Ontario: On Oct. 6, Vote NDP!
Tax cuts for the rich. Service cuts and fee hikes for the rest of us. That’s how the bosses make workers pay for the capitalist crisis around the world. Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, is no exception. And if the governing provincial Liberals, or the official opposition Progressive Conservatives, have their way, the austerity drive against workers and the poor will intensify.
But the rulers have reason to fear that their plans may be derailed by a wave of votes for the labour-based New Democratic Party on Oct. 6, similar to the orange surge seen in the May 2 federal election. The task of every class-conscious worker is to make that happen, for there is much at stake.
Once the prosperous industrial heartland, Ontario is now a have-not province in terms of transfer payments. Unemployment is above the cross-country official average of 7.2 per cent. Ontario’s poverty rate is up 17 per cent since the Dalton McGuinty-led Liberals were re-elected in 2007 on a pledge to reduce it. Nearly 1.7 million Ontarians are living in poverty, including almost 400,000 children, according to StatsCan data.
In 1995 the Conservative Mike Harris government cut welfare by 21.6 per cent. Since the Liberals were elected in 2003 they perpetuated the decline in welfare and disability rates, which are now 55 per cent below where they’d be otherwise. McGuinty froze the minimum wage in 2011 and slashed the Special Diet supplement to the ailing poor.
Tuition fees are the second highest in Canada, with annual increases between 4.5 and 8 per cent. University graduates carry a debt load of nearly $25,000, according to the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario.
Ontario’s Liberal finance minister, Dwight Duncan, declared a two-year wage freeze on public-service workers. He threatens to cut 1900 full-time public-service jobs (including water inspectors and workers who help the disabled live at home) by April 2012.
Meanwhile, Premier McGuinty forces Ontarians to pay a permanent health-care premium and a Harmonized Sales Tax. The HST costs the average family an additional $792 annually. In August, British Columbia voters rejected and cancelled their HST in a referendum.
Queen’s Park starves municipalities and chokes funding to public transit, as it pours billions of dollars into the lethal, wasteful nuclear power industry. Schools are under-funded; recreation centers and libraries face closure; roads and bridges are disintegrating under the ever-growing weight of traffic congestion. And what do the business elite and their hired political hacks say? They say we can’t afford any better.
The truth is—we can do better. How? By reversing the corporate tax cuts and putting Ontario back to work. The provincial budget deficit of $14 billion, and the $235 billion accumulated debt is largely the result of Tory corporate tax cuts in the mid-1990s and early 2000s of $18 billion per year. In each of the last two years, the McGuinty Liberals cut corporate taxes more than $2.4 billion.
What effect did that have? It didn’t increase fixed capital spending by business. The rich pocketed the savings, while public budgets and public services were squeezed.
What’s the difference between the Liberals and the Tories on this front? McGuinty promises to restrain growth below 2 per cent, whereas PC leader Tim Hudack threatens to reduce spending by 2 per cent, while further cutting taxes on the rich.
The Green Party would reduce the deficit even faster, without saying how. In any case, one thing is certain: the capitalist parties will declare, after the election, that the situation is much worse than predicted. Their unwavering aim is to make workers pay (both for the manufactured fiscal crisis, and for the endemic capitalist overproduction crisis).
Hudack, a Mike Harris henchman, rubs salt into the social wounds by demanding more prisons, longer sentences, and forced labour for convicts. He courts the anti-choice-on-abortion lunatic fringe, and he pushes for much more privatization and de-regulation. Hudack is a neoliberal in a hurry. He’s the flip side of the big business coin. Heads they win. Tails we lose. Many people are tired of this political farce they call a “choice,” reinforced by a regressive, non-proportional electoral system.
The NDP, led by Andrea Horwath, pledges to stop the corporate tax giveaways, to remove the HST from hydro and home heating, to freeze transit fares, cut emergency room wait times in half, end ambulance fees, cap government CEO salaries, stop burning coal, and phase out nuclear in favour of green energy alternatives.
