Tag Archives: Ontario

It’s War

The June 7 election of the Doug Ford-led Progressive Conservative Party to government in Ontario means an escalation of the class war against working people, visible minorities and impoverished social layers.

The former right wing Toronto city councilor and brother of deceased Mayor Rob Ford cloaked his fiercely anti-labour agenda in populist rhetoric pitched against ‘the establishment, the downtown elites’.  This allowed Doug Ford to channel mass discontent with 15 years of Liberal government cutbacks and corruption.  Premier Kathleen Wynne tried to save the furniture from the fire with a late shift to the left (e.g. increasing the minimum hourly wage, promising more spending to improve health services).  But her Liberal Party lost half its voters and is now reduced to a rump of seven seats in the Ontario Legislature, one shy of official party status.

The labour-based New Democratic Party, running on a mildly left-reform platform, surged to 33.6 per cent and nearly doubled its seat total to 40.  Several of its best policies (re-nationalize Hydro One, free university, drug and dental care, raise taxes on the rich, build social housing and public transit) came straight from the NDP Socialist Caucus playbook.

Andrea Horwath was over-the-top ecstatic at becoming Leader of the Official Opposition, pledging to hold Ford “to account”.  But this won’t do.  The Tory agenda today is much more aggressive than that of right wing Premier Mike Harris in the mid-1990s.  The horror show must be confronted and stopped by mass protest in the streets and work places, not by reliance on polite parliamentary criticism.

NDP and union leaders should be challenged to lead the fight outside the Legislature. In fact, the labour tops should have mobilized the ranks to campaign for the NDP, to counter the threat of the rampant anti-worker agenda of Ford and his conservative hate mongers. A serious effort to expose Ford’s populist propaganda might well have won the election for the NDP. Instead many labour officials sat on their asses; some even urged ‘strategic’ voting, which meant a vote for the Liberal Party. Unforgivable. This shows why union leaders should be paid no more than the average wage of their union collective agreement. Privileges and fat expense accounts be gone! Replace the conservative bureaucrats with rank and file militants and turn the unions into instruments of class struggle.

Still, one thing is very clear:  Doug Ford’s victory does not signal a unilateral shift to the right. The election rather reflects a polarization to both the left and the right.  The highly disproportionate first-past-the-post electoral system perpetuates capitalist rule by usually delivering a majority of seats to parties that gain a minority of votes. On June 7 the Conservatives captured 61 per cent of the seats (76 in total) with only 40.5 per cent of the votes cast.  In other words, nearly 60 per cent of those who cast ballots supported parties ostensibly to the left of the Tories. That includes the Green Party which won 4.6 per cent and (for the first time in Ontario) one seat. Taking into account a voter turnout of 58 per cent (up from 51 per cent in 2014), it is evident that only about a quarter of the electorate backed Ford Nation.

But Ford says he has a mandate to implement his policies, swiftly.  What are they?  He will probably begin by breaking the strike of teaching assistants at York University, CUPE Local 3903, and then repeal Bill 148, the labour law reforms that include a $15/hour minimum wage set for 2019.  Next will be a tax cut of 20 per cent that will most benefit the rich.  His tax credit for child care costs will not create more spaces, raise or enforce standards, or boost pay for low wage workers.  No steps to build social housing, and no significant increase in health care funding are in store.  On transportation, Ford pledged to take ownership of Toronto’s subway system, which could be the fast track to privatization — while bus service remains woefully inadequate.

Jobs?  The $6 billion Ford says he will find in “efficiencies” translates to firing thousands of teachers, health workers and others in the public sector.  Scores of schools and hospitals will be shuttered.  Cuts in services will be staggering and bloody, impacting most harshly on the impoverished.  Welfare rates will be rolled back and frozen.  Will hydro bills shrink by 12 per cent as promised?  Not likely as the private investors in Hydro One, sold off by Wynne’s Liberals, demand profit dividends.  Most workers won’t miss the demise of the regressive cap-and-trade taxes, a license to pollute, but there is no climate justice plan in its stead.  Hostile to indigenous people’s needs, Ford boasted he’d personally drive the bulldozer to exploit rapidly the Ring of Fire resources in Northern Ontario, with or without local consent.

On education, the Tories promised to repeal the new sex-ed curriculum but earmarked no new funds to repair crumbling school infrastructure.

Surprisingly, Ford never presented a fully costed platform. Economists estimate that the changes he promised, including tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, will create a $20 billion budget hole.  The shortfall is sure to come out of the hide of the working class.

Many workers who voted for Ford expect him to put money in their pocket and deliver $1 beer.  Imagine the disillusionment, indeed the raw anger, that will be felt when they realize they’re less well off.

As Karl Marx observed over 150 years ago, “The point is not to interpret the world, it is to change it.”  Today, the task is not to wait for unfocussed anger at Ford to swell; it is to fan the flames of discontent, build a broad, democratic, united front against capitalist austerity. It is to provide leadership in the struggle for a Workers’ Agenda.  The municipal elections in October offer an opportunity for the left to unite and confront the Ford agenda with a socialist platform. In any case, the road to effective action at all levels will entail replacing the leaders of the mainstream workers’ organizations with radical grassroots activists.

