The future of the Occupy movement
by Barry Weisleder, the federal secretary of Socialist Action (Canada), and Canada editor of Socialist Action newspaper.
TORONTO—On Nov. 23 police enforced an Ontario Superior Court order to Occupy Toronto to vacate St. James Park, a few blocks from Canada’s corporate financial hub. Occupy camps around the world are also under siege. The challenge is clear:
Spread this movement from the parks and city squares to the sites of social production, distribution, and exchange. On Nov. 13, I spoke to a rally at Occupy Toronto on this theme:
I’ve been asked to describe how the work of Socialist Action relates to the Occupy movement, and how we can grow and develop our work together.
The first order of business is: congratulations! Congratulations to everyone who initiated the Occupy movement. From Tahrir Square in Cairo, to our sisters and brothers in Athens and in Wisconsin. From Wall Street to London to Madrid to Toronto. What began with the Arab Spring, and spread like wildfire to over 1400 cities worldwide, cannot be extinguished. It is the voice of the voiceless. It is the cry of unemployed youth. It is the cry of dispossessed aboriginal peoples. It is a beacon of hope for the victims of ethnic cleansing, women’s oppression, class exploitation and environmental plunder. No matter what the clowns at City Hall may do, Occupation is here to stay. Dismantle it in one place, and it will sprout again, like a sea of dandelions.
That’s because Occupy expresses a seismic shift. It is the shift from ignorance and complacency, to awareness and action. It points not only to gross economic inequality and injustice. It points not only to the greed and malfeasance of the ruling 1 per cent. It points to the need to rid this planet of capitalism—the toxic system responsible for the social ills that ail humanity.
Have a look at our newspaper, Socialist Action, and see how we work to win support in the labour movement, and to defend Occupy against police repression. That’s what we must do here: Defend the Occupy movement. Defend it from bozo politicians, from police repression, from the commercial media that inflates the complaints of a few petty bourgeois restauranteurs into a social calamity—the only apparent solution for which is the suppression of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. We say: Hands off Occupy Toronto. It is the best thing that’s happened to this park and to this city in a long time.
That brings us to a bigger challenge: How to extend the Occupy movement to the factories and offices, to the mines and mills, to the stores and schools, to workplaces, and to communities across this city and across this country. We can draw a lesson from Quebec, where this past week, over 200,000 students shut down schools and occupied the streets to oppose tuition increases and to demand free, quality, public post-secondary education.
We can take encouragement from the Orange Wave (NDP surge) last spring that marginalized the discredited Liberal Party in its wake. We are inspired by environmental activists whose actions forced U.S. President Obama to delay construction of the Keystone XE pipeline.
These events underline a compelling truth: Occupy is a powerful symbol, a resilient rallying point. It has changed the channel. It has ignited a conversation of millions. But to win, to truly win human liberation and save civilization from the ravages of the profit system, we need to shut capitalism down. We need to re-boot production on a green, democratic basis, and build a cooperative commonwealth.
That’s what we in SA mean by socialism, a democratic cooperative commonwealth, where production is wholly owned and controlled by working people, where the military is reduced to a rescue and disaster relief corps, where the 1% are expropriated, and where the state is transformed into the servant of the 99%. That’s what socialism will look like.
What stands in our way? If it were just the 1 per cent, it would be easy to overcome, and it would have been done long ago. Standing in the way of economic democracy is a gigantic apparatus of minority rule. The cops, the courts, the bought-and-paid-for media, religious institutions, the managerial elite, and the capitalist political parties. How can we clear a path to majority rule? The same way we defend and spread the Occupy movement. We tell the truth, we build alliances, and we fight the forces that stand in the way of liberation.
But before the workers’ and popular movements can go forward, we need to remove the obstacles within. I refer to the labour, NGO and NDP bureaucracies. Donations of food, tents and port-a-potties are good. But they are no substitute for organized resistence to labour concessions in the workplace. They are no substitute for a battle over the lack of democracy in many unions and the NDP.
Rather than walk away from the problem, we need to dig in and fight for socialist policies and democracy from the bottom up.
That’s what Socialist Action does. We build support for Occupy Toronto, and we organize a fighting opposition to labour misleaders who go along with cutbacks, with privatization, with layoffs in the public service (such as advocated by the Drummond commission at Queen’s Park). We argue for a General Strike to stop the cuts.
We oppose government contracts to build jet fighters and war ships, to construct pipelines for dirty oil, and to invest in nuclear energy. We demand a steeply progressive tax on big wealth, on inheritance, and on corporate profits—not just an end to recent corporate tax cuts, not just abolition of the HST, not just a Robin Hood tax, or a Tobin Tax. We demand public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy under workers’ and community control.
