Northern Lights

No coalition with Liberals! Fight for socialist policies! Vote NDP on May 2!
by Barry Weisleder
The defeat in the House of Commons of the most hated federal government in a long time triggered the fourth election campaign in seven years. Voters across the Canadian state go to the polls on May 2 to choose their pill for continuing economic maladies. With unemployment at nearly 9 per cent officially (double that figure if one includes discouraged workers and the chronically underemployed), with the average person in debt to the tune of $100,000, with homeless shelters and food banks strained to the breaking point, voters have much to ponder.
The Stephen Harper-led minority government Conservatives, mired in election financing and deceit scandals, booted from office for being found in contempt of Parliament for refusing to disclose the cost of their corporate tax cuts, and their plans for new prisons and stealth combat jets, are asking for a majority.
Harper began his campaign in full attack mode, hyping the threat of “a coalition of free-spending opposition parties.” He portrayed his agenda of social cutbacks, war spending, and gifts to the rich and powerful as “staying the course”—this in the midst of a dismal economic “recovery.”
The Liberals under Michael Ignatieff donned populist vestments. While skewering Harper’s undemocratic suspension of Parliament (twice), Ignatieff championed support for more child-care spaces, and for more aid to students burdened with rising tuitions. He claims to be for stronger public pensions and health care. His hope is that the electorate will forget, or at least forgive, the Liberal sponsorship scandal, the severe social cuts of Prime Ministers Jean Chretien and Paul Martin in the 1990s, and Liberal decisions to send the Canadian military and police to Afghanistan and Haiti.
Gilles Duceppe’s Bloc Quebecois advanced its demands for more federal transfer payments to Quebec, downplayed the Bloc’s commitment to bourgeois sovereignty, and put a “progressive” veneer on a pro-system perspective.
The Green Party’s Elizabeth May concentrated on trying to win a first seat for the party. Her policies would force working people to pay for the mess created by capitalism, with a regressive carbon tax, and measures that favour “greening” of the private sector. Notwithstanding her platform, exclusion of May from the TV leaders’ debate, which is posed again, would be outrageous.
Jack Layton and the labour-based New Democratic Party had a golden opportunity to offer a refreshing and radical alternative. But Layton started off with the totally uninspiring slogan “take the strain off your family budget, make everyday essentials less expensive.”
It is commendable that Layton wants to help seniors, extend the ecoEnergy Retrofit programme for homeowners, remove the federal sales tax on home heating bills, and put an 8 per cent cap on the interest that can be charged by credit card firms. But this is comparatively small stuff. The timidity of these proposals reveals something else—that the labour party brass is unwilling to reverse the huge tax concessions to big business of the past 20 years; that it lacks the courage to challenge the agenda of capitalist austerity. The NDP campaign even shies away from a call for dismantling the country’s war budget and ending Ottawa’s participation in US/NATO aggression. Sadly, this is reflected in Layton’s decision to back the Western intervention into Libya (see article below).
Given the failed state of globalized capitalism, the need for an alternative is evident. Instead of “strained family budgets,” the NDP should decry the one-sided class war being waged from the top down. It should stress the need to fight back with bold socialist measures, instead of paltry reforms. Workers who vote NDP in their millions have the power to shake up their party, toss away its Liberal-look-alike policies, and make the NDP fight for society’s vast majority, the working class and the poor. Direct involvement in the NDP campaign now is critically important to that end.
Participation in a coalition government would be a dead end for labour and the left, notwithstanding the fact that coalition is perfectly legal in Canada and common around the world. Harper’s attempt to demonize the notion of coalition is a crude attempt at self-preservation by exploiting political ignorance and anti-Quebec chauvinism (although the BQ has never actually been proposed as a coalition partner by any party). The fuss he’s made over a possible Liberal-NDP coalition is doubly hypocritical because Harper proposed an alliance of Conservatives, New Democrats and the Bloc as an alternative to the faltering Paul Martin Liberal minority government in 2004.
Socialists oppose coalition for a radically different reason. Coalition with the Liberals or with any capitalist party would seriously undermine the tenuous organizational independence of the NDP as a party of the labour movement and working people. As a partner in a Liberal government, the NDP would have to carry the can for austerity and corporate bailouts at home, and for imperial wars of occupation abroad.
The central issue today is not the morality or behaviour of the Tories (repugnant as they are). It is the continuing capitalist crisis and the assault on working people. The answer should be to make capital pay for the crisis it created. If the goal is a just and sustainable society, it only makes sense to institute a steep tax on wealth, to reverse the corporate bailouts, and to democratize the economy.
