by Steve da Silva
Prime Minister Stephen Harper may have boycotted the Commonwealth meeting in Sri Lanka last week, but he still managed to reach the summit of hypocrisy.
Harper confirmed in October that it was with “somewhat of a heavy heart” he would be boycotting the meeting due to Sri Lanka’s human rights record, the specifics of which he was vague. Harper cited extra-judicial killings and the ongoing intimidation and incarceration of political opponents and journalists as reasons, but he remained made no direct reference to Tamils, the genocide they experienced in 2009, and the ongoing oppression they face in Sri Lanka.
Of course, media sources (here, and here) in Canada were quick to pick up on the fact that the diplomatic move was a clear gesture to Canada’s Tamil population, the largest Tamil diaspora in the world with nearly 300,000 people. Toronto is now home to the majority of this population, with a very active community in ridings that the Conservatives would like to cultivate a base in.
Toronto-area Tamil activist and BASICS occasional correspondent Pragash Pio, who has long supported Indigenous people’s struggles in Canada and has worked to develop relations of solidarity between the Haudenosaunee nation (of Six Nations) and the Tamil community, told BASICS that “Harper’s criticisms of Sri Lanka’s Human Rights record and subsequent ‘boycott’ of the [Commonwealth meeting] in Sri Lanka is electoral opportunism and political hypocrisy. Tamil’s make up a significant voting bloc in key ridings in Toronto and are known to be a well organized community with higher then average voter turn out and Harper’s is courting them with this personal boycott.”
Sri Lanka shot back last week, with government officials reported to be citing Harper’s move as a way to placate Tamil Tiger activists in Canada. A ridiculous charge, to be sure, considering that Canada has prosecuted people with alleged links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and even dismissed that a genocide ever occurred in 2009 (as this would place Canada under obligations to recognize the country’s refugees). However, cultivating a Conservative base of support amongst Tamils – that’s another thing entirely.
In 2009, the Sri Lankan state has launched a war of annihilation on its minority Tamil population that consisted of a 5-month campaign of indiscriminate shelling and bombing of the north coast, which is home to a majority of the Tamils. The campaign included the deliberate targeting of safe zones, hospitals and schools. The outcome was the death of tens of thousands of Tamil civilians, even if the main objective was the decimation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which many Tamils recognized as their legitimate national organization. Civilians that survived the government onslaught were forced into detention, and some 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) were imprisoned in state-run concentration camps.
For its part, the Canadian government aided Sri Lanka in this war by adding the LTTE to its list of designated terrorist organizations in 2006, and days later raided the offices of the World Tamil Movement, which it also listed as a terrorist organization in 2008. During the course of the genocide, Canada sent aid money to Sri Lanka and demonized Tamils in Canada who were in the streets as “terrorist supporters” for trying to bring attention to the killings in their homeland. Refugees desperately fleeing the genocide were halted, and the claims to be refugees were dismissed as frivolous.
Pio was in Vancouver (Coast Salish territories) this past week speaking alongside Indigenous, Palestinian and other solidarity activists at a series of events called “Criminalizing People’s Liberation Movements: Scrap the So-called Terrorist List.” The events also featured Toghestiy, a hereditary chief of the Wet’suwet’en nation who has been involved in the Unis’tot’en Camp. In an interview with BASICS over the phone, Pio also linked Tamil oppression to Canada’s treatment of Indigenous people: “There is also the hypocrisy of the Canadian state accusing the Sri Lankan state of human rights abuses against the Tamil Nation such as land theft, torture, illegal detention, and systematic sexual violence against women when the Canadian state has similar patterns of abuse against First Nations.”
While some Tamils may have appreciated the little boost that Harper’s boycott may have given to their struggle for the recognition of the 2009 genocide, Pio sees it differently: “There has been no significant change in the Canadian state’s position on Tamil refugees, deportations to Sri Lanka, and illegal detentions. The CBSA is rigorously contesting in hearings the status of many of the Tamil refugees who arrived by the MV Sun Sea and MV Ocean Lady. There are two cases of deported refugees being tortured, and one murdered because of the CBSA’s collusion with the Sri Lankan security in labeling en masse Tamil refugees as terrorists and security threats has already been discovered.
Canada’s boycott of the Commonwealth summit is especially hypocritical in the face of Canada’s dismissal of some of the findings and recommendations of United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples James Ayana, who toured First Nations communities and met with Indigenous nations in early October. Anaya issued strong criticisms of Canada’s “adversarial approach” to land claims, the ongoing issue of missing and murdered native women, and Canada’s rushing ahead with the First Nations Education Act. Canada has also continued to resist calls for an Inquiry into missing and murdered, which was among Anaya’s recommendations.
by Laura Lepper for the Two Row Times
On October 29th, 2013, Darlene Necan, elected spokesperson of the Ojibway Nation of Saugeen no. 258, was issued issued a stop work order by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources for building a house on land where her family grew up, on off-reserve Saugeen territory (unorganized Indian settlement land).