We don’t think that we, or any individual or small group can accomplish this alone. For that reason Socialist Action devotes most of our efforts to building coalitions, alliances, broad unity in action.
That is why we play a leading role in the NDP Socialist Caucus, a broad alliance of anti-capitalist party members who seek to win the 4.5 million NDP voters to a Workers’ Agenda. That is why SA plays a leading role in the Workers’ Solidarity and Union Democracy Coalition, which is now fighting layoffs, and opposing OPSEU leaders’ threat to quit the Ontario Federation of Labour.
That is why SA initiated the Oct. 15 Coalition of 11 organizations that marked the 10th anniversary of the imperialist war and occupation of Afghanistan with a rally and march that concluded right here, in St. James Park.
We don’t have all the answers. But we do know this: To win in the face of corporate state power requires a revolutionary perspective. It requires a conscious mass base in the working class. The revolutionary battle for hearts and minds takes place in the existing mass working-class organizations. That is where we are fighting to build solidarity, to build the Occupy movement, to spread it to unions, to the NDP, to work places and communities, and to put an end to the cancer of capitalist minority rule.
We are with you 100%. We invite you to work with us, to join SA and Youth for Socialist Action. Together we will win, much sooner than later.”
Canada eyes role in Syria conflict
by Barry Weisleder
Flush from its part in NATO’s bloody intervention in Libya to impose a pro-Western government there, Canada’s Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Ottawa will not rule out military action in Syria. Speaking to the International Security Forum in Halifax on Nov. 20, MacKay postured as the defender of democratic forces suffering repression at the hands of the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad.
But taken together with Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird’s bellicose threat to take “necessary action” against Iran, amid media speculation about a possible preemptive Israeli-American strike at Iran’s nuclear power facilities, MacKay’s words help to form a different picture.
It is the picture of expanding imperial intervention—designed to blunt and re-shape uprisings across the Arab world. It is the image of Western powers seeking geo-political control over the world’s foremost oil patch.
The business media call it “sabre-rattling.” But such noises have led to bombing and military occupation. In 1999, CF-18s flew 684 combat sorties against Yugoslav forces, roughly 10 per cent of the NATO effort to make the Balkans safe for the restoration of private enterprise. More recently, in Libya, Ottawa flew 942 of NATO’s 9600 strike missions, resulting in thousands of civilian casualties. Between those forays was the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, where over 900 Canadian soldiers continue to occupy, to kill, and to die.
Canada will keep warships in the Mediterranean Sea until the end of 2012, MacKay said. It deployed the frigate HMCS Vancouver as part of NATO’s Libya intervention. After early 2012, HMCS Charlottetown will continue so-called “anti-terrorism” duties.
Certainly, former and present dictators, like Gadhafi and Assad, committed high crimes against workers and farmers, women and youths. Those dictators were in the good books of the Western powers when they imprisoned leftists and smashed unions, as are Washington and Ottawa’s current allies who rule Saudi Arabia.
But imperialism is always on the prowl for more compliant regimes—ones that would be eager to dismantle state enterprises and public services; ones that would happily sign “free trade” agreements with the vultures of Wall Street, Bay Street, and the City of London.
The task of deposing dictators is the task of the people suffering under them. The job of working people and progressive folks living in the rich countries is to stay the hand of foreign intervention, to disarm the war makers, and to demonstrate solidarity with those who fight for freedom and social justice. The famous advice of Karl Marx to the English working class on the Irish question bears repeating: No nation that oppresses another can itself be free.
It is a message that must be driven home in the unions and the labour-based New Democratic Party to avoid another debacle, as when NDP MPs voted in 2011 to support bombing Libya. The Syrian and Iranian test cases are coming soon. Canada, hands off!
Tory ‘reforms’ target refugees
by Eric Kupka
Refugees will increasingly be victimized by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s majority federal government, thanks to Bill C-4, the Conservatives’ new immigration reform bill. The bill empowers the government to label certain refugees “designated foreign nationals” whenever it believes that it will be difficult to establish their identity, or that their arrival in Canada might be connected in some way to a criminal or terrorist enterprise.
This label carries a heavy burden: “Designated foreign nationals” must be imprisoned for at least one year upon arrival in Canada and, even if they succeed in obtaining refugee protection, they must wait at least five more years before applying for permanent residency.
The bill resurrects a previous immigration bill that the Conservatives drafted in 2010, as a panicky response to the arrival of two boatloads of Tamil civil war refugees from Sri Lanka. That bill, which was introduced when Harper still led a minority government, was never passed due to the opposition of all other parties.
Bill C-4 is condemned by leading human rights and immigration advocacy groups, including Amnesty International and the Canadian Council for Refugees. The Canadian Bar Association has called the reforms “a harsh and dramatic shift in policy” that violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and conflict with Canada’s obligations under international refugee and human rights conventions.
Inside Parliament, the bill has been vigorously opposed by the labour-based Official Opposition New Democratic Party. Toronto MP Olivia Chow highlighted the true human cost of the bill with the example of a Haitian mother and child fleeing poverty and devastation in their homeland without identification: they would both face a year of incarceration, followed by five years during which they could not bring other relatives to join them. Ms. Chow’s inclusion of a child in her example was deliberate, since, as she explained, imprisonment has been shown to have particularly harsh psychological and emotional effects on children.
Another NDP MP, 22-year-old Mylène Freeman, summarized the basic unfairness of Canada’s refugee system, which will only worsen with Harper’s proposed reforms: “Canada does not jail children unless they are seeking asylum. We do not jail people for years when they have never been charged with a crime, unless they are seeking asylum. We do not jail people without providing access to legal counsel, unless they are seeking asylum. We do not categorically bar prisoners from seeking bail, unless of course they are seeking asylum. We do not jail the traumatized victims of political conflict, abuse, and poverty, unless they are seeking asylum.”
Socialists demand an immediate withdrawal of Bill C-4 and an end to Harper’s attacks on the rights of refugees.
UPDATE: Harper’s criminal justice reform bill, discussed in the September edition of Socialist Action (and which shares Bill C-4’s emphasis on incarceration), has drawn condemnation from two more eminent voices in Canada—the former Chief Justice of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Roy McMurtry, and the Canadian Bar Association.
Save the Canadian Wheat Board!
by Tom Baker
On Oct. 18, Prime Minister Harper introduced legislation to dismantle the 68-year-old, farmer-controlled Canadian Wheat Board (CWB). With a Conservative majority in Parliament, it is expected the bill will become law before Christmas. Legislation to come into effect in August 2012 would allow a farmer to sell directly to grain-handling companies. With no “single desk selling,” the farmers will have no collective capital base or access to grain handling facilities.
The CWB Act requires that farmers vote in favour before major changes can be made to the CWB. The government is ignoring that law and the 37,000 western grain farmers (62 per cent of the total) who voted in a mail-in plebiscite this summer to retain CWB control over the marketing of grain.
Allen Oberg, chair of the CWB’s farmer-controlled board of directors, spoke at a Nov. 15 demonstration in Ottawa: “We are here because we cannot sit idly by while this government sacrifices farmers’ interests to those of giant American grain corporations. We cannot stand and watch farmers’ democratic rights be steamrolled. This should be a farmer’s decision—not one that is made in Ottawa.”
CWB is spearheading a “Stop the Steam Roller” media campaign. Close to 30,000 Canadians sent letters to the federal government in just over a week demanding that CWB control be saved. Court challenges are underway. The labour-based New Democratic Party, the Official Opposition in Parliament, as well as the NDP provincial government of Manitoba, denounced the federal government’s anti-democratic move.
Once the bill becomes law, grain handlers such as Viterra, Cargill, and the Winnipeg-based Richardson International Ltd will be allowed to immediately sign forward contracts with farmers for their 2012 grain harvests. Other transnationals, such as U.S.-based firms Bunge and Archer Daniels Midland, are expected to expand into Canada. Only the owners of the very largest farms will be able to negotiate effectively with the conglomerates, to the detriment of family farms and rural communities.
Canada is the world’s top exporter of spring wheat, durum, and malting barley. This legislation will represent a major shift of power from western Canadian grain farmers to transnational agri-food conglomerates.
It is no surprise that major food processors, and their right-wing think-tank economists, see the CWB defeat as an opportunity to demand of the government that the historic rights of Canadian poultry, egg, and dairy farmers be dismantled or be fundamentally weakened. The “supply managed” sectors have legal authority to control import levels, plan production, and collectively bargain prices for their products. Free-trade advocates claim these farm protection measures must be dismantled for Canada to participate in multi-country trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks.
The CWB should be defended by all who believe in food sovereignty, collective bargaining and democratic process. Solidarity of all working people with western Canadian farmers is critical at this time.
Capitalist governments are attacking the historical, institutionalized gains of farmers and the working class as a solution to the rulers’ economic crisis. Only a worker-farmer alliance can ‘stop the steamroller’ and fundamentally change society in the interest of the majority.