Canada: Defeat Harper Tories in the Parliament of the Streets!
Good or bad? May 2 catapulted the NDP into second place, Official Opposition, bearing historic gains. Good. But the total seat tally enabled the Conservatives to eke out a parliamentary majority. That’s bad.
So what’s the conclusion? Are we in a four-year holding pattern, doomed to witness the slow train wreck of a century of social benefits? Not if we choose to resist.
Actually, those afflicted with a case of post-election blues should take heart. The workers’ movement across the Canadian state has rarely had a better opportunity to seize the time, stop the bleeding, and take charge of the situation. Consider the following:
1) The Harper majority is an artificial product of an undemocratic electoral system. Winning only 39.5% of the votes cast, less than one-quarter of the total electorate, Harper has no mandate to carry out his vicious anti-labour agenda. While his appointment of three defeated Conservative candidates to the Senate shows his undiminished arrogance, Harper is a paper tiger. He can be stopped. Clearly, it will take mass labour economic and political action, starting with active support for the postal workers’ struggle against concessions. But the main point remains: the Tory agenda can be halted.
2) The May 2 federal election put to rest “strategic voting,” bourgeois coalition-making, and all talk of NDP-Liberal merger. Those examples of blatant class collaboration, which only confuse the issue and divide working people, are off the table for four years, and hopefully forever. But the NDP “government in waiting” must prove that it is up to the task of governing in the interests of the working class, small farmers, oppressed nationalities, women, youths, and seniors.
3. Spectacular NDP gains in Quebec are very significant, but very fragile. Quebec nationalist expectations are high. They are echoed by youthful voices among the 59 NDP Quebec MPs. Positive NDP pledges to make French the language of work in federally regulated industries inside Quebec, and to respect a future vote for sovereignty, fueled expectations. Thus, NDP Leader Jack Layton is riding a bull. He may tame it, or it may buck him. Still, the new political situation has erected a bridge between the workers’ movements in both nations. The Canadian Union of Postal Workers’ collective bargaining struggle may be the bellwether of Pan-Canadian workers’ unity against the Canadian capitalist class and their anti-labour agenda.
4) We can replace Labour’s retreat of the past 30 years with mass resistance today to the corporate agenda. Objective conditions for a turnaround are ripe. The main obstacle to the resistance we need is the pro-capitalist leadership of our unions and the NDP. At the top of both organizations is the same group of privileged bureaucrats. They’ve been rowing the boat mostly in one direction—backwards—for over a quarter century. To change course the right-wing brass must be removed. For that to happen, for any hope of a change of direction, we need to step up the building of a class-struggle opposition inside the unions and the NDP. From a little acorn grows a mighty oak tree.
5) A class-struggle opposition is based on a clear programme and a firm set of principles reflecting the concrete needs of the vast majority of the population. The NDP Socialist Caucus, founded in 1997, with over 500 supporters across the country, is based on the Manifesto for a Socialist Canada. It is elaborated and amplified by all the resolutions adopted at its annual conferences over the past 14 years. The SC commitment to fight for public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy, under workers’ and community democratic control, to facilitate the transformation towards green energy efficiency at all levels, from industry and home heating to mass transport, is a powerful example.
The programme of the Workers’ Solidarity and Union Democracy Coalition, founded in 1991, and re-launched in 2005, provides another good example. It stands for the following: (1) Resist labour concessions and social cutbacks. (2) Support struggles for union democracy, to make unions more accessible, accountable, transparent and participatory. (3) Take back our unions and turn them into fighting organizations. (4) Rely on our own strength, and renew or create our own organizations, from the bottom up, to fight for the interests of working people and against corporate profit and power.
The operating principles to which both Workers’ Solidarity and the NDP Socialist Caucus are committed are basically those of the historic Paris Commune of 1871, the first workers’ government in world history: direct democracy, proportional representation of all currents of opinion, the right of rank-and-file members to recall and replace elected officials, and the rule that office holders are to be paid no more than those whom they represent.
Not everyone belongs to a union, nor is everyone able to join or organize a union. But all, regardless of citizenship or status, can join the union-based NDP and can support the fight of the Socialist Caucus to turn the NDP sharply to the left. What matters is the process, the struggle itself, not to what degree the party turns left. Most ordinary working people who join the labour-based party do not sign up just to become cheerleaders for the Leader. We join the NDP for the same reason we join unions—to advance our class interests.
Without labour, the NDP would not exist. Therefore, the party belongs to the working class, not to Thomas Mulcair or Jack Layton, not to Brad Lavigne, not to the Lewis family. The NDP belongs to its dues-payers, to its affiliated unions, to its 100,000 members, to its 4.5 million voters. We simply demand that the NDP serve the interests of its vast social base, not the system of exploitation and oppression that serves a tiny corporate elite. It is the struggle within our unions and within the union-based NDP that will decide the shape of the fight against capitalist austerity and war. The current struggle will decide the overall relationship of class forces.
This is a point to emphasize to our friends across the independent left: It’s time to take a stand, to retire academic abstractions, and to surpass small sideline campaigns. The road to influence the 4.5 million NDP voters lies through struggle against the pro-capitalist labour and NDP leaders in whom millions have illusions.
Our task is not to prop up the existing leadership, but to challenge it, especially inside the mass organizations of the working class. Only those mass organizations have the capacity to educate and mobilize millions. We should strive to win those organizations to mass action against the rulers’ attacks and to socialist policies that can give shape to an alternative to the unfolding economic and environmental disaster that is global capitalism.
