on the Canadian economy. Crane’s customary mission is the defense of Canadian Capital, as if our business elite is in some way more progressive and deserving of mega-plunder. The last decade of Canadian resource sell-offs (Westcoast, Inco, Falconbridge, Alcan, LionOre, and by increments, the Alberta oilsands), not to mention the sale of major steel companies Dofasco, Stelco, Algoma and Ipsco, show that the allegiance of Canadian capitalists is first and foremost to their pocket books.

The real story of Potash Corporation is hidden by recent media coverage, but it goes something like this.

In the 1970’s the New Democratic Party provincial government of Allan Blakeney nationalized much of the potash industry in Saskatchewan. The company grew. But in the mid-1980’s the price of potash declined significantly. The company ran up a debt of around $800 million. Keep these figures in mind. Anyone paying attention would have known, given growing world-wide agricultural demand for the fertilizer, and given its limited supply, that the price would rebound in a big way.

When the Grant Devine Conservatives were elected to govern Saskatchewan in the late 1980’s they privatized the Potash Corporation. They got $1.5 billion (i.e. $630 million for the shares and $800 million in debt relief). It was one of the biggest give aways of a public resource in Canadian history. The price of potash took off almost immediately following the sale. The profits from just the first three years of operation completely paid for its purchase. Yes, the Conservatives know how to treat their friends.

Now, a little over 20 years later, the company is subject to a hostile take over bid by BHP Billiton of Australia for $38 billion. Most analysts think the final price will top $40 Billion. This represents an increase in value of more than 2600 per cent. Did your wages rise 2600 per cent over twenty years; did the value of your home? Did the cost of running a mine rise that much?

This $40 Billion is a sum representing assets that should be publicly owned. Imagine how many schools, hospitals, rapid transit systems and social housing units could be funded by a fraction of that sum.

How can this abysmal situation be rectified? First all, major resource industries like nickel, iron, aluminum, oil and gas should come under public ownership. So should the steel industry. The responsible, democratic management of those assets is far too important to the environment, far too important to the rational planning of the economy to meet human needs, to be left to the tender mercies of the corporate elite, foreign or domestic.

For public ownership to become a live alternative it is crucial that the NDP be won to this policy. And that would entail an abrupt, but indispensable turn to the left for the party, and the unions on which it is based. Without a struggle for socialist policies, nature and labour will continue to be squeezed dry by the pirates of private profit – leaving the world destitute.

Labour should Probe G20 crimes, dispel anarchist delusions

On August 23, seventy-three of the 304 people facing charges at the Ontario Court of Justice in connection with the G20 summit protests had their cases either settled or dismissed. It appears that many of the other charges will be dropped, simply because the cops have no case – proving they never did have a legal basis for detaining more than 1000 people and stuffing them into wire cages for much of the weekend of June 26 and 27. The agenda of the police and their political overlords was to paralyze and criminalize dissent against the global corporate agenda. For that reason, socialists demand that all the charges be dropped, including against the 17 alleged ‘ringleaders’ of the vandalism that occurred on the fringes of the locked-down core of Toronto.

But there is much more to be said and done about this situation.

In the first place, a broad, independent, public enquiry is still needed. It should look into the decision to turn the city into an armed camp, into police actions that ranged from passively watching (and perhaps covertly instigating) property damage to sudden mass arrests, and most importantly, look into the harmful G20 agenda itself.

The labour movement is the social force that can and should conduct such an open enquiry. It would be foolish to rely on Ottawa, Queen’s Park or the police to investigate themselves and tell the truth. At least unions can be held accountable to their members, who constitute a large section of the working class, the progressive majority class in society.

A labour probe into G20 crimes against civil liberties, against working people and the global environment, will not only have the power to put the spotlight on the most important issues; it will dispel the delusions of anarchist sympathizers. Spokespersons for the Toronto Community Mobilization Network, the body that endorsed the opportunist ‘diversity of tactics’ that shielded the vandals of the Black Bloc, told a public meeting of 160 on August 17 that “we showed we could shut down the city”. “The resistence is now stronger than ever” said the TCMN’s Syed Hussan.

The truth is that ‘the resistence’ is now burdened with enormously debilitating legal expenses. Opposition to the global capitalist agenda has largely been diverted into a defence of liberal democracy. And the corporate elite is proceeding with attacks on working people and the environment at full speed. ‘Propaganda of the deed’ by a self-appointed group of privileged, mostly white male youths did not electrify the masses into anti-capitalist action. It did temporarily hike the popularity of the police, and it provided an apparent, albeit false, justification for Stephen Harper’s obscene expenditure of over $1.5 billion for ‘security’, preparing the ground for more repressive measures to come.

The Tamil community’s non-violent occupation of a downtown Toronto expressway in May 2009, and the year-long miners’ strike at Vale S.A. in Sudbury, did more to disrupt the capitalist economy than the actions of the anarcho-vanguardist Black Bloc could ever do.

The real power to shut down the city was demonstrated on October 25, 1996. That’s when a general strike by unions protesting the Mike Harris Ontario Conservative government kept a million workers at home or on picket lines, and mobilized over a quarter million people who marched and swarmed the Legislature at Queen’s Park the next day. (Even then, black-clad youths tried unsuccessfully to split off a segment of the huge protest march.)