Although these policies fall short of what is needed to meet human needs—public ownership of the big economy, under workers’ control, to realize eco-socialist solutions—a vote for the NDP is a vote for a workers’ party. It opens the door for working people, as a class, to have a say in the political direction of society.
The striving of the powerless to give voice to their demands, through their own class organizations, is not diminished by the loss of Jack Layton; it is rather reinforced in ways that might resound through the ONDP.
In sum, the real choices are these. The Tories will stab you in the back with a straight face. The Liberals will do it with a smile. The alternative in Ontario on Oct.6 is an NDP government, which workers should press to implement socialist policies.
Jack Layton 1950-2011
The death of NDP federal Leader Jack Layton evoked an immense outpouring of sadness and solidarity across the Canadian state. The popularity of Layton, who led his party to unprecedented electoral success on May 2 despite his apparent illness, prompted Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper to declare an official state funeral to honour the NDP leader. Normally, such honours are bestowed only on deceased prime ministers and cabinet ministers.
Thousands of working people passed by Jack Layton’s coffin in Parliament in Ottawa, and again at Toronto City Hall. They lined the streets for the funeral procession to a packed Roy Thomson Hall on Aug. 27. Thousands more stood outside the famous concert venue in a nearby square, before giant screens on which the eulogies and musical tributes were projected.
Layton’s last written public testament is hailed as a social democratic “manifesto” (it can be viewed at http://www.ndp.ca). Although its content is suffused with general sentiments about love and hopefulness, its strongly partisan stand for the NDP does put it at odds with the views of some union and NDP officials who favour a merger with the Liberal Party. The leadership race to replace Layton is virtually underway.
The NDP Socialist Caucus, which will host a conference on Nov. 26 in Toronto to decide its position on the leadership and policy questions, issued the following statement on Aug. 24: “Jack Layton, Leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada, fought valiantly, but lost his second battle with cancer early on Aug. 22 in Toronto. His passing, at age 61, is a cause of great sadness for all working people and the population at large, a tremendous blow to his family, to whom we send heartfelt condolences, and to the labour-based NDP to which Jack devoted his political life.
“Layton’s optimism, energy and passion defined his approach to issues of great social importance. He was a tireless advocate for more and better social housing, a combatant against violence that victimizes women, and against the scourge of AIDs. Layton promoted environmental protection, the rights of cities, and he heeded the call of the antiwar movement to demand ‘Canada out of Afghanistan now.’
“While his policies often didn’t go as far as we wished, Layton earned the respect of socialists by campaigning steadfastly to form an NDP government—which he came closer to accomplishing than any of his predecessors. His last major speech in Parliament, as Leader of the Opposition following the ‘orange surge’ on May 2, was a stirring defence of postal workers against the draconian back to work legislation imposed by the Harper Conservatives. Layton won Quebec, not only with his charm and charisma but by affirming Quebec’s right to decide its future, sans the strictures of the undemocratic Clarity Act.
“The best tribute we can pay to Jack is to win the struggles to which he was committed.”
Two-tier health care at GM of Canada
by Bruce Allen (Bruce Allen is vice president of CAW Local 199, writing in a personal capacity)
Many retired employees of GM of Canada (GMC) attended meetings held in early August about the proposed settlement between them and GM of Canada on the future of retiree health-care benefits. The settlement will put in place the Health Care Trust (HCT) agreed to in the 2009 contract negotiations. The administrators of the HCT will oversee and allocate these retired workers’ health care benefits.
The retirees listened with concern as they were told that, with the funding GM is providing to the HCT, benefits would be cut to between 77% and 84% of their current level if the fund is to be sustained indefinitely. Failing that, the fund will eventually run out of money—meaning all health-care benefits will end. At the time of this writing it remains to be seen what benefits will be cut and to what extent.
A principal justification cited for establishing the HCT is that it will sustain health-care benefits if GM goes bankrupt. But the creation of the HCT makes it even more unlikely that will ever happen. GM of Canada President Kevin Williams made this rather obvious earlier this year when he stated that the HCT will reduce Canadian labour costs by over $16 an hour. This revelation explains why GM has repeatedly told the CAW that future investments in Canada are contingent upon the HCT being finalized. It also showed once again how GM has successfully used its control over investment decisions to extract endless contract concessions from an acquiescent CAW.
The immediate effects of the finalization of the HCT will not just involve big new cuts to retiree health care benefits. The most significant effect will be the establishment of two-tier health-care benefits at GM of Canada. Active workers will not endure the cuts that will come with the HCT, meaning their health-care benefits will remain as they are, while retiree benefits get sharply reduced.
This two-tier arrangement is especially devastating for retirees because they need their health-care benefits more than active workers. It is also morally indefensible because GM retirees fought the contract battles that got the health-care benefits all GM workers enjoy.
The consequences do not end there. Retired GMC workers will be hit by these new cuts just as they are experiencing steadily declining real incomes due to the loss of cost-of-living adjustments on their pensions and due to the health-care concessions negotiated in 2008 and 2009.
Increasing financial hardship will go hand in hand with the indignity of having health-care benefits very inferior to those active workers get.
The finalization of the HCT is also bad news for the continually shrinking active workforce at GM. With the HCT they have another reason to put off retirement for as long as they can because retirement will mean living with less than it did before. GM workers who “retire” will become even more inclined than they already are to get a new job to compensate for their steadily declining retirement incomes.
Another thing must be understood. Two-tier health-care benefits at GMC mark yet another break from pattern agreements in the Canadian auto industry. There will be no two tier-health care benefits at Chrysler of Canada because the HCT there is much better funded. Nor will there be two-tier health-care benefits at Ford of Canada because there is no HCT there.
So GM of Canada retirees are on their own in this regard. They need to mobilize for the 2012 contract negotiations to compel their leadership to negotiate gains elsewhere—sufficient to make up for the big cuts they are about to endure. Active workers at GMC should be in full support of them.
CAAT support staff strike back
by Julius Arscott
TORONTO—Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology support staff, represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union, went on strike on Sept. 1 to defend full-time jobs and to challenge the threat of a two-tier system for benefits. Both kinds of management attacks have dire implications for all public sector workers.
Management’s concession demands would further isolate and impoverish young workers who make up a large proportion of the 8000-strong OPSEU CAAT-S (College Support) members who work in 24 colleges across the province. Their sick leave would be limited to 10 days a year, with no carry-over or accumulation of unused days.
The workers are in collective bargaining with the province and now operate under legislation that allows the employer to use scab labour for the first time. Intimidation and coercion are being used against workers already suffering from the biggest economic recession in recent memory.
The Chair of the CAAT Support Bargaining Team, Rod Bemister, reported on the OPSEU website: “This round of bargaining is not about us getting ahead; it is about us staying even. It’s about holding onto the job security, benefits and pay that others before us fought to get. It’s about keeping good jobs, not just for right now but for the future. We care too much for our students and the future of Ontario to allow the workforce to be filled with jobs that are part time, insecure, and low paying.”
Members across the province gave the bargaining team a 77 per cent strike mandate. Clearly, those workers were prepared to back their demands with action. They did not flinch in the face of management’s obstinacy.
Socialists, campaigning in support of the college workers, say: End corporate tax breaks, tax the rich, defend full-time jobs, and demand equal pay and benefits for equal work!
Canadians live in a sea of debt
Nearly three-quarters of Canadian households carry some debt, according to a Harris-Decima survey done for the CIBC. Over four in 10 households find their debt interferes with achieving financial goals such as saving for retirement or paying for children’s education. Those in the 35-to-44 age bracket are the most indebted, with nearly 90 per cent carrying some form of loan.