In August 2013, Necan and community members had begun building a plywood house in Savant Lake, Saugeen territory in order for her to have a home for the winter and an office/gathering place to help her lead a struggle for housing and equal rights for off-reserve members of her community.
This building was supported by the Indigenous Commission of the International League of People’s Struggles, many grassroots activists, and several locals of the Canadian Auto Workers and the Canadian Union of Public Employees. Read more…
by Hassan Reyes
It has been an bizarre week in the City of Toronto.
The ‘Big Smoke’ has turned into the ‘Big Joke’, with the Rob Ford ‘crack’ scandal being ridiculed globally, from the Daily Show, Colbert Report, odd Taiwanese animations, and mixed into a surprisingly catchy autotune. It’s easy to see how this entire spectacle can be funny, especially from the outside. Who could resist a chuckle, hearing Ford explain his crack use and general debauchery by saying that he was “in a drunken stupor”? Throw in a couple of retired wrestlers, and you have the makings of a perfect political parody.
It would be great if this entire situation could just be laughed off, but there are some harsh realities that this situation has brought to light. As people continue to react and discuss the implications of Mayor Rob Ford’s crack use admission and the meltdown of Toronto municipal politics, a few commonly expressed opinions among those of us who oppose Ford, that need to be challenged.
1. “People who elected and support Ford are stupid!”
Even before ‘crackgate’, some people who dislike or disagree with Ford have commented on the ‘stupidity’ of those who voted for or support Ford. What’s worse, immigrant-heavy, lower-income areas in Scarborough, North York and Etobicoke have been identified as key areas of Ford support and votes. Aside from the fact that these areas are also where abstention rates are amongst the highest (such as Ward 7 and 8, where 55% of eligible voters stayed home), the conclusion becomes that Ford’s victory is attributable to ignorant, poor, new immigrants.
First of all, let’s review the 2010 municipal elections. In the lead up to 2010, Rob Ford did indeed make a name for himself with ignorant public outbursts and opinions. His comments about cyclists being at fault if they were run over by cars and ‘orientals taking over’, or his harassment of Star columnist John Barber in Council Chambers are only a few examples among a long and shameful list. At the same time Ford also became known as a politician who would personally respond to people’s calls and concerns, regularly making personal visits with City staff to attend to people’s issues. He was also very public in criticizing the ‘excesses’ at City Hall, which not only ironically included attacking harm reduction and rehabilitation programs for drug users, but also included attacking Councillor pay increases, office budgets, and perks. One of Ford’s notable crusades included denouncing the $12,000 retirement party that former Councillor Kyle Rae threw for himself using his office budget. This was at a time when people were being told that they needed to tighten their belts as well as cough up more money in TTC fares, user fees, property taxes and other newly imposed taxes. Thus, Ford presented himself as a people’s champion, exposing political hypocrisy and personally attending to people. Ford continued calling for better management of City finances and promised that no cuts to services would take place (one of his many lies, of course).
Ford’s opposition, on the other hand, did not have a contrasting vision or approach, at least none that was believable or addressed many of the growing concerns of the people. Former Deputy Premier George Smitherman was associated, as the former Minister of Health for Ontario, with the eHealth scandal, which was being portrayed as a $1 Billion waste. Smitherman, and former Liberal Party National Director Rocco Rossi, were open and enthusiastic about cutting public spending and looking at privatizations. In their plans and ideas, Smitherman and Rossi were not that different from Ford but they lacked the credibility among the people that Ford had earned through his approach.
On the ‘left’ Joe Pantalone, Miller’s Deputy Mayor, ran a lacklustre campaign directed mostly at Toronto’s downtown, urbanite residents, and presented himself as a continuation of the Miller administration. By this point, Miller’s administration had been effectively painted by the media as entitled political elites who misspent the public’s money (which incidents like Kyle Rae’s farewell party seemed to confirm).
Given such options, does a vote for Ford seem all that irrational, let alone stupid?
Ford’s ‘respect the taxpayer’ mantra was and is popular, precisely because it speaks to people’s feelings of being ignored, ripped off, and abused by political elites in government. People have suffered the cutbacks and deterioration of social programs and services, while scandal after political scandal unfolds throughout the country. In Ontario, the Liberal government emerged from the eHealth and Ornge scandal only to waste another $1Billion on canceled power plants, allegedly to not risk losing key political ridings during the election. At the Federal level, the supposedly frugal Harper Conservatives wasted $1 Billion on the G20, and their Senators got caught red-handed claiming hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses from tax payers. Everyday people feel more squeezed by the economic recession, falling further into debt while seeing their taxes being misspent by politicians fixing deals for themselves, as the Senate spending scandal only confirmed.
Unfortunately, there has not been a mainstream political voice calling out this treachery while directing people’s frustration at the political structures, including the politicians and parties, that are driving the neoliberal agenda to enable the rich to become richer at the expense of public resources. Rob Ford’s populist message and approach then tapped the legitimate and growing grievances of the people who saw him, incorrectly, as a working class hero and political outsider.