Instead of trying in vain to tame an irrational system, it is time to break the logic of the capitalist business cycle, to get off the treadmill of capitalist waste and oppression. It is time to put an end to profit from war and environmental destruction. It is time to dump the whole G20 agenda overboard.
To that end, Socialist Action advocates a number of concrete measures, policies in the interest of working people and the vast majority of NDP voters, which the NDP should be pushed to advance: Put people, and the preservation of nature, before profits. Nationalize the banks, mining companies, Big Oil and Big Auto. Create jobs through public investment, public ownership, democratic planning and workers’ control. Convert industry, transportation, and homes to green energy efficiency.
Rapidly phase-out nuclear power and tar sands development. Repair our disintegrating roads, bridges, railways and port facilities. Make Employment Insurance more generous and accessible. Raise the minimum wage to $17/hour. Shorten the workweek to 30 hours without loss of pay or benefits. Double the benefits in the Canada Pension Plan and Guaranteed Income Supplement. Abolish student debt. Make all education free. Fund health care and the arts. No corporate bailout.
Open the company books. Steeply tax corporations, speculators, and the rich. Abolish the HST.
Uphold aboriginal land claims and local self-governance. Abolish the Senate and institute direct Proportional Representation in Parliament. Stop the deportations, full rights for migrant workers. Impose boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israeli apartheid. End the occupation of Afghanistan and Haiti. Hands off Libya. Reduce the Canadian military to a disaster-relief and rescue force. Get Canada out of NATO now!
It is a delusion to think that economic expansion will fix everything, that there is a market solution to the recurring crises of capitalism. The capitalist market created the problem. Only a social revolution can solve it. Only by taking control of the major means of production, only by instituting broadly participatory, democratic planning, only by effecting a rapid green conversion to meet human needs, fully in tune with nature, does humanity have a hope of survival.
That means challenging the pro-capitalist direction of the labour and NDP leadership. It means fighting for an NDP government committed to socialist policies. It means opposing an NDP coalition with the Liberal Party or with any capitalist party. It means fighting for a Workers’ Agenda and a Workers’ Government, and organizing to win that programme inside the unions and the NDP. It means fighting for freedom for oppressed nations, for eco-socialism, feminism and LGBT liberation.
None of that is possible without a leadership committed to doing it. Indispensable is the building of a revolutionary party to campaign for fundamental change, everywhere and everyday. Central to that is the forging of a new leadership of the working class and oppressed nations that can win. It cannot be done without you.
So, please don’t wait for the next economic crash, or for the next environmental catastrophe. Isn’t the situation dire enough? Rebellion is in the air, from Egypt to Wisconsin, from Venezuela to Palestine. Join Socialist Action. Together we can make the world a place fit for humanity.
The tragedy of NDP support for NATO bombing of Libya
by Barry Weisleder
The NDP Socialist Caucus federal conference held on March 17 at U of Toronto declared its opposition to the imperialist intervention into Libya (the bombing and rocket attacks to impose a “no-fly zone” and impose “regime change”). The SC will campaign across the country for the anti-intervention position reflected in the resolution below, leading up to and at the NDP federal convention, June 17-19 in Vancouver:
“NATO Hands off Libya! Whereas the mass uprising of the people of Libya that began on Feb. 15, 2011, which seeks to oust dictator Muammar Gaddafi and end his police state, is part of the wave of popular democratic revolt sweeping the Arab world; And whereas Gaddafi for the past decade has cooperated with Washington and NATO, beencompliant with the U.S.-led wars of occupation, while privately pocketing billions of dollars of oil revenue;
“And whereas Washington and its NATO allies seek to control Libya’s future, and can use the claim to providing ‘humanitarian aid,’ including a ‘no fly zone’ that would be accompanied by extensive bombing and inevitably massive civilian casualties, to launch an armed invasion of the country,
“Therefore Be It Resolved that the federal NDP actively campaign against any U.S. or NATO intervention in Libya, against the proposed ‘no fly zone,’ and demand the withdrawal of Canadian warships from Libyan waters, and demand an end to Canadian firms selling/exporting military equipment, munitions and supplies to the region.
“And Be It Further Resolved that the NDP actively encourage the opening of Libya’s borders with Tunisia and Egypt so that partisans of the Arab democratic revolt can come to the aid of the Libyan insurgency, and that the NDP organize solidarity with the movement of the Libyan and Arab peoples for democracy and self-determination.”