The second, equally important task facing the workers’ movement today is to re-focus and step up the fight against the bosses’ austerity drive. A good place to start is the battle against Ontario Liberal Finance Minister Dwight Duncan’s attempt to impose a two-year wage freeze on over a million public service workers. Punitive legislation should be met with mass job action. But we have yet to see any resolve from the labour leadership to move in that direction.

The widely read leftist monthly magazine Canadian Dimension summarized the post-G20 situation aptly with these words in its September-October 2010 editorial:

“While the Black Bloc eschews mass organization and accountability, organized labour is abdicating any leadership role in political struggle. That will change only by building mass organizations inside and outside the unions that can exert pressure on them and provide ideological leadership.”

We agree. -Barry Weisleder

CPC’s ‘Peoples Recovery Plan’ is a dead end

The Communist Party of Canada distributed a tabloid during and after the G20 Summit protests titled “United to demand a People’s Recovery”. It bears close scrutiny.

The question arises, if the CPC is a radical workers’ party, and given that working people constitute the vast majority of society, why doesn’t it propose a “Workers” Recovery? The answer is simple: The CPC advocates a multi-class strategy of alliance with the liberal or ‘patriotic’ Canadian bourgeoisie. While this is completely contrary to socialism, which strives for independent working class political action against the capitalist rulers and their system, it is an old story for this party that broke with revolutionary politics over 80 years ago.

To dispel any doubt about our claim, the CPC literature makes clear its embrace of bourgeois liberal values. It calls for a “foreign policy based on peace and disarmament”, even though this is impossible short of the socialist transformation of society, and only fosters illusions in the present state.

Of course, the workers’ movement can win temporary reforms, even a reduction in arms expenditures, or a withdrawal from an imperialist war of occupation (like the current one in Afghanistan). But a “foreign policy based on peace and disarmament” can occur only when the working class takes control of the economy and state, and re-organizes society for production to meet human needs rather than serve private profit. When capitalism has been eradicated on a world scale, and only then, will we have genuine peace and disarmament.

The CPC statement goes on to call for a “People’s Coalition of labour and democratic forces which can press for even more substantial social and economic transformation”. This signals the CPC commitment to a government coalition with bourgeois Liberals, Greens, so-called Red Tories, and other representatives of the putative ‘progressive’ wing of the Canadian business class. Indeed, the CPC endorsed the proposed Liberal-NDP coalition (backed by the bourgeois nationalist Parti Quebecois) in the winter of 2008-2009, pining only to be a part of it.

Such a coalition would be a death trap for the working class movement. It would undermine the independence of the unions and the labour-based New Democratic Party, subordinating the entire workers’ movement to a section of the Canadian capitalist class. It would lead to a huge defeat, not to any kind of progressive transformation of society.

Workers have seen such treacherous coalitions operate in Chile in 1973, and more recently in France and Italy. The CPs in those countries participated in politically disarming the working class. They enabled Capital to re-organize its forces and to impose its reactionary agenda against working people. The CPC has been wedded to this rotten ‘strategy’ since the 1940s, which included its “no strike pledge” in Canada during WW2. That is why it declined from a mass party to the tiny, aged, dogmatic, reformist sect it is today.

The Stalinist movement worldwide has the blood of millions of communists on its hands. It betrayed scores of real revolutions (from Spain in the 1930s, Greece in the 1940s, Indonesia in the 1960s, to Chile in the 1970s). It was an obstacle to the Cuban Revolution in 1959, and today it betrays the Palestinian people by advocating the completely discredited “two-state solution”, thus defending the continued existence of the apartheid Zionist state of Israel.

The CPC has never broken with Stalinism, the theory and practice of the criminal mis-leadership of the former degenerated workers’ state in Russia. The CPC is still stuck in the rut of liberal ‘popular-frontism’, the distopia of ‘socialism in one country’, and the totalitarian nightmare of bureaucratic-centralism. (To learn more about these ideas, please visit: http://www.socialistaction.org )

Why dredge up this sad past? As we know, those who do not understand history are doomed to repeat it. Remember the hit song tag line: We won’t be fooled again.

Socialist Action represents the revolutionary continuity of the first communists in Canada, from the period of the early 1920s, before the degeneration of the Comintern under Stalin, before the CPC expelled its revolutionary leaders Jack MacDonald and Maurice Spector. We advance a Transitional Programme, or Workers’ Agenda, consistent with the method of Lenin, Trotsky and the early, healthy years of the Communist International.

We invite serious activists to take the revolutionary path forward — the fight for socialism and working class independence from the parties of Capital. -Barry Weisleder

Census ‘reform’ aims to disappear the poor

The federal Conservative government took 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 less concerned about policies that fail to address the problem, or that make it worse.

The census ‘reform’ has nothing to do with “protecting privacy”, contrary to what 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 wing 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.

This latest gambit to disappear the poor is marketed by the Tories as a way to reduce the heavy hand of the state — even though no one has ever gone to jail for refusing to fill out the long census. The ruse of promoting 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

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

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