Ultimately, the argument that Ford voters and supporters were stupid is not only extremely patronizing and elitist, but it also misreads many peoples views on municipal politics and politics in general. It also doesn’t acknowledge the failures of those who consider ourselves ‘progressive’, since we have been unable to engage meaningfully with huge sections of the working class in this City. It’s this vacuum – the lack of a progressive, let alone of a revolutionary political alternative, that Ford has been able to fill.
2. “Ford needs to step away, get cleaned up and then come back to serve his term”
Many people have expressed some level of sympathy for Ford on a human level. This is understandable given how common drug and alcohol abuse is in this country. Health Canada estimates that 4 to 5 million people in Canada engage in high risk drinking while a 2009 survey estimated that 1.2% of the adult population – or roughly 310 000 people – had consumed cocaine or crack. Unfortunately, many people have had to deal with substance abuse or know someone who has. The impulse then to feel sympathy for Ford and his family (including his wife and two children) is understandable. Rob Ford, the person, does need help and support.
However, Rob Ford the Mayor and politician, needs to be mercilessly attacked. His political brand, which includes that of his brother and advisor, Councillor Doug Ford, need to be exposed for what it is – a hypocritical attempt to use the ‘economic recession’ to further attack and exploit working people and communities. The Fords have been unrelenting in their attempts to cut social programs while also trying to present all financial and efficiency problems in the City as the ‘abuses’ of public sector workers and unions. At the same time the Fords have been defenders of other abuses, such as the Toronto Police arresting and attacking 1118 protestors at the G20, with Rob Ford stating that he had “very little sympathy for the people who were down there and I support our police.”
Rob Ford, Doug Ford, and their deceased father Douglas Ford, a former MPP in the Mike Harris government, have consistently demonstrated this throughout their political careers. The Harris Government of Douglas Ford showed little mercy to those on social assistance when they implemented a 22% cut, one of the many brutal cuts implemented during their so-called common sense revolution. The Ford political agenda have been unsympathetic to working communities impacted by the program cuts they championed, or to the public sector workers that they have continually and relentless labelled as lazy, entitled, and overpaid.
In return, no mercy should be shown to the political careers of these individuals at a time when their credibility and integrity are finally being questioned by the public. Quite the contrary, this is the perfect time to engage people, particularly those who express support for Ford’s agenda, to highlight the fact that what Ford’s agenda has actually meant so far is $23 million in increased user fees including TTC fare hikes and $73 million in program cuts.
Going after the Ford’s isn’t about revenge (as sweet as that is, admittedly), but rather a sober calculation to ensure that the Ford political monster is decapitated once and for all while exposing the political project that they are a part of. There are several politicians including Karen Stintz and John Tory who are attacking Ford the politician, while promising to continue his right-wing policies. For his part, Doug Ford has been preparing himself to run for office provincially for the Conservative Party. The popularity of the Ford political brand, if not dealt with appropriately, could recover and lead more attacks on working people at other levels of government.
Any talk of having him go away and return fails to recognize that both Ford’s ideals and his career are in danger. In addition to their crass display of arrogance, deceit, and hypocrisy, there is also a growing amount of evidence revealing them to have sinister connections. By this, I am not referring to those youth he has pictured with, but rather, the elements that are behind the guns and drugs in Toronto neighbourhoods.
This leads to the last opinion which needs to be challenged.
3. “We need to move on from discussing the crack issue and focus on Next Elections/’City Building’/Municipal Reform/Etc.”
Far from moving on to other subjects, there is a desperate need to look closer at what this scandal has actually revealed. Indeed, the focus of this story needs to shift from the comedic to the tragic.
There are still few answer regarding the murder of Anthony Smith and shooting of Mohammad Khattak as well as Hanad Hussein’s sixth-storey ‘fall’ from a building in Edmonton. Smith and Khattak where in the infamous photo of Ford in front of the crack house, while Hussein lived in the same apartment as the man arrested for Smith’s murder. All three have a connection to the Ford video and Project Traveller, and a mounting number of press articles are starting to mention these acts of violence in relation to the Ford case. This includes the communications between Ford and some of his shady associates on the day after Smith’s murder.
While we cannot speculate yet as to what involvement Ford might have had in all this violence, there are too many connections to Ford for this to be ignored. Recently, allegations have emerged about the involvement of crime syndicates in retrieving the video, including threats to the lives of those attempting to broker its sale, as well as the shocking conclusion of an Ontario judge that the former spouse of Ford’s sister was viciously beaten in jail for threatening the Ford family.
Without a doubt, there is a growing urgency to know the truth about all of this. The public needs to know about the connection between Ford and these events, and what connection organized crime has with those in power. It is far more important to understand Ford’s role in a murder and two attempted murders than it is to know about his potential addictions or whereabouts during a Council meeting. This should be the prime concern now, and the story should not be dropped, forgotten, or misdirected until this becomes clear.
A scandal involving one guy’s use of crack cocaine is developing into a scandal about the stark and frightening reality about the sources of violence in this city, their methods, and their relationship to power. More frightening is the prospect that this could only be the tip of the iceberg.