May 2 ushered in a new situation, brimming with new opportunities that warm the heart of every working person. While the Canadian Labour Congress tops say, “wait four years to replace the government,” while they amalgamate labour councils to make them even more remote from local unionists, we need not be bound to their prescriptions. When Jack Layton says he wants to be “more about proposition than opposition,” we need not swallow that pill. The task of socialists, radicals, and worker militants is to unite behind the postal workers, to support Quebecois and aboriginal demands for national liberation, to demand money for jobs, for green energy conversion, not for jails, jets, and imperial wars of occupation.
Together, we can prove that the most right-wing government in Canadian history is a paper tiger. We can show that it can be blown away by a strong wave of class struggle. Let’s force the labour leadership to lead the fight, or get the heck out of the way. This entails the construction of a militant, well-organized left wing in the unions and the NDP. The time is now. Join us. ~Barry Weisleder
Canadian postal workers ready to use 95% strike mandate
As we go to press, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) suspended its latest strike deadline of May 26 so that collective bargaining can continue. By law, the union is required to give a 72-hour strike notice.
The union submitted a global offer to the employer on May 22 in a bid to narrow differences and reach a settlement. Management continues to take a hard line, egged on by conservative organizations like the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, and is seeking major concessions.
Postal workers know much is at stake, and seem to be ready to take on a belligerent corporation and a right-wing Conservative government with a new parliamentary majority. “We hope the sky-high strike vote and the record turnout of our members will put pressure on Canada Post to negotiate,” said Canadian Union of Postal Workers’ National President Denis Lemelin in a statement released April 18 on the union’s website. He was referring to the inspiring 94.5 per cent vote in favour of going on strike, if necessary, to obtain a good collective agreement.
CUPW’s 48,000 members know the issues well. That was evident in the unprecedented participation in the strike vote. Management wants to create a two-tier system. Workers now earn about $25 an hour, and Canada Post has proposed $18 an hour for new employees, Lemelin told the Toronto Star. “Canada Post wants to create a cheap labour force, where they have lower wages, less holidays, some benefits, and pension changes.”
Management wants to weaken job security and end the banking of sick days in favour of a short-term disability program. Its wage proposal is below the rate of inflation, so it amounts to a wage cut for all.
The results of the vote show that postal workers will not accept these rollbacks. In this respect, CUPW is setting a powerful example for the entire labour movement. Canada Post is about to celebrate its 16th consecutive year of profits. The corporation also plans to make huge productivity gains through modernization. Postal workers deserve to share in the benefits.
If it comes to a strike, postal workers pledge to deliver pension and social assistance cheques, voluntarily and without interruption. No other mail or parcels will move. As for the duration, members of Canada’s most militant, democratic union are fond of saying: “The longer the picket line, the shorter the strike.” ~Elizabeth Byce
Lubicon Cree protest oil pipeline spills
About 28,000 barrels of crude oil spilled into wetlands in the traditional territory of Lubicon Cree in northern Alberta on April 29. It was the second largest oil spill in Alberta history and the largest in more than 30 years.
After the spill, the school in the nearby Lubicon community of Little Buffalo was closed indefinitely because children and teachers were experiencing headaches and nausea. A week later the Alberta Minister of the Environment acknowledged that the province had still not conducted tests for possible ground water contamination.
The spill is exacerbated by dozens of wildfires burning across Alberta, including the well-publicized one at Slave Lake. Little Buffalo, and now the oil spill site itself, are located near these dangerous, uncontrolled fires. On May 15, Plains Midstream Canada, owner of the Rainbow Pipeline, suspended clean-up efforts because of the fires. Residents of Little Buffalo and Marten Lake evacuated the area.
On May 23 over 150 people jammed into a small art gallery in Toronto’s downtown west end to learn about the Lubicon’s decades-long struggle for recognition and protection of their human rights.
Women Cree elders and Amnesty International representatives told the crowd that since the early 1980s the Lubicon have suffered widespread health problems associated with poverty, environmental degradation, and cultural erosion. These problems include high rates of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis; disproportionate numbers of miscarriages, stillbirth and other maternal health concerns; and high youth suicide. Although Little Buffalo has no running water and no sanitation system, it is estimated that the province’s share of oil and gas wealth taken from Lubicon lands exceeds $14 billion.
The Lubicon Cree have never entered into a treaty with the government of Canada, nor have they ceded their rights to their lands and resources through any legal agreement. Nonetheless, since 1979, more than 2600 oil and gas wells have been drilled, and some tar-sands extraction projects placed on Lubicon territory. More than 2300 kilometers of oil and gas pipelines cross their traditional lands. From 1983 to 1997, between one and eight leaks or ruptures per year for every 1000 km of pipeline occurred in the province, according to an Alberta government study.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee condemned the treatment of the Lubicon Cree in 1990, and again in 2006 and 2007, as have other UN bodies. In 2010 the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples wrote that there should be no further development on Lubicon land unless the Lubicon people give their consent.
Speakers at the Toronto meeting urged people to fax or e-mail the federal and Alberta governments to demand an independent assessment and ongoing monitoring of the health and environmental impacts of the oil spill. More meetings and fund raising activities will be held across Canada to demand justice for the Lubicon Cree. For the latest information, visit http://www.amnesty.ca/lubicon. ~Barry Weisleder
> The articles above first appeared in the June 2011 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.