The class war is escalating.  There is no denying it.  The point is to wage it and to win it through mass protests, up to and including sectoral and general strikes with the aim of replacing the Ford regime with a Workers’ Government.

OCAP Says No to Welfare Merger/Cuts

by John Wilson
On New Year’s day 2014 there’s not much to celebrate for those who are unemployed, low-waged, who rely on welfare, or live on disability benefits in Ontario. To make matters worse, only 35 per cent of the unemployed even qualified for Employment Insurance benefits (which have been reduced), compared to 74 per cent eligible in 1990. Two priority campaigns of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) highlight this reality.
The first is the campaign to “raise the rates”. The rates paid by Ontario Works (welfare) were brutally slashed by nearly 22% bywe're here for our$ the notorious regime of Mike Harris in the mid-90s. Since then, for single claimants, the payments have lost a staggering 56% of their spending power. These rates were frozen since 1995, until the advent of the present Liberal regime, but any increases have been miniscule – only 15% over the last ten years, far less than the rate of inflation.
OCAP demands an immediate 55% increase. It is common knowledge that welfare recipients have little left over after paying rent. They rely on food banks to survive and have almost nothing for other needs. Supplementary benefits have been under continuous attack, despite the laughable “poverty reduction” mantra of the austerity-mongering Wynne government. As OCAP organizer John Clarke wrote in the Bullet (May 2013): “The fundamental nature of the welfare system can be traced all the way back to its roots in the old English Poor Laws. The system has always been there to reluctantly provide enough assistance to stave off unrest and social dislocation, but to do so at levels and in forms that maximize the flow of labour into the lowest paying and most exploitative jobs on offer.” “Ontario Works” says it all.
DSCN1663The same approach to disability benefits leads into a second major campaign to prevent the merger of Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). At a November 20 rally in Toronto, attended by over 120 people, speakers outlined their concerns. Historically, disability and welfare rates have been separate. If combined, from where will any increases for disability come? With downloading to municipalities, will ‘reassessment’ of disability claimants follow the notorious British model? Rally participants learned about the savage cuts to disability programs by the reactionary coalition government in Britain, which has handed this process over to ATOS, a private company.
Huge numbers of people there have been disqualified on incredibly specious grounds. A video showed a large field of flowers, each representing a disabled person who died within a short period of being disqualified, often by suicide. It is hardly ‘alarmist’ to think that the same could happen here, since the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) has already privatized reassessment with a stupefying increase in disqualifications. The austerity agenda, which has particularly targeted disabled people, is international, as is the capitalist system, which promotes it in the interest of ever cheaper labour platforms.
These two campaigns by OCAP clearly merit the unqualified support of labour, the left and social movements. Attacks on welfare and disability benefits will not only further impoverish poor people, but everyone. The greater the number of people desperate enough to accept the most wretched jobs, the more downward pressure there will be on wage levels, and the more intense will be the attacks on unions.nov 5th cap is broken 2 PS

Inquiry Puts Ontario Premier Wynne on Trial

by Malu Baumgarten
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne ended 2013 nearly tied in popularity with her main opponent on the left, New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath, according to a recent Abacus Data Poll. But 2014 may be the year when the public image of the self-proclaimed “social justice premier” Wynne will be forever changed.
On February 19, 2014 an event called A Poor People’s Inquiry will put the premier of Ontario on trial in the court of public opinion. Wynne will be charged with knowingly misleading the public by saying social justice is her top priority. Details of the Toronto trial location and agenda will be announced early in January.
  peoples_inquiry_logo_screenA Poor People’s Inquiry is an initiative of Put Food in the Budget (PFIB), “a grassroots activist group working to hold the Ontario Government’s feet to the fire on promises made – but not kept – to reduce poverty,” according to its website, www.putfoodinthebudget.ca. Starting in September 2013, PFIB held community hearings across Ontario and Toronto neighbourhoods. PFIB is known by campaigns like the Do the Math Challenge – inviting people to live on a “food bank diet” for one week, and the Dear Mr. Premier Tour, in which people in 25 communities in Ontario were video-taped telling a life-size mannequin of former Premier McGuinty what they thought of his austerity budget.
A Poor People’s Inquiry is very timely. People living on social assistance still have the recommendations of commissioners Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh, of the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario, hanging over their heads. The report, ironically called Brighter Prospects, was released in October 2012. Among other changes, it proposed a merger of Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Programme, both to be administered by the municipalities. The ODSP Action Coalition, a Toronto based advocacy group for people with disabilities Webcommented on the merger: “Combining the programs may mean that the unique needs of people with disabilities would stop being recognized by the program that is supposed to be there to help them; and delivering the programs locally could well result in greater inequity across the province, as local towns and cities get to decide who in their community would be eligible for which supports, and even which supports would be available.”
The Liberal government of Ontario seems to be big on promises, but not so good at keeping them. In 2008 former Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty promised a strategy to reduce poverty in the province. Instead he cut corporate taxes, increasing the size of the provincial deficit; and introduced an “austerity budget” that threatened to reduce spending on social assistance and vital community and public services. In 2012 his successor, Kathleen Wynne, acceded to the top job calling herself the “social justice Premier.” Since then the Liberal government has effectively cut social assistance, with rate increases lower than inflation.
Let’s remember that a worker, even a middle class worker, in times of such uncertainty may be only a step away from falling into the social assistance system, as many testified at the Inquiry.