Sadly, NDP MPs joined the business-class parties in Parliament in support of the Western military intervention in Libya, which now is conducted by NATO under the command of Canadian Lt.-General Charles Bouchard. The lessons of history seem to be lost on Leader Jack Layton and his NDP Caucus.
For generations, the Canadian state has been consistently on the side of Israel, and against Egypt and the Arab countries. That includes during the Israeli wars against Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. Ottawa has condoned (sometimes with mild criticism) Israeli atrocities committed repeatedly in Gaza and the West Bank, the construction of the Apartheid Wall, the ongoing confiscation of Palestinian homes and farms, and the threats to bomb Iran.
Whether Conservative or Liberal, the federal government has overseen, promoted and facilitated Canadian military exports to 16 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Those countries included Mubarak’s Egypt, Gaddaffi’s Libya, and Netanyahu’s Israel. Between 1990 and 2006, the value of these exports of weapons, munitions, armoured vehicles, jets, helicopters, drones, surveillance equipment and more, was about $1.8 billion.
Today, Canadian warships ply the waters of the Persian Gulf in support of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, and in support of the U.S. embargo and its military threats against Iran. Now the HMCS Charlottetown is anchored in waters off the coast of Libya, in support of a bombing campaign involving Canadian CF18s, in the name of a “no fly zone.” It is a prelude to an armed occupation by U.S./NATO forces (or their control of the rebel regime by other means), which is why socialists oppose it.
In opposing imperialist intervention, and the diplomatic charade that usually accompanies it, socialists uphold the principle that injustice knows no boundaries; solidarity knows no borders. But solidarity starts with opposition to our own capitalist rulers, including their interventions for power, plunder and profit abroad.
This brings us to the NDP, the only mass labour-based political party in North America. Has the NDP leadership consistently opposed imperialist intervention, the arms industry, and militarism? Certainly, that approach would correspond to the interests of its 100,000 members, its 300,000 labour-union-affiliated members, and its 2.4 million mainly working class voters. Sadly, the opposite is the case.
It took years for the Canadian movement against the war in Vietnam to win the federal NDP to an “Out Now” position, to get the party to adopt a policy expressed in the slogan “NATO, NORAD, ICC, End Canadian Complicity.” It took years to convince the party at convention to adopt “Canada Out of Afghanistan Now.” The NDP Socialist Caucus and allies succeeded in achieving this at the federal NDP convention in Quebec City, September 2006.
And even now, NDP MPs sometimes say, “Canadian forces can play a role as trainers or infrastructure builders in Afghanistan”—though that would mean supporting the corrupt, U.S.-imposed Karzai regime. Canadian Forces would still be engaged in combat “outside the wire,” since insurgents do not, as a rule, recognize military “training” or “building” by an occupying power as friendly activity.
Sometimes NDP MPs, including the Leader, speak wistfully about “redeployment” of Canadian forces to Darfur or elsewhere in Africa where oil or gold or other valuable commodities cannot be harvested due to obstruction by pesky nationalists who want to control their own resources. That brings us to the current wave of uprisings across the Arab world.
In early January, when the Tunisian masses launched their revolt, the federal NDP issued a statement supporting the Tunisian people. It said, “stop attacks on civilians,” but failed to demand that dictator Ben Ali step down. On Jan. 28, NDP Foreign Affairs Critic Paul Dewar released a statement on Egypt that expressed hope that democratic aspirations would be peacefully realized. But again, it said nothing about what millions of Egyptians demanded: Mubarak out!
On Feb. 11, Jack Layton issued a statement that Mubarak’s resignation had opened the door to meaningful change. It urged the government of Canada to use diplomatic means to ensure the process is legitimate and acceptable to the Egyptian people. But what about pledging support for the demands of Egyptian workers? Their unions ask that all the companies and resources Mubarak privatized be now returned to public ownership under democratic control. Democracy is about the economy too, not just about parliament.
On Feb. 22, an NDP statement on Libya expressed concern for protesters and condemned the regime’s use of deadly force against civilians. But instead of urging support for the struggle of the insurgents, the NDP urged the UN Security Council to establish a no-fly zone in Libya’s airspace. That required, as U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates openly stated, extensive bombing of Libya by U.S. and allied forces—and still could lead to armed invasion.