Frustrated delegates at CUPE National Convention launch ‘Rebuilding Militant Labour’ movement from the floor
by Steve da Silva, CUPE 3903 member
In ancient Rome, politicians were known to secure the votes of Roman citizens by doling out wheat (drawn from conquered territories, it should be noted) and providing cheap entertainment. This, the Roman poet Juvenal satirically referred to as “bread and circuses”. But what happens when bread supplies run out?
Last week, Canada’s largest union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), held its largest-ever convention in Quebec City to mark its 50th anniversary. As the austerity policies of capitalism continue their attacks on public sector workers and the working class in general, it sometimes felt like we delegates were being made to suffer a sideshow of countless speeches, video greetings, and a video montage of CUPE through the decades, as a diversion from the fact that CUPE’s leadership actually has no strategy for defending its members in these times. That is, of course, unless you consider the state of our union as an electoral and lobbying machine that is staking it all on an NDP victory in the 2015 elections a viable and comprehensive strategy.
“A Guided Democracy”
For five days, over 2500 delegates representing some 627,000 workers in hundreds of locals across the country – which cost locals millions of dollars in transportation, registration, and accommodation fees – spent well over half their time in their seats as spectators, listening to speeches and watching videos that quite frankly did more to entrench an incumbent leadership than it did provide time for debate around the future of our union.
In fact, the elected leadership would have been completely acclaimed were it not for the courageous young worker from CUPE 4600 Lydia Dobson, who disrupted what convention floor delegates were mocking as “a coronation”. Dobson challenged CUPE National President Paul Moist from the floor, even after an older CUPE staffer told the Young Workers Caucus that it would be “political suicide” to run against Moist. Dobson did so alone, and without the support of the Young Workers Caucus. Because she ran from the floor, Dobson was denied a right to make a campaign speech. Notwithstanding being a completely unknown candidate for the Presidency of Canada’s largest union, Dobson took 21% of the votes cast.
Dobson told BASICS, “I stand by my actions. I believe in direct action and think that it is imperative that our young workers NOT become intimidated and subjected to power structures and politics that do not represent our best interests. The commotion that this caused today is a blatant demonstration of our the complacency of our members to directed voting, imbalanced power structures and a guided democracy. It should not be shocking that there was a vote at an election.”
Sham democracy aside, many of the threats facing workers were enumerated throughout the convention, but with particular attention given to Bill C-377 and the looming threat of “right to work” legislation. While these two coming attacks on unions will deal a huge blow to the working-class, it is noteworthy that the effect of these two pieces of legislation would be felt first and hardest at the top of the union movement. Bill C-377, a Private Member’s Bill introduced by Conservative MP and backbencher Blaine Calkins from Alberta, would impose financial reporting requirements that are far above what exists for any other entity in Canada, and is widely recognized as discriminatory towards and clearly aimed at destroying unions. Bill C-377 would strangle unions in the redtape of their reporting requirements, starving them of their resources; not to mention making it very difficult to certify new unions. It becomes clear how threatening this legislation would be to union bureaucrats who would see their resources wasted on paperwork, an attack that would eventually trickle down to rank-and-file unionists and workers in the form of weak, cash-strapped, defenceless organizations, and eventually defunct organizations.
Fights to be fought
If C-377 is the jab, “right to work” legislation would be the blow from the other side. The so-called right to work legislation, which PC opposition leader in Ontario Tim Hudak is promising, would starve unions of their dues from the other end by whittling down their membership, giving union members to opt-out of paying dues, even though they would be covered by a Collective Agreement.
However, with or without these deathblows to unions (at least as they exist in their current form), the attacks on workers are taking place everyday and are not limited to these threats on the horizon. Impossible to enumerate briefly, these consist of “austerity” cuts that lead to lost jobs, privatizations that break unions and cost taxpayers more in the long run by subsidizing corporate profits, two-tiered bargaining that sell-out young and future workers, the deterioration of workplace safety and conditions of work, and the shift from “defined pensions benefits” that guarantee hard numbers for people’s retirements to “defined contributions” plans that tell you what you must put in pension funds, but not what you’ll get out of them.
Then there are the conditions that affect workers outside the workplace and beyond their working years: record-levels of household, consumer, and student debt; cuts to social and community services; the environmental destruction of capitalism; the $34 billion loss of federal healthcare transfers to provinces if the Health Accord is not renewed in 2014; the genocidal-colonial violence faced by Indigenous peoples in their communities on reserves or in cities. CUPE members are experiencing all these attacks, and more.
Lobbying, Electoralism, and the Complete Absence of Working-Class Strategy
From the convention floor, the anxiety of delegates could be read from the numerous resolutions debated and passed speaking to and taking stances against the deteriorating conditions of workers. But there was no real space to discuss the strategic requirements to actually arm workers for the fight to successfully fight on many fronts. Opening up such a discussion would have subjected to scrutiny the complete failure of electoralism and social democracy to serve the interests of even the “middle-class” workers in the labour movement, leaving aside the broader working poor and hyper-exploited workers.
What is CUPE’s actual plan to fight on all these fronts? Lobbying and elections, basically. One the one hand, there is the public relations campaign called “Together Fairness Works,” which the Canadian Labour Congress has rolled out in the form of a national television advertising campaign from October 7 through November 17. The Fairness project is also directing the energy and resources of staffers and union activists to engage the rank-and-file members around the benefits of being in a union and the contributions of union to society (they mean, capitalist society!). “We need to reintroduce ourselves to our members by having one-on-one conversations about the value of the labour movement and their union,” guest speaker CLC President Ken Georgetti told the Convention. A perusal of the “Fairness” literature seems to reveal, however, that the architects of this campaign didn’t get the memo that corporations and banks are actually posting record profits through austerity and neoliberal policies. As long as “the economy” remains synonymous with capitalism, we lose to the political Right on the ideological terrain because a capitalist economy grows to the extent that it exploits labour.
On the other hand, there is the NDP and the 2015 elections. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair graced the membership with his presence and a speech - essentially promising nothing more than the status quo, holding back or reversing a select few of Harper’s attacks – but could not find the time to take a single question from Canada’s largest union.
The pillar of the convention was the “Strategic Directions 2013-2015: Proud of our Past, Ready for the Future” document, where one would expect to find an elaborated strategy. While identifying many aspects of the crisis faced by the working-class and CUPE’s membership, the document falls short on questions of how we will actually defend ourselves against the panoply of attacks coming from all directions. Insofar as there is any strategy in the document, it was limited to electoralism and tied to the success of the NDP. To the shock of many delegates, a first draft of the document actually read that “We know that the ultimate power over bargaining and strikes lies in the hands of the government of the day” – a statement that was slightly modified only by a revolt from the floor during discussion around the document. Despite opposition to that statement, the amended document retained a phrase from the first draft that basically amounted to the same capitulationist position: “As long as we do not have worker-friendly governments, anything we negotiate at the bargaining table can be taken away from us through legislation.”
“Why is labour the only partner still playing by the rules?”
So, when yesterday’s labour laws are legislated out of the law, what is to be done? Well, nothing but wait for the next elections, and vote. Maybe a bit of lobbying in between. In essence, the CUPE leadership’s stance seems to be passively accepting giving up the historic birthright of the working-class – its right to withdraw its labour as its ultimate source of leverage over capital – and just wait for the next elections. Such are the honest truths presented by a union leadership that is frankly unwilling to stick their necks out and lead us in the struggles that are necessary to defend our livelihoods, let alone fight the greater fights of radically transforming Canadian society to end colonialism, imperialist wars abroad, massive wealth inequalities, and Canada’s leading role in ecological destruction and climate change.
And why would they? Unjust labour legislation, like back-to-work legislation, is making illegal any strike that would actually make a difference and tip the balance of power back into the hands of labour. To break these laws would hurt labour leaders the most: their assets would be seized, they would be jailed, they would face fines that would within weeks of illegal action run into the hundreds of thousands or millions. Do we have the faith in leaders that get paid six figure salaries to lead these fights? According to our Convention’s financial statement, Paul Moist took home a $159,015 salary in 2012 alone, which doesn’t include benefits, and his office used over $370,000 in travel costs. Is it any wonder that the Russian revolutionary Lenin once referred to the likes of Moist as a labour aristocrat?
Frustrations Spark ‘Rebuilding Militant Labour’
It was the growing frustration of delegates with the lack of debate around a viable strategy that sparked midway through the convention a caucus of more radical CUPE members that began calling ourselves “Rebuild Militant Labour” - a caucus formed initially just to coordinate interventions at the mic.
By Day 3, however, with the problems with our union coming into sharper focus, and a growing number of people joining the conversation, Rebuilding Militant Labour (RML) put out an interim basis of unity, holding an impromptu meeting outside convention hours at the end of Day 4 that attracted almost one hundred people, representing much of the country, most of CUPE’s sectors, and the whole demographic spectrum of the union.
Kelly O’Sullivan, President of CUPE 4308, held up an image of a triangle encompassing labour, government, and capital, illustrating the postwar “social compromise” from the 1940s onwards. O’Sullivan asked the leadership why “labour is the only partner still playing by the rules” when capital and government have long ago abandoned the welfarist social contract.
“‘If not now, when?’ may sound cliché,” CUPE 4308 President Kelly O’Sullivan told BASICS, who represents personal support workers in Toronto. “We got the sense that the ‘now’ really is now. ‘RML happened at this national convention because now is the time. You could hear the frustration from the delegates on the convention floor and in casual conversation that we have had enough playing by the rules and that more militant action is needed. RML was a response to our own anger over lack of strategy in our union to not only protect ourselves from the attack on workers and community but also a narrow and limited focus on election of an NDP government in 2015 as the only coordinated response.”
Established on a strictly anti-capitalist basis of unity, according to its founding points of unity RML has taken on the mandate of developing a militant strategy beyond electoralism, entrenching amongst rank-and-file membership and “grassroots power”, and “a program of education for workers in our unions to understand how capitalism is the problem.”
At its founding meeting, RML organized an Interim Coordinating Committee under the mandate of coordinating the implementation of the points of unity in our locals and communities; developing an anti-capitalist educational program; coordinating our organization going into conventions in two years time, and preparing for a separate national convention of Rebuilding Militant Labour in late 2014.
The labour movement in its current form – strictly committed to the institutional arrangement of postwar social order – can no longer defend the working-class; and frankly, they never really represented the whole working-class to begin with. The bread line is closed. A growing proportion of workers can see through the empty promises of social democratic labour leaders and politicians. The circus no longer amuses. Nowhere in the world is social democracy stemming the tide of capitalism’s attacks.
It is time we return to the days when militant labour actually fought for another world, a world that would be free of class division and exploitation. The first stage on that road has always been called ‘socialism’, however you define it and whatever means you think we need to actually get there. If RML lives up to its name and mandate, we may just have one of the central means by which to resume that struggle where Canadian labour left it in the 1940s.
by Steve da Silva
After decades of under-funding to First Nations schools – with high dropout rates and an epidemic of youth suicide that can’t be disassociated with the situation in schools – last Tuesday, October 22, the Federal government tabled their First Nations Education Act that will give it more direct control over about 515 reserve schools under its control.
Under the draft legislation, band councils would be allowed to operate schools directly – as many already do – or purchase services from regional or provincial school boards or the private sector. First Nations could also form education authorities that would oversee one or more schools in a region.
However, under the new legislation it would be the federal government that would set and enforce standards for schools on reserves (with the exception of Onkwehon:we nations that have established self-government agreements that cover education). The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development will retain the power to take over a school or if an inspector finds problems.
What the draft legislation is not clear about are the funding levels that fall far below funding provided to provincial schools. Funding short-falls have been a principal factor in keeping the standards in First Nations schools far below provincially-funded schools.
A piece of Canada’s Economic Action Plan, the Federal Conservative government claims their aim to be “improving graduation rates for First Nations students,” but First Nations (Indian Act) leaders are already decrying it as a renewal of the colonial legacy, by giving the Feds more control with no guarantee of the desperately needed funding increases.
In an October 25 press release, Chief Patrick Madahbee of the Union of Ontario Indians said that “The proposed First Nations Education Act (FNEA) is about control and false accountability,” says Madahbee. ”It is a colonial document and makes no attempt to close the gap on inequality in education.”
“Firstly, it gives our citizens, parents and students no say in their own education… This is the same mentality as the government-run residential school disaster that had a history littered with genocide and acts of inhumanity.
“Secondly, it ignores curriculum needs that experts agree are essential to the academic success of First Nations learners – curriculum that talks about our culture and beliefs, and an accurate account of our historical contributions.
“And thirdly, this government starts their so-called educational reform with a threat to First Nations that if they don’t meet Canadian standards they will be put under third-party management, despite the fact that First Nation schools are largely underfunded and are unlikely to meet standards set by other, better funded schools, for example, the school in Biinjitiwaabik Zaaging Anishinaabek (Rocky Bay First Nation) receives $4781 less per student than nearby provincially-funded Upsala School in the Keewatin Patricia District School Board.”
Final legislation is anticipated before the year’s end after “consultation” with First Nations (Indian Act) authorities.
by M. Cooke
“People walk over us, they do what they want” said Boniface as he stood on the front steps of the office tower that houses the Quebec Ministry of Labour.
Boniface and several other immigrant workers had braved the cold autumn rain to demand that the Quebec government create a bill to improve the work conditions for precarious workers.
“We are holding this action on the International Day of Decent Work to reiterate our demands for a more inclusive and just regulation of the labour market, as well as an immigration and social service system that fairly reflects the needs and rights of precarious and migrant workers” said Noé Artega, who works at the Immigrant Workers Centre (IWC).
Jasmin de la Calzada, an organizer with Pinay, a Filipino Women’s Organization of Quebec,spoke next. “Pinay, and its membership of live-in caregivers, has been struggling for over 20 years to keep the women workers free from abuse and exploitation from their employers, scrupleless recruitment agencies, and the unjust trappings embedded in the live-in caregiver program itself.”
A recent report by the Quebec ministry of Labour indicated that over 450,000 workers in Quebec have precarious jobs. These are jobs that: pay low wages, have no or few benefits, have few regulatory protections, and have no security.
The report also found that nearly 1.3 million workers in Quebec experience job and employment insecurity.
These are workers who have been unemployed in the last two years and regularly have to find new work.
“Precarious jobs are becoming central to the economy” says Mostafa Henaway, who works at the IWC.
“Agency work used to just be to find white collar workers. Now you see big agencies being used as a normal way of employing blue collar workers.”
Henaway says that he meets a lot of people working for placement agencies. The smaller placement agencies are often fly-by-night operations. They make money by hiring out workers to other companies and then they close down shortly afterwards. The owners of the agencies make their money and often close without having paid their workers.
While these fly-by-night operations are the most egregious, the larger placement agencies also trample on workers’ rights.
Henaway says that placement agencies “help create a permanently precarious workforce.”
“People are living on the edge. People are working six days a week, but they don’t know when they will have work again.”
The IWC and community organizations are demanding: a living wage, universal access to health services regardless of migrant status, access to accident insurance for domestic workers, and regulation of placement and recruitment agencies.
The groups met with the Ministry of Labour in May, but Henaway says the consultation “resulted in nothing.”
He says that the Parti Quebecois “actually doesn’t want to do anything because just like the Liberal party, they want to appease the interests of business. Which means not actually giving protections to precarious workers.”
“Now we realize that we need to put pressure in a public way.”
by Steve da Silva
Many of us have the impression that immigration policy in Canada is driven by so-called “Canadian values” like humanitarianism. This may have been part your or your parents Citizenship test, or maybe you learned this in school.
However, since the 1870s, Canadian immigration policy has primarily been about attracting workers to feed its expanding capitalist economy. In the century leading up to that, immigration policy was primarily focused on colonizing Indigenous lands with British settlers.
By 1942, just as most of Canada’s 23,000 Japanese were about to be branded as “enemy aliens,” dispossessed of their property, and removed to concentration camps, the government began thinking seriously about the crisis of legitimacy they would face after the war, especially in the eyes of non-Anglophone peoples. They did not want a repeat of WWI, which sparked the takeover of Winnipeg by workers in the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919.
In the same year, the Department of National War Services established an Advisory Committee on Cooperation in Citizenship that was charged with studying the views of immigrants for the purpose better cultivating their allegiance and loyalty.
Throughout the 1920s and ‘30s, a large section of the immigrant population and a growing section of the lower middle class were orienting towards the Communist Party and their vision for an egalitarian society; and communists played a leading role in building unions for industrial workers. So cultivating the allegiance of certain sections of labour in postwar Canada would be just as important as cultivating the allegiance of immigrants in general.
In February of 1944, the federal government passed an executive order recognizing trade unions; by March 1945, 133 new unions had been certified; and a fierce 99-day strike at Ford over the summer of 1945 led to the compulsory check-off of union dues from members’ pay cheques (the ‘Rand’ Formula, which is being threatened today). But these moves were not a concession to the communists: rather, bringing labour relations within the law went hand-in-hand with the subsequent policy of isolating and fiercely attacking communism during the Cold War period that followed.
In 1947, the Canadian Citizenship Act was passed, and in 1950, Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent made clear that the goal of the Act was “to make Canadian citizens of those who come here as immigrants and to make Canadian citizens of as many as possible of the descendants of the original inhabitants of this country.” In other words, the objective was assimilation, for immigrants as well as for Indigenous peoples.
Once the flow of cheap European labour began drying up in the 1960s – the last waves of which were the Greeks and Portuguese – the Canadian state began looking towards other pools of immigrants, and to varying degrees grudgingly ‘tolerating’ non-white peoples migrating and gaining citizenship.
Canadian immigration policy responded to these labour needs by introducing the “points system” by 1967, which formally lifted the racial criteria (which identified “preferred races”) for immigration and set out ‘objective criteria’ for the recruitment of prospective immigrants, such as education background, language skills, occupation or professional experiences, as well as family ties to Canada. These policy shifts in immigration became institutionalized with the Immigration Act of 1976.
Meanwhile, the Department of Citizenship and Immigration (DCI) oversaw Indian Affairs from 1949 to 1966, at a time of the height of the Indian Residential Schools. A 1961 report from DCI explicitly stated that the government intended using off-reserve educational opportunities – such as the Residential Schools – as a means of depopulating reserves and effecting the assimilation of Indigenous peoples.
By the mid-1960s, however, the Federal government became frustrated with the pace of assimilation of natives, and the Trudeau government decided to proceed with its infamous ‘White Paper’ of 1969, which called for a complete dismantling of the Indian Act and the direct assimilation of natives as ‘Canadians’ – which would have made them into the most dispossessed and poorest strata of the working class, and completely eliminated their self-determination.
The policy of native assimilation, the demand for cheap labour, and the need to tame Quebec nationalism, therefore, were driving forces behind the policy that we have come to know in the benign terms of multiculturalism.
But in his own day, Trudeau was clear that his policy of multiculturalism sought to “promote creative encounters and interchange among all Canadian cultural groups in the interest of national unity”. What national unity? Whose nation?
Many would point to Canada’s refugee policies (at least until very recently) as an example of Canada’s humanitarianism. However, as Pablo Vivanco analyzed in BASICS recently, it wasn’t until solidarity activists forced the Canadian government to accept Chilean refugees fleeing the Western-backed dictatorship that Canada’s refugee policy was partially opened up to refugees who weren’t anti-communist. Until the Chilean refugee crisis, Canada’s Cold War refugee system only granted asylum to people leaving ‘socialist’ countries, like Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Vietnam. Recruiting anti-communist refugees had a lot to do with national unity as well: the unity of Canada as a capitalist country.
With the banning of religious symbols in the public service in Quebec’s new Charter clearly directed at Muslims, many are wondering what happened to ‘tolerance’ in this country. But the emergence of the policy of ‘multiculturalism’ in Canada was never the product of some progressive enlightenment of Canada’s political system, its nationals, or its elites. It was developed in the postwar era as a strategy for the assimilation of immigrants, Indigenous peoples, and containing Quebecois nationalism. It was a policy for assimilating and managing an increasingly diverse population in the interests of capitalism and colonialism.
Many of us want to live in a diverse society where all peoples from all nations are genuinely respected and can fully participate in society for the benefit of all. But that was never Canada. Not yesterday, not today. That’s a society we have yet to build.
 See p.444 of Bohaker, H. & Iacovetta, F. (2009). Making Aboriginal people ‘Immigrants Too’: A comparison of citizenship programs for newcomers and Indigenous peoples in postwar Canada, 1940s-1960s. Canadian Historical Review 90(3), 427-461.
by Steve da Silva – Co-produced with Two Row Times
After months of arrests and mounting resistance against shale gas exploration in New Brunswick on Mi’kmaq territory, the anti-fracking movement upped the ante this past week with a fresh blockade and a proclamation of a massive land reclamation, which has forced conservative New Brunswick Premier David Alward to a negotiation table with representatives of the anti-fracking movement.
A day after the September 30 blockade was established on Route 134 that blocked the entrance to an equipment storage site of SWN Resources Canada, Chief Aaron Sock, speaking for Chief and Council of the Elsipogtog First Nation, announced a sweeping Mi’kmaq land reclamation effective immediately.
“Harper and the Conservative government have lifted restrictions to environmental protections of our lands and water” and “the provincial government is turning over all lands… to a corporation for their own benefit… we have lost confidence in governments for the safekeeping of our lands.”
Sock added that “our notice of eviction has been completely ignored by the Provincial government and Southwest Energy, and… we have been compelled to act to save our water, land and animals from ruin.”
“Let it be known to all the we as the chief and council of Elsipogtog are reclaiming all unoccupied reserve lands… We have been instructed by our people that they are ready, willing, and able to go out and stake their own claims on all unoccupied lands for their own use and benefit.”
The October 1 announcement, which came on their Treaty Day, was read at the blockade site to an exuberant crowd of hundreds who gathered from across Kent County and beyond.
The New Brunswick government has been allowing SWN Resources to explore some 2.5 million acres of lands for the purpose of shale gas extraction through hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”. Fracking involves drilling deep wells that fracture shale rock beds and requires the pumping of millions of gallons of pressurized fresh water and toxic chemicals, including known carcinogens and neurotoxins, into a well to force the gas out. However, the provincial government’s case for hydraulic fracturing took a huge blow this past September when Louis LaPierre, the researcher at the New Brunswick Energy Institute who wrote the report encouraging the government to proceed with gas exploitation, was discovered to have lied for decades about having a PhD in Ecology.
On Wednesday, October 2, a new Brunswick court issued an injunction against the blockade at the request of SWN, which is enforceable until October 12, 2013. But the papers have yet to be served by the RCMP, and Miles Howe of the Halifax Media Co-op has reported that the RCMP would not enforce an injunction until dialogue with the Premiere had ceased.
On Sunday, October 5 Premier Alward and three members of his cabinet met with and the Elsipogtog chief and 15 representatives of the protesters for three hours in a Moncton hotel, with negotiations continuing in Fredericton as of Monday. The delegation reportedly excluded the Mi’kmaq Warriors Society, who Alward would not meet with, and who have reportedly been the main and most visible force at the blockade. The Warriors are independent of the Chief and Council.
Two Row Times asked Elsipogtog counsellor Robert Levi whether the negotiations that had opened up related to the blockade or the larger land reclamation, and Levi told us that “I think the [reclamation] is a larger issue that will take on a life of its own. But since we have an injunction hanging over our heads, this is what needs to be resolved right now, since we want a peaceful resolution to the blockade and for no one to get hurt.”
On October 7, the Mi’kmaq Warriors Society took their own initiative and hand-delivered a letter (via a Houston-based environmentalist group) to SWN Resources reading, “all projects, leases, and permits issued to SWN Resources by the Government [of New Brunswick] come to a halt until all Mi’kmaq-L’nu, and Wabanaki communities, as sovereign individuals are Meaningfully Consulted, and that we are able to come to an informed decision as individuals.”
All the while, the Acadian presence in the anti-fracking movement and at the most recent blockade has also been quite strong, which many see as a welcome development between the two communities. Fourteen years ago, the crisis of Burnt Church unfolded 100 km to the north, where non-native fishers destroyed thousands of Mi’kmaq lobster traps to protest native fishing rights, which was followed by violent confrontations. However, Acadians and Mi’kmaq have also had strong of unity against a common oppressor in the region’s history. After the mass expulsion of the French-speaking Acadian people by the British in 1755, the remaining Acadians and the Mi’kmaq made a treaty that saw the two peoples unite in a guerilla war against the British that led to the 1757 defeat of a British detachment in 1757 in the Battle of Bloody Creek.