Kellogg’s takes the money, and runs

B821471832Z.1_20131210191412_000_GA514PRQB.7_Contentby Barry Weisleder
How can they get away with it? Ontario taxpayers have given millions to cereal-maker Kellogg Co., which amassed $2 billion in operating profits last year. In 2007, the Liberal government gave the breakfast food giant $2.4 million to buy processing and packaging equipment for its London, Ontario plant, two hours west of Toronto. A year later the government provided Kellogg with a $9.7 million low-interest loan – about 10 per cent of the total cost of opening a new plant in Belleville, Ontario, two hours east of Toronto. And until Kellogg announced on December 10 that it is closing its 90-year old plant in London, and thus killing 610 jobs by the end of 2014, Queen’s Park was set to give Kellogg another grant for $4.5 million.
In other words, the Ontario government has been helping Kellogg to build a new, non-union manufacturing plant in Belleville so that the company can shutter an older, unionized operation in London, Ontario.
The corporate move is part of an overall restructuring, which by 2018 will include closing a plant in Australia and expanding a facility in low-wage Thailand.
kelloggs_closure_londonWe’ve seen this film before. In 2008, the Ontario and federal governments helped bail out General Motors. But when GM became profitable again, the company closed one of its two Oshawa assembly lines, and shifted some production from Ingersoll, Ontario to Tennessee. How’s that for gratitude? In recent years, Massey-Ferguson in Toronto, and the U.S. Steel Corp. in Hamilton behaved similarly.
So, to return to the question posed at the outset, how is this possible?
It is both possible and inevitable because the politicians and governments bestowing the public largesse on those greedy, anti-social firms are the servants of the super-rich.
Why don’t leaders of the unions and the labour-based New Democratic Party challenge the discredited practice of foolishly feeding the corporate elite, and instead advance the democratic idea of public ownership under workers’ and community control?
Surely society is capable of planning the production of useful things without having to bribe private profiteers who operate for a while, then flee, with stuffed pockets, to greener pastures.
To put the democratic option on the table it will take direct mass action from below — like Kellogg’s workers in London occupying the plant they made profitable with their sweat and toil – before its doors are locked forever.

Jobless Youth In Ontario: Canaries in Coal mine?

youthunemploymntThe rate of Ontario youth unemployment rivals those of the European Union and the U.S. Rust Belt states. So says the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in its recent report, “The Young and the Jobless. Joblessness among people aged 15 to 24 in Ontario is 16.9 per cent, which is higher than that in Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The actual employment rate is significantly worse. It ranges from 50 to 52 per cent in the province, meaning half of all youths don’t have jobs.
The gap between youth and adult employment in Toronto is the largest in the province at 21.8 per cent. The report states that “young workers are subject to the negative consequences of the same macroeconomic forces that are affecting the rest of the population. However, young workers are the labour market’s canary in the coalmine. When there are hiring freezes, they remain out of work. When there are layoffs, it is newer, younger workers who often feel the brunt of the job losses.”
Many believe that education is the key to success. Not quite so, at least not in our times. As the Toronto Star reports, a typical student makes about $26,000 a year, between four part-time jobs. Most of the earnings go towards tuition. And according to the Canadian Federation of Students, average student debt after graduating with a four year degree is $37,000. Yet, having a degree does not always increase your chance of getting a job. The 17.1 per cent unemployment rate among adults with advanced (above bachelors) degrees is higher than young workers who have completed high school (16.0 %).
Youth make up 17 % of the world’s population. According to the International Labour Organization, there are 73 million young unemployed people in the world, an increase of 3.5 million since 2007. At the same time, informal employment among young people remains pervasive and transitions to decent work are slow and difficult. For example, informal employment accounts for half of the jobs of young workers in the Russian Federation.
Against this backdrop, socialists argue:
  • The youth are the backbone of production. But young workers need to unite to become the brain of production as well. More jobs, higher wages, shorter working hours, and better working conditions are achievable only through organized struggle.
  • Education is a right not a privilege. Post-secondary education should be free. Drop fees and cancel student debt, now! To achieve these goals, get involved in the student unions, and challenge students’ union officials to lead the struggle. Follow the example of the Quebec students’ strike in 2012!
  • Bridge the gap between youth and the rest of the working class. Replace the labour leaders who accept divisive conditions, such as the two-tier wage system (lower starting pay) that increases the exploitation of youth.
  • Youth unemployment, like mass unemployment among adults, can be overcome if new jobs are created, such as by launching massive public works to provide housing and to modernize infrastructure. Expropriating the banks and giant corporations, and placing them under workers’ control, is necessary to finance and implement massive public investment projects.
Today’s rotting capitalism resembles a coal mine before a methane gas explosion. Youths should not be the canaries in that mine. They should organize, join workers’ struggles, and smash the cage in which they are trapped. — by Y. Fikret Kayali
Figures: