For Peace, Jobs, Sovereignty and Democracy – Put People before Profits
Political Report of the March 4th & 5th Central Committee meeting of the Communist Party of Canada
The International Situation
The most significant event since our October plenum, is the election of US President Donald Trump and of Republican majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. This is the worst possible electoral outcome for the US working class, for the international working class, for the environment, and for movement towards global peace, disarmament and mutual security. It is also an immediate threat to Canadian jobs and wages, environmental security, health and social programs. It sharply accelerates the attack on Canadian sovereignty and independence.
On the basis of the popular vote, Hilary Clinton won 3 million more votes than Donald Trump. However, the election results are determined by the Electoral College, an indirect system set up by the slave-owners in 1789 to ensure the popular will does not prevail over class interests. Though both candidates represented capitalist corporate interests, the Electoral College system facilitated the election of Trump over Clinton, and the installation of the most reactionary US government, including fascists like Stephen Bannon.
Parsing the vote data after the election, it’s clear that Clinton had the same coalition of forces supporting her that Obama had, but without the same breadth and depth. The AFL-CIO supported her, as did the main Black and Hispanic organizations, women’s organizations, etc. But a significant number of their members either didn’t vote, couldn’t vote because of extensive voter suppression in key states, or didn’t vote for Clinton. A small percentage voted for Green Party candidate Jill Stein and other progressive candidates, and an even larger number voted Libertarian, showing significant dissatisfaction with the Democrats and Republicans. But many more voted for Trump, including an estimated 30% of trade union members, 53% of white women voters, 29% of Hispanics, 8% of African Americans, and 46% of youth between the ages of 18 and 29. Why?
Clinton was the candidate of the banks and many of the biggest corporations, the 1%. She was the face of Wall Street, those who caused the 2008 economic crisis and were bailed out at public expense while millions lost their jobs, their homes, and saw their wages and pensions stripped and their security evaporate. Trump was the candidate of the oil and energy industry, some sections of the financial industry and of the military and police. Trump zeroed in on NAFTA and the fact it was Bill Clinton who signed the deal, enabling corporations to put their factories on skids, spiriting away good manufacturing jobs and wages, leaving millions destitute, bankrupt, without any hope of a future. Meanwhile the Clintons and the super-rich continued to amass huge personal fortunes and the banks and corporations continued to amass enormous profits. Trump skillfully used these facts to attack Hilary Clinton, to deflect attention from his own status as a multi-billionaire ($3.7 billion according to Forbes), and to make her personally responsible for the capitalist crisis that had caused such misery and disaster across the USA.
As well, Clinton was widely recognized as a Secretary of State who campaigned for a foreign policy of war, aggression, and regime change, with military budgets to match. She was reviled by a large section of American voters, who didn’t agree with the Democratic Party establishment that they had to vote for her by default, and they didn’t.
While Trump focused on lining up the working class vote, the left wing in the Democratic Party scattered after Bernie Sanders’ defeat in the primaries. There was little appetite for left-wing Democrats who had spent months fighting Clinton in the primaries, to campaign for her in the election. Furthermore, most observers believed Clinton’s election was a foregone conclusion, that Trump could not win the election. There was also the naïve view that compared to Clinton, Trump was a peace candidate because of his stated ability to work with Putin to find political solutions. Combined with widespread voter suppression, it was enough to launch Trump into office, and to secure Republican majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Four months after the election, it’s also evident that the Trump vote was not a homogenous block, but comprised of divergent parts, including working class voters who wanted to register their anger and opposition to Clinton and the Democrats, by voting for Trump. These people were not ideologically committed to Trump and the GOP, but were deeply angry and wanted real change, which Trump promised to deliver.
The demand for real, immediate, and fundamental change was the biggest single factor in the election campaign, which Trump jumped on with right-wing populist fervor, while Clinton represented the status quo, promising more of the same, which infuriated working class voters who were the victims of those policies. When Sanders was defeated in the primaries, the Democrats’ claim to be the party for working people disappeared with him, despite the fact that significant parts of Sanders’ policies had been added to Clinton’s policy book.
Other parts of the eclectic Trump coalition included 90% of all Republicans, including the many prominent GOP leaders who said they would never vote for Trump under any circumstances. But in fact they did. The Trump coalition also included the fascist right, led by Stephen Bannon and Breitbart News; hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, a key figure in the far right strategy to use Facebook and other social media to manipulate popular thinking; the white supremacists, including David Duke and the KKK; sections of the police and military, the militias and other paramilitary groups; the NRA; and a very wealthy and powerful group of billionaires, bankers, oilmen, and generals, who financed this “outsider” campaign, and who now fill the Cabinet and other key government posts. The troops on the ground were Tea Party supporters, supporters of the men’s rights movement and opponents of women’s reproductive rights, of LGBTQi rights, of civil and equality rights, of immigrant and refugee rights, and of immigration per se, of labour rights; opponents of Obamacare, of Black Lives Matter and the indigenous and environmental movements at Standing Rock, climate change deniers, Islamophobes, homophobes, misogynists, racists, and so on.
It was a coalition of the extreme right, financed by a section of the very wealthy, which appealed directly to the angry and the dispossessed white petit bourgeoisie, and the and most backward sections of the working class. One of its main characteristics was its barely concealed appeals to violence, seen repeatedly at Trump rallies where protesters were attacked with Trump’s approval, and where a main slogan and refrain was “Lock her up!”
The Trump coalition used Islamophobia, anti-Black racism and anti-Semitism, as well as misogyny to promote their demagogic candidate. One outcome of this is increased political and organizing space for emboldened far-right groups. Reports of xenophobic statements and attacks have increased, as have references to the “Rothschild conspiracy” and the role of “bloodline” (i.e. Jewish) bankers in controlling the global economy.
Trump’s inaugural speech proclaimed that his government’s policy will be “America First”, a bellicose decree that the rest of the world should subordinate itself to US corporate and strategic interests, or reap the ruthless consequences which will be quickly dispensed.
Trump’s Cabinet picks revealed for the first time to the public who his closest supporters and backers really were: Rex Tillerson, former Exxon Mobil chair (Secretary of State); Steve Mnuchin, former Goldman Sachs banker and foreclosure king (Treasury); Wilbur Ross, billionaire “king of bankruptcy” (Commerce); Betsy DeVos, millionaire daughter-in-law of the Amway founder and sister of Blackwater founder (Education); Tom Price, millionaire surgeon, opposed to abortion and Obamacare (Health); Ben Carson, wealthy neurosurgeon who compares abortion to slavery and same-sex marriage to pedophilia (Housing and Urban Development); Scott Pruit, climate change denier (Environmental Protection Agency); Rick Perry, former Texas governor and climate change skeptic (Energy); Carl Icahn, multi-billionaire and staunch opponent of regulation (Regulation).
The military also feature large in Trump’s cabinet: Defence Secretary James Mattis, (nicknamed “Mad Dog”) has targeted Iran as “a threat to regional stability, nuclear and otherwise”; CIA Director Mike Pompeo (CIA torturers are “heroes”) opposes closing Guantanamo; Homeland Security Director John F. Kelly, commander of the US Southern Command until 2016; Homeland Security Advisor Thomas Bossert who advocates “full scale occupation” of Syria.
From the white supremacist right are Jeff Sessions, former Alabama Senator and racist with connections to white supremacist organizations like the KKK; and Stephen Bannon, the founder of the alt-right (read fascist) Breitbart News, and Trump’s Strategic Advisor, who also sits on the National Security Council. These are the top performers in Trump’s cabinet and the new leadership of the US government today.
Two of Trump’s picks, Andrew Puzder (Labour); and National Security advisor Michael Flynn, have already been forced to step aside because mass public opposition and pressure forced the Democrats to oppose these and other Trump Cabinet picks. In the case of Puzder, it was because of his scandalous history as a vicious opponent of minimum wage laws and as a thief who regularly cheated his employees of their wages at his several chain restaurants. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was approved by just one vote, because of her long history as an advocate of private education and opponent of public education.
Since taking office, the Trump administration has moved quickly, although meeting considerable resistance from the public, and even from within some sectors of the Republican Party. He has secured control of the judiciary by nominating Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, ensuring that the judiciary continues to be dominated by the Conservative right. The Trump administration has now consolidated power in all three compartments of government: the Executive, the House of Representatives and the Senate, and the judiciary.
On January 27, his seventh day in office, Trump signed an Executive order to ban immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days and 120 days respectively, a travel ban, and an indefinite ban on refugees from Syria. Confronted with opposition from the Acting Attorney General, he fired her. Confronted with court ordered stays, following challenges from Minnesota and California, Trump issued a new executive order, crafted to get around court rulings but with a similar sweeping impact. More court challenges have come forward in the interim, buoyed by the massive Women’s March of more than 5 million people in the US and around the world, and the on-going protests and resistance in the US and elsewhere.
Trump’s Executive Order was paralleled with widespread deportation sweeps and raids resulting in the detention of thousands of undocumented residents. Police have been seconded to these “deportation forces” which are terrorizing documented and undocumented immigrants, and refugees in the US. This is an escalation of the Obama administration’s policies, which deported a record 2.5 million people from the US. Hate crimes have escalated, including murders, all over the US. Muslims and racialized immigrants are the main targets.
The Executive Order and the Deportation Force sweeps have resulted in hundreds of attempts to cross into Canada by refugees who cannot apply for refugee status in Canada while in the US, because of the Safe Third Country Agreement which prohibits such applications. The Designated Country of Origin List also prohibits refugees from more than 40 countries from seeking refugee status in Canada, making it virtually impossible for many to find safety in the US or escape deportation. Many of these desperate people have tried to cross into Canada through farmers’ fields, braving life-threatening temperatures of -20 and colder, with their young children and babies.
Trump has also moved to limit abortion rights for women, de-funding Planned Parenthood, as the first in a series of acts aimed to roll back equality rights for women, for the LGBTQ community, and others. He has reinstated the Global Gag Rule of the George W. Bush administration, which cut off funding to international NGOs that provide abortion referrals or services.
On foreign policy Trump began work by attacking the Australian Prime Minister and Mexican President, by meeting with the fascist leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage, and then meeting with British PM Theresa May, proposing she name Farage British Ambassador to the US. He followed up with a call to the President of Taiwan, which he was forced to step away from, after diplomatic protests from Beijing regarding his provocative action. Trump has demonized China as the thief of US jobs, exporter of trade deficits, and as a Communist country with significant influence that threatens US interests in the region. Trump’s decision to send two new warships to the South China Sea in mid-February could be considered acts of war against China and is a reason for serious concern by the peace and progressive forces globally. This is a deliberate provocation.
Trump has also promised to undo the diplomatic progress made by Cuba during the Obama administration, and to roll-back the clock on diplomatic and economic relations generally. This means the illegal blockade will continue, and perhaps tighten, over the next 4 years. Trump has also indicated that the US base at Guantanamo Bay will not be vacated and will continue to be used as a military prison and interrogation (torture) centre. Just 90 miles from Miami, this leaves Cuba in a very difficult and threatened situation, requiring maximum solidarity and support from our Party and the labour and progressive movements going forward.
During Israeli PM Netanyahu’s visit to Washington, Trump reiterated his promise to forge even closer relations with Israel, and endorsed recent decisions by the Israeli government to greatly expand settlements in the occupied territories. Trump also briefly entertained proposals to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, and to abandon support for a Palestinian state, moves that would have defied international law, effectively a declaration of war on the Palestinian people.
Trump has just announced a $54 billion increase in annual US military spending, and has issued a call to dramatically expand the US nuclear weapons arsenal and other “defence” systems. Trump has also demanded that NATO countries ‘pay up’ their NATO obligations, increase their military spending, and prepare to “unite the civilized world against Radical Islamic Terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth… America is totally unstoppable…. we are protected by God.” (Inauguration speech). NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has echoed Trump’s call for members to increase military spending to 2% of GDP. This would add $110 billion to global military spending, and double Canada’s official military spending to $40 billion.
PM Trudeau’s response to this demand, made while in Europe last month, was that the 2% of GDP could be paid to NATO both in cash and by deploying Canadian troops on the front lines of US wars. Germany’s Angela Merkel expressed support for the proposal as it would apply to Germany.
The US-NATO military buildup includes new forms of nuclear weapons development and proliferation, “conventional” militaries with an increasingly mass destructive capacity, and cyber warfare. Imperialist militarism, provocations and aggressions are the main threat to peace in all regions of the world. They have incited a renewed global arms race, maintained an asymmetrical and discriminatory Non-Proliferation Treaty regime, and propelled continued proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The resulting tension and destabilization are then used by imperialist forces as a pretext for increased intervention. In response to missile tests in February by Iran and DPRK, Trump threatened economic and military retaliation. Our Party reiterates its longstanding demand for comprehensive nuclear and general disarmament, beginning with the arsenals of the United States and NATO countries.
Furthermore, the Communist Party condemns the continued efforts by the US, Japan and South Korea to impose regime change in DPRK. It is the sole right of the Korean people to determine the course of their political, economic and social development, free from foreign interference and provocation. We call for the immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops and weapons from the Korean peninsula, the dismantling of all US military bases in the region, and for a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War.
Trump has affirmed his support for the fascist government of Ukraine, and authorized a bombing raid on a Yemeni village which killed 30 civilians including children. This is an indication of the growing US involvement in the war on Yemen.
In Syria, the US policy towards the Assad government has not changed one iota since Trump’s election. Like the Obama administration, Trump is aiming to defeat and/or remove the Assad government and replace it with a new, pro-US administration. The Eva Bartlett tour in January clearly demonstrated the reality of the US role and objectives in Syria. Last week’s report of a UN Commission condemning the Assad government and Russia for war crimes in Aleppo is also part of the set-up for a take-down of the Syrian government by the US and NATO. The decision to give an Oscar to “The White Helmets”, a disinformation and propaganda film that attacks the Syrian government, is the icing on the cake in this continuing war on Syria.
Concerning Iran, which in February conducted a missile test, Trump announced Iran was “on notice”. This is a direct threat of US military intervention, and a reversal of US support for the year-old Iran nuclear agreement involving the US, EU, Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia, which allows for the peaceful use of nuclear energy, but prohibits production of nuclear weapons. We demand the US keep its hands off Iran. We assert that political solutions are the only way forward to prevent the outbreak of a world war in the Middle East.
The Trump administration’s bellicose foreign policy of war and regime change is a continuation of the foreign policy pursued by previous US administrations, both Democrat and Republican. What is new however, is the virtually complete conversion of the US economy, US domestic and foreign policy, into a war machine, able to turn its sights on nations, states and peoples who resist US predations anywhere in the world, or on the working class, trade unions, youth, women, or racialized peoples who resist anywhere inside the US. This is evident in Trump’s economic policy which will strip public services, social programs, and healthcare of $54 billion and transfer it to the military. It’s evident in the funding and the powers vested in the military, the police, and the security state which are terrorizing immigrants, refugees, racialized peoples, Indigenous peoples, women, and the LGBTQi community now, and all who resist.
It’s also evident in the on-going political and psychological campaign to create a new powerful external enemy that threatens the US and that justifies the huge military build- up and preparations for war. This includes the preparations for war on the US working class. The main target is China whose economy continues to grow at a rapid rate while the US economy and the economies of the capitalist countries generally are hovering near recession levels. Further, China is expanding its trade relations with countries around the world, including Canada, while it holds trillions of dollars of US debt. This reflects the decline of US imperialism’s power and influence on a global scale, relative to its position in the 20th century when US imperialism was on the ascendancy. This is not to say that US imperialism is no longer a threat; in fact it is a very great threat to the peace and stability of the world, precisely because its dominant position is being challenged. The Trump election is a reflection of the changed situation, and is the response of those sections of capital which helped propel him to office, reflected in his Cabinet and other appointments. It’s also reflected in the proposals to provide Japan with nuclear weapons, which would target China, DPRK, Vietnam, Laos and others which challenge or resist US domination.
The on-going political and ideological campaign against China focuses on trade, national security, and human rights. It’s a continuation of the decades old campaign directed against the USSR and then Russia, which was fed during the election and after with allegations of Russian interference in the US elections. This hypocritical campaign is a convenient sideshow for the Democrats to explain their election loss, and to attack Trump and the Republicans without attacking their policies of war and reaction; policies which the Democrats largely support. Further, US interference in the elections of other states is well-known, as is their policy of regime change which calls for the overthrow of governments the US government doesn’t like, using the doctrine of ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P) most recently, and pure anti-communism for decades before that.
The attacks on Russia are an effort to piggy-back the anti-China campaign onto the one hundred years of anti-communism built up against Soviet Russia and the socialist countries. The fact that Russia is now a capitalist country doesn’t change the fact that it is competing with US imperialism for markets and resources, as other capitalist countries are as well. There is also some common cause amongst capitalists in the new Russian ruling class and in US ruling circles around Trump, regarding oil and resource development and the private ownership and exploitation of these and other resources. Also, some of the most racist, homophobic, misogynist and reactionary elements in the US ruling class have sought to cultivate friendly ties with like-minded forces in Russia. At the same time there should be no illusions that US imperialism is content to co-exist in a peaceful relationship with Russia. Imperialism’s goal is still to partition Russia and the countries of the former USSR, and transform them into new pieces of the US Empire.
The intent is to create a new Cold War which would provide cover for the hot war against Russia and China that some in the US ruling class and the Trump administration are willing to gamble on. It also provides the cover for a new assault on the labour and progressive movements inside the US, and on civil, labour and democratic rights. It’s the cover for the full development of fascism in the US.
Our steps to help activate the broad peace movement, and to help rebuild the Canadian Peace Congress, which is the anti-imperialist current in the peace movement in Canada, have born some fruit, but the urgency of the situation has increased exponentially, and our efforts must likewise increase to build up the strongest and broadest peace movement possible today. This must be a top priority across the country coming out of this meeting. Likewise we must build the friendship and solidarity movement with Cuba which the Republicans will return to before long. And we must strengthen the fight to protect and expand civil, democratic, labour and equality rights. These are urgent tasks.
Quickly delivering for the corporations, Trump announced a huge reduction in the corporate tax rate to 15% from 35%, making the US one of the lowest corporate tax jurisdictions in the world. He also promised deregulation across the board as an enticement for Big Pharma and other conglomerates to increase their investment in the US. A Bill to introduce federal right-to-work legislation is also said to be on the way. This is union-busting legislation that could deliver the knock-out blow to the once powerful, but now very small and weakened AFL-CIO. This is legislation the Ontario and Manitoba Tories tried to introduce in Canada two years ago; and which, like the Muslim ban, will likely wash up into Canada if Trump is successful in the US.
For the banks and financial institutions, Trump has ordered the unraveling of “Dodd-Frank” – the legislation put in place by Obama after the 2008 crisis, to regulate banking and the financial sector, and prevent a similar crisis from recurring. Though it is not nearly as strong as was needed to control the financial monopolies, Dodd-Frank is now the international regulatory standard for banking and financial institutions around the globe. Trump’s announcement has thus caused alarm in government offices, and elation in corporate board rooms, on a global scale. Global banking is about to revert to pre-2008 rules and norms. This means as the Globe and Mail cartoonist put it “Letting loose the wolves of Wall Street.” It also means recreating the conditions for another devastating financial crisis sooner, rather than later.
For the oil companies, Trump has given the green light to the Keystone XL pipeline, inviting TransCanada to apply for a permit to build, in the process trampling the rights and objections of the Standing Rock Sioux and other indigenous peoples, and the public interest of the environmental movement which also strongly oppose the pipeline. He has pulled the US out of global climate change agreements, in the process increasing greenhouse gas emissions from the US for at least the next four years, at a time when every moment and every action or inaction counts in the struggle against climate change. Big climate change protests and a march on Washington are being organized now for later in the year.
Trump has ferociously attacked Mexico on both trade and immigration, resulting in Mexico’s threat to unilaterally withdrawal from NAFTA in January, and its cancellation of a bi-lateral meeting with the US President in February. Unfazed, Trump met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in mid-February, announcing that renegotiation of NAFTA was still a key US demand, but that the target was Mexico. Trade with Canada should be “tweaked” he said.
But this continental trade arrangement applies to trade, production, and the free movement of goods and services, workers, and capital, across the continent. A division of labour exists, put in place to facilitate corporate profit-making by transnational corporations, that involves a whole web of interdependent interconnections at every level of production and every level of government. Mexico’s withdrawal or exclusion means the web will be torn, affecting all three countries, and transnational corporate interests (and profits) across the continent. That is why the leaders of 100 corporations have publicly expressed strong opposition to Trump’s plans to tamper with NAFTA. This threatens profits.
Trump’s promise to “tweak” trade with Canada under NAFTA is unbelievable and falls into the realm of “alternative facts”. It’s also not possible. As has been pointed out in the press and media, the North American economy is so integrated that in the auto industry for example, an automobile and its parts can cross the border up to 14 times in the course of building one vehicle. And while it doesn’t have to be that way, it is that way thanks to NAFTA.
Manufacturing, technology and food production are just some of the industries that rely on porous borders and easy cross-border access, and that do not support the protectionist, isolationist positions of the Trump administration expressed in the slogan America First! which interfere with their businesses and profits. These are the sections of Wall Street much more likely to have supported Clinton and the Democrats who support free trade and the free movement of capital across borders around the world.
The question for Canada is not whether we can live with Trump’s tweaks – though these won’t be tweaks: they’ll be our softwood lumber industry, our supply management system in agriculture, our auto assembly and parts industries, and our Medicare system to name just a few things on the US ‘tweak’ list. But the real question for Canadians, and for labour and working people is whether we can live with NAFTA: the continental corporate constitution that has cost Canada 500,000 manufacturing jobs and whole sectors of manufacturing including the appliance and furniture industries, agricultural implements, garment and footwear, the domestic steel industry, ship-building, among others. NAFTA has deeply eroded Canada’s sovereignty and independence, and greatly strengthened the grip of US imperialism on our foreign and domestic policies, and the corporate grip over our energy, natural resources, environment, as well as our civil, social, labour, equality, national and democratic rights. These are the reasons the labour and democratic movements opposed NAFTA in the first place, and the reason they should oppose NAFTA now.
Trudeau and other free trade advocates are trying to bamboozle Canadians into believing that the only options are free trade or protectionism. But those are just the capitalist options. The real choice is capitalist globalization (free trade) where the big dogs eat and the small dogs get eaten, or mutually beneficial multi-lateral trade where all countries benefit. Mercosur was an example of the latter, before the popular governments which created it were overthrown.
Instead of trying to seduce the misogynist Trump with promises to showcase Ivanka Trump’s entrepreneurial skills at a cross border conference of business women, the PM should announce Canada’s withdrawal from NAFTA, and negotiate new trade arrangements based on a policy of mutually beneficial, multi-lateral trade with all countries, that includes long-term credits to the developing countries.
This also opens up new possibilities for developing an environmentally sustainable industrial strategy for Canada, including a Canadian steel industry, and an energy policy based on public ownership and democratic control of energy resources and development of new sustainable energy such as solar, wind, thermal, and others still in development.
We need value-add manufacturing and secondary industry. It should include development of a publicly owned and controlled Canadian transportation industry with urban and inter-urban rapid transit and light rail transit. It should include development and production of a Canadian car that is small, fuel-efficient, environmentally sustainable, and affordable. The only guarantee of Canadian jobs is a Canadian auto industry, that’s part and parcel of a larger publicly-owned transportation system. The aerospace industry into which the Canadian government has poured so much public money ($4.1 billion) over many years, should be part of this publicly owned and democratically controlled transportation system, and developed in the interests of Canada.
A massive program to build affordable social housing across Canada at affordable rents and prices would eliminate the bubble in housing prices, increase housing stock across the country and alleviate the huge numbers of people who are under-housed or homeless. Housing is a universal human right, and should be treated as a public utility – universally accessible and affordable. A massive housing program would also create hundreds of thousands of jobs in construction and in manufacturing and services – the 7 fold spin-off jobs. This creation of real wealth – not the speculative wealth of the coupon clippers – would provide the funds needed to expand social programs and public services, Medicare, a universal public childcare system and much more.
This is the recipe for economic recovery and rising wages and living standards in Canada. But it requires the political will to implement it, and to sharply curb the power of the monopolies and the corporations that will oppose it. It also requires that the working class and its allies fight for these policies and for the political leadership of the left and the Communists party that can lead that fight.
Instead of capitalist globalization, we fight for peace, jobs, sovereignty, equality, democracy, and for socialism.
Letting Loose the Wolves of Wall Street
Developments in the US are of deep concern in Canada, and globally. “Letting loose the wolves of Wall Street” had global consequences in 2008, and it will have global consequences now as well. What we are seeing is capitalism developing into its most dangerous predatory form, which Georgi Dmitrov described as the open, terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary , most chauvinist, and most imperial elements of finance capital.
Our job, and the job of the labour and people’s movements is to make sure that drive towards fascism is derailed before it gathers any more steam.
At our last meeting in October, we observed that the Trump campaign was a measure of the support for fascism in the US. The election results suggest that the level of support is considerable, and that the previously unseen forces backing Trump are indeed the forces willing and able to deliver it, as the needs of the capitalist system in the US and elsewhere dictate. As we have seen in the public response to Trump’s America First policies, there is no consensus in the ruling circles around his trade and immigration policies, though there is certainly support for corporate tax cuts, deregulation, privatization and infrastructure spending, as shown in the Wall Street stock market rallies early this year. This is so because of the huge transfers of wealth from the working class to the ruling class that will be made, even though deregulation and tax cuts will make the US and the whole capitalist world much more vulnerable to further structural crises, especially in the banking and financial sectors, and will in fact hurry the next crisis. Recovery will be increasingly difficult with each new crisis because of the current levels of unemployment and impoverishment of large sections of the US working class which is always required to pay for capitalist crises. The current drive to war and to militarism through NATO and now NORAD as well, have a dual function of solving capitalism’s problems of economic crisis as necessary, as well as strengthening the repressive role of the state – police, prisons, courts – at home.
How things will further develop in the US depends in part on the continuing and accelerating resistance of the labour and people’s movements to the Trump administration, and on deepening the divisions in the ruling class itself.
What are the conditions that make this drive to the far right possible now? A deep economic crisis that has gripped the entire capitalist world, from which the capitalists are unable to extract themselves, short of war. Permanent mass unemployment that has created a mass underclass of millions of people who have nothing and no hope of ever changing their situation or their conditions in life. This is particularly acute in the US, where social security has been much more deeply eroded than in Canada. A wide-spread and deep distrust, anger and revulsion at bourgeois politicians, political parties and institutions, including governments and corporations, banks, trusts, and financial elites who are regarded as corrupt, deceitful, self-serving, and vile. A widespread desire to overthrow the whole corrupt edifice, and an attraction to the idea of a wholesale changeover, of a revolution (which is what Trump promised the disaffected in the US.)
Add to this an unprecedented mass migration of people, fleeting imperialist war and aggression in their own countries, seeking refuge in countries whose populations harbor deep racial and religious prejudices which are deliberately stoked to create fear and division, and violence.
Add to this the violent political and ideological response aimed to halt the developing shift in the mass consciousness of working people who, angered and critical of capitalism, are also increasingly drawn to anti-capitalist, working class, and to socialist ideas and movements. In the US, the socialist ideas presented to the public were the ideas and politics of self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders, which neither of the old-line parties could tolerate, but which attracted wide public support in the US and internationally. Even though they weren’t the scientific socialism that the Communist Parties espouse, they were ideas and policies that worried ruling circles in both parties, lest they gain more support and sink new roots in public consciousness. That’s the real reason why the Democratic Party sabotaged the Sanders campaign.
These are the same conditions that are developing in Europe and which have contributed to the growth of fascist movements and parties in both western and eastern Europe. These include PEGIDA (“Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West”) in Germany and Soldiers of Odin in Finland. The government of Ukraine is fascist, and in Greece, Golden Dawn is the third largest party in Parliament, with a mass base in the country. In Austria, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Holland, and France, fascist parties all have Members of Parliament, some with large groupings. This spring in France, elections for the President show National Front leader Marine Le Pen running neck and neck with a conservative candidate, far ahead of the Socialist party candidate. This is a consequence of the right-turn taken by social democratic parties in Europe (and elsewhere) over the last 20 years. Combined with the crisis in the Communist movement caused by the overthrow of the USSR and the socialist states in Eastern Europe, the weakness of the left and revolutionary forces left a wide space for far right politics and ideology, and state sponsored attacks on socialism to take root. Important elections in Germany will also determine whether the country shifts sharply to the right, or stays the course with Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Christian Democratic Union.
Two decades of austerity have created the economic and social conditions in Europe for these racist, xenophobic, misogynist, and anti-working class ideas to gain ground.
In Canada too, the Trump campaign and election have provided rich soil for the racists, xenophobes, misogynists, and fascists in Canada to show themselves and to grow. The long history of racism in Canada, beginning with the genocide of indigenous people that started with the arrival of Europeans and has continued through the residential schools, the Sixties Scoop and the Missing and Murdered Women; the Komagata Maru incident where hundreds of South Asians were refused entry into the Port of Vancouver and were turned back to cross the Pacific with little water and few supplies; the Chinese head tax that prevented Chinese labourers from bringing their families to Canada; the Japanese internment in Canadian concentration camps in WW II; the laws preventing Jews and Blacks from using public beaches or staying in certain hotels or restaurants; the bulldozing of Africville in Nova Scotia; this is the racism built into the fabric of Canada, evident in policing, in schools and education, in healthcare, housing and services, in religious institutions, in employment, in all facets of life, for generations.
The hatred of Muslims and immigrants that permeated the Trump campaign directly contributed to the Quebec killings of 6 men and attempted murder of 5 more at prayer in a St. Foy mosque. The killer was an admirer of Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump. But he was also encouraged by Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch who advocates extreme vetting of immigrants for “Canadian values”, and who introduced the Barbaric Cultural Practices Act when she was a Cabinet Minister in the Harper government. In fact it was during the Harper government’s decade in office that the doors to racism and Islamophobia opened wide.
Leitch’s latest reach to the right led her straight to Ezra Levant’s Rebel Media and its “Freedom Rally” February 15, with right-wing evangelist Charles McVety and three other Tory leadership candidates, to attack M-103, a private members motion put by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid, calling on Parliament to set up a study of systemic racism, and religious discrimination including Islamophobia with the aim of reducing growing attacks on Muslims in Canada. Leitch lied when she told the “Freedom Rally” that the motion was a Bill to enact Shariah law in Canada and to limit free speech, impinging on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. So did the other speakers, including Tory leadership candidates Chris Alexander, Pierre Lemieux and Brad Trost. Leitch’s intent was to rev up the crowd with fear-mongering and hate speech, and to stake her credentials as the most right-wing candidate in the race for the Tory leadership.
In Quebec, since the crisis of reasonable accommodations more than a decade ago, several chauvinist forces have worked relentlessly to fuel fear-mongering and hate, including Mario Dumont’s ADQ, which merged with the François Legault’s movement to create the CAQ in 2011, the PQ with its Charter of Quebec Values in 2013, and the Bloc Québécois during the last federal election. Acts of violence and threats against Muslims and immigrants have also increased two-fold in the last two years, prompting MP Iqra Khalid’s motion first tabled in December.
In Quebec a fascist group called La Meute, with a military leadership, claims to have membership of 43,000, who are united by their hatred of immigrants and Muslims. This is a startling revelation.
In Toronto, the fascist newspaper “Your Ward News”, which Canada Post finally stopped delivering after public protests by labour and community groups and a directive from the PMO, has ramped up its run and distribution area which now includes most of Toronto and some neighboring cities, paid for by unknown sources. The publication is openly fascist, targeting Communists, Jews, immigrants, LGBTQ, women, minorities, and glorifies Nazis in WW II photos and commentary. Liberal Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is a favourite target because she is gay, and the NDP are also targets because of their efforts to stop distribution of this hate rag by Canada Post. Despite continuing protests and appeals to police and government to act, Canada’s hate laws never seem to apply. Clearly, these people are tolerated by the state which continues to allow them to publish their hate-speech and attacks which include book burnings in the parking lot behind their Toronto store-front.
We call on federal and provincial governments to enforce hate speech laws, and to enact them where they don’t exist, and strengthen them where they are weak. The argument that hate speech cannot or should not be banned because it interferes or threatens free speech does not stand up under close examination. In fact, hate speech is not a right; it is an infringement on the right to free speech, and a threat to the Charter protected right to free speech. Banning hate speech, which includes or implies the threat of violence, or the advocacy of collective punishment, against a religious, ethic, or identifiable social or national group, is therefore a logical, reasonable and appropriate consequence. We also call for the banning of organized hate groups such as the KKK which are responsible for cross burnings, bombings, beatings, and murders in Canada and the US.
With all that we have said here, the struggle against fascism and reaction in Canada is a fight to prevent it and to defeat its purveyors and fomenters from succeeding.
Canada has had several bouts with fascist movements in the past, including in 1931 with Section 98 and the arrest and imprisonment of Tim Buck and 7 other Communist leaders; in Quebec in 1937 with the infamous Padlock Law that outlawed renting a hall to the Communists; in the lead up to the Second World War with the battle in Christie Pitts in Toronto in August 1933, with Adrien Arcand’s Parti National Social Chrétien which started in Quebec in 1934, but later merged with fascist groups in Ontario and Quebec to form the Canadian National Socialist Unity Party. The KKK has existed and organized in Canada since the 1930s, at one time with considerable support in Alberta and eastern Ontario. It is still active and responsible for cross burnings in southern Ontario. The imprisonment of the eight Communist leaders by R.B. Bennett, the internment of the Japanese Canadian population during WWII, and the Padlock Law in Quebec, were all actions that opened the door to fascism in Canada but were fought and defeated. The Heritage Front was an active fascist organization in the 1980s, with a bunker on College Street in Toronto. Various unnamed fascist organizations set off bombs and fires at our offices in Toronto, and attacked progressive organizations and unions as well. In every case, the progressive and democratic forces, labour, and the Communist party, led a fight against these reactionary and fascist forces and won. And that is what we must do now as well.
Exposing these racist, xenophobic, misogynist and fascist forces for what they are – the shock troops of the most violent and reactionary sections of capital – and for the danger of fascism that they pose to the working class and to all but the corporations and the very wealthy, is our job. Uniting the progressive forces, the labour and democratic movements, the people’s organizations, youth, academics, anti-fascists, anti-racists, to actively oppose and defeat these groups and these ideas, is our job.
While fascism’s main attack is directed at the working class, every sector and strata is affected, including middle strata, farmers, small businesses, etc. Every sector has an objective interest in defeating the extreme right, and so the basis of unity against the extreme right is objectively very broad. We aim to build broad coalitions and movements against the extreme right, fascist organizations and movements, and the drive to war. The political demands must reflect this breadth as well. Our demands are aimed to protect and expand democracy which is threatened by the extreme right. And so our focus is to oppose hate speech and agitation; to oppose acts of hatred against identifiable groups – such as Muslims and Jews; to demand protection and expansion of civil and democratic rights and human rights; and to oppose the security state laws and Bill C-51 which allows for mass arrests and detentions on suspicion of future crimes. We demand that the government act to protect those targeted and attacked, and to prosecute the attackers enforcing existing hate laws, and enacting new laws where needed. We mobilize mass solidarity and support to those under attack, and lead the fight to roll-back those attacks, using all tools at our disposal including protests, demonstrations, public meetings on the issues, letters to the Editor, social media, post-cards, resolutions, and post-card campaigns directed to members of Parliament, Legislators, City Councils and School Boards. We call on Parliament now to unanimously support Motion 103, to oppose and condemn systemic racism, religious discrimination, and Islamophobia. We work to build movements and coalitions to counter the actions and ideas of the extreme right, and to fight for the expansion of democracy and oppose restrictions and limitations, and elimination of democratic rights and freedoms.
The mobilization of the broadest sections of the people aims to bring as many people as possible into visible public actions in the streets and communities. We oppose all efforts to narrow down this struggle with sectarian demands or to hijack the mass action of the thousands and hundreds of thousands with the self-styled militancy of the anarchist and ultra-left few. It is the masses who make history.
Having said that, it is the job of Communists to expose the roots of capitalist crisis which are also the roots of fascism, and to offer up the alternative of socialism and working class power. But we do this to help working people understand the nature of the beast we are fighting, the great danger it poses to the working class and working people, and to elucidate the alternative to capitalism and fascism, which is socialism. Part of the allure of the far right is their promise to deliver fundamental change such as full employment, good jobs, higher wages and living standards, affordable housing, elimination of debt – things that bourgeois democratic governments are unable or unwilling to deliver. In due course, the truth that the far right will not deliver them either, comes to light, but long after great and savage damage has been done.
But our alternative of socialism can deliver fundamental change, and is based on systemic and revolutionary change. Advocating for an alternative system, an alternative policy, is essential, because it illuminates an alternative path of development for Canada, other than capitalism; without making that path a condition of unity in the resistance to the extreme right and fascist movements. Our immediate platform for a People’s Coalition, includes creating good jobs and full employment, for rising wages, pensions and living standards, for strong universal social programs and a strong social safety net, for peace and disarmament, for mutually beneficial multi-lateral trade policies, for a new equal and voluntary partnership of indigenous peoples, Quebec, and English-speaking Canada, based on the right of national self-determination up to and including secession. These are the policies that can take Canada out of the current crisis, and open to the door to fundamental change and to socialism.
We must step up our efforts to build left and left-centre unity in the labour movement, and to create the conditions to build a People’s Coalition. We need to build the peace movement, and the mass movements, and work to bring the people into mass action and into the streets in defence of their rights and in support of demands to improve wages and living standards, for a People’s Agenda. We need to build the Communist Party, our press, and the YCL, to increase our activity, expand our capacity, increase our mass and independent work, develop our cadre, and reach many more working people and youth with our message that there is another way out of the crisis: a working class alternative; a people’s alternative.
Our activity now – our independent activity, and our mass activity in the labour and peoples’ movements – can make a material difference in what the future will look like in five years, in ten years, next year. This is our job.
Political Developments in Canada
The election of Trump and the subsequent flurry of activity have helped PM Trudeau and the Liberals through an increasingly unpopular winter of discontent in Canada. Polls show the Liberals losing support as one by one, the government’s election promises vaporize. Starting with the promises to Indigenous peoples to launch the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women, avoiding delays and facilitating its work; to establish a nation to nation relationship between the federal government and Indigenous nations, and not to approve pipelines without prior approval of indigenous nations; to adequately fund Indigenous education, healthcare, mental health, housing, and clean water on reserves; none of this has been delivered. Trudeau’s approval of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline in November, and the resurrection of the Keystone XL pipeline by President Trump in January have generated furious opposition from environmentalists as well as Indigenous peoples and their supporters from both the US and Canada.
Just before the December holidays the government convened provincial health ministers to offer them a take-it-or-leave-it deal that would cut $30 billion from federal healthcare transfers over the next ten years. By adding $11 million, a small amount – specifically for mental healthcare and long-term care – the government tried to convince Canadians that slashing $30 billion from healthcare was a good idea. Originally united against the massive cut, the provinces have pulled apart with the Atlantic provinces, the Territories, Saskatchewan and BC settling for the original offer with some small tweaks and top-ups. The biggest provinces, Ontario and Quebec have not settled, nor Alberta and Manitoba; however, the provinces’ united front to secure a new and better financed federal health accord has broken apart, and the goal of a new federal health accord is lost.
The Saskatchewan settlement poses another imminent threat to Medicare in Canada because the federal government has chosen not to demand that the Wall government end its practice of allowing private pay healthcare to clear the backlog of people on the wait list for MRIs in the public healthcare system. The Wall government – a right-wing Tory government – is flouting the Canada Health Act and the single payer public system with impunity. The federal Liberals are willing to do this because they want the $10 billion cut from their transfers over 10 years, to be used for infrastructure spending, and to reduce the deficit, before the 2019 election campaign. No wonder that the public is cynical.
In Ontario, the Ontario Medical Association, representing family doctors and specialists in the province, has demanded big increases to doctors’ fees for service, and is threatening strike action if the provincial Liberals don’t cough up. Behind this campaign are greedy, right-wing doctors who support healthcare privatization, and Conservative Party operatives working to defeat the Wynne Liberals in next year’s provincial elections. The take-over of the OMA by this group included a wholesale clear-out of the previous OMA leadership, most of whom were also Tories and Liberals, but not of the ‘radical right’ persuasion.
Medicare is also under threat from the upcoming NAFTA negations, and from the Charter challenge launched by Dr. Brian Day and Cambie Surgery, demanding an end to the single payer system and allowing private healthcare corporations to compete with the publicly financed Medicare system. The court case is still underway, packed with witnesses advocating for private billing and two-tier healthcare, but the outcome will be a landmark either for, or against, universal healthcare in Canada, when a decision is rendered sometime later this year or early next year. This is also a proposal from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce to the Ontario government, to ‘ease’ pressure on the public system.
Trudeau’s latest fall from grace is the decision to scrap the electoral reform that he promised would come before the next federal election, when he was campaigning in 2015. The assertion that Canadians just aren’t interested in electoral reform is so blatantly untrue that public reaction was quick and nasty and included Canada-wide protests. These were undoubtedly also spurred by the Liberals’ cash-for-access scandal, also permitted by the current election laws.
The Liberals also promised to restore door to door delivery at Canada Post. The parliamentary report on Canada Post indicates the government will restore service to some of the approximately 830,000 homes that have been forced to use community mailboxes, but not all. Furthermore, the report rejects CUPW’s proposals to adopt postal banking as a service and a means to increase revenue for the post office. This is another broken promise, and quite possibly another target for privatization.
NAFTA negotiations, which are still ahead, and which even Brian Mulroney has advised will be very tough for Canada, are all about bread and butter for millions of Canadians. So is the government’s economic plan, about which we will hear more in the spring budget. The promise of good jobs and infrastructure investments across the country have been exposed – not as a cross-Canada building plan – but as a coast to coast privatization plan, in which public-private partnerships (P-3s) stand to bilk billions out the public purse and into corporate coffers. The plan may also include privatization of existing public assets, as has happened in Ontario. The sale of Ontario Hydro, euphemistically described by Premier Wynne as “unlocking and recycling a public asset” is the largest privatization of a public asset in Canadian history, a huge giveaway to the corporations purchasing it, and has caused huge increases in hydro fees to all customers, and especially residential customers.
The government’s Economic Advisory Committee, chaired by Domenic Barton, managing director of McKinsey, a global consulting firm, is recommending privatization, more free trade, deregulation, foreign investment, and changes to the labour market and the CPP that would raise the pension age to 67 – measures the previous government was defeated over.
The outcome of the NAFTA negotiations and the failure to deliver on many of their election promises, will all have a significant impact on the next election slated for 2019.
A recent Nanos poll showed 75% of Canadians want Trudeau to stand up to Trump on a range of issues including trade, immigration, progressive values, and NATO. Meanwhile, a December Forum poll shows Liberal support has fallen to 42%, while support for the Tories has risen to 34%. Not so far apart just two years short of a general election. The NDP on the other hand – the party pegged to win the last election – is stuck far behind at just 12%, while the Greens have risen to 6%, and the BQ is at 5%. This is a quick snapshot of the crisis of social democracy and the crisis of bourgeois politics in polling numbers.
Another more telling poll is the international Edelman Trust Barometer, which for the first time has put Canada on the “distruster” list, that is the list of countries whose governments and institutions do not have the confidence of their citizens, according to polling results. More specifically, the polling results show the trust gap in Canada has doubled in the last year and is nearly at the same level as in the US, Britain and France. Trust in government and the news media have declined dramatically to 45% and 43% respectively, while trust in business has declined to 50% from 56%. More than half (55%) say the system isn’t working for them, and 50% say immigration is damaging the economy and national culture. 80% think the “elites” who run major institution are out of touch with regular people, and 60% don’t trust them to address the challenges facing the country.
A Pollara poll, taken at the same time, showed that 57% of Canadians believe Canada is in recession. While not technically correct, it’s an accurate reflection of rapidly declining purchasing power and living standards, and the good jobs that are still disappearing with plant closures and lay-offs, and the precarious jobs and contract work that is the norm for a sizable proportion of the workforce, and for almost all young people. This is the relative and absolute impoverishment of the working class.
While apologists for capitalism cite automation as the main reason, the truth is that automation is an important part of the story, but not the whole story. The main reason is the increasing concentration and centralization of capital in the hands of fewer and fewer monopolies, the vast increase in corporate super-profits, in prices, in layoffs and plant closures, and in the exploitation of workers through declining real wages, cuts to benefits and pensions, and a continuing decline in union density in the private sector. Automation fits within this framework, enabling workers to create enormous new wealth which is appropriated almost exclusively by the employers. In this way the scientific and technological revolution has benefited the employers and been used against the working class. Mass permanent unemployment is a big part of what has fueled the right-wing “revolution” in the US, in Europe, and now in Canada as well. This is what the Tories and the far right are feeding on.
Economic projections for the Canadian economy in 2017 are mixed. The rise in oil prices has helped the Alberta oil industry, but unemployment is still over 8%. The low Canadian dollar was expected to increase exports and offset low oil prices, but it didn’t materialize, and factory output and manufacturing output has declined, resulting in very weak growth in the GDP. Trump’s America First policy, including border taxes and tariffs on automobiles and other manufactured goods, as well as pressure to further lower corporate taxes in Canada, and for more deregulation, are a serious threat to the Canadian economy. Changes to global banking regulations will also threaten Canada, which is already suffering the effects of housing bubbles in Toronto, Vancouver, and elsewhere in the country. Increases in the price of housing, which in Toronto has surpassed 24% per year, are not sustainable, and could become the trigger in a new economic crisis.
The Tories, as we have mentioned, are positioning themselves on the far right of the Liberals, though their tight embrace of Trump means their fortunes will also be tied to the mercurial US President and his posse of bankers, billionaires, and oilmen.
The Bloc Quebecois has also tied itself to the rising right-wing movements, and remains without a leader, without Party status, and with only ten members of Parliament. A leadership election to replace former leader Gilles Duceppe will be held in April.
The NDP is also waiting for its fall convention to elect a new leader and determine whether it will alter its political direction. Its fall to third party status is a direct reflection of its rightward shift during the leadership of Jack Layton and current leader Thomas Mulcair. Unless the left-wing of the party is able to change the direction, the NDP is unlikely to pose a serious challenge to either the Liberals or the Tories in the next election. In the interim, the NDP’s support for NAFTA renegotiations, for NATO and NORAD, and for balanced budgets, will not endear it to Canadians, nor help to mount the fight needed to defeat the corporate agenda, and secure the policies Canadians voted for in the 2015 election campaign.
The Green Party, like the NDP, has been outspoken on the issues of Islamophobia and hate, and on environmental and indigenous concerns around the pipelines, but Green leader Elizabeth May is still opposed to BDS as it applies to the Palestinian cause.
Alberta has the only NDP government left in Canada, the result of a serious split on the right between Wild Rose and the Conservatives. With the next provincial election due in May 2019, the unite the right forces are working overtime to prevent the re-election of the NDP and Premier Rachel Notley, attacking the most progressive parts of the NDP policies, as well as ferociously attacking Rachel Notley as a woman, including with threats of rape and murder. This is the real face of the fundamentalist, far-right in Canada. We again call on the federal and provincial governments and police forces to enforce the hate laws and take legal action against the organizations promoting these attacks on the premier and on all women in Canada.
Premier Notley and the Alberta NDP government are efficient protectors of Alberta’s oil industry, and advocates for east, west and southern pipelines recently approved by Trudeau, Trump and BC Premier Christy Clark’s Liberal government. To keep both the Wild Rose and the Conservatives out of government, it will be necessary to deepen divisions on the right while pressing the NDP to take more progressive positions, through extra-parliamentary action. This is the way forward now, while we also work to build up the left and labour forces in the province. We must also work hard to build our Party, our press, and the YCL as well.
In BC, an election will be held May 9, and the polls show the Liberals and NDP tied at 37%, with the Greens at 17%. A key issue is the Kinder Morgan Pipeline, which puts the BC NDP at odds with the NDP government in Alberta. After 16 years of Liberal government, this will be a very important election for the working people of BC. Our Comrades have put six candidates into the field, including Comrades Kimball Cariou, George Gidora, Peter Marcus, Tyson Strandlund, Peter Kerek and Beat Klossner. We wish these fighting candidates every success in their campaigns to defeat the Liberals and win policies that put people’s needs ahead of corporate greed !
As we meet this weekend, the extra-parliamentary struggle is the main one we will focus on for the next two years. The results of this struggle will set the stage for the 2019 federal election. For working people to secure advances in that election, we have to secure real advances in the labour and people’s struggles against war and reaction in the next 24 months.
The Women’s March was the largest demonstration since 2003, held in cities large and small across Canada, in sync with marches across the US and around the world. It was a huge outpouring of anger and defiance at Trump and his supporters, at his election, and at the misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, racism and reaction so celebrated in his campaign, and so evident in his first days in office. Many women who protested that day had never protested before, but the election of Trump to the White House had crossed a line that compelled hundreds of thousands of Canadian women (and 5 million women world-wide) to spontaneously take to the streets with home-made signs with their children in tow, and many men walking with them in unity and solidarity. It was a remarkable demonstration of the unity, militancy, and power of women in action.
For Communists and progressives it underlined the importance and the urgency of rebuilding the powerful women’s movement that led many of the big mass struggles for democratic and equality rights of the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Now we must rebuild in the new conditions of the 21st century, and struggle to defend and extend rights in the face of a very dangerous right-wing assault.
In this regard, it more than timely that the Women’s Commission established in October should take the lead in this work to build the women’s movement, and to build the Communist presence in this movement, with all of our energy and initiative. As clear as day, women are ready and willing to fight for their rights, and against racism, misogyny, Islamophobia, and trans- and homophobia. What’s needed is organization, a basis of unity and leadership. The door is open; women are on the move. The time for mass action to defend and expand women’s equality rights is now.
Next weekend March 8th celebrations will take place in cities across Canada, including demonstrations in some places. Let there be big Communist Party contingents at these events with our press and our IWD leaflets for mass distribution. The women’s movement in Canada need to know that they have the unqualified support of the Communist Party in their struggle for women’s equality, for gender equality, for racial equality, and for freedom from discrimination and exploitation.
The outpouring of support and solidarity with Muslims threatened by the murders by a white supremacist in Quebec, and by other acts of hate across the country, have resulted in spontaneous actions such as the encircling of mosques in Toronto in a gesture of support and defence against Islamophobic attacks. Many people who have not participated in public protests in the past, have been moved to act in the wake of these attacks on Muslims and other racialized, religious, and immigrant communities.
In November, the Canadian Federation of Students organized the first Canada-wide day of protest against sky-rocketing tuition fees and for accessible education and free tuition, that it has held for a number of years. This redirect towards mass action is very welcome and certainly needed as young people are more and more the victims of high unemployment, low wages, and crushing debt caused by high tuition.
The role of the YCL and Party Clubs on campuses across the country is very important to strengthen and coordinate in the months ahead. The Quebec student strike of 2012 and the role of the Party and YCL there, show how important this work is to mobilize and unite youth with the broader struggle and vice versa.
Following the pipeline approvals and the approval of the Site C dam in BC, Indigenous leaders representing 50 nations in western Canada and the US came together to declare their militant opposition and their determination to continue to struggle against the pipelines and other development projects that infringe on Aboriginal lands and land claims, and that do damage to the environment. Many of these nations have actively supported the struggle at Standing Rock, where police and military have been called in to end the protests. We support the struggle of the Standing Rock Sioux, and express our support and solidarity to them, from our Plenum this week in Toronto.
In February teachers and educational workers in Nova Scotia organized a one day strike, bringing thousands of teachers to the legislature in Halifax, to protest the provincial government’s imposition of a 4 year collective agreement that had been rejected three times by teachers, and imposing a back to work order. At issue in the contract dispute were working conditions, including class size and staffing, supports for special needs students including educational assistants, funds for classroom expenses and for facilities for students. The union said they raised these contract demands ibecause the provincial government had never delivered on its promises made to the public. Forced back to work, the teachers are angry.
Also in Nova Scotia, the strike of the Chronicle Herald workers marked its one year anniversary January 17th, in the bitter cold of a Maritime winter. At issue are the concessions and the cuts that the employer is demanding, and which the 61 union members are refusing to accept. The union is publishing its own newspaper addressed to the community, highlighting the importance of accurate news and information in the era of “fake news” and corporate news. The strike has the support of the whole labour movement in NS, and of the Halifax and Red Lobster clubs whose members have been on the picket lines with our press.
In Newfoundland the fight against the provincial government’s 2016 austerity budget continues, along with the fight against the Muskrat Falls dam project in Labrador which will poison the downstream lake with methyl mercury.
In BC, the fight against the Liberal government’s austerity policies, pipelines and fracking, and the dismissal of the Vancouver School Board, have helped set the stage for the May 9 election and the hoped-for defeat of the Liberal government. But as the last election demonstrated, opposition to the Liberals and their right-wing policies won’t be enough to change political direction. What’s needed – and what the public is looking for – are alternative policies that will reverse the terrible damage done by 16 years of a right-wing Liberal government. The Communist candidates will fight for just such policies, but the labour and democratic movements will need to engage in this election to bring policy alternatives to the fore. This is a time when working people are searching for real alternatives, and real change.
In Quebec, after a serious slowdown in 2005 following the Charest Liberal government’s decrees imposing working conditions on public sector employees, the strike movement regained some vigor. This was related in part to the fact that collective agreements are increasingly of a duration of at least five years. For example, in 2013, almost 180,000 workers went on strike, almost exclusively in the private sector, a record compared with the previous ten years, and even exceeding by 56% the number of strikes in 2005 which included a strike of the Common Front in the public sector. This reflects both the willingness of the workers to end the cycle of setbacks imposed by neo-liberal austerity policies and the harshness of the bourgeoisie’s attacks, particularly with regard to wages and pension funds.
In June 2014, the Couillard Liberals launched a major attack on the pension plans of municipal employees, and even considered giving municipalities the power to unilaterally determine their employees’ working conditions. There followed a major mobilization in the form of demonstrations and court challenges, etc. The idea of a general political strike spread more and more.
In the spring of 2015, the student movement tried to accelerate the movement of a general political strike on the basis of its demands. But with the exception of a few dozen teachers’ unions that went on strike May 1, 2015, the student movement remained isolated because it had not coordinated with the Public Sector Common Front who were not ready or legally able to strike at that moment. The government brutally repressed the student movement, which was seriously damaged and unable to mobilize when the right moment arrived in the fall when the Common Front could legally act.
By the end of 2015, the Common Front of the Public Sector, involving nearly half a million strikers, was stopped by an agreement reached in principle between the government and the leaders of the trade union centrals. In the absence of an agreement, the government was threatening to pass a special law, but it had to withdraw its demands for major concessions in working conditions, although it had succeeded in preventing the wage increases which were the main demand of the workers. The general assemblies of the 100,000 health workers affiliated with the CSN rejected the agreement in March 2016.
On May 27, 2016, the Union representing 279 employees of the Old Port of Montreal (a tourism site under federal jurisdiction) which include ticketing, parking and maintenance attendants, and security guards, affiliated to the FTQ (QFL), triggered an unlimited strike. The main demand was a minimum wage of $ 15/hour.
The strike lasted five months. From the outset, the strikers faced an injunction preventing them from demonstrating or entering the site of the Old Port of Montreal. The employer also used strikebreakers. Nevertheless, the strikers remained united and mobilized, and actively supported the picket lines of strikers in private homes for the elderly, who also went out on an unlimited general strike at the end of June 2016 to demand a minimum wage at $15 per hour. The strikers demonstrated in front of Parliament in Ottawa, and they heckled Prime Minister Trudeau in a meeting of young trade unionists organized by the CLC on October 25, 2016. They won a general increase of 12% over 5 years and raised the minimum wage at the Old Port from $ 10.67 to $ 12.38.
Québec Solidaire announced in the summer of 2016 that it was making the demand to increase the minimum wage to $15 a priority. QS deputies showed up on the picket lines to give their support, and QS tabled a petition of several thousand names to the National Assembly in the fall of 2016. The government replied through Finance Minister Leitao that the minimum wage at $10.25 was perfectly adequate. In the southwest of Montreal, QS candidate Véronique Martineau set up a mobilization committee that adopted a plan of work to support this demand.
This demand is very important, since in Quebec, over one million people, 60% of whom were women, earned an hourly wage equal to or less than $15.51 in 2014. The main labour centrals have adopted the demands of the $15 and Fairness campaign and have made a $15 minimum wage part of their bargaining strategy as well as part of their political action programs and demands. This is quite significant not only in Quebec, but for the labour and youth movement across Canada. Efforts should be undertaken to raise this at the up-coming CLC convention and to make this an all-Canada campaign in bargaining. This two pronged attack is exactly the way that the fight for pensions and other important programs were won across Canada.
Meeting in convention, the FTQ voted almost unanimously in favor of a proposal to make the $15 minimum wage one of the priorities in their future negotiations. As a result, the FTQ affiliated unions have committed to include the $15 an hour minimum wage demand in bargaining for the renewal of all collective agreements and in the signing of a first collective agreement.
The Confederal Council of the CSN in June 2016 had already embarked on a campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in Quebec as quickly as possible. The next CSN convention, to be held June 5-9, 2017 in Montreal, is likely to discuss this issue again. On March 8, the CSN Women’s Committee in Montreal is organizing actions to support the demand for the $15 minimum wage and to highlight the high rates of poverty among women.
In BC, employers at Simon Fraser University’s food services have fired and laid off staff involved in the fight for $15 in their workplace. And in Ontario, food services workers at York University, represented by Unite Here, have been on strike for the $15 an hour demand. This is a fight which is spreading right across the country. If the labour movement takes it up as a Canada-wide fight, it would affect minimum wage workers in the first place, but it would it would also raise the floor under all wages affecting all workers as well.
In Quebec, more than 1500 collective agreements involving more than 100,000 union members expire between September 2016 and August 2017.
The Couillard government recently announced its intention to revise minimum labor standards downwards, stating that if it were to meet union demands, it would have to do the same for employers. In particular, employers are demanding more flexibility in scheduling so as to eliminate the current requirements to pay time and a half for overtime. This will be another big and significant struggle ahead.
Also in Quebec, protests against the reactionary attacks on immigrants have generated broad-based solidarity and support for Quebec Muslims, victims of the St. Foy hate crime murders. This has also resulted in a public statement by Charles Taylor, co-chair of Quebec’s Consultation Commission on Accommodation Practices and co-author of its 2008 report, that he has changed his mind on the recommendations in the report that oppose the wearing of religious or cultural insignia or clothing by provincial judges, Crown prosecutors, police officers and prison guards while on the job. This is an important development in the fight against racism and chauvinism.
Across Canada, working people have responded with messages and actions of solidarity and support for the Muslim community, including surrounding mosques with a human shield against hate and attacks. The public outpouring has contributed to stronger pressure on the federal government to increase immigration and refugee quotas for 2017 and to repeal the Third Country Agreement, which forces refugees from the US to enter Canada illegally via dangerous routes in extreme weather, in order to qualify as refugee applicants.
This is a fitting response to the 36% of Canadians polled who are opposed to immigrants and refugees entering Canada. While this number is far less than in some European countries, it is a threat to all immigrants and refugees, and to democracy in Canada. We need to step up our work in these areas, which also flow from our Plan of Work regarding new immigrant communities.
In May the Canadian Labour Congress meets in Toronto to determine its direction and leadership for the next three years. The CLC represents 3.3 million workers across Canada. This will be an important convention because of the virulent attack on the working class, on racialized and indigenous people, on women and immigrants, and on organized labour, and its democratic allies. This attack can’t be rolled back by the lobbying that has been the main, and perhaps the only tool in the CLC’s arsenal for the past several years. The “advocacy, education and research” which are the Congress’ main function according to the CLC’s website, won’t be enough either. This convention will need to unite and mobilize the 3.3 million workers it represents to take on the employers and their governments in the streets, on the shop floor and in the workplace, in bargaining and on the picket lines, in the Legislatures and on their front steps, in the media, and in every way to stop them and to beat back this vicious and deadly assault.
For the CLC to play its leading role to unite the labour movement with its allies in the democratic and people’s movements, and with the unorganized and unemployed, it will be necessary for the left in the labour movement to be heard on the floor of the convention, pushing for mass, independent labour political action, and for the broadest mobilization in defence of workers’ rights and standards including the right to strike, for immigrant and refugee rights, for women’s and LGBTQ equality rights, against racism, discrimination and Islamophobia, and for full employment, higher wages and pensions, a higher minimum wage, and higher living standards, free education and expanded public healthcare, and for peace, nuclear disarmament, and action on climate change, for democracy and sovereignty. Labour must demonstrate in action that an injury to one is an injury to all.
This is a big job for Communists and others in the left of the labour movement to carry through; no doubt. But it’s the job that needs to be done at this convention, because labour’s role in this fight is vital and central. Working people will lose if the labour movement is not front and centre in the struggle.
And so, therefore, it’s essential that every Communist and left-winger who can get to the CLC Convention, and play a role on the floor of the Convention, in the caucuses, and in the Action Caucus, do whatever is necessary to get to the Convention. Our trade union members need to go to work now to help pull together other left and progressive delegates, and to get organized and prepared in the two months prior to the convention.
One of the goals must be to come out of the convention with a caucus that is able to work together and function after and between conventions. Coordination and unity of the left forces is essential for mass action to result.
Across the country, our Party clubs must become linked into the struggles in their areas of responsibility, able to provide leadership and to unite all the forces in common struggle. Our clubs must be able to demonstrate their links to the struggles around them – not as individuals, but as Communist collectives; as representatives of our Party. We need to make good use of our materials, including our press, which has its own unique role in the struggle to organize, educate, agitate, unite and build the struggle.