NDP leaders are caught in a life-long contradiction. Their interests in becoming mainstream politicians conflict with the interests of millions of workers who look to the party for social justice, equality, human rights, peace, environmental sustainability—in other words, for socialism.
The Socialist Caucus is dedicated to shining a light on that contradiction, to winning the fight for socialist policies, and to challenging the cancerous global system known as capitalism. That starts with opposing the war makers at home. The uprisings in Egypt, and across the Arab world, show that the days of imperial rule, of capitalist rule, are numbered. NDP members should be part of that awakening.
Just say no to Canada Post demands
by Elizabeth Byce
A strong strike mandate is a good antidote to the breath-taking concessions now demanded by the Canada Post Corporation (CPC). That is the message of the leaders of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) to their 54,000 members.
The last postal strike occurred in 1997. Collective agreements signed in 2000, 2003, and 2007 contained rollbacks to severance entitlements, utilization of sick leave benefits, and included introduction of “team incentives” that undermine solidarity. Now, it appears, the union is drawing the line—which may become a mass picket line this summer—and none too soon.
Management demands include the following:  the elimination of thousands of jobs (by reduction of the internal full-time staffing ratio to 72% from 78%, reducing full-time positions at wickets, elimination of both wash-up periods, and the introduction of new mechanized equipment), slashing the pay of new hires by nearly 30 per cent, the reduction of vacation leave, a new “cost-sharing formula” for retirees that would require employees retiring after Dec. 31, 2011, to pay 100% of the premiums of the Extended Health Care Plan instead of 25%, limiting the Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) to instances when inflation increases by 8 per cent or more, the “adjustment” of injury-on-duty pay from 100% down to 75%, and no pay for short-term illness (absences of less than seven days).
For the last 15 years CPC has made a profit—an achievement beyond its mandate, accomplished on the backs of postal workers and by eroding service to the public. The union’s demands at the negotiating table include that the profits should be put back into Canada Post to improve service to everyone and to improve working conditions and wages of the workers that provide the services. CUPW is negotiating to improve service at corporate retail counters, to increase the door mail delivery, and to introduce postal banks in communities that currently have post offices but no banking institutions.
Canada Post has not only tried to impose rollbacks on its workers, but also on all Canadians with the introduction of “community mail boxes,” reduction of post offices, service disruptions due to inadequate staffing, introduction of automation which removes a letter carrier’s ability to ensure accuracy of delivery, reduction of street letter boxes, and so on.
So a lot is at stake in this round of collective bargaining. CUPW can revitalize itself by mobilizing its members and supporters, and return to its proud heritage of class struggle. It can return to the exemplary role it played as a militant, democratic union in the 1960s through the 1990s. CUPW can show the whole labour movement how to stand up to concession demands, as the bosses everywhere try to make workers pay for the global capitalist crisis. The fightback starts with a strong strike mandate.
Elizabeth Byce is a retired postal worker and activist in the Toronto local of CUPW.
Dudley Laws, Toronto anti-racist fighter
by Norman “Otis” Richmond
The author has been a radio broadcaster for 25 years and is a Black community activist in Toronto.
Dudley Laws was known as a fear-free activist who would stand up to police brutality when many of us were too afraid to step up to the plate. He joined the ancestors on March 24 after battling kidney disease. The Jamaican-born Laws had stared death in the face many times. It is amazing that he lived 76 years. I always said, “Dudley was like a cat, He had nine lives.”
He was born in St. Thomas Parish, Jamaica, on May 7, 1934, to Ezekiel and Agatha Laws, and was a brother to three siblings. A welder and mechanic by trade, he worked at Standard Engineering Works until he emigrated to the United Kingdom in 1955 and became involved in defending the Caribbean community. In 1965, he relocated to Toronto, Canada, where he worked as a welder and taxi driver.
Laws was most known for founding the Black Action Defence Committee in 1988, following the Toronto police shooting of Lester Donaldson. He was once the head of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, a Marcus Garvey-inspired organization. Under his leadership its name was changed to the Universal African Improvement Association. He was deeply concerned with the education of youth and helped many young people, including my son.
Laws became prominent in the 1970s and 1980s as a critic of the then Metro Toronto Police Force, due to a number of young Black men being shot by police constables, as well as leveling other allegations of racist practices against the police.
He was also prominent as an advocate for immigrants and refugees, and worked as an immigration consultant in the 1990s. He was able to travel to Cuba and spoke highly of what he saw in that society.
> This article was originally published in the April 2011